Trying to Understand the English Gays at Oxford
An imagined version of English gay life from Brideshead Revisited.
I come from glorified Canadian-Australian trailer trash in the Casey Anthony State, which means I hang Lindsay Lohan pictorials above my bed and grew up with Miami Cartel Princesses who define class as attending Ultra Music Festival after Avicii plays. I might as well have “American” tattooed on my lower back, yet the admissions officers at Wadham College at the University of Oxford granted me acceptance to study abroad.
I had trepidations about attending one of the most famously prestigious and snooty schools in the world. I tend to accidentally say "cunt" at dinner parties, and in high school the AP kids banished me from their lunch table for drinking too much and reading Lesley Arfin and Emily Dickinson. A year at Oxford sounded like a bad TLC reality show called A Floridian in King Arthur’s Court. But I had seen The Hills episode where Lauren Conrad chooses a summer in Hollywood over an internship in Paris, and I knew that rejecting Oxford to spend another year at my liberal arts college outside New York City would have defined stupidity. Plus, from my nights spent sleeping with Ivy League boys, I knew pretentious intellectuals love to sleep with ordinary Americans. They may act like they’re going slumming, but they listen to Robyn and use Grindr like the rest of us.
I started my hunt for English homos my very first night, at an “American-themed house party”. Although this consisted of English manboys wearing backwards hats, playing beer pong, calling me “bro” in terrible Valley Girl accents and referring to red Solo cups as “American delicacies”, it wasn’t a total wash – I met Isaac, the self-proclaimed “Gay King of Oxford”. He wore baggy harem pants like Justin Bieber and had spent the first eight years of his life in Boca Raton (so, not exactly my cup of tea), but he gave me the low-down on Oxford’s gay scene, which consists of gay versions of standard Oxford traditions: Instead of Tolkien seminars and pre-law drinks, gay people attend queer reading circles and pansexual tea parties. Where crew bros binge-drink at pubs, gays chug beer twice a week at Baby Love Bar’s gay events: Pop Tarts (a gay night) and Super Market (a “straight” night revolving around Beyonce and other black divas beloved by white people). Although queer reading circles sounded like the fun kind of circle jerks, they actually revolve around leftists verbally jacking off to their own political correctness, and the idea of gay versions of heterosexual traditions made me laugh – if I wanted to wear suits and find marriageable men, I would listen to Gotye and join a frat. Baby Love sