Prologue: Dancing in My Dreams
Where do we begin? We’ll begin at the beginning I suppose until we meander our way (admittedly via a few detours) to the end. Then maybe we’ll stop. Maybe you’ll have long since given up – and more than a few of you may have fallen asleep. But that’s the way of these things, whether you’re travelling to fight dragons, following Alice down that well or just shagging your way through Europe in a paperback.
Then we come to the second question – what is the beginning? How far do you go? The Big Bang? A load of hot expanding gasses, a Michael-Gove-esque moment of creation? Or do you count it as the moment you were born? Those first few seconds where one in ten of us turn around and go ’what the hell is that thing’ (and thus never go near one again).
Every night on stage is a beginning. That first clicky step, heel-toe. A slight wobble of the concrete re-enforced heel. Then if you don’t go arse over tit, miracle. For some people that’s their beginning.
For most people, if you’re a little like me (and I think a good chunk of you just may be) then it begins on that first day. The first day of the rest of your queer little life. The day when you throw those paisley curtains wide and “come out”.
You may be aware “to come out” is an ancient phrase – not many people know of its origins, even those who’ve watched every episode of QI. It comes from the Latin phrase ‘Comus outtia closetus’ wherein the ‘closetus’ was a pine box from which roman politicians would collect their robes. That is why men wearing dresses is so fashionable in Italian art – the Romans loved a bit of biggus phallus.
That is, of course, total nonsense but if for even a second you were following with me, we’re going to get along just fine. If not, then your expectations have just been set. Or lowered.
So, anyway, we’re back to the beginning. As we’re talking coming out experiences, let me be very clear not everyone has the same story and despite the various different men I have come across in my time – big, small or double-jointed – I still have not heard them all. They range from the downright mediocre to the outright bizarre. In fact, if you ever get a moment head on down to Molly’s on Richmond Street in Manchester. Seek out a small man in the small bar, propping up a stool that’s probably bigger than he. Ask him if his name’s Ray, then ask him about the time with the flamingo and the bagpipes.
Some people like my friend Juan (who I will talk about in more detail later) have a special name for their coming out. They call it ‘birth’. From the moment their mother drops them into this world, her Deidre Barlow glasses dripping in perspiration, it’s pretty much a given. When one does not get pushed down the birth canal so much as sashay to a RuPaul tune it gives the doctors a clue. For someone like Juan there is no coming out, there is only a slow realisation that everyone around them is really very aware that their friend ‘Julian’ is in fact their first high school crush and the Boyzone posters are not for poetic irony. Sometimes this creates a safe space for these lucky individuals, for others it robs them of their dramatic reveal. I’ll let you decide how Juan feels about it when you meet him.
When the glitter settles, that is.
Then there are those for whom the coming out is neither as smooth as it should be nor on their own terms. Take my friend David (free of charge). When he and his high school sweet-heart Stuart came out, it was mainly through an unlocked bedroom door and an unusual funny turn by his older sister/woman of the house, Dorothy (I know, I know, ‘irony’ – we’ll come to that later), who had decided to do the washing.
Family can react in one of two ways in this situation. Dorothy, who prior to taking on her role as house-maker worked in the ‘biz’, simply allowed the door to swing back shut crying out, “Use a condom!”
Things were very different for the final friend I’ll introduce you to later on – Robin. He was the tender age of twenty-one when he came out to his parents. It was on his own terms and was of his own choosing. His hands shook but he wound up the nerve inside him. He just gosh darn could not hold it in any longer. His downside had been to do it during tea, blurting it out before he meant to. Since his mother had been bringing said tea in at the time, a shower of freshly boiling chicken saag had put the conversation on hold during a trip to A&E.
Suffice to say, Robin, of the three friends I want to tell you about tonight, experienced what a whole hell of a load of us out there have. Rejection, disownment, disillusionment. The clash of old and new, of ‘tradition’ and truth. Basically, people being a dick. Which is fine when it’s a drunk man on a bus with more wee down the front of his trousers than denim. It’s worse though when it’s family, when it’s the ones you love.
Tonight I want to tell you a story about these three friends and about family. You see, there’s a lot of shitty things going on in this world and in many ways it’s getting worse. You can’t turn on your TV without the next crisis being plastered over the plastic news, read out in the mediocre faux serious tone of the next newsreader Barbie doll. Every day someone dying, something blowing up, someone in some far off country experiencing what would have happened to all of us a hundred years ago in this one.
Then there is further division. For any non-British out there you may have followed closely what’s gone on in this country and without getting political (giggling at Ed Balls is about as far as I’ll be willing to go tonight), the division is hard to ignore. Leave or remain, independence or unity, hippie leftie or delusional troll. Heaven forbid if you have an opinion. You can spend hours drawn into an argument on something as innocuous as a Nigellisma forum about whether or not you’re for or against bedroom tax. True story.
You take that further, you look inside our own community. On the outside its rainbows and puppy dogs; on the inside, it’s prejudice and pain. Everyone scrambling to get their voices heard, to be the next over-toothed television presenter or underdressed Ibiza rep. Looking for something meaningless on Grindr or something meaningful in the bottom of a glass. Striving to fight forever forward, to rage against the man and bring about the social justice and change all over the world that we’d all like to see – and heaven forfends if you don’t march to the same drum. The rest just wishing to disappear and forget about their own pain.
Dissatisfaction rules us in the questions we ask of ourselves and others – is anything ever ripped enough, big enough, manly or fem enough? Am I too camp or too loud? Am I okay to be me and if it’s okay to be me, is me worth being? Focusing on ourselves and forgetting about everyone else but judging them all the same. You can’t wear that, you can’t do that, you can’t ‘mainstream’. And if you do, you’re a sell-out.
The reason I want to tell you about David, Robin, and Juan is because they are all so different. Three men who found themselves one way or another living in Manchester. They were good men, each in their own way, but they were very different. Each of them took a part of our overall gay tapestry – just a part mind you – and made it their own.
Each of them lived and in living found pain and heartbreak, but by finding each other they would find a reason to keep going. At day they would walk together and by night and in dreams they would dance.
Now enough of this maudlin stuff and let’s get on with the show.
Speaking of, we have a funeral to get to.