A Vesta Valentine


Dame Vesta Bules, Queen of Soho’s Tranny Shack, dons the tattered gown of Miss Haversham, as she puts Valentine’s day to rights.

There is one day of the year that I dread more than my birthday, one day of the year in which I become a Haversham-esque recluse and banish the outside world and all its pitiful merry making. Copious amounts of Chinese food will be ordered, two litres of gin should be enough to get me through till Countdown and I shall answer no telephones – for today…is Valentine’s Day. Actually, it’s nothing of the kind, it’s “Let me buy some plasticky tat covered in odious and anatomically incorrect hearts and thrust them in front of a loved one who I ignore for the other 364 days of the year Day” but Clintons couldn’t fit that on a greetings card.

The real Saint Valentine was a handsome young thing (according to Bassano’s portrait) who pissed off the Roman Emperor Claudius (he of the terrible stammer) so much that he battered him to death with a club outside the Flaminian Gate.  And on this, his feast day, I’d quite like to do a little Claudian clubbing myself. Now call me bitter, call me twisted. Say that I am a frosty faced old cow who’d change her tune if she had a man – you’d be wrong. Though I will admit this particular day stings all the more when one is a spinster of the parish, I’ve spent equally horrid occasions when I’ve been loved up. It’s all so American.

Now I’m a great believer in romance, I may well have been Dame Barbara Cartland in another life, but what I see on Valentine’s Day is little more than the bullying of all singletons. I have a friend who will spend this evening with a man he dislikes and doesn’t find at all attractive, simply so that he can ‘check in’ on Facebook and by the very act of physically eating a meal, in public, with another single man, he can prove to the world that he is neither ugly, banal or frigid. Actually he’d remain all three even if he was marrying Rupert Everett, my point is that as soon as the 14th of February hoves into view, those of us left on the shelf have to find a way to occupy our time because suddenly, our friends simply must dance the horizontal mambo after a microwaved overpriced Italian meal and we’re surplus to requirements for the evening. Come the morrow, they’re back to hating each other and searching for something better on Grindr. And here dear friends, both single and irritating, is the crux of the issue. We gays have forgotten how to fall in love.

Nearly all of my friends are serial daters, confirmed bachelors by choice or can’t find the man of their dreams. A picture is taken on a tiny camera and uploaded onto a virtual meat market with the basic statistics filled in dutifully. A few scrolls down the menu and bingo, they’re on the phone to you whining about the fact that the only person who has messaged them all day is a 4ft obese builder called Barry with a wooden leg and a hedgehog called Meryl. Barry hasn’t exactly been all sweetness and light – oh no dear friends, he’s sent a picture of his one man band and a very impolite enquiry as to whether you “accom” and are you a “top?” (Whatever all that means. We Dames are asexual. Like the Dalai Lama but with more hair).

No wonder we’re all terminally single if this is the level of conversation we’re using on a daily basis. Of course, for some these apps do work but surely it’d be far nicer to meet a man under the clock at Kings Cross Station, he wearing a white gardenia, you carrying a copy of the Racing Post? There’s no communication anymore, we reduce ourselves to tiny orange boxes when all we really want is someone to hold us and tell us we’re beautiful – because the imagery we’re subjected to makes us believe otherwise.

It is the tragic irony we live with, so wonderfully espoused by Quentin Crisp’s “tall, dark man theory”. The fact is, we look at our gay pin ups so carefully airbrushed and plucked by gay marketing experts and we not only want to be like them, we want to be with them. If we do happen to meet them, we inevitably feel that we’re not good enough for them because “we don’t look like that”. Unfortunately dears, this is the real world and nobody looks like that. Every man, woman and Member of Parliament has their little ways, their strange habits and those whacking great imperfections that make you want to go at them in the back with a cordless drill.

It is the human condition to want to love but it is the gay condition to set ourselves up to fail in love. And Valentine’s Day reminds us of that sad deep-rooted belief that we can never be loved because somehow, we do not fit. In reality, a great many of you who will be dreading today and loathe every cherub and red rose passed under your nose could be living happy lives with devoted partners – if you just stopped trying to live up to the cardboard cut-out stereotype that’s encouraged.  Be proud to be yourself, embrace your unique identity and learn to find those who do the same attractive for when the six pack is porridge and the golden hair has turned to silver, that pride will still be there. And with that in mind, I truly hope that all who have dinner dates with handsome strangers this evening choke on their starters. God bless.

Words: Dame Vesta Bules

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