Sam Stanley’s coming out is a victory for us all

Another sporting star came out at the weekend. How good it feels to say that almost mundanely, like I’m reading out cricket scores or recounting a chicken-pox outbreak at the local nursery.

The fact is, of course, that Rugby Union star Sam Stanley’s decision to come out in an interview with the Sunday Times is anything but mundane. Coming as it did just a fortnight after the coming out of another rugby player Keegan Hirst, you could be forgiven for thinking this was no big deal, but if anything, Sam’s decision to tear up his Narnia passport is even more compelling.

It’s clear that, like Keegan, England Sevens player Stanley has been trying to come to terms with his sexuality for years. Hirst married and had a child while he wrestled with his glittery demons, while Stanley went for a different kind of repression – he had a gay relationship, but never told anyone about it. Even though, in a way, it was in plain sight.

His big reveal may have come this weekend, but Stanley has been carefully peeling off the layers for all to see for some time, via his Instagram. While it’s not exactly a surprise that nobody noticed – social media is, after all, about looking back at your own posts and interacting with only a few others, no matter what people might tell you – Sam’s relationship made barely a ripple until he himself decided it was time to come clean and put it in black and white.

And yet the most refreshing part of Stanley’s coming out is not that he’s shaking the mainstream by its shoulders and changing its perceptions of both sportsmen and gay men, oh no. It’s his boyfriend. Sam Stanley is eschewing the doe-eyed, lithe youngsters who would no doubt sleep on a bed of nails to do his bidding and has, instead, fallen in love with Laurence, a friendly looking, older man who may not be able to drop and give you twenty but would certainly stand by and applaud gently while you did.

La spiaggia 🇮🇹☀️❤️👬 @lorenzo_uk

A photo posted by Sam Stanley (@samstannerz) on

 

When Tom Daley set up his camera, plonked himself on his Union Jack cushions and told the world he liked boys too, there was a powerful tsunami of goodwill. Fast forward a few newspaper headlines, however, and the revelation that Tom Daley was not puckering up for a fellow 21-year-old but instead a buff, experienced film director almost two decades his senior and, from certain quarters, the warmth quickly evaporated.

Coming out alone wasn’t enough – the Olympic bronze medallist had to live up to the gay fantasy too, and scores of young men in their early to mid twenties – and beyond, let’s face it – were outraged that not only had Tom gone and worked all this out for himself, he’d gone off and done a bunk with someone old enough to be his gymslip dad.

Dustin Lance Black, of course, may have had the undesirable advanced years, but he did at least have the six-pack and buns of steel – not to mention other attributes he may or may not have displayed in some unfortunate photos doing the rounds of the internet. Sam’s domestic setup, however, is a glimpse at the real face of gay relationships.

It’s not uncommon for younger guys to seek out the comfort and experience of a couple of generations up when they first come out, whether socially or physically. Many dismiss it as sleazy but age is just a number and, when it comes to coming out, we all start at zero – no matter how far along our personal timelines we are.

Isn’t it somehow reassuring that the rugby union centre has foregone the Instagram-ready cliché of dating his own reflection, a matching pair to cause ripples of excitement wherever they go on the gay circuit or to stay in and spend nights in front of the fire counting each other’s abs?

Instead he’s got himself a man who’s been though his own journey – Laurence himself was married and had children before coming out – and hasn’t spent his entire life deep-throating protein shakes and seems all the more comfortable in his own skin for it.

Sam and Laurence go on holiday together, attend Bette Midler concerts together, go out and have a good time, and they look hopelessly, beautifully in love.

Those in glee at Sam’s coming out hope it will spur on more sportsmen to be role models and vacate the closet for good, and while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, my main hope for this is that we remember gay relationships come in all shapes, sizes and ages. It may be longer than a fortnight before we coax another rugby player out to boogie underneath the glitterball, but if we can grant a bit more visibility to our older and – dare I say it – cuddlier gay brothers then Sam’s struggle will not have been in vain.

