Reasons to be cheerful

30th Anniversary Retrospective: Bootboy carefully compiles his guest list for the ultimate pink party....

They’ve ordered me to be cheerful this week. Put out the party streamers. Be Happy and Gay. Callou, Callay, Oh Happy Day. A three-line whip, no slouching, chin up, ass in, tits out, don’t let the side down. Celebrate 30 years. Don’t rain on the parade. Smile and wave, smile and wave.

Yes, but you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties. And the party I’m being asked to host, the “let’s celebrate in a light-hearted way 30 years of fabulous gay, lesbian and transgendered people in popular culture” party, is not one I’d particularly like to attend, never mind host. But, let’s not poop. I hate to disappoint. In random order, off the top of my head, guests I’d like to see walking up the pink carpet of celebratory 30-years-of-queerdom to the party include:

• Our own Graham Norton, the 21st century’s answer to Terry Wogan. (Not that Terry was ever asked the question.) Despite his current inane TV persona, he is reported to be wickedly funny in real life. In Heat magazine recently, our cheeky chappy has said he finds it difficult to form relationships. “I seem to appeal to people who are bound to disappoint” he says. “In fairness, the people I do sleep with are better-looking than the people I slept with prior to becoming famous. But I think it’s to do with being rich as well.” When we were both 17, the young Norton (although he wasn’t called that then) and I appeared on a young people’s programme on RTÉ, Youngline. I was talking about being gay, he was put on the spot by a couple of punks and forced to declare he had no problems meeting girls in discos. I still have that tape...

• Little Brian Dowling, the first openly gay children’s TV show presenter. (Although, that’s not strictly true. The late Philip Tyler used to present Bosco. The parents of Ireland, however, may not have been aware that he was a regular presence on the gay scene in the early ‘80s. Indeed, in a Christmas sketch show at the Hirschfeld Centre, directed by the late lamented film-maker Kieran Hickey, under the pseudonym Cissy Caffrey, he sent me up rotten as a sort of Pollyanna-type scout leader, when I was running the gay youth group. But, I digress. This isn’t about me. Really.) Dowling’s wit, chutzpah and tenderness won him the second series of Big Brother, roundly defeating his steely-eyed Soho pink-pounder rival Josh “Josh’n’Pecs” Rafter. In an interview on his official website, the doe-eyed 29-year-old former self-styled trolley-dolly says he would love to have a child before he’s 40, he’s “quite maternal”. But he “would probably want to do it” on his own. He thinks that relationships are “all hard” and worries that if he got to the age of “say, 30 maybe” and was still single, he “might have a nervous breakdown.”

Boy George O’Dowd. I have to say he endeared himself to me over last year’s pantomime farce, when he was humiliated so publicly with enforced community service, cleaning the streets of the Lower East Side. There’s something about his much-vaunted lack of ego that enabled him to retain his sense of humour with a panache that had me smiling. The selflessness is resonant with his flirtation with the Hare Krishnas, and, indeed, if he has a strong faith still, he’s going to need it, the way he’s heading. His public persona is disintegrating, and he seems to have abandoned moderation to follow quite an extreme life of online cruising and hiring guys for erotic photoshoots: instant muses. He’s hovering in a liminal state between reality and fantasy. The problem with pursuing such a path sexually, with or without chemical enhancement, is that it is a purely selfish route. We, the public, don’t get any of the joy, unless one derives pleasure from the titillation of the gutter press. Because, when taken to a different level, his long love affair with the unavailable, the fantasy that is the “straight man”, that greatest Muse of all, the drummer in the band, produced some of the most memorable tracks of the ‘80s, so bittersweet was the experience, so gifted was the musician.

Nell McCafferty, whom I first saw as a dungareed feminist hard-chaw, paraded on the Late Late Show for a ridiculous makeover in the ‘70s. I had no idea who she was, but I remember how funny it seemed, how dry was her sense of humour. It wasn’t until I read her collection of articles, The Best Of Nell, when I was 21, that I was taken by her passion, and it was her more than anyone else that inspired me to be a columnist. But it wasn’t until the blisteringly honest autobiography Nell that I really fell in love with her, for it was only then that so many things made sense, and I found her perspective on the relationship she had with Nuala O’Faolain, and its aftermath, compelling and persuasive. Last year I heard her on Marian Finucane, talking about how she was smoking after her heart bypass operation, wished she had enough money to afford therapy, and was ambivalent about whether she wanted to live or die.

• Guest of honour: David Norris, who deserves to follow the two Marys to the Áras more than anyone else. I’ve known him since I was a teenager, and remember when we were waiting with baited breath in the Hirschfeld Centre for news of the judgment in his High Court case to decriminalize us, and still remember the gloom that befell when he failed. (Although of course, his eventual triumph has had an immeasurably positive impact on our society.) Ever since then, he has never failed to impress with his dignity and his amazing humour and I’m deeply proud of him as an Irishman. He has frequently spoken of his Israeli lover of nearly 30 years. But now I read online that the bould Ezra, although proudly mentioned by Norris in Seanad Éireann reports, is now declaring his love to the worldwide media for someone else – a much younger doe-eyed Palestinian man.

OK, OK, you get the idea. Talented (first- or second-generation) Irish queer people, living outside of traditional relationship ideals, coping the best way they can with it. I could of course invite Anna Nolan, Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan, Frank McGuinness, Declan O’Gorman, Fr Bernard Lynch, and other folk, each well-known for different reasons. Do I dare invite Danny La Rue, 80 years old this year? Oh go on. I just did.

You see what you look for, I guess.

But, honestly. No matter how strikingly single many of my party-attendees may be, there’s one thing for sure. Imagine it. If they were all in the kitchen, at this 30th anniversary party, I’m pretty sure the laughter would raise the roof, and the rest of the house would empty, to join us.



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