Wednesday 21 August 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Seeing two women holding hands isn't shocking anymore - but hearing women's voices in my head is a worry'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I saw two girls holding hands today, I say. We're in the kitchen, me and the wife, the daughter and the little grandson. We're having the dinner, a little invention of my own called spaghetti Ballybough. It's always been a hit in the house, so no one has spoken for at least five minutes. All heads are hanging over the plates, hoovering up the pasta.

But anyway, my announcement has the desired effect. The daughter looks up.

- So what, like? she says.

It's what I was hoping she'd say.

- Exactly, I agree. So what?

- And they're not girls, she says.

- They're womans, says the little grandson.

- OK, I say. Point taken. I saw two young womans holding hands. And I didn't care. I couldn't have cared less.

I tap my fork on my plate.

- And that's amazing, I say.

- Why is it? the daughter asks.

- Well, I say. Twenty years ago - even 10 - it would have been shocking.

I'll get one thing out of the way: I didn't see two young women holding hands. I thought I did, in Northside Shopping Centre. But when they turned I saw it was a girl and her boyfriend, and he was wearing a pair of those skinny jeans that stop above the ankles. So, I'm actually telling one of the three lies that men tell every 10 minutes - according to a book the wife's been reading.

But in a way I'm not telling a porky, because I did think it was two girls for a few seconds and I didn't care. It only really occurred to me that it was two girls when they turned and I saw that it wasn't - if that makes sense. I just didn't care - and when I realised I wasn't seeing what I thought I'd been seeing, I said to myself, 'So what?', exactly like the daughter did.

Actually, a lot of my inner thoughts seem to be in the daughter's voice.

But anyway.

If I'm remembering right, there was no such thing as a gay woman when I was a kid. I don't think the word 'gay' was in the air, either - until I was a teenager. 'Queer', 'homo' and 'benny' are the words I remember, and they always applied to boys and men, never women. Mind you, it might have been different in the girls' schoolyards - I don't know.

They were terrifying words, because we were afraid - I was afraid - we'd be labelled a queer or a homo. Fifty years on, that shocks me.

The bushes were full of gay men - so we were warned, anyway. The wrong shirt could turn you into a queer, or long hair, or short hair, shoes that weren't brown or black, being caught reading a book, sitting downstairs on the bus, the way you walked. If there'd been a heterosexuality test like the driving test back then, none of us would have passed - not on the first try, anyway.

But my point is: it was all about men. There were no gay women in the bushes. They didn't even exist.

I knew the words 'lesbian' and 'lezzer' but they were like Honolulu and lunar modules, somewhere far away. I knew the word but I didn't know what a lesbian was, until the day I called Dessie O'Shea a lesbian, after he'd wiped the oil from his bike chain off his hands, onto my brand new Man United jersey. He pinned me to the wall and explained, in graphic detail, why he wasn't one - and why I was.

We've come a long way. I hope.

But it's true: I've often thought about how difficult it must have been for gay boys back then but I never thought of the gay girls - or if they even existed. The daughter said it: even sexual diversity is sexist.

Mind you, I'm not sure if she actually did say that or if it was me thinking it in her voice.

It's starting to worry me - a bit. Last night, I heard the Fair City music and I said to myself, 'Time for a pint'. But the idea, the words, were in the daughter's voice. Maybe Dessie O'Shea was right all along, and I am becoming a lesbian. That would knock the Secret Woman off his perch.

- Were there any lesbians in your school? I ask the wife.

We're up in the bed, hiding behind our our books. She turns a page.

- The place was riddled with them, she says.

- Really?

- Yeah, she says. They were hiding behind the wallpaper.

- It was a serious question, I say.

She looks at me now.

- Sorry, she says.

- So you should be, I say. 'Ah, cop on, Charlie,' I think. But it's not the daughter's voice this time; it's the wife's. And another voice follows it: 'Exactly - the gobdaw.' It's my mother!

Ah Jesus, the women have invaded my head.

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