On my first morning in Trinity Hall, almost a year ago, I ordered a taxi to take me to work. The other thousand souls in Hall were still fast asleep in the hungover joy of Orientation Weekend. The taxi driver turned to me and asked if I was working security in Hall. I was clearly too old to be a student. And I was a fat man in a blue shirt. Security was a good guess. I have a chronic habit of lying to taxi drivers, and I couldn’t admit to him that I was a student, so I said I was a caretaker. I have no idea why.
When I order taxis over the phone, I often use the name “Frank Martin”. It’s easy to say and easy to hear. I use the same name to order pizzas. If you say “Connor O’Donoghue”, you’ll more than likely be “Colm/Colin O’Donovan/McDonough”, so Frank Martin is easier.
And I rarely tell taxi drivers what I do when they ask. I almost never say that I’m a student. When I was an undergraduate, I used to tell taxi drivers that I worked in a restaurant washing dishes. Now I say I’m a teacher, but I generally say I’m a secondary school teacher because it involves less explanation than the kind of teaching I actually do.
Taxi drivers aren’t the only people who form mistaken impressions of me. When I came out to my mother, she said to me “You don’t seem gay. You’re not at all like David Norris.” And views are split as to whether I put across a “gay” impression. When I worked in Slovenia for two months, I only had one colleague, and we worked together very closely, but at the end of two months, she was still making vaguely homophobic comments, clearly under the impression that I was straight. When I first came out, at the age of 16, to my manager in Paddy Garibaldi’s Irish-Italian family restaurant, where I actually did wash dishes for almost two years, she said that it had never occurred to her that I was gay, even though I did hold my cigarettes in a very gay way when I smoked. From then on, I got a little thrill every time I smoked, waving my cigarette around camply, and rejoicing in it.
A student I was working with this year on a student-parent project told me it was great that I was studying masculinities because everyone else who studied masculinities seemed to be gay, so it was great that a straight man like me was doing this. I didn’t have the heart to set her straight.
One of the Assistant Wardens who I’m replacing here is a lovely guy. I don’t know him well, but I know that he’s very nice and his main interests appear to be physics and football. I was talking to him the other day, and he asked me what was on my bracelet. When I showed him it was the members of One Direction, he literally staggered back. He asked if I was joking. His impression of me obviously didn’t fit with an adult man who wears boyband merchandise.
And an elderly lecturer on my Masters course in 2007 once took me aside and told me I was never going to get myself a girlfriend if I didn’t stop wearing silly hats and if I didn’t lose some weight. This conversation broke my heart. I had just started wearing caps and was relishing my new look, I had consciously been camping it up and I thought I had been obviously gay in his class, and I was at the thinnest I’d ever been as an adult, having lost five and a half stone. This lecturer took all the good things I was beginning to believe about myself and pissed all over them. When he gave me a reference to do this PhD two years later, I was 8 stone heavier, a lot less camp and I wasn’t really thinking about what I wearing because no nice clothes fit me. He once again gave me a lecture about losing weight, and I was angry at him, but much angrier at myself.
I’ve ranted about the cheek of older people on this blog before. An elderly receptionist who was checking me in at hospital last week when I was in for tests took my name and address and then said “I take it you’re single”. The other receptionist sitting next to him gasped. I blushed, giggled and nodded, seething a bit inside.
On Friday night, I walked through town. I’d been out drinking with some friends and had had a really nice night and was on my way through crowds of drunk people, on my way to get a taxi. A friendly young man ran up to me grabbed my belly and said, “Lay off the McDonald’s mate”. I smiled and moved on. Another young man, who seemed like a more aggressive drunk pointed at me from the other side of the street and shouted “So fat!’ This often happens to me around drunk people, and I die inside every time it does, but two different people in one night is new for me.
That’s still not as bad as the time in Madrid, when I was on a stag weekend, and myself and a friend were approached by a prostitute with very good English. She tried the hard sell with my friend, refusing to take no for an answer. My friend, who has a girlfriend, said (in frustration) “Why don’t you ask him?” pointing to me. She scoffed at this and said that I was too fat. I don’t know if there’s anything that can bruise your sexual ego as badly as being rejected by a prostitute who’s pushing hard for a sale.
Anyway, on Friday night, I was walking through town. I passed a night bus. There was a girl on the night bus, leaning on a boy, her entire body shaking with sobs. She was crying hard. Her friend was hugging her trying to shush her and calm her down. I looked at her and saw myself. I am the crying drunk girl. I went for years without crying much and I started again this year. I’m not sure what to make of this. But I certainly prefer myself when I’m crying dramatically to when I’m numbing myself with food and driving to Carlow to avoid whatever is preying on my mind. So, I think I’m OK with being the crying drunk girl. I’m sure many crying drunk girls went on to great things.
I can only imagine what my flatmates think of me. I’ve now been living here for almost three months and I barely know them. There’s one whose name I’ve never even heard. That’s bad. I went through three brief phases (about four days each) of eating porridge in the kitchen in the mornings, but I haven’t been in the kitchen-living-room in over a month and my flatmates must think I’m a freak. One of them is a very, very friendly guy and I have chatted to him a few times. The last couple of times we’ve met, he’s been very wary of me. I think he wants to ask me where I am all the time and where I eat. I do wish I was a normal flatmate. I can’t wait to have my own place. In less than two weeks, I’ll have my own flat, with my own kitchen and I’m going to start cooking again. But somehow, I’ve left a year go by without using a fridge. That’s severely weird.
Anyway, I’m in a transitional place at the moment. Anyone reading my posts for the past few months should clearly be able to see that I’m a bit lost. And I’m allowed to be confused, and I’m allowed to be lost. I’m giving myself permission to be a bit teenage about things. I am an adolescent of sorts. I am a student, who’s just come out to his parents, who’s never had a relationship longer than two weeks, who worries about what he’ll do when he grows up and who still believes he can change the world.
I’m still not 100% sure I do kissing right, let alone any of the other stuff.And regardless of how I appear in the eyes of others, I need to adjust my own perspective on myself. So, I’m not abandoning my plans to Gok myself. I want to get up in the morning and like the “me” that’s walking out the door. I meant to do this three weeks ago, but this morning I’m sorting through my clothes and sending the ones that I hate to a charity shop. Enough of life lived in a navy blue and grey shroud. The bits of the plan that require money will have to wait a while, but I’ll get there.
And I’m going speed-dating in September. Mad.
And, after a two weeks of almost constant palpitations and breathlessness, I’m going back on WeightWatchers. I’m starting again on Tuesday. It’s sensible and sober and it’s doable in the real world. I’m going to be accountable to all of you. I’m resurrecting my old tumblr account (you should see a link on the right) and from Tuesday morning I’m going to log everything I eat and any exercise I do there. Please do check up on me and keep me accountable. I’m feeling very unwell nearly all the time, and if I keep gaining weight at this rate serious illness can’t be far away. I’m giving myself until Christmas. If I can’t lose weight consistently between now and then, I’m going to talk to my doctor about medicalising my weight loss, which I really don’t want to do, but if it’s a choice between death and a gastric band, then I choose the gastric band.
But it won’t come to that.