Man’s World – Rupert Smith

MW

(We considered this book as a group hut we haven’t discussed it because we were spoilt for choice with so many possible books.)

This book does not begin well. Fashion-conscious and practical joker Jonathan is one of those full-time queens who obsesses over trashy television programmes, clothes, style and talks endlessly about himself; the sort of person you could try telling all your problems too but who wouldn’t take any of it in but would reply with a monologue about something utterly trivial.

Fortunately, the book gets better when you are taken back in time to fifty years ago, to men doing their national service. It’s a totally different era, where the nearest homosexuals can get to porn is a menswear underwear catalogue and physique photographs sent discreetly by mail order and where the nearest that a sub can get to a dom is when the sergeant major barks, ‘Fall out for a smoke’. (Ah, those were the days before the smoking ban.)

What we then get is two parallel stories: ‘queers’ who have to hide because they might end up with a dishonourable discharge or prison and who may contemplate suicide, smoke of whom became politically active and fought for the rights of future gay men, including the right to be as vacuous as Jonathan. (Mind you, the older ‘queers’ had their moments: ‘My God, what is the world coming to? No gin? Call yourself queer?’

The underworld of blackmail, cottaging and avoiding arrest contrasts with the brash but superficial world of clubbing and dark rooms. In between these is the hope of a ‘cure’ by lobotomy or aversive conditioning techniques, involving electric shock and nausea-inducing drugs during presentation of same-sex erotic images.

The author pains a vivid picture of the two different eras and the book becomes particularly grace-filled when the two collide: someone from the present era moves into a flat and gets to know his neighbour, who happens to be one of the now-old men from the previous period.

There is a memento mori conversation that we do well to heed: `I suppose I seem terribly old to you, don’t I? No, don’t say anything. I remember what it’s like to be young. You don’t think about the past, and as for the future, it’s just the next drink, the next party, the next man. At least, it was for me.’

He sighs, and I try to picture him as a twenty-one-year-old.

`Oh, don’t you worry, I had my fair share. More than my fair share, as my proctologist can testify: You keep on running, running, running, and then suddenly one day you wake up and you’re sixty years old and you’re on your own and you wonder what happened to all that fun and all that hope, all those fabulous nights, the outfits, the camping, all….`When you’re young, you look at old people and you wonder why they’re still breathing and walking around. You just think they are waiting to die. You think we’re the past. But I’m telling you, boy, we’re your future……… ‘I saw the look on your face when you walked in here, my girl. Oh God, look at the old queen, how disgusting, what’s she doing here, shouldn’t she be in a home or something? You just think of us as the sad old bastards who missed out on the party. Well let me inform you that without us, there wouldn’t have been a party. You with your drugs and your clubs and your hair looking like a haystack and your trousers hanging round your arsehole, you think you invented it, don’t you? But you didn’t. You just bought it. You had it all handed to you on a plate and you never stopped to wonder who put it there. Your generation seems to have lost the ability to love or to care or to fight for change, or to do any­thing other than fuck each other and shop. You treat Robbie like shit, you’re jealous of his boyfriend, you’re bitter as hell because you’re lonely as hell and you’re drinking and snorting your way to an early grave. And don’t give me that look, daughter, because I’ve done it all myself and I can read you like a fucking book.’

Oh, and I didn’t know what a proctologist was until I read this book and now I wish that I still didn’t know.

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