“Heterogay”, by A.A.Gill (1998)

He hates football but loves interior design, loathes Dixons but can’t resist Russell & Bromley. A A GILL on why it’s time to come out.

Mum, dad, sit down please, I’ve got something I need to tell you. I suppose I’ve known for some time. The signs were there: the inappropriate pleasure at being sent cut flowers, discovering that somehow, by a process of cultural osmosis, I’d absorbed all the lyrics to Annie Get Your Gun without ever seeing it, the fact that I’d rather loiter outside Russell & Bromley than Dixons. Oh, I’ve tried to ignore it, to bury it. I’ve woken in the middle of the night damp with the inexplicable desire to watch Doris Day and rearrange the furniture. But, you know, I always put it down to the natural doubts that all men suffer (except Les Dawson, of course).

I’ve tried to pretend that silk next to my skin, eau de cologne and two starters was just a phase. And I’d grow out of kissing men friends, and deliberately watching films that make me cry. That I’d naturally grow into burping on demand, They Think It’s All Over, jokes with punch lines that involve spitting and movies with more open wounds than smooches. That I’d progress from Hardy Amies to Martin Amis. But it’s no good, I can’t help it. Sorry, am I waving my arms around? I’m 44 and I can’t go on denying my true nature. I can’t go on wasting my life pretending to be heterosexual.

Mum, dad, I’m gay and I’m proud. Proud and free, free to clap my hands at window displays. Free to laugh with a little shriek. Free to ask strangers where their delicious scent came from. But there’s a problem – sorry, another problem. I don’t want to have sex with men. I really, really don’t want to have sex with men. I’ve tried to force myself to think about it till I’m limp. The truth is, I only really like doing it with girls. Always have, always will. The one hard and fast rule of my sex life is only one willy in the bed at a time.

So you see, this leaves me in something of a dilemma. According to society’s rather rigid definitions, I’m caught betwixt and between. I’m neither one thing nor the other. We define “gay” purely in sexual terms. According to the law and charities and pressure groups and Peter Tatchell, homosexuality is an act.

You never talk about celibate homosexuals as you might talk about celibate heterosexuals. Yet all this is patently nonsense, only half a truth. We can all tell a gay man at 100 paces. You don’t have to catch them at it. Gay is a way of thinking, of being. It’s a raised eyebrow. A scatter of cushions. A table setting. It’s musical theatre and a bathroom cabinet that’s always too damn small.

I’ve come out because I think there are a lot more men like me still in. Sort of tweed poofs. A few weeks ago Chris Evans came out on Virgin Radio and pronounced he was “going to be queer for a year”, and the columnist Richard Littlejohn came out in The Sun, although this was less of a surprise – that sweaty butch act wasn’t fooling anyone, Richard. Attitude, a gay magazine, outed me as born gay but trapped in a heterosexual body, and bells rang. On top of all that, there have been other little things. Liam Neeson playing Oscar Wilde, and a Spectator lunch I was at. Down my end of the table a knot of girlies discussed the modern political biography while, up the butch men’s end, Bruce Anderson, Frank Johnson and Lord Owen animatedly questioned my style-editor girlfriend on cranial osteopathy and moisturisers. Hello, I thought. Hell-o.

Last weekend, flicking through the channels with my children, my five-year-old son (who was threading beads for a necklace) shouted: “Stop there, daddy.” It was Funny Girl. Barbra cooed down the generations. It was man talk. My daughter, who was playing on the computer, pulled a face and said: “Who’s that ugly screechy woman?” She just didn’t get it.

I think women have a lot to do with all us heterogays. Women’s liberation has unquestionably been the best thing that’s happened to my generation of chaps. They struggled and sweated to be Margaret Thatcher, Edwina Curry, Betty Boothroyd and Anita Roddick and then bellowed: “You see, we’re as good at it as men are.” And a lot of us men just thought, thank God, now I don’t have to be Mo Mowlam and Madeleine Albright. I can go to Peter Jones instead. You see, modern women make much better men than men ever did. The truth is that for most of us, our hearts were never in it – being blokey. We were living a lie.

I admit this is a bit rough on women who thought they were going to be let into an exclusive club of power and privilege, but have just found out that they’ve been turned into fag hags who have to do the paperwork as well.

If you doubt there’s a swelling chorus line of us heterogays, just look at the rise of men’s magazines. They’re not all read by boys who want to be Jeremy Clarkson, you know. Lots of them want to be Ute Lemper. Men’s fashion and toiletries are markets that are growing faster than they can find heterogay shop assistants to staff them. Walk down any high street on a Saturday or into any new Brit restaurant and you’ll see the legion of straightish friends of Dorothy weighed down with carrier bags. If you’re a chap who’s still reading this and thinking, come on, get real, we know, suck in your cheeks, not your beer gut. It’s okay, trust me. If you still have doubts, here’s a little quiz.

1. Whose autograph would you rather queue in the rain for: Liza Minnelli’s or Jim Davidson’s?

2. You are all alone in your room, the curtains are drawn, and Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive comes on the radio. Do you start dancing in front of the mirror or do you get on with making a plastic model of a nuclear submarine, and wonder why Chris Evans never plays Metallica.

3. You recorded the message on your answering machine:

– Once (sod it)?
– More than five times?
– More than 50 times before bursting into tears?
– Once, but took voice coaching first?

4. If I said “Callas”, would you instantly think, oh, God, the greatest Norma ever, or hard patches of skin on the palms of your hands?

5. Do you truly understand why six red and white carnations in service-station wrapping paper are grounds for object-throwing hysteria (not the Clarice Cliff), infidelity, and washing his Versace shirts with a mauve T-shirt on hot?

6. Which is funnier: Ben Elton, or net curtains with scalloped edges?

If you have to ask which is the correct answer for any of these, congratulations, you’re either Norman Tebbit or you’re a Newcastle United fan.

Come out, come out, wherever you are. Why should only men who sleep with each other have all the best show tunes. So mum, I’m gay. Just like dad. Either that or I’m Italian.