The jargon that I and Mark have with our friends, like Stephen, can border on the shocking sometimes. It takes a particularly close friend not to be offended. Since Stephen has no problem doing us down in other matters, I do take his lack of protest as acceptance; an acknowledgement that it’s a bit of fun, and nothing else.

Henry Scott Tuke, 1858-1929, was an English impressionist painter who had a habit of painting young men in various stages of undress.
Henry Scott Tuke, 1858-1929, was an English impressionist painter who had a habit of painting young men in various stages of undress.

“I’ve said from the day I met him,” I can say to Mark about Stephen when Stephen is visiting and listening, “that he’d make the perfect third in a threesome”

“Nah,” Mark can reply. “He’s slept over. He snores too much.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that we’d sleep together.”

“Besides, he’s too small.”

“Size queen.”

“I can’t be, I’m with you remember.”

“Sweetie, you’re sleeping on the sofa tonight.”

Regardless of whether it’s with Abbie and Ben or with Stephen, this is the type of banter that occur frequently among us, and it is a bit of fun because we know each other so well that nobody would take it the least bit seriously.

But when strangers attempt to have that sort of banter, it can go all wrong and awkward, and the puritan which lives inside of me can pop out. Pearls will be clutched. My face will become a turnip. “I say, that sort of thing is far from acceptable, old sport.”

A few days ago I went to London with my mother, to act the perfectly respectable façade of the mother and scientist who have combined a working life with motherhood to the point where, well, I can sit there and behave properly without saying much.

Before the interviews and the dinners, however, the social fabric of our disjointed little family must be reinforced. My uncle (or his wife) had asked mother to check up on our cousin in London, and so we did.

Here’s the tally of our stock of cousins. There is me, and there is auntie’s daughter in Brighton, and there are three boys in Stirling, Scotland. Of these five cousins in all, three of us are card-carrying homosexuals, which makes us joke amongst ourselves that with such a strong genetic jack-pot, one or both of our grandparents must have carried a secret to the grave.

Auntie’s daughter came out years ago, and paved the way for us boys later. She took all the drama and the questions and the accusations, and got rid of it. When I, as the second, came out all the dramas and recriminations that I had played up in my head was met with a “Whatever, we knew all along” from my parents. When, let’s call him Cousin Third, came out I and Brighton Cousin rolled our eyes and said, “Is there something in the water?”

Now, Cousin Third lives in a flat-share in London with five other men. All of them are gay twenty-somethings, except for the oldest who has passed into the age of the thirty-something. They share a house in an edgier part of London. This is where mother and I ended up when we came to check up on Cousin Third.

There we stood on the door-step when a man with a light fuzzy beard appeared and opened the front door, dressed in jeans and a green chiffon blouse. Oh yeah, stereotypical or not, there was no doubt about which side of the divide this gentleman belonged to.

Once inside, mother and Cousin Third disappeared to the car to fetch something mother had brought for him, and I was left alone in the living room with the replica of a painting by Henry Scott Tuke over the fireplace. The room was stark white, with dark wood bookshelves, bright coloured cushions directly on the polished wood floor, and a glass table in the middle in front of the too large television set which would have made Mark envious.

And then the attempt at the same banter which I have with Stephen. “Sweetie, you are just adorable,” says the green-chiffoned man as he passes the living room on the way from his room to the kitchen. Demonstrably he slaps me on my bottom. “Whenever you ditch your girlfriend, give me a ring.”

It is at this point that Cousin Third and mother comes back, carrying bags. He hears it and laughs, and explains that I too am a card-carrying homosexual, and married to boot. To which the man in the green blouse just bats his made-up eyelids and replies. “Oh, is your husband as cute too? The more the merrier. I’m not one to deny excess.” Then he pinches my cheek and disappears into his own room, and I’m left with a curious sense of resentment and outrage.

The funny thing is that this mirror image of some conversations I’ve had with Stephen makes me blush furiously, and if I’d had pearls I would have clutched them. And there’s a definite resentment there, blooming hot inside me. “Who does he think he is!?” It’s only in the car on the way home after that I can think about it dispassionately, and link it to the jargon I use with Stephen or Abbie or Ben.

I guess that it’s the uncertainty that makes it different. Stephen and Abbie and Ben knows that when I say that, I don’t mean it. But did this guy mean it or not? Since I don’t know, I can’t be sure, and if I can’t be sure, then the possibility must exist. Maybe I should have known about this pearl-clutching moralist living inside of me, considering how my jealousy can flare up sometimes. Or maybe I’m just, in fact, a really boring person who will never dare to do anything outside my rigid upper-middle-class upbringing.