JOHN LYTTLE COLUMN

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I ask Roy if he's read How To Be A Happy Homosexual. He laughs. Turns out Roy has cast a bleary eye over every DIY homo-improvement tome that ever went to press.

Roy: "I don't want to be a happy homosexual. In my opinion, that is a contradiction. How can I be happy if I'm sleeping with everything in sight and have no regard for people's feelings? Picking up and dumping. No stability. I can't do it. I won't do it."

Roy's monologue marches on. " I don't want to be homosexual, full stop ... Have you met any happy homosexuals?" I nod: "Yes. Sadly, they've been hunted to the point of extinction. I even know some happy heterosexuals. They're doing tranquillisers, of course."

Roy: "I don't know any happy homosexuals." "You should get out more often." Roy doesn't. Roy's practically a shut-in. A celibate shut-in. He shrugs: "Go on the scene? Cruise the refrigerated meat market again?" I hold his gaze. "What's wrong?" "Nothing. It's just an ... an evocative image." And partially accurate. Which I don't add.

Roy: "The thing is - this is what I wanted to talk about - I don't want to be homosexual, gay or queer. Who would if they were being totally honest?"

Roy chose our meeting place: Cranks. Freudian slip, I think. Herbal Tea and Sympathy. But, no. Sympathy isn't required. Roy isn't particularly defensive or, at first glance, or second thought, excessively neurotic. No more than the rest of us. He picks his words as carefully as he selects his salad (sliced apple, shredded carrot, chopped celery - the cut and dried): "I've been in therapy for three years because I want to change." "You want to be straight ..." Roy slides past the implied inquiry: "I don't want to be gay. Being gay, what it means to be gay, leaves me feeling empty. The one-night stands, the bars. Nothing is solid ... certain. Change is right for me."

It is? "The American Psychiatry Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness circa 1971." Roy is unfazed. I press on: "Who's your therapist? Charles Socarides?" "Who?" "Charles Socarides. He believes only heterosexuals are truly happy and that homosexuality is a 'disorder'. He'd like to cure his son, I'm sure. Socarides says homosexuality is curable."

Roy: "You wouldn't want to consider that it might be?" "I don't want to consider that heterosexuality equals 'order' or that heterosexuals are automatically better balanced, despite the world being made in their image, no. Look at the way women are still treated, how children are abused, emotionally, sexually, physically ... And you don't think straights don't haunt pubs and never have one-night stands, or brief affairs that crash and burn? You should get out more often. It's 1996. No one's feeling awfully restful."

Sounding angry there. Damn. Chill out. Roy: "It's different for them, and you know it. They're not constantly reminded of ..." "Of what they are, so they fixate on themselves whether they like it or not. Yes, yes. Deal with it, because aversion therapy doesn't work." Roy's face is a blank: "Why do you say that?" I lean across the table: "A friend. It was years ago. They don't do it any more. Or perhaps they do. Obviously there are still therapists around who ..." I abandon the thought. Roy gazes steadily ahead. "Anyhow, they showed him pictures of naked men and when he got aroused they slammed a few hundred volts through his genitals."

Roy isn't blank any more. He's fascinated, repelled, perhaps even excited: "Why didn't it work?" I lean a little closer. "No idea. All I know is that when he reads pornography now he has to attach his todger to the mains."

Roy is disgusted: "A joke?" "Yes. Feel free to laugh at any point." Roy does not feel free. I'm restless: "What is this about exactly?"

"I sent you a reasoned, articulate letter about how I felt about homosexuality." "Actually, the letter was about how you feel about yourself. One state isn't automatically connected to the other." Roy sighs, sounds almost reasonable: "I am my homosexuality. Who cares if it's a mental illness? I don't want to have to think about who I am every day. It's ... adolescent. They make me think about it, and you" - Roy points, raises his voice, making customers at other tables turn and stare and look away in the patented British manner - "make me think about it. I think about it and think about it and I can't define myself. The definitions are either too narrow or too broad. Clone, guppy, leather queen, closet case. Doesn't matter. They're all gay. They require too much time and attention and ... thought."

"How would you like your definition?"

"Simple."

"You want answers ... I withdraw that . You want peace and you want perfection ... what do I say here? That this is the wrong historical moment? That the outside world can inflict terrible, unseen damage and then we treat each other like scum without fully realising? Sure. That's no reason to opt out. It's a paradox. Paradoxes don't have solutions."

Roy says: "You don't understand."

"Trust me - I understand." He's unconvinced. I take a swig of my orange juice and make an elaborate face. Roy politely pretends concern: "Anything I can do?" "Nope. It just tastes sour." Roy calls the manager over and complains; an empty gesture when the damage is already done. The sour taste stays in my mouth all day.

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