Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Honestly!

A couple of Saturdays back, I had the rare pleasure of having Little Agony Uncle all to myself for a whole afternoon. LAU had scored a pair of free tickets for ‘La Dolce Vita’, an exhibition devoted to all things Italian at Kensington Olympia, and correctly thought that I would be interested in joining him for a couple of hours of free wine and hot boys in SW5. After a few laps of the hall in hunt of Pinot and penis, all we’d come across were a few perma-tanned gentlemen-of-a-certain-age flogging Tuscan villas and hordes of bridge-and-tunnellers queuing – queuing! – for the thimble-sized free samples of gut-rot Chianti, a depth to which even I was not prepared to sink. So, with the great honesty that true friendship enables, I told LAU that I’d had basta of this and we buggered off to The Coleherne to put the world to rights over a few lagers and chuckle about ‘La Dodgy Vita’ as we soon re-christened it.

The conversation took in many themes but the one that really got my cogs whirring was that old problem page staple of coming out to one’s parents. Over their years in the job, both Big and Little Agony Uncles have advised dozens, perhaps even hundreds of gay, bi and uncertain boys on this particular and, to my mind, by far scariest aspect of the coming out process. Go into any gay bar, club or gym, anywhere in London – hell, anywhere in the UK – and I will guarantee that there is at least one person in there whose coming out to mom and or pop was facilitated either directly or indirectly by the culture of possibility inspired by these two caring and wise men. But here’s a thing – neither one of them is actually out to their respective extant parent, nor in one case to his siblings.

Both has his reasons - broadly, religion and old age – for believing that the degree of distress an admission to being gay would cause the parent is disproportionate to that which the concealment causes him personally, and therefore keeps schtum. Day-in, day-out this causes few problems; the parents live miles away, both Agony Uncles are young enough to not yet attract speculation as to why they’ve not ‘met the right girl yet’, and familial visits are arranged sufficiently in advance for them to have plenty of time to make up the spare bedroom into a passable facsimile of one’s wholly-discrete-from-the-other’s sleeping quarters and hide all the toys. But what worries me, and I admit it’s a rather macabre worry but it really does exercise me, is what would happen if God forbid one of them died? What then? It was bad enough that each had to go through the loss and interment of a parent in recent memory without the other by their side, but what, I asked LAU, would one do if he had to bury the other all the time pretending to be just his housemate, his friend?

I don’t seek for a second to advise them – physician, heal thyself as Luke would put it – but I did share the view that in my experience there is far more to be gained from the telling of an inconvenient truth than from concealing it, be that through honest silence or actual deception. It certainly got me to thinking whether, in fact, ‘honesty is the best policy’.

That maxim has existed in one form or another for over two millennia and is found, with little if anything lost in translation, in most world languages. There are hundreds of other time-worn quotes, proverbs and anecdotes about honesty (indeed, the moral education of every American schoolchild is founded on the example of George Washington’s inability to lie) of which my personal favourite has always been Mark Twain’s assertion that, “If you tell the truth, you will never have to remember anything.” It’s a rather beautiful point if you think about it: when we lie, or otherwise conceal the truth, we create an alternative reality which becomes someone else’s truth. They will then share that with others, to each of whom we may have told the truth, part of the truth, or an untruth, or from whom we may have concealed the truth completely by our silence. This then creates stress and confusion for us as we struggle over time to recall who knows what about what and which version of events, all of which will sooner or later come back to bite us, as Twain may also have put it, on the ass. Tell the truth on the other hand, however unpalatable it may be, and you can carry on with life not having to remember a darn thing because everyone knows what’s what and once it’s out there it can’t hurt you.

I base this view on recent experience, some of my own, some of others. I’ve certainly benefited enormously these last few months from being honest with myself. First of course, there was the drinking. Admitting to myself that there could be a problem led to a major overhaul of behaviour that was damaging me physically and emotionally. I’ve still not got it licked; Saturday just gone saw me slip back into very bad old habits at a birthday party and I awoke Sunday morning on the hosts’ sofa not recalling any invitation to stay. [I should mention that my behaviour at said party was no worse than many others; Glenda called me on Sunday morning to ask if I had any idea how he’d got home, and Princess Timmy threw up in a carrier bag.] I am, now, reflecting on how I feel about that lapse and whether I should act on it, all the way being honest with myself; that’s a big change from just a few months ago when I’d have been laughing it off on the outside while ripping myself to shreds on the inside, and I’m thankful for that.