Sam Stanley’s big reveal isn’t just a victory for closeted sportsmen or gay men hungry for a masculine, ‘everyday Joe’ role model. It’s a sweet win for those of us gay men who feel a little pushed aside by the chiselled cheekbones, jutting hips and oh-so-smooth complexions of your average gay bar – sometimes those of us with a few more miles on the clock get the guy. Dreams don’t belong to the young after all.

So, youngsters, don’t howl at the moon that your magic youth couldn’t snare you a strapping lad like Sam – feel cheered that one day, if you’re extra lucky, you might actually get your hands on a Laurence.

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Image: Ealing Trailfinders

I’m with stupid

At school, aside from all the usual tribes and factions and ‘cool kids’, there were two distinct groups you had to belong to, and you didn’t get to pick which. You were either “thick” or “brainy” and there wasn’t really much in between.

Be declared a thicko, and over a decade of jeering, patronising and belming awaited you. Usually, once you left school to go and do whatever your intellect had allowed – be it university or a job or unemployment or, in the case of many thickos from my school, parenthood – this would fall away and you could be left in your own little world. Your perceived lack of intelligence could, unless you were particularly unlucky or had the kind of drunk, hectoring relatives who ruin Christmas, remain hidden.

Until social media.

Oh, God, we blame social media for everything now, don’t we? From our children not talking to us, to people being murdered, via clumsy, dimwitted racism and sexism. We have never been more aware of the idiocy that surrounds us – apart from our own.

People we would never associate with in real life are suddenly front-and-centre and all up in our grills with their lame anecdotes, ancient memes and dreary inspirational psycho-babble. And, of course, flaunting their literacy, or lack thereof, all over our timelines.

Thankfully, for those of us who never got the chance to sit at the back of the school bus, screenshotting has allowed us all to taste that superiority. Screen-grabbing does have its uses when it comes to highlighting sexism or racism or other deplorable antisocial behaviours – and when these happen to you, these are your stories to tell and you have a right to share them. Nobody gets to write your autobiography but you.

When we’re taking screen grabs and calling out people’s bad grammar or spelling in their status updates and having a good old chuckle, however, we’re regressing to the playground.

I was really disappointed, then, that BuzzFeed joined the jeering throngs with this piece entitled 28 Pictures That Will Destroy Your Faith in Education, which showed screengrabs of Facebook status updates and tweets from people whose grasp of grammar and spelling was certainly less than stellar.

I get that the piece was merely aggregating content freely available elsewhere, but it felt like a misfire from  one of the fastest growing, and most influential, content organisations in the digital arena, making some big-name hires from some of the most respected newspaper and media outlets in the world. A step backwards into the “old” internet.

The headings are pretty grim. “This genius.” “This intellectual.” And if you break the oldest rule of the web and actually read the comments beneath it, you will see a massive pile-on, hordes of brainiacs eager to laugh at the dummies. Ironically, there are plenty of spelling mistakes strewn across them.

We’re tackling sexism and racism and fat-shaming and camp-shaming and calling out perpetrators in tweets and a gazillion think-pieces, but making fun of those with a lower level of literacy is, it would seem, still OK.

I don’t agree. There are lots of different reasons why someone may not have the same spelling smarts as you – lack of opportunity, dyslexia, difficult upbringing, or maybe just a general lack of brightness. Not being clever is something few people can actually change, and the education system can fail even the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Plus, is there anyone more boring and depressing than a self-appointed ‘grammar Nazi’? Wielding the red pen of justice and joylessness, their motto “I think you’ll find…” and a fuck-tonne of wearisome old “you’re/your” pedantry  etched on their ice-cold heart?

Congratulations! You can spell! You can string a sentence together! How about you use this intellect for something helpful and interesting rather than kicking a dog that is certainly already down?

Have I done this myself? Have I judged people on their ability to rack out the ABCs rather than what they’re like as a person? Definitely. And I am ashamed. Mortified.

It reminds me of years ago, when I was a haughty, self-important 21-year-old, I proclaimed I didn’t “suffer fools gladly”. My dad, who was with me at the time, looked at me, disappointed, and reminded me gently: “Have you  never been a fool? Can you honestly say you haven’t done anything foolish?”

