Here’s a story about Pride, and the best party I ever attended.
It started in 2017, when the Gees had a wonderful family holiday in Northumbria. The fact that I could never seem to find Hadrian’s Wall, no matter how manically I drove along country lanes trying to find it, became a family joke. I had somehow expected some imposing structure like the Great Wall of China when, in fact, much of it has disappeared and the parts that survive are rather modest.
The following year Mrs Gee booked me and Offspring#1 (my regular hiking partner) into an establishment called the Hadrian Hotel in a village called Wall. ‘If you can’t find Hadrian’s Wall from the Hadrian Hotel in a village called Wall,’ she said, ‘then you are beyond hope’. So Offspring#1 and I traveled to the village called Wall, stayed in the Hadrian Hotel, and, after some hiking around, discovered Hadrian’s Wall to our mutual satisfaction. After that we traveled north, to Stirling, so we could visit Doune Castle, location for many of the castle shots in our favourite film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After much French Taunting, we drove south for the final leg of our three-centre holiday — Nottingham, where Offspring#1 is a medical student and a rising star in the LBGTQ+ community, and was due to do a cabaret turn in the DirtyFilthySexy Pride After-Party.
So there we were, and while Offspring#1 got trogged up, I nursed a pint in the bar and read a book. I am not a party animal. Having scored fairly highly on Simon Baron Cohen’s Asperg-O-Meter, I am not especially gregarious. I can never really see the point of parties, and, if I ever go to one, I’ll be in the kitchen, or somewhere on the fringes, or even not there at all, having made my excuses and left.
But then, something happened. The records they were playing in the next room weren’t thumpity-thump club beats, but disco classics from my childhood. I finished my pint and migrated to the disco, taking up a station in a dark corner on the wall, away from the flashing lights.
My feet started to move.
I got up.
I started to … dance.
So did everyone else. The go-go dancers on the stage were sexy. The harness-clad leather boys that followed were … interesting. I even managed something I have never done at a party, ever — I pulled. (He wasn’t my type). The cabaret was a lot of fun (and Offspring#1’s turn was fantastic, but I would say that, as I’m biased). After the cabaret I continued to dance. I was still dancing at 1 a.m., although more slowly, because I was getting tired, and, by then, the dance floor had become rather sticky. I didn’t know this then, but Offspring#1, in the Green Room, was trying to find me and asked their drag-act friends where I might be.
‘What’s he look like?’
‘Oh yes – he’s still on the dance floor.’
Offspring#1 sent out a search party. Thus it was that I was approached by a drag queen, at least six-foot-six foot tall (must have been the heels) and resplendent in purple taffeta and glitter, who asked me in stentorian tones, ‘Are you Offspring#1’s Mum?’
I said that I was, and remarked how much I was enjoying the party, and how I didn’t usually go in for such things, especially not the part about boogying until the small hours, as I wasn’t as young as I looked. ‘Yes, we all have that problem’, said my interlocutrix, who wafted off Offspring#1-wards.
How did a heterosexual and blokey and habitually non-partygoing person (that’s me) enjoy this party so much?
It didn’t take me long to work it out.
The reason was this – that everyone came not as the persona they are usually required to adopt to fit into everyday society, but as the persona they felt themselves to be, whether they were in street clothes or the most elaborate gender-bending confections imaginable. Everyone was, therefore, relaxed. Each person was there to enjoy themselves and have fun with other similarly-minded people, not to fulfil any prior expectations of what they ought to be, or do. As Nietzsche once wrote, to be is to do. And as Sinatra added, do-be-do-be-do. It didn’t matter if you were straight, L, G, B, T, Q, or even +. The important thing was to be there.
As someone who scores highly on the Baron Cohen Asperg-O-Meter, what I value in people is honesty. That’s why I loved being an undergraduate in Leeds, in Yorkshire, where everyone calls a spade a vertically operated digging implement, but didn’t really get on at Cambridge, where many people seem to have a ‘side’. The thing about the DirtyFilthySexy party was its honesty. It may seem highly contrived if, say, a marketing manager called Kevin comes out at weekends as a vampish dominatrix called Lola – but it is not contrived at all if Lola is the persona in which that person feels more themselves, more honest, more real.
I was struck by a sentence in a book about the style known as ‘camp’. (The book was called Camp, but I can’t locate it right now). The essence of camp, said this book, was a kind of knowingness — that even though we live in a fallen and damaged world, we should strive for innocence.