The other truth I’m thankful for having told myself of late has been my finally – finally, after years of denial – facing up to the dreadful mess I was in financially and doing something about it. Years of living, wilfully, beyond my means and a reckless belief that there would always be a Peter to rob in order to pay the many and various Pauls, led me to the edge of a frankly terrifying abyss that someone of my age and earning the kind of salary I do should never have to stare into. In the same way as I faced up to my drinking being out of control, I faced up to the need to marry what’s going out rather more closely with what comes in. Now, thanks to some hard-nosed negotiation, learning to say, ‘No, I can’t afford it’ – to myself as much as to others, and crucially, the support of friends generally and one friend in particular, in just a couple more months I’ll have the kind of disposable income that I would always have done had it not all been owed to the banks. I can’t begin to describe how much less anxious, depressed and out of control I feel having dealt with the truth of my monetary quagmire than I did all the while I was living the lie.

Others are feeling the benefits of tacking unpalatable realities too. Since my last post, the two boys who were settling have, quite sensibly, parted, having realised that they were not being true to themselves and that it would come to naught. Without a trace of animosity or recrimination each has reverted comfortably to the role of friend and to see them together is to see two chaps each blessed with the priceless gift of a true and life-long friend in place of a transitory and expedient partner for partnership’s sake. Another couple also went their separate ways, through rather less mutual a decision process but for the similar reason that, for one partner at least, the truth of the matter was that it just wasn’t what he wanted or what was right for him, and to have hidden that truth only to spare the other’s feelings would with time have only hurt them both.

Without exception everyone involved in these events has found that the consequences of their honesty have been far less severe than they feared. I think sometimes, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in that electric scene in A Few Good Men, we hide the truth from others because we say they can’t handle it, while all the time the reality is that it’s we that can’t, through fear, or insecurity, or lack of support. After speaking with LAU that afternoon I cast my mind back to the months before I came out to my mother; the angst I went through, the fear I experienced, the best- and worst-case scenarios I played over and over in my head before finally, one evening, knocking back a bottle of Beaujolais and coming out with it, only for the news to be greeted with an “Oh!” and an offer to open another bottle. Sure, that wasn’t the end of it; mum struggled to accept that my homosexuality – which she never sought to criticise or deny – was simply a state of being without any scientific, sociological or philosophical explanation, and over the course of the next couple of weeks she came up with all manner of crackpot theories which I diffused as gently and patiently as I could. The one thing that helped us both through the process of coming to terms with my coming out was, you’ve guessed it, honesty, talking openly about our feelings and fears and taking the consequences of doing so.

I’m conscious that this is starting to sound very holier-than-thou and that I may be coming across as an evangelical know-it-all who holds himself out to be a paragon of virtue. Far from it. I may have faced up to a few harsh truths of late but I’m still not as honest as I’d like to be. I hide things from people. I make things up. I sometimes pretend to like people I don’t, and to not like people as much as I do (usually to conceal that I fancy the pants off them.) I’m not immune to telling a little white lie if it will help me get what I want, or a great big stinking black one if it’s something I really want. But I do think, pretty much, I’ve stopped the worst dishonesty of all and that of course is being dishonest with myself. I know and like who I am and that makes me happier than I think I have ever been.

And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Belated Blogging, Boyfriends & Butterflies

OK, OK, first things first, an apology – it’s almost a month since I last posted and it must look as if I’ve got bored of blogging and disappeared into the sunset. One group of readers – they call themselves ‘The Gays’, which hardly narrows it down – has at semi-regular intervals been prompting me to put fingers to keys and share some more of my exploits, and I assure you – and them – that I’ve been meaning to, really I have, I’ve just not got round to it. Or rather, I’ve just not had the urge to do it, until now. The thing is – as you may have noticed – I don’t just write about all the fabulous things that happen in my life the moment that they happen; not to brag but I get up to so damn much that to have the time to write about all the wonderful parties, shows, meals, dates and journeys that I am blessed enough to enjoy from day-to-day I’d need to give up the day job which, I’m afraid, is what pays for it all. This as I’m sure you’ll appreciate would be rather self-defeating. Saying that, for every fabulous moment, there is an equal and opposite mundane one – thirty, single and fabulous I may be but I still have to clean the oven from time-to-time – which does not make for interesting reading. So it is that I go through my really quite wonderful life having experience after experience, reflecting on and processing it all, until along comes an event, or person, or moment, or thought, that I actually think others (including, bless ‘em, The Gays) would care to hear about, or that I really want to share, and then a post emerges.

This time around, the thing that’s been on my mind is relationships. Don’t worry, I’m not about to surrender my singledom, although things are going rather nicely with the gorgeous guy I met when I went to help Andrea Bianco choose new specs a few weeks back and have had a couple of dates with since, so watch this space. Rather, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to relationships in general and a couple in particular, and gotten to wondering just what all the fuss is about.

