John Lyttle

So, this must be what it's like to be powerful ...
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
"I heard you on Radio Five last Saturday," Doctor Nassbaum says, her smile warm and wide. I am immediately on my guard. Therapists don't make small talk. They set traps.

I cruise the neutral zone: "Did you?" Dr Nassbaum nods."You were talking about ... what was it again? Oh yes, gay culture."

Yeah, right. Like you had to think about it.

Dr Nassbaum leans back in her chair, a plump, scuffed green leather heirloom: "Was it productive?"

Not very. I and four other fellow freaks of nature were joined, as the format demands, by a bespoke heterosexual, whom I have solemnly sworn not to embarrass by naming (AA Gill of the Sunday Times). It was all infinitely predictable and dully depressing. If you're one of the wicked and damned you're never actually allowed to put a case, but forced, time and again, to make one, and then invariably on a level so primitive - "Well, the term gay is preferred to sick, disgusting pervert because..." - as to be nigh worthless. You're always at square one, stuck on permanent repeat. Justify your love, defend your life, and don't get uppity. It's exhausting.

That's what I tell Dr Nassbaum. She springs the trap: "Then why were you so friendly?" "Was I?" "Certainly. Positively ingratiating. As, to greater and lesser degrees, were your ... your..." "Co-religionists?" Sly grin: "Your co-religionists."

I suppose I could say that, prepared for public consumption, queens and dykes automatically fall into their bestest Reithian behaviour: entertain, educate and inform. No matter the inadvertent hurt or crass provocation or outright insult, bite your tongue, be pleasant, be polite, don't frighten the horses - or AA Gill. I could say that should you fail to curb your anger or your tongue, the D word will be produced with smug satisfaction: Defensive. That would never do, even if defensive is the right, proper, and perhaps only, response. I could even say that there's an argument to back the tack; that making nice can be a propaganda tool, if you please. Emphasis on the please.

I could say that, only I long ago decided that's not an argument but an excuse, a 21-carat cop-out when you most need to stand your ground. Say when some bigot is howling abuse, activating all those conditioned feelings of self-loathing. So what pops out of my mouth is: "Sometimes I suspect we can't help ourselves."

Dr Nassbaum says, "Go on." I do: "Smiling through is almost second nature to the, er, third sex. I think it comes from feelings of inferiority that we either pretend we don't have, or have magically vanquished, as if years of being put down, of being the punchline of the joke could be eradicated overnight by coming out, or reading How to be a Happy Homosexual. On some level it's about believing all the things whispered about you or shouted at you. Or there's the opposite, though it stems from the same impulse. You tell strangers in the street that you're queer, you talk about sex incessantly, you're aggressive." I shrug. "Luckily, it's usually just a phase you're going through."

Dr Nassbaum switches to probe mode: "Why make a joke of it?" Search me, duckie: "Let me guess - Freud said there are no jokes." Dr Nassbaum is tight lipped: "Exactly."

"Exactly. A defence mechanism. Like when the kid who doesn't fit in is bullied at school and they're obliged to act the class clown to survive." I'm about to say that I have occasional bad moments when I'm absolutely sure the entire structure of the homosexual psyche, life, soul, yes, even camp, even, Good Golly Miss Molly, archetypal queeny in-fighting, is based on this fundamentally rotten foundation when my pout skids to a halt.

Dr Nassbaum rises. "John?" I shake my head, focus: "I'm doing it again. Primitive explanations and pet me humour. Stuck in the loop." Dr Nassbaum settles back, unwraps a stick of gum. "That doesn't make the condition special. Women, blacks and Jews all suffer much the same syndrome."

I take the plunge: "Don't pull that crap." The chewing stops. "Pardon?" "You assumed I was making a plea for specialness when I was attempting to pinpoint a difference. I don't imagine that I'm special because of what the big bad world did to me. But I am considered different because of the way the big bad world sees me. I'm not too crazy about being either special or different, but I'm not responsible for either, am I?" I pause. "Damn. Back to basic explanations." Another pause. " Tell me, is believing that we want to be considered special a way of writing us off as pushy and paranoid? Does that save you the bother of having to examine your own assumptions? I understand why some gay men claim separatism is the answer. God, the relief of not having to deal..."

"John," Dr Nassbaum interrupts, "you're hysterical." "Hysterical!" I shout hysterically. "Nonsense." Only it isn't. I've literally flipped to the other side of the coin. I'm suddenly a screaming queen and I can't do a thing about it. Letting the rage, the resentment, the sheer unreasonableness out and about is way too wonderful a sensation to forego.

As a matter of fact, it's so powerful, it kicks open the door to perception: this must be what it feels like to be on the other side, not giving a toss what the other person says or how they say it. This must be what it's like to be powerful. This must be what it's like not to care. No wonder no one wants to give it up. No wonder we're going to have to take it instead.

Comments