Sitting in a shopping centre toilet, trousers round my ankles and swigging from an open bottle of Courvoisier, it occurs to me I’m still a long way off perfect.
I should explain. The reason for this unconventional pit-stop is my friend Michael, or rather my friend Michael’s habit of inviting me to very grand house parties with very affluent gay men, which I always find much easier to face after a good slug of Dutch courage. These men are known, in polite society, as the A-gays. Upwardly mobile, well-connected and fastidiously groomed, legend has it they can break a man with one flick of a fourth-generation smartphone.
Sure enough, Michael’s Kennington townhouse is crawling with high-functioning homos: lawyers, bankers, stars of stage and screen. Outside, the rain is driving down, so the A-gays are crammed in up to the French windows, each one a sardine with an expense account. Which is how, somewhere between Ben Summerskill and a pitcher of Campari, I find myself pressed up against a South African in a Ted Baker suit. He works for Bloomberg and he’s cute.
‘Did you know,’ he says, ‘the average size of a model in Nuts magazine is size 14.’
I tell him I did not. ‘Oh yah,’ he continues. ‘Straight men want curves. This bullshit desire for women to be size zero doesn’t come from men; it comes from other women.’
‘That’s interesting,’ I say. ‘So you’re saying it’s not society that wants us to be perfect; it’s something we bring to the table ourselves?’
‘I’m saying we are society,’ he says, stepping back to make way for a Swedish male model made entirely of hair. ‘Look, I don’t have the answers. But if you really want to be an A-list gay, you need to consider how much it’s going to cost you. It’s not just the muscles; it’s the skin, the hair, the teeth. Do you know how many of the gays are wearing Invisalign braces these days?’
‘Not a problem for me.’ I pull my lips back, rictus style. ‘See! Straight.’
‘Your bottom set could use a little work. Don’t look at me like that! You’re the one talking about perfection; it’s an unforgiving principle, hey?’
Not half as unforgiving as I can be when someone’s talking smack about my pearly whites, it seems. As I bid the South African a less than fond farewell, I bump into an Aussie couple I know, Nathan and Steven. They are not A-gays, thank God, but have been granted free passage tonight under the global gay currency of having really big arms. I’m curious how much I’d have to pay for guns like theirs.
‘Well, Nathan probably spends about £430 a month,’ Steven tells me. ‘Personal training mostly, but also gym fees, supplements…’
‘Protein,’ growls Nathan.
‘Yeah, protein adds up. I probably spend a little less than that; maybe £400 a month, something like that.’
I blink. You don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work this one out. Together, this couple are spending more each month on their bodies than I spend on rent. Is that really the road I’m headed down? So far my mission has cost me next to nothing… well, £110 on gym membership, plus £3.20 on a protein shake that I promptly spat up outside Holborn Tube. But how much more will I need to invest, once I start factoring in perfect haircuts, perfect skincare, perfect tailoring? How can you possibly become an A-gay when you’re not commanding an A-gay salary?
‘Oh, it doesn’t cost that much really,’ says Michael, our host, carving fat slices off a Nigella Lawson gammon for which he woke up at 5.00am to stud with cloves. ‘Besides, what else are we going to spend it on? Other than work, what commitments do we have? I figure we can afford to be a little selfish.’
As he carves the light glints off the TAG Heuer at his wrist, and I wonder if he has a point. With most of us free from the traditional constraints of wife and kids, it’s no surprise that – for many gay men – the most important and certainly most lasting relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. All those treats, gifts and attention we would in an ideal world be lavishing on our nearest and dearest, instead become directed at me, me, me. Don’t have to buy an anniversary present? Treat yourself to some £40 underwear! Won’t ever need to pay tuition fees for some teenage doppelganger who’ll probably spend three years getting stoned anyway? Congratulations! Buy yourself a new face! Could this, when all’s said and done, be a major factor in the gay pursuit of perfection? Are we just selfish?
On the last tube home, carriage spinning, I speculate how the hell I’m going to fund this madcap mission. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Sell my shoes? Go on the game? As I fumble my Oyster card into a pocket, a business card drops out of the case. It is from a man I met at a party last week. He is a life coach, and he has just given me an idea.