I’m standing at the bar when I notice the boy next to me is giving me the eye. Not just any boy, you understand, but the kind of boy that you look at and immediately decide the rest of the world suddenly doesn’t matter any more. The kind of boy who makes you grin so wide and for so long that your face actually stretches into a new shape—like you’ve got a banana stuck sideways in your mouth.
‘Are you Miss Hershey Barr?’ he asks. He’s wearing a gold chain and what I assume must be Henley’s jeans. His hair is gelled and his accent’s as broad as Les Battersby’s would be after throat cancer. Call me a sick pervert, but I think I actually want to have his babies right there at the bar.
I pause for a moment. Just to make sure I’ve heard him right.
‘Are you Miss Hershey Barr from Leeds?’ I notice he has a really heavy gold chain round his wrist too. I feel a bit moist, and I begin to blame all those low-budget porn films that glamorise Burberry caps and grey joggers.
‘Well, I’m originally from Leeds, and I know Miss Hershey Barr, but she isn’t me. Or rather, I’m not her. Her legs are way better than mine.’
I want to say something like, ‘I know we’re both brown, but we don’t all look the same, you know.’ But those eyes are too gorgeous and I find myself melting like Lurpak on freshly made toast.
‘Oh right.’ He looks disappointed. ‘Are you a drag queen though?’
I shake my head. ‘No. Do I look a drag queen?’
‘Well, I don’t know. But I thought you were Miss Hershey Barr, so maybe.’
‘Why did you think I was Miss Hershey Barr?’ Let him dig this a little deeper, I think. If I embarrass him enough, surely he’ll just run away, and I can forget how attractive he is.
‘Well my friend waved at you.’
‘Does your friend only wave at drag queens, then?’
‘Well he’s just got back from Leeds and he was telling me that he saw his old friend Miss Hershey Barr, who’s mixed race, and very fabulous.’
‘So what’s your name?’
By this point, his friend has walked over, and I know who he’s talking about: an old drinking buddy from Leeds. It’s all his fault, I think, searching my head for witty things to say.
‘Oh, hi,’ I say. Playing it cool. Or something like that. Either way, I’ve clearly decided I don’t want him to run away after all.
‘James, this is Beyonce. Beyonce, this is James.’
‘So I was right! You are a drag queen then?’ James says.
‘No. No, I’m not a drag queen, I just . . . ‘
I don’t know what to say any more. How do I tell him that I’m not a drag queen, but I did dress up once as Amy Wino in a beehive wig made from tabloid newspapers? How do I tell him that I’m not the screaming queen you’d imagine me to be with a nickname like Beyonce? How do I actually get him to believe that when I don’t believe it myself? How do I tell him that my nickname’s just something that stuck because gays are very unimaginative, and I’m brown, and Ms Knowles is brown, and Miss Hershey Barr’s brown, and apparently we all look the same? Would it be any better if I said that if I was blonde I’d be called Britney or Christina?
Instead I tell him my real name. ‘You can call me that if you like.’
‘I prefer Beyonce, actually.’
And he smiles again, and I melt like Lurpak—again.
‘Okay. Call me whatever you want.’
I realise I sound as camp as Christmas when I say this. And as slutty as Paris Hilton in front of a camera with night-vision. I try to butch it up a little. Be more restrained. I put my hands in my pockets. No, I realise: that just makes me look sulky. Or bored. So I put them on my hips. Argh! Bad move! Now I look like a total queen.
Finally I just take my wallet out. I hold it open in my hands like a black leather dove that’s been hit by a car and which I’m now inspecting for signs of life. I begin to worry that it’s all looking a bit forced.
‘Would you . . . like a beer?’ My forehead must be an abacus beaded with sweat right now. I dab it. Miraculously, it feels dry. What am I saying, ‘miraculously’? Normally I’m great at chatting up guys. Normally I’m in my element. It’s just . . . it’s just . . . well, there’s those Henley’s jeans again.
‘Er, yeah, okay. But I’ll get them.’ He takes out his own wallet. It’s Diadora. Does Diadora even exist any more? Didn’t I see that on a billboard recently? What kind of gay man has a Diadora wallet? He must be into really straight-acting boys. Perhaps I should pretend to like football?
I turn to look at him and suddenly my face feels stretched again. He buys me a drink while I try to make small talk. You know, the usual: what’s a gay like you doing in a place like this? We’re in G-A-Y, of course, so it’s a stupid question with an obvious answer.
‘Well I could spell it out for you?’ he says. I laugh. He laughs. Then he looks confused. It must be me confusing him, I think. One minute I look like a tranny, the next I’m trying to be all manly and take the lead. He’s probably picked up that I’m a complete lunatic today and should never have left the house.
The barman hands over our drinks. James winks at me before turning to our mutual friend and asking him for a fag.
‘Do you want one?’ he says. At this point it does occur to me that I could pretend to smoke too, but then I sigh and give up. Enough pretending for one day!
‘Sorry. I don’t smoke.’
They both say their goodbyes and I notice him draw a packet of dodgy-looking foreign cigarettes from his pocket. The exact type that have been in the news for having human flesh and faeces in them. Should I warn him? Will I look like a lunatic? Before I can speak, he turns back to me and says:
‘It’s a pity you’re not a tranny. I really wanted to take you to the toilets and suck your cock.’
He walks off and I feel the banana in my mouth turn downwards—into a frown. I guess sometimes it pays to be mistaken for a drag queen.
Do you think I have time to nip to the shops and buy a frock?