I felt chastened, rightly.

Ripping a person to shreds because their IQ isn’t as stratospheric as yours? That truly is the dumbest of the dumb – and that’s what “destroys my faith in education”, not a misspelled status update.

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Image: Flickr

How to be “the boy”

You can’t move on social media or in an airport novel for mentions of “the boy”, that mythical perfect boyfriend who gets their partner’s eyes and tweets all a-flutter.

“Meeting the boy for drinks later,” they coo, as they skip down to whichever chichi future-dive their beau is sitting in, batting his sweet little eyes at the rest of the clientele.

But who is The Boy? How do you get to be one? What does he do? Much like the “Cool Girl”, “The Boy” is a fantasy of perfection.

In my head, The Boy is not the reality: an amiable, farting beard machine who clogs up the plughole, always makes you reach for the tissues and has never heard of a courtesy flush. The Boy for me is a handsome, slightly malevolent, and somewhat enthusiastically dull yet louche character like Dickie Greenleaf from The Talented Mr Ripley. Do you have one? Are you The Boy?

Behold The Boy checklist:

His nipples align perfectly. His skin is soft and shines only with youth and brilliance, not oil. There are one or two blemishes – perhaps a chicken pox scar or a dinky mole, but the faults are few and far between.

When he beckons, you come.

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Perpetually 27, his Sundays are Instagram-ready hours of lazy brunches, huge roasts served on slabs of slate in that pub in East London – the one from Time Out 7 months ago. Mocktails!

Nobody is every quite sure what he does, but his job at least sounds good on LinkedIn. It involves vague transatlantic travelling, using the word “synergy” in meetings,  and lots of Uber rides. The Boy has a perfectly curated playlist just waiting to go as soon as he bounds into the car and, needless to say, he has a 4.9 star rating.

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He always gets upgraded from economy and buys his cleaner a birthday and Christmas present. Even though he’s never met them.

He drinks, but not to excess, and looks down on drug use, save for a few dabs of overpriced cocaine at New Year or on his birthday. His body is indeed that temple you hear so much about, but he’s not averse to a crafty, slightly drunken cigarette with his gal pals. To show he’s not a committed smoker, he holds his fag awkwardly and giggles with every puff.

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His parents live in the house he grew up in, which they own, and he dutifully visits them at least once a quarter, spending weekends petting and photographing the family dog. The Boy’s parents fell out of love at least a decade ago but are staying together for “the children” – they do so hate to see The Boy cry. He has at least one slightly less attractive, earthy sibling, who’s very proud of him and doesn’t even have the wit or the brains to good-naturedly resent him.

He’s on good terms with all his exes, save for the one who broke his heart when he was 19. It gives him a malicious pleasure he will never admit to hear that this ex has hit the skids and gained ten pounds.

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He accepts all your gifts with good grace, even when you bought the wrong thing. He shoos away your compliments but is secretly disappointed if you don’t toss an accolade his way before every meal.

He has a cabal of close friends – all awful, but they make him look better – who send him inspirational texts and tweets telling how amazing he is. They like all his posts on Instagram, even if they’re really boring. You want The Boy to know you like him, so that he likes you back. But he will only like you back – he never likes you unrequitedly. He posts Vines and memes, all pretty derivative but posted just about early enough so he can get the credit for them going viral. He nicks them from Reddit.

His flat, a new build next to a river, glistens with spendy kitchen appliances and ice-cold fashionable flooring. He purposefully leaves fingerprints on the glass of his balcony just to make sure the cleaner really earns those birthday gifts. He has toyed with the idea of having sex on this balcony but can’t work out where the best place for his iPhone would be. He’d want to film it, of course.

He has sex, knows all the moves, but is never, ever sexy. His underpants may as well be full of cardboard. He’s loud when he comes.

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In the bedroom, candles and rope lights glimmer and the white walls and selfie-ready bedlinen make it impossible to see the join. He steams all his vegetables but has a weakness for ridiculous ironic junk food like deep fried hot dogs. He will allow himself one of these aberrations a week and do 200 extra squats in the gym.

