It’s a mid-week evening in January, in a northern middle-class home. The Sainsbury’s Sauvignon is magically appearing from the fridge, finding our open mouths so effortlessly. We stand around admiring the newly-converted designer (yet rustic) kitchen. Tonight,conversation is easy, relaxed. We know each other well enough not to have to make too much of an effort. There is no need to impress with our sparkling wit or our in-depth knowledge of what the guardian says about the latest Cohen brothers film (it’s not a patch on Fargo though is it?).
The wine, the familiarity, the mid-week slackening off of social etiquette, its all pointing to one thing: an inarticulate, loud debate about something we barely know anything about.What’s the topic going to be tonight?
‘Sex changes- they do my head in’ someone splutters. Sex changes it is then. Oh how we all agree. They are wrong. from a feminist point of view-gender is not biological is it darling? It’s all about social construction. You can’t surgically remove years of upbringing! They are wrong. From an economic point of view. Its only in the affluent west anyone can afford a sex change, and the medical companies are making a fast buck out of peoples misery. In Thailand Ladyboys just hack their bits off with a stanley knife. I know, darling its awful. And why are there more men having them than women? Well, pipes up Audrey. Women might have more possibilities for being ‘male’ or acting out ‘male roles’ and staying female than men do the other way round. A valid point I have to admit. But I need more wine. Encouraged by the vague nodding around her, Audrey continues:
‘I mean, butch lesbians can use strap-ons and be like men that way can’t they?’
For the first time all night it goes quiet. The easy boozy lazy flow of the patter is stopped in its tracks. Audrey turns to me for support. It doesn’t come.
‘Feminine women use strap-ons too’ I suggest, a little bit tentatively. Then I look down at my feet.
‘Feminist women?’blasts audrey. Now she is confused.
‘No,’ I gently retort, ‘feminine women’. ( Feminine women like me? I feel something unfamiliar stir inside me. )
‘Well I wouldn’t know about that’. And there it is. On her sauvignon-flushed faux-naive face. That expression. One that would look just right on a daily-mail-reading, homosexual-hating-princess-diana-loving-not-in-my-back-yard-bore. The one that says ‘I am not going to think about that because it rocks my nice little safe world where normal people do normal things and other people are weird and evil’.
‘ I do’ , I say, more forceful now,’I've done some research’.
Audrey stares at me as if I am a freak stranger that has been parachuted into her lovely new kitchen to cause an upset and spoil the feng shui. She opens her mouth but decides not to say anything. The sauvignon is falling in loud torrents into her emptied glass. The conversation is being swiftly moved on to something…else. Something that doesn’t spill onto the newly-laid parquet floor and make an unsightly mess.
I’ve never worn a strap-on before Audrey. I will now. Just for you.