I met an elderly couple the other day whose son had just entered a civil partnership. They were incredibly proud of him, in spite of the fact that he hadn’t invited them to attend the ceremony. He hadn’t invited anyone to attend the ceremony except a close female friend and they were fine with this: it was what he wanted. I found that touching, the level of acceptance. They could accept him being gay as well as the fact that he hated fuss. He went through the ceremony privately and had a quiet lunch afterwards with the man he’s loved for decades. That’s the way I think I would do it too, not that it’s on the agenda, I hasten to add.
I’ve only ever been to one civil partnership ceremony and although it wasn’t what I would have chosen to do it was also very moving. The couple, who were old friends, got a standing ovation from the, largely heterosexual crowd. It struck me as a defining moment in how I saw the way gay people fitted into society and in my acceptance of my own sexuality. A room of over a hundred people clapping a pair of gays for being in love was not something I ever expected to witness. If you’d told me that was what would be happening when I was fifteen or twenty then I’d have laughed in your face. I’m not naive enough to think that we have equality and that bitter and twisted homophobia doesn’t still run through society in a deep dark seam, but it made me feel good that day.
The after party was naturally tasteful. It had all the hallmarks of a traditional wedding, except the tackiness. There was no fat Uncle dancing to “Come on Eileen” with a toddler, bad speeches or chocolate fountains. It was all canapés and cocktails. However, a couple fell out, a table of drinks got knocked over and people drank way too much and vomited: a traditional wedding in many ways.
I was newly sober, having recently stopped drinking and it was an eye opening event. Without the alcohol to blur the edges, people were both more and less interesting. Unwise confidences were shared and I managed to recall them the next day. Rambling drunks regaled me with tales and I was sober enough to have the wisdom to escape quickly. Single, and feeling like I needed to be, I was able to affect a cunning foxtrot from group to group, passing from the interesting and fascinating through to the dull and garrulous, unhindered. It was a long and exhausting day and my tie grew more like a noose as the afternoon wore on into evening. An unwise linen outfit became more crumpled and my views of humanity veered from jaded to affectionate.
I went outside to the courtyard of the classy wine bar where we were celebrating and was sending a text message when a moderately attractive Scotsman started chatting to me about my phone. He wasn’t part of the party. The bar had opened to the public now. To my mind, a phone is a phone is a phone. It makes calls and accesses the internet; maybe takes the odd photo. Any more than that, I couldn’t care less. As mentioned, he was moderately attractive so naturally, I feigned phone interest. It was an easy conversation. He was faking it too.
He bought me a drink, we talked a little and he told me he was straight. He drank more. He told me he was straight. He went to the loo, came back and told me he was straight. He drank more and told me he was straight but had enjoyed the gay clubs of Berlin during a long hot summer working over there, but purely because of the “fun” atmosphere in gay bars.
He told me about the time he’d had group sex. Naturally, being straight, he’d only done it for the women but there had been gay men there and he’d accidentally engaged in being “blown off” by one in “the general melee of the whole thing” and quite liked the experience. He was straight of course, but did I think that gay men gave good head? Did I also happen to know where the toilets were at the bar?
He drank more and I was getting a little bored. There was a brief window of maybe five minutes when I first met him and I thought that I might leave the ceremony accompanied but he was starting to bore me. I like a man to be more direct and a lot more sober. I was starting to lose the will to live and coming to the conclusion that my linen wasn’t worth getting my linen clothes more crumpled for a man who couldn’t ask for a blow job in a pub toilet without 47 indirect requests and a hundred protests that he was a 100% heterosexual.
I left the ceremony quietly and I’m not even sure he noticed. I was glad not to be drinking and glad I’d got through the day. There was irony to the fact that a day that started with an open expression of gay love and commitment could end with a “heterosexual” man inviting me to chow down on his salami in a toilet. My dignity was intact but not for long.
In spite of my sobriety I managed to open the door of a waiting taxi onto a raised pavement. Such was my clumsy force that the door stuck and it took three cab drivers to lift it off to get me in the car. They were very polite though. Some men are perfect gentlemen.