The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of the Straights by Redfern Jon Barrett

The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of StraightsThe Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of the Straights by Redfern Jon Barret is a beautifully written novel detailing our obsession with gender essentialism, monogamy, romantic love and sexual attraction. But what happens when we question these things? If we didn’t divide people into two genders, admitted that it’s possible to love more than one person at the same time, or realized that it is possible to deeply love someone, even if you are not sexually attracted to that person?

What happens when we move past the rules we were taught as children?

Don’t avoid the other children. Don’t play with dolls. Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t be a wilting wallflower. Don’t doodle. Don’t dream. Don’t wrestle other boys. Don’t forget to shave. Don’t kiss male friends. Men don’t love men. You certainly can’t love more than one at once. The rules-to-a-happy-life are the same in south Wales as anywhere else.
Happiness is boring. At least I think so. Contentment makes for the worst stories. Contended people live and die as though they never were – there is no imprint to be left by the contended. Now discontent is worth something. When we live among masses of those with whom we disagree – those we find abhorrent – that is when we fight to leave a mark, that is when we have something worth conveying. That was my life in south Wales. So I avoided who I wanted, I played with what I wished, I was as sensitive as I needed to be, I wilted and doodled and dreamed, I wrestled whomever I felt like, I didn’t close-shave anywhere. But I hoped that people would kiss me and people would love me and maybe there would be more than one at once. At some point.

What is really so great about your standard, hetero-normative relationship in the first place?

A rough-looking hetero couple clamoured into me, cursing me then resuming their rage toward each other, screamed as a public spectacle – their hair was plastered t their faces with rain, their inexplicably bare arms soaking wet. Be aware I might be paraphrasing a little.
“You make me feel inadequate in my masculinity and I find the thought of you finding other men sexually attractive threatening to an ego which was damaged by a hypermasculine overbearing father.”
“I retreat into a shrill media-based portrayal of hysterical womanhood as the only response I know to dealing with your insecure aggression. I’ll screech over and over that I didn’t sleep with anyone, protesting my innocence so I can resume my campaign of passive aggression against you, which I learned both from school and from my parents.”
“I monitor the direction in which you cast your eyes when we’re in public together, watching for any sign that you find anyone else physically attractive. When I feel sufficiently justified in my fear-based rage, I shall shout at you and then attack the poor individual who played no part in the gradual and inevitable breakdown of our ridiculous relationship. I shall threaten to murder anyone who is foolhardy enough to endure orgasm with you, thus proving I am a man.”
“I shall cite your lack of sexual potency as a possible motivation for any possible infidelity.”
“You’re both a canine and a bovine, and finally you’re an apparently-offensive word for a female sexual organ which has its roots in old English.”
“You’re a fuckin’ wanker and a fuckin’ stupid prick an’ all,” zie squawled back. They stumpled into the pub opposite. I could see only shadows inside.

Our need for certainty, knowing which path to take and how to get to the destination… whatever that might be.

I’d let my guard down. I couldn’t help it, if I’m getting on with someone I instinctively trust them, and with my words and my breath and my body I want to fondle them, caress them, feel them. Yet in that city there were two types of sexual connection: the cold, unfeeling robotic motion-going single-night encounters, which chilled me like metal, or an instant monogamous homo mock-marriages which may have been softer, but which smothered and blocked out the light. Neither would nurture an organic bond, one which grew where it grew and simply went how it went. Only idiots crave certainty.
I’d let my guard down. We’d met online – of course I’d have rather’d the gradual casual chat of knowing someone-through-someone, but with homos in Swansea it was generally the internet or the gay bars. That wasn’t even a choice. Zie’d seemed different.

I’d let my guard down. We’d lain there together, a gentle finger circling skin.
I’d talked.
Zie didn’t hear.
I’d smiled and zie looked away.
I’d held hir yet zie remained rigid.
Hard. Metallic. In one moment the green shoot withered and the seeds became bitter in hard soil. I knew even before zie said that zie wasn’t looking for anything serious – yet I told hir I looked for nothing – that zie needed to be by hirself – but can’t we just see what happens? Can’t we just let something grow, and if it withers, if it dies, then that’s fine, but can’t it have a chance? No words were heard and as I lay in the dark, with the glimmer of rising light outside. My limbs grew ever more heavy and leaden, mercury coursing through veins and arteries, a heavy lump of loneliness made molten and slowly flowing through me. When the sun was higher this one would leave, a few words scattered for the sake of politeness before zie went, taking a little of my hope with hir.

