Back in the sixties, the Irish playwright Sean O’ Faoilain remarked that an Irish queer is a man who prefers women to drink. He hit a few nails on the head with this wry observation. The mentality of the Irish man is that your strength and toughness are defined by how easily and readily you consume alcohol. Being a ladies’ man without getting blind drunk and shagging the ugly fat chicks in the process, is not something which is regarded as “manly”. How you handle the “pint” is also a point of acclaim and a veritable badge of honour. You will hear in hush tones in quiet old pubs how Paddy Hughes can “put away” sixteen pints of the black stuff and ne’er a bother on ‘im. We are suspicious of men who cavort and charm, while only sipping on a glass of champagne for two hours. And more to the point, what sort of a man drinks champagne?
I got to thinking about the nature of being a man after a night out here in Sydney. It began quite nicely down near the Opera house, with the harbour bridge in the background. We then made our way to see the legendary Roy Ayers in a great little club called the Basement. I was with four friends who were slugging bottles of beer and shots of tequila, while I drank lemon lime bitters and ginger beer. Being honest I was thinking about getting drunk but I couldn’t face the repercussions in my head about drinking. What’s the point in only having one or two? And if I got really drunk then I would surely have ended up making some ridiculous decisions and faced resulting consequences? So I ginger beered it and drove people around.
I have to say that I enjoy my friends when they’re pissed. Their levels of humour plummet and being sober entitles you to a perspective that you miss when you are on the booze train. People loosen their tongues and their actions become more fluid and daring. I enjoy seeing others getting their kicks while I just take it all in. It’s almost like being a voyeur of sorts. You get to live vicariously through the lives of those around you. What I enjoyed was the various styles of nationalities clashing and gelling. We had Irish, Kiwi and Fijian, all of whom love to drink, but who express it in different ways. The Irish, well, we’re chatters and jokers. The kiwis are self deprecating but physical in their administration of humour. The Fijians are humble, smiley and have great rhythm.
We ended up in a gay bar on Oxford street, where we were meeting some lesbians that one of the lads works with. The irony of four straight married guys cramped in a tiny gay bar smoking area was not lost on us and we had a good chuckle about it. Back inside the bar was pumping. Dance music and shots being slugged down. Man on man action. I realised that so many of us struggle to define ourselves as men, or indeed people. We look to outside peers and habits of others as something which gives us identity. It might be sipping martinis with some expensive rent boy, or downing shots with your married mates and slapping each other around a bit.
I have had to remodel myself over the last two years. It’s not easy at all. Your mates still carry on with old habits, while you try to identify with them with new ways of being. I lament the old Tuesday afternoons, when a quick phone call would see you propped up on a high stool, cursing the vagaries of life and the tempestuous nature of the female, armed with a creamy ale. These days I could not even count myself as an Irish queer in O’ Faoilains eyes. Being married sure it’s no place of mine to be cavorting with the opposite sex. So what does that make me? An Irish masochist? A man who prefers women and drink, but deprives himself both.