Tony's extremely careful.
I met him down at the resolutely heterosexual hotel disco (don't ask). I'm at the bar, zooming the sounds, and he's with his big, beefy, shambolic chums, making enough noise to be heard over JX's "Son of a Gun": loud and proud. His friends, as married as Tony turns out to be, are sloshing Tennants Special down their necks and hitting on the local dollies. Everyone's dressed to maim, rat-assed and having what passes at this hour (nudging two in the morning) as a good time.
Except Tony. He says later that he kept lobbing looks in my direction and that I dropped every single one. Of course I did. I thought "Straight - do not pass go, do not collect $100".
Tony is ordering room service now. I compliment him on his brilliant disguise. It's perfect; really, who would have thought? I'm being ironic, but Tony doesn't do irony. He's never been on the scene: he walks past clubs, not into them, and he's ... this is hard to pinpoint - he isn't armoured the way the "out" must be. He's more sort of shrink-wrapped and sincere, yet, as I discover, also blithely cynical about things, primarily the mechanics of deception. I make the disguise remark, and he says that he was the best man at the wedding of the straight boy he has loved since he was 17, and that the mask remained in place even when he was handing the ring to Paul in front of everyone, as he watched his heart's desire giving himself to someone else. Tony says, "It killed me," and I feel heat and colour rush, red and revealing, to my face, because he means it. The naked simplicity of it is simultaneously embarrassing and moving.
Which is a contradiction. But Tony lives inside contradictions. He is an open book written in code. The son, husband, father, brother whom everyone knows, but actually doesn't: the family man with boys on the side. He's one of thousands,possibly hundreds of thousands.
Tony only "goes with other men" when he is travelling. He travels a lot. "I see men in the street or ..."
"Or in bars," I supply.
Tony nods. "I make myself talk to them. I'm not very good at it."
"I disagree. You were ..." I stalk the right word. Toss the net: "Polished."
"I'd rather be cautious than polished."
"Huh ... You were with your mates tonight. Hardly cautious."
Tony laughs, high and strained. "I've never done that before. But they're drunk. They won't notice I'm gone." He sounds hopeful, not sure. He fiddles with his tie, moves to the mini-bar, pours himself a beer.
I have these questions. Why did you get married?Do you love your wife? How come you never told your mum and dad and siblings and the guys downstairs you're gay? Are you content with this hidden life, or is it torture? God, aren't you frightened of being found out? Doesn't the pressure give you the bends? Don't you sometimes want to scream so hard the top of your head erupts and your brains flow like lava? And do you practise safe sex, Tony? Do you?
I want to say, you're being unfair to yourself and unfair to everyone who knows you, or imagines they know you. But it's none of my business. It's the wee small hours, I'm in a strange hotel room and everyone builds hell to their own blueprint.
"My parents would be wrecked."
I'm handed a bottle of mineral water and a glass. "My parents. I love them but they wouldn't understand. My mother might. My father hates queers. Bum boys, Aids carriers, that's what he says."
Tony repeats this calmly, as if it were no great concern. He got married because it was expected, and Penny was already pregnant; that was kind of expected, too. Perhaps Penny would negate Paul. Maybe it was a phase. Maybe.
"I didn't have anyone to talk to."
"Did you ever ring Gay Switchboard or ..."
He cuts me off: "I used to call three or four times a night. When the phone was picked up, I'd put the receiver down."Tony laughs that high, strained laugh, and I have this urge to hug him. So I do, awkwardly, my bottle of mineral water and glass clinking together behind his back.
"Michael Barrymore," Tony says.
"Michael Barrymore?" I'm talking into his shirt.
"I read about him in the newspapers. Do you think it was like this for him, you know, Michael Barrymore."
"I don't know." It's true. I was openly gay at 15. I've never been there, never done that. I look up at Tony; this close, he is imposingly tall. "Why don't you tell me?"Reuse content