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16 May 2017

“She asks me how my love life is these days. This is not a fun question to answer.”

A quiet drink turns into an interrogation .. and no denial is good enough

By Nicholas Lezard

A visit from my friend E——. E—— is very brainy and everything but, when she drinks with me, becomes somewhat . . . belligerent. I had forgotten this. I’ve had some rotten news – two items of rotten news, as it happens, that are so rotten that I cannot even share them with you right now. To give you an idea: I invited E—— round because she had been having a bad time and needed cheering up, but when she heard my situation most of the rest of the evening was spent with her cheering me up.

That is, until the hooch kicked in. I think it was the serviceable but overpriced Malbec from M&S that did it. (This is why I choose Majestic, the local branch staff of which, incidentally, did invite me to their celebration; and you can – just – fit a whole bottle of wine into the bowl of their trophy without spilling any. The problem is pouring it. “Scoop it out using the glasses,” I say, as if I’ve done this before.)

Up until then, the conversation had been lovely, interspersed with have-you-seen-this-one hits on YouTube, and so on. However, E—— somehow shifts the conversation round. I think it starts when she asks me how my love life is these days.

This is not a fun question to answer. It seems to be complex yet at the same time entirely sexless, a state of affairs that strikes me, now I see it written down, as exactly the wrong way round.

E—— starts doing some theorising, and, via a summary of my inadequacies regarding my treatment and view of women, a summary I take exception to, suddenly comes up with the startling conclusion that I am gay.

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There is a school of thought which proposes that the more one denies something about oneself, the more applicable that something is to you. I am friends with a well-known Jewish novelist who insists that I am Jewish, but when I say that, alas, I am not, she brushes aside the assertion and asks me such leading questions as where I was born and brought up in London, and if I’m good at, or enjoy, dancing. “St John’s Wood, East Finchley, and no,” I mutter, and she says, “Well then,” and gives a look that more or less closes the matter, or makes any further protest on my part futile.

So, on to the question of my sexuality. As it happens, when I was much younger, I made quite an effort, with a man ten years older who had fallen in love with me, to see if, underneath a mountain of yearning for women which had been crushing me since the age of about six, there might be some escape. It turned out that it really wasn’t my cup of tea, and I ran off, figuratively speaking, with a friend’s girlfriend, which was very bad behaviour, I know, but I was a) in a hurry and b) young.

My ex-housemate Razors used to tell me of a retired admiral who would enliven evenings at the Tonbridge Golf Club by telling everyone about how, when he docked at Bangkok, he would sample the delights of the ladyboys in the city’s nightclubs. “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it,” he would say. So I tell E—— that, as it happens, I have tried it, and am in an authoritative position to say that it’s not for me.

Naturally, this cuts no ice. Indeed, I have fallen into the trap cunningly prepared by this master of psychology, and every further denial goes to show just how homosexual I am. So I’m now Jewish and gay. Shall I also, for good measure, deny that I was a member of the Communist Party, say I faked the moon landings, and somehow managed to mastermind the assassination of John F Kennedy from my crib?

A few days later, in a correspondence during which she apologises for being so argumentative the other night (“I don’t get like that with anyone else when I drink”) and in which she also offers a few useful suggestions to get me out of my other, more present troubles, I ask if I can use this incident in this column, as absolutely nothing else has happened this week that is remotely funny.

“Methinks you protest too much,” she replies. Oh Lord. Shortly afterwards, for convoluted reasons, the name of the actress Emma Thompson comes up. I mentioned that I’d met her at a party and found her extremely attractive.

“Emma Thompson? See what I mean? She’s a gay man’s idea of a straight woman. That and Katie Price.”

Well, that’s me explained, then. It’s something of a mystery that I’ve yet to think of a single male I find sexually attractive, but that’s psychology for you, innit?

This article appears in the 10 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why the Tories keep winning