He has a personal trainer, who told him on their third session he had no idea he was gay. The Boy was elated.

But here’s the thing:

I fucked The Boy. He’s a lousy lay.

You’re welcome to him.

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Image: Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection.

The first-date shirt

I have never had “lucky” pants or socks. Underwear is underwear and I have almost never had someone peel off my jeans, running their tongue across their teeth in anticipation, and compliment me on my trunks – or what was inside them, now I come to think of it.

But there are few items of clothing I have ever felt as invincible or irresistible in as my “first date shirt”, the long-sleeved legend I wore on the majority, well at least half, of my first dates.

I had admired it in the shop for a while. I am one of those people who either impulse-buys wildly and has to do the “return of shame” within a day or two; or takes hundreds of trips to the clothes rail to convince myself I should buy the object of affection. The first date shirt took a lot of self-persuasion.

I don’t really know why; it wasn’t remotely expensive or particularly outré. Just a bog standard Uniqlo cotton number, in burgundy and green (I think; for a gay I’m not very good with colours) in a check or plaid or tartan or whatever you want to call it.

But I had a million shirts just like it – or thought I did – and so would place it back on the hanger every single time, after a good quarter of an hour turning that way and this looking in the mirror  with it against my chest.

Then, one day, while I was waiting for a friend to squeeze into some jeans in the fitting room, I tried it on properly for the first time.

We fell in love.

I marvelled at how it perfectly fitted the contours of my then runner-fit body. It is an extra small; those were the fucking days, eh? I could wear it buttoned all the way up to the top, as was popular in 2010, when I bought it, and tuck it in, or have it untucked and still be able to see most of my arse. I had to have it, and, reader, I did. It was even in the sale. £9.99. It more than earned its keep.

I looked so good in it. That doesn’t usually happen to me in clothes.

Whatever I paired it with, it seemed to work, but my favourite was some arse-hugging navy or grey cords and my Converse trainers. I would walk into dates and know more or less straightaway whether the shirt had done the trick. But how could it not? I was 34 and a 29″ waist in an extra-small shirt and my hair was shiny and my teeth were clean – you don’t get much closer to God than that feeling. Well, in my head, at least.

I used to feel so triumphant as eager hands would unbutton it at the end of the night and I would watch it be thrown across the room to land in a heap with a  strange sense of pride and achievement. The shirt and me, we had won. You’d think I would treat my prize piece of clothing a bit kinder, but it understood that you had to experience the rough to appreciate the spoils.

And so it went on. If I thought there were a remote chance of it coming off at the end of the night, I’d wear it, making sure that I rolled up my sleeves and unfastened a button around three quarters of the way through the night for maximum effect.

Rather tellingly, I didn’t wear it on my first date with my current boyfriend, and we did not go home together. I can’t remember when he first got treated to it, but I do know it was soon his favourite thing of mine that I wore, and the ‘first date shirt’ transitioned into a ‘nice boyfriend shirt’.

Eventually, of course, it became tatty – and snugger in places – so its space in the wardrobe was taken up by other, lesser, duller shirts, with nary a secret nor a tall tale between them. Shame.

I am home ill today and have been hanging up some washing. Needing a hanger, I searched through my wardrobe for something that could be sacrificed. And I found my shirt.

I tried it on over my vest and although it was rather pinched around the shoulders, not to mention crumpled by lack of an iron since 2013, it still fitted me. Kind of. Its collars are frayed and its cuffs are worn out, and I felt a million miles away from the man who used to walk into a bar feeling like anything was possible that night. I didn’t feel wistful, though.

But there will be no more first dates, and that makes me happy rather than sad. But the shirt stays on the hanger, I owe it that.

Finally, the respect it deserves for all the years’ loyal service. The filthy animal.

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Image: Uniqlo, but that is NOT the shirt. My shirt is much nicer.

My gay voice

A new documentary on the concept of “sounding gay” has been making waves in the media, and among gay men. Do I Sound Gay? investigates whether there is such a thing as “gay voice” – when it comes to men, of course – and, if so, how do we get it?