I had a conversation a couple of days ago with one of my very dearest friends in which he broke the news to me that he and a mutual friend of ours had got together as a couple. This kind of event is usually greeted with much whooping and cheering and downing of cocktails, but this time the news was delivered without so much as a smile and if anything more than a trace of a frown. You see, these two had not got together out of sheer love for each other (although there is certainly reciprocal, if imbalanced, affection) or even as the result of a mutual attraction that had deepened over time. Rather, they had decided to give being boyfriends a whirl for the sake of not being alone any more, to soothe the ache of their mutual loneliness and because they had grown to believe, after years of waiting and hoping for ‘The One’ to come along, that ‘The One’, like Godot, was never going to show. Now I could perhaps understand it if these guys were in their sixties, or fifties, even in their late forties although God knows I have friends in all of these age brackets who live as full if not fuller a life than ever they did in their teens. But these guys are my age, or at least in the same tick box as I on a survey form. And the survey question has to be, “Since when did our thirties become the cut-off point for finding lasting love?”

I must admit that when I was younger – I should say ‘even younger’ of course – I craved a lasting relationship. For the first few years after coming out I was very promiscuous, and not just closeted-country-boy-moves-to-the-big-city-and-hits-the-scene-with-a-vengeance promiscuous, but rampantly, insatiably, by-the-time-I-was-twenty-I’d-lost-count promiscuous. But underlying it all was not so much a voracious appetite for sex (though that played a part) but the perhaps misguided and certainly na├»ve hope that if I slept with enough frogs I would be sure to find my prince. I thought I’d found him a couple of times too; I was absolutely besotted with my first ever boyfriend – are not we all? – and with the benefit of hindsight and a little psychotherapy I can see now that the man who I thought was and would ever be my one true love was in fact a substitute for the father I had lost just a few weeks before our meeting. Then of course came the two big relationships, with The Ex and The Other Ex (God these pseudonyms are imaginative, aren’t they?) both of whom I loved – and still do love, each in their way – and both of whom I thought, in the early stages of our relationships at least, might be ‘The One’, until it transpired otherwise.

(I’m going to go off on something of a tangent here but mentioning my father triggers memories of his and my mother’s relationship. Meeting at the ages of 31 and 34 respectively, and both having had several prior partners, it was, as mum tells it, love at first sight; they were married within the year, Big Sis followed almost nine months to the day later, I came along three years after that, and they enjoyed twenty-odd almost uniformly joyful years of marriage until death quite literally they did part. Just food for thought.)

Since becoming single last time – well over a year ago now – I have embraced bachelorhood and all the benefits it has brought. This is not triumphalism nor is it in any way meant to denigrate the several good and happy years I had with The Ex, but is a simple statement of fact. Certainly since my own break-up I will admit to having been, if not instrumental, then at least facilitative in a few others, through on the one hand my championing of being on one’s own, and on the other, through my firm and unwavering belief that it is better to have no relationship at all than to be stuck in one that is less than perfect. I am lucky enough to be able to say that I have not one but many boyfriends, and indeed girlfriends, in the shape of my many and wonderful friends, from whom collectively I receive easily as much and probably more love than I ever got from one man alone. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t one day like to meet Mr Right and be so swept off my feet that the ‘Single’ in Thirty, Single and Fabulous becomes obsolete; but would I ever crave companionship so much that I would let convenience outstrip desire? Could I give up the search for Mr Right and settle for Mr Right Now?

To be honest it’s impossible to say and indeed it would be reckless to do so with any degree of certainty. I mean, if in a few decades time you and I are still here and this is ‘Seventy, Single and Fabulous’ then yeah, ask me again if I want a relationship and the answer will still come back ‘No’. But what if it’s ‘Seventy, Single and So Bitter About It That I Might As Well Be Dead’? Will I be so sure then that those two boys who got together through one’s loneliness and dwindling self-esteem and the other’s besottedness and dogged persistence were really doing anything all that unreasonable? I wish I could lay claim to having come up with what I still believe to be the perfect assessment of why people enter or don’t enter into relationships, but Carrie Bradshaw gets the credit for this: ‘Some people are settling down; some people are settling, and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.’ Those two boys may be settling, and that may make me profoundly sad, but thinking about it, only they know what’s best for them and if settling is what’s best for them right now – and if given a few months, that moves on to settling down - then all to the good.

Me, here and now, I’m sticking to butterfly hunting.

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