The courage it takes to question your own identity and self perception.

“I’m in love with you, Richard.”
I’d said it.
“What do you mean ‘you love me’?” he asked, looking at me like I was nuts, the fucking lunatic who had waited all night for him at the hospital. “You’re straight, aren’t you?”
And what could I say to that? I was scared, I didn’t know if I could get it all out right or make him understand, especially when I didn’t really get it myself, so I told him that I was straight, at least I only really like girls sexually, and if they weren’t born a girl at least they should look like one.
“My cock likes girls, Richard. But I love you.”

“I know how you feel. My cock doesn’t like you either,” and then he looked right at me and he said, “but I love you too.”

The courage it takes to move beyond our norms and set ideas… and the thrill in doing so.

“If he didn’t tell you he was gay or bisexual then he probably isn’t,” Steph replied, as calm as though we’d been forced into small talk. “I mean, he told you he’s in love with a man. What else would be left to hide? It seems to me that there are two important questions here: do you love him? And could you accept him loving someone else at the same time?”

All of a sudden I felt awake. Things felt clear. I knew what I wanted.
“They’ve really got a nerve,” Nomi shouted, but I wasn’t going to stay and listen to her rant. Dom loved me and I loved Dom. I felt tense, I felt stiff, and more than anything I felt determined. We loved each other, and maybe Richard would change that or maybe he wouldn’t, but I couldn’t just leave it, I had to find out.

What’s up with our desire to “own” our romantic partners anyway?

“No,” Steph replied. We can’t know what will make us happy until we do it. It’s not possible to make a conscious choice between degrees of happiness. What if this makes her more happy? Besides, half of you are socialists, the other half pretty much anarchists.”
“So,” Steph continued, resuming her firm decorum, “What sort of world do you really want to see, anyway? Isn’t it a little hypocritical to complain about property and ownership and then demand to own the person you love? Isn’t sharing what it’s all about? Kitty, you’re a vegan – is it wrong to own animals, but okay to own people?”
“That’s different,” Kitty replied. “People can consent, the ownership is mutual.”
“But uninformed consent isn’t consent,” Steph stated, growing a little wild. I didn’t know she felt so strongly about all of this. “Most people don’t know there’s any other way. What if there is?”

And what is up with all of our labels?

“So how am I heterosexual, but not straight?” Dom asked me. “What do you mean?”
“Because,” I told hir, “gay is a culture formed around homosexuality, and straight is a culture formed around heterosexuality.”
Dom gave an uncertain nod and glanced back toward the kitchen. Caroline’s other roommate flickered briefly in the doorway, a sour look on hir face, before vanishing.
“Think of it this way: you could be homosexual, or have a penis, or you might have an impairment – say you’re deaf. You have these states, and then you have the social shit we pile on top of those – in these cases being ‘gay’, or a ‘man’, or ‘disabled’. So if you’re homosexual people wind up assuming you’re gay, but all homosexual activity means is that you’re a man who wants to fuck other men. Being gay means a whole lot more than that: that you want to build your life with a man and not women, that you fall in love with men and not women, and a whole load of other crap.”
“Don’t forget the lesbians,” Steph said.
“Yes, right, thanks Steph, helpful.” I pulled a face at hir and she leant over and punched me on the arm. “Anyway,” I continued, “so your sex drive is towards women, not men, which makes you hetero-” Dom looked uncomfortable at the mention of hir sex drive, whilst Richard leant forward, “-but your romantic drive, that obviously lies with both men and women. If you were straight then both would be purely towards females – women would be the ones you fucked and the ones you love. That’s what I mean, that a homosexual doesn’t have to be gay, a heterosexual isn’t necessarily straight. That’s how you can wind up hetero, but not straight.”

This and so much more is explored in The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of the Straights by Redfern Jon Barrett. I didn’t think it possible, but I actually enjoyed this just as much, and quite possibly more than Forget Yourself – the author’s previous book. If you are at all open to have your pre-existing ideas and concepts questioned I highly recommend it – if nothing else, you might just fall in love with Barrett’s way with words.

Redferd Jon Barrett read my review of Forget Yourself and offered me a free copy of The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of the Straights. I was thrilled to get the opportunity, and of course this review is still my honest opinion of the novel. 

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