I became aware my voice was more ‘girly’ than other boys’ at a very early age. I seemed to have so many ‘tells’ when I was a child that it was difficult to rein them all in. I could just about walk into a room and sit down without it becoming obvious but the voice – oh the voice – it always let me down. I was never any good at impressions and booming out like a bullfrog wasn’t really going to fly for a seven-year-old, so instead I reverted to silence.

I stopped answering questions in the classroom, would avoid shouting out – whether in joy or misery – in the playground and would pretend I was ‘shy’ in front of grown-ups I didn’t know. And if I ever forgot myself, perhaps giving a yelp of delight or saying a word with lots of  ‘s’ sounds in it, I’d see their faces change and know I’d gone too far. A slight twist of their mouth, their attention suddenly all mine, a quizzical look across their brow, maybe. I’d failed. They knew.

Of course you can’t stay quiet for ever and by the time I got to grammar school I had at least come to accept the way I spoke. I couldn’t do much about the tone and so I kept to short statements, avoiding using too many long words, even they were bursting to get out. I effectively dumbed down in an effort not to fit in – that never interested me – but not to stand out. A ghost.

All my acting was for naught. The bullies didn’t care how little I said – it was the way that I said it.

I’ve poshed up considerably since my school days and find I now adapt the way I speak to whoever I’m speaking to. It’s a shield. I always tell myself I never had a particularly broad Yorkshire accent growing up, but if I’m on the phone to Mum, I take things more ‘Emmerdale’. When I’m trying to get my own way with the bank, it’s Mrs Slocombe on full customer-service mode.

And yet my voice is still… what is it? High? Shrill? I don’t know. It has its moments. I have to interview people a lot for my job and transcribing brings the horror back. I adopted a style I thought more laid-back, more masculine: trying to talk more slowly, experimenting with vocal fry (which is horrible – don’t do it), trying to make my mouth drier. But when I play the tapes back I hear squeaky old me again.

It reminds me of my first ever job after I left university, temping in a call centre. It was common for a bored middle-manager with soup stains on his tie to take you into a room every month and listen to one of your calls with you to give you feedback. I only had to do it once; I know I couldn’t endure it again. The manager, a Scottish premature ejaculator with a voice like an oatcake being smashed by a gavel, told me I sounded “nippy” and “like a sarcastic wifey” and that I needed to talk differently if I wanted to be taken seriously. Being taken seriously by a customer of his shitty bank was never high on my to-do list, so I took my shrill harpy of a larynx elsewhere very soon after.

But even though people tell me it isn’t, the voice is still gay. Gay gay gay. Of course it is, it belongs to me.

I hate the way it sounds and I hate the way it feels to hate it and I hate the fact that a voice like mine is something that is hated. It’s like that old camp-aversion, and straight-acting, and shrinking from the word effeminate like Dracula from garlic. What are we so ashamed of? The best I can hope for is to be mistaken for being a metrosexual.

This is what can be so nerve-wracking about being a freelancer or going to meet lots of different people: I never know how they’re going to react to my voice. The voice. While I may have dropped an octave or two – I do not actually know what an octave is, really – in my head, all I can hear is the little boy in the corner who everybody says talks like a girl. And so, in these meetings, interviews and offices, I shake their hands and wait for them to speak first. Only then can I relax.

A few months ago I met an old friend for lunch and she brought her two small children, the youngest I had never met before. They were great fun, climbing all over me and the boyfriend and trying to tell us about their bikes and schools and interrupting very single syllable of adult conversation. It was joyous. And then the youngest – a girl who does not like pink or princesses and thinks dolls are pointless – put her head to one side and asked me: “Why do you talk like a girl if you’re a boy?”

Of course, we laughed and I shrugged and said something like, “I don’t know. Some boys sound like girls” and that was that. But I was amazed it had followed me all the way out of every classroom and assembly hall and horrific PE changing room and come to bite me on the still kind of pert behind thirty-odd years later.

But I won’t be silenced; I’ve got too much to say. My voice isn’t a problem, my own insecurities are, and it’s time to shed those old albatrosses. If people click that I’m gay straightaway, so what? Being gay’s really cool – I reckon you should give it a go. Not that I’m offering.

