Twisting with the plumber

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The plumber is late. So George and I lean by the front door, shooting the breeze: he has boyfriend trouble (he hasn't got one). Finally, a white van pulls up; it's nearly an hour past the appointment time, but the driver is in no apparent hurry. Out lumbers a plumber, or maybe a pig, bloated with carbohydrate, unshaven and hacking and coughing.

"At last," says George, who is keeping me company for the want of anything better to do. He gives me a peck on the cheek and leaves for the police station. George is a bent copper.

I think nothing of it until I clock the plumber's face: anger and fear and loathing ripple, waves on a stagnant pond.

I know that look. Every gay man does. You're walking down the street and you forget yourself (or remember yourself) and take your Significant Other by the hand. You don't see the gang on the upcoming corner until it's too late, and you can't drop your bloke's hand because that would be giving in.

So you walk on by and you get the look, intimidating and disgusted. Or perhaps you get something worse: choice insult ("Queer boy"/"Aids carrier"/ "Fruit") or a good kicking. Or stabbed. Depends.

And here's the look, right here, crossing the threshold, coming into my home.

"Where is it?" the plumber says. He's in the kitchen, staring at me. I point to the sink. "Under there," I answer. He just stands there. And stares. I wait.

Picture this: he backs away towards the sink, still staring, bumps into the sink and slides to the floor. And then he twists and turns and shimmies like my sister Kate, anything to avoid turning around and showing his backside. No easy task. The thing's big enough to want a life of its own.

What is it with straight guys? Their stomachs can enter a room a week before the rest of them, they can have BO, bad breath and skin Helen Keller could read, their hairlines may have gone with the wind, but put them in a room with a gay man and they just know we have only one thing on our twisted minds. They should be so lucky, lucky, lucky.

"Are you going to stand there?" the plumber snaps. His piggy eyes blaze. I blush hot with humilation. For a horrible, endless split second, I'm a filthy pervert: queerfaggotnancyboyfreak.

I can't stand the hate so I get out of the kitchen. I pace, choked with rage. This is my home, damn it, and a gay man's home is more than his castle; it's his refuge, playground, Wonderland, the one arena where he can exert control, make a world to his own liking.

Creating a universe takes time. In the early days you agonise: should you really put that Mapplethorpe print on the wall? Are you flaunting it? Or have those gay magazines/ newspapers scattered about the place? What about photographs of you and your lover? What happens when Mum and Dad visit? Or, say, the gas man, electrician or plumber arrives? The outside world, always in danger of crashing in.

I used to hide everything to do with who I am when my family came round, even though they knew I was gay. Why? I'm not sure. Frightened of giving offence, I think, and, oh no, imposing myself, and creating an environment that said that my sexuality was the most important thing about me (and, of course, it was, because that outside world made it so).

I couldn't even leave paper hankies by the bedside, despite a then continuously runny nose, because somehow those hankies seemed redolent of slaked passions and mopping up operations. I would tuck the box under the bed; keep it hidden, though I'd pretend I was being discreet and then have to remind myself that the hankies were for my runny nose ... mostly. In my own bedroom, in my own home.

Fastforward: here I am again, in my own bedroom, in my own home, those old, conquered feelings exhumed.

I head for the kitchen.

"A cup of tea?" I ask.

"No."

"Fine. Could you move over, I can't reach the kettle."

Surly silence. Reluctant movement.

"How long is this going to take? You were an hour late and I can't be here all day."

"Don't you worry, I want to be out of here as fast as I can."

I brew a cup of herbal tea.

"Nice jeans," I say.

Frozen moment. Agitated shifting. You think I'm going to come on to you. OK, let's dance.

"Where did you buy them?"

"Don't know." Heavy emphasis: "My wife bought them."

"She got them too tight ... No, maybe not."

This feels good. I want to know about blockages and ball cocks and the right tool for the job. The minutes fly by.

"I'm finished." He rises from the floor, groans, clutches his back.

"Yes?"

"Done my back in."

Good.

I write out a cheque, grab a piece of paper and scribble. He takes both and eyes the paper suspiciously:

"What's this?"

"It's a telephone number." I usher him to the door, before he makes a run for it. "For an osteopath."

He's out the door. He looks as if he wants to say something (thanks?) but doesn't. So I do: "Don't worry. I haven't asked, but I don't think he's gay."

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