|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
37. The First Boyfriend (1983)
The Au Pairs
|In Autumn 1982,
I finally took the plunge, and placed a personal ad in the back pages of
the old “Gay News”. It produced the best of all possible results –
a reply from someone in much the same position as me (wanting to explore
the gay world, but not wanting to do it on his own), and on much the
same wavelength (another music obsessive, with drop dead cool tastes in
obscure synth bands and funky imported dance music). We were never
lovers, but we almost instantly became best friends, and partners in
crime. Together, we started putting in serious hours on Nottingham’s
gay scene – two pubs (The Dragon and the basement of the Hearty
Goodfellow), one gay club (Part 2) and one mixed club (The Asylum).
I quickly discovered that this scene
had its own underground music – as yet without a name, although Record
Mirror had just started referring to it as “Boystown”. A year or
so later, it would be known as “Hi-Energy”. Two years later, it
would be a spent force artistically. But for now, all these strange new
records from the States intrigued and excited me. And so, in true
trainspotter style, I started hunting them down on 12-inch in Arcade
Records’ special “Boystown” section. Particularly if they were
produced by the great Bobby “O” (The Flirts, Divine, Roni Griffith,
later to produce the first single from the Pet Shop Boys). I had always
liked bopping around at student discos – now I was graduating as a
In those carefree days before the
reality of AIDS changed everything, the atmosphere on the gay scene was
strongly sexual. Everyone was “cruising”, everyone was picking up,
nobody seemed to want anything more than one night stands. An often
heard comment: “God, are those two still together? How boring!” It
was all a big game, and pleasure was the key objective. Of course,
that’s still a big part of the gay scene today – but back then, the
cruising seemed more overt, more central to the whole experience. Each
venue would have specifically designed cruising areas (“meat
racks”), where you would stand on your own, away from your friends,
eyes swivelling round like radars. Socialising took second place to
And everyone – simply everyone! –
did poppers. There were no illegal drugs knocking around back then (at
least, not visibly), but those stinky little bottles of “Liquid
Gold” were ubiquitous. Get to the percussion break – fish the bottle
out of your pocket – unscrew the cap – sniff up one nostril –
sniff up the other nostril – pass it around your friends – then
WHOOSH! as the chorus kicked back in. Two records or so later, repeat
the process. It felt like all “Boystown” records had been
deliberately constructed with “Insert Poppers now!” moments
built into them halfway through.
Much as I loved the dancing, I wasn’t
too good at playing the cruising game. I was always misinterpreting the
rules, and making poor tactical decisions. Besides which, I was still
quite prissy about gay sexual mores. So it came as something of a relief
when the first proper boyfriend came along.
Let’s call him Justin. He lived in
London, and came up to see me at weekends, in my shared student house
off the Derby Road. We would canoodle all afternoon in my dusty room (I
was yet to discover that rooms didn’t clean themselves), then we would
dress up (a lengthy ritual) and go out dancing together. And at that
early stage of my development, this is all I really needed – someone
to see at weekends, someone to take me dancing – someone to “go out
with”, in other words.
However, I had severely underestimated
Justin’s strength of feelings for me. Within a couple of months, he
was telling me he loved me – repeatedly, passionately and at some
length. The irony of my situation struck me immediately. Here was
someone telling me all the things that I had spent my adolescence
longing to hear – and yet now, I didn’t want to hear any of it. I
told myself that maybe, if I waited a little bit longer, I could develop
the same feelings for Justin. But only if he could cool it for a bit –
these repeated declarations of undying devotion were putting too much
pressure on me.
What’s more, Justin was about as
“out and proud” as it was possible to get. He was what the Daily
Mail would have called “shrill and strident” about his sexuality.
Highly politicised, he would deliberately instigate loud conversations
about gay issues wherever he felt there were consciousnesses that needed
raising. Meanwhile, I was still keeping a little paper list of “Those
Who Know”, and even the sight of two men kissing in a gay pub could
still make me blush. It didn’t help when Justin tried to kiss me at a
crowded bus stop one morning. I pushed him away. He pouted – “You
don’t love me, do you?” I hissed – “That wasn’t a kiss! That
was a political act!”
Essentially, Justin was responsible for
dragging me kicking and screaming out of the closet, then throwing away
the key. And for that – with the wisdom of hindsight, of course! – I
am truly grateful.
There was, however, a worse crime.
Justin was working as a trainee hairdresser at a top London hotel, and
one day suggested to me that I might look, oh, just beautiful
with blonde highlights. He’d do them for free that evening. I was both
flattered and excited by the idea – I rather fancied myself as a
blonde. So, that evening, Justin set to work on me.
About halfway through the process, a
giggling Justin admitted something which he’d previously neglected to
tell me. Something rather important.
“Do you know – I’m quite excited.
I’ve never actually done this before!”
Eventually, the skull cap came off.
Justin surveyed his work. There was no mirror in sight. He let out
“I think I might have gone a little
bit over the top – never mind!”
I went into the bathroom and took a
look. It was as if someone had cracked open an egg on the top of my
head. On the top, and at the front, I was a platinum blonde. At the
back, I was still dark brown.
I looked like…Limahl. From Kajagoogoo.
Not a good look.
Justin was given his marching orders not long afterwards. There are some crimes which cannot be forgiven so easily.