And, yes, if I said all that out loud it probably would sound kind of gay.

Deal with it, dearie.

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Image: Flickr

25 terrible men you should never date

Dating blogs are full of advice and this one is no exception.

All the others talk nonsense though – about rules you should follow and how you have to do X so that you look more Y. Ignore them all. Disconnect the internet. You need only one piece of dating advice today. And it is this.

You should never date a man who…

1. Tells you that you have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé.

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If he ever presents you with this mug, introduce it to his face.

2. Barely gives dead relatives a second thought but still mourns separate lemon & lime flavours in Opal Fruits.

3. Skips past Sugababes’ Stronger when it comes on the iPod.
Or iPhone or whatever. Maybe he still has a Zune. Actually, don’t date a guy who still has a Zune. Anyway, Stronger is unskippable.

4. Refuses to acknowledge his own coffee-breath.
And worst of all, offers you gum as if it’s you who’s dying of halitosis.

5. Describes himself as #teamtaken.
Unless…

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6. Sends e-cards.

7. Likes Kylie but is too embarrassed to admit he likes Kylie.
Ditto the guy who thinks liking Kylie is a “gay cliché”. So is being a champion of internalised homophobia and socially toxic.

8. Substitutes biceps for a personality.

9. Thinks there’s anything wrong with spending the first half of January blind drunk.
“Dry January” = dry crotch.

10. Is rude to waiters in an effort to impress.

11. Drinks “brosé” or even thinks it’s a thing.
It’s just wine, you fragile, masculine ball of boring.

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12. Has been on Tubecrush.
Let’s be real, he probably sent the picture in himself.

13. Takes their tea “as it comes”.
It comes dashed in your face by someone who just wants you to tell them what way you’d like your fucking tea.

14. Tweets at large for food to be brought to him in bed.

15. Flirts with waiters.

16. Says “Om nom nom”.
Unless…

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17. Closes a text with a capital X for a kiss.
It means he doesn’t care about you. Seriously. I have done all the science and everything.

18. Still slags off his ex even though they split up a decade ago.

19. Says “Friday beerage” and calls a barman “bar-keep”.

20. Blurts out “Actually I think Katie Hopkins has a point” just because nobody’s looked at him for 10 minutes.

21. Sees this in iMessage but carries on typing anyway. 

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22. Thinks the past tense of “text” is also “text”.

23. Cares whether the milk goes in before or after.

24. Says things like “I don’t really do jealousy” because, holy hell, he is a massive liar.

25. Writes listicles like these and expects anyone to take them seriously.
He’s a loser. Good kisser, though.

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Why being 39 ruined going to the hairdresser for me

I used to love going to the hairdresser. And, yes, I mean the hairdresser – a salon.

Gleaming floor tiles, with sparkly bits. Asymmetric-haired (and faced) receptionists alternating between flicking through copies of Vogue and leaflets on chlamydia. Shelf upon shelf of brightly coloured product that would “change my life”, destined to make me part with north of £40 and to lie unused and unloved in my bathroom cabinet after two or three disappointing washes.

Going to get my hair styled was an event. I have never been one for pampering because I don’t understand it – it seems like a lot of nenetting around covered in goo to me, and if I wanted a sauna like that I hear Chariots is still going. And yet getting my hair “did”, to use culturally appropriated vernacular popular on social media, was my one concession to luxury. Money was no object – and certainly left my wallet swiftly enough – and having my hair pawed by good-looking people while I sipped a complimentary glass of “fizz” was one of my very favourite ways to spend time in my twenties and early thirties.

I didn’t have haircuts, I had styles. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try, any scissor-wielding or treatment I would shy away from. I had it relaxed, lines shaved in the side, a series of unfortunate mullets that have ruined every photo of me in existence from 2004–2006. As someone who is, at best, average-looking and at worst a genuine milk-curdler, my hair was always my crowning glory. Thick and bountiful and able to grow at an alarming rate, my hair bravery lifted me from a “meh” to a “mmmmmaybe” and that was enough for me.

Sitting in the stylist’s chair is probably the longest time you spend in front of  mirror without being accused of being too vain. In that 30–45 minutes or so you’re under their control, you get to check out your profile, decide which is your “best side” (the back, in my case) and even practise your reaction faces. My surprised face, my horrified look and my evil smirk all come from years spent turning this way and that in front of a crimper’s mirror. I would stare into the looking-glass and, as the scissors went about their business, gradually see a version of me that was a definite improvement.

Then something changed. Time passed.

As the years advanced and my hair greyed and my eyes receded into fleshy, lined pillows, I didn’t stare in the mirror so much. And if I did, it was to worry, not admire.

It was, then, only when I had my hair cut that I was confronted with this bizarre reenactment of myself I don’t recognise, drawn from memory by a forgetful child with only half a crayon, and on a rollercoaster.

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By this time, I had graduated to going to a barber, leaving behind my shiny sleek salons once I finally got sick of being up-sold shampoo and given yet another generic hairdo straight out of the Hoxton catalogue. No more racing to Jason in Pimpos & Pinups (no word of a lie) for 45 minutes of magic with a razor cut and handing over £50 for me.

Getting my hair done had become a chore. Instead of decadence and decoration, it started to feel functional. Like maintenance. An irritation I needed to get out of the way, causing only more annoyance when I couldn’t get an appointment, so I had to go where I knew I’d be able to get the chop straightaway. It was time to go to a barber. I had decided to play at being a grownup – and a rather dreary heterosexualish one at that.

My formerly luxurious styling session was now reduced to 15–20 minutes of efficient, wordless shearing in front of a terrifying circus mirror. The fragrance of my youth now a three-day-old pong after you’ve had smoked haddock for tea. There are great barbers out there, I know, and for a while I did have a great young guy called Jam (I don’t know why) who would congratulate me on having thick hair (every hairdresser I have ever sat in front of ever ever ever has done this) and laugh off my suggestion that my mop was greyer than John Major’s scrotum. However, when Jam moved on, as they always do, I was at the mercy of a series of butchers who couldn’t wait to get on their lunch-break.

Once you hit, I don’t know, 36 or 37, hair styles are no longer available to you. Doing something a little different is for young people or Zandra Rhodes. You find yourself reading blogs about the best haircut for your shape of face. In fact, ‘haircuts’ is what you have once middle-age comes canvassing at your doorstep – ‘hairstyles’ are not for you. And so my hair, once the cherry on top, became a shadow of its former self.

But today I made a stand. Sick of listening to a queue of masc4masc super manly men hacking their guts up into a copy of Metro while I get my hair trimmed, I went into a salon. A real salon. I didn’t have to wait, and a gay man with arms inscribed with tattoos like the Rosetta stone asked me what I wanted and talked to me about my hair for four whole minutes. Then he pointed out what previous barbers had done wrong. “It is… mushroom,” he said in his unplaceable, yet amiable, accent. He offered me a latte. A bored model swept the floor in the background. I felt home again.

He clipped and trimmed and thinned and fluffed and then sent me in the back to get my hair washed by yet another gay man – Marcello – who said he liked my “salt and pepper”. The chair I sat in was a “massage chair”, which malfunctioned and pummelled my arsehole for three minutes straight while Marcello hummed Anaconda and lathered my barnet with all manner of ridiculous unnecessary concoctions. And yet this did not take the shine off my experience.

As my hair was finally styled, I realised, yes, it looked the same as it had four weeks ago when a different barber had got its hands on it, but I felt anew, changed. I handed over the money, only £9 more than my usual barber, received a loyalty card and strode out feeling that maybe I didn’t have to bow to middle-aged norms after all. I can still have salons.

And yes, I look like a badly cryogenically aged version of myself in the mirror, but inside I felt like me. While I have hair, I’m going to treat it to that experience as often as I can. Hairstyles: you will be mine.

More like this:
Take a long hard look at your selfie
Give me death by skinny jeans over bootcut misery any day
Manspreading: Why we do it and why we need to stop
Gay marriage, fatherhood and my very own ridiculous, personal dilemma

Image: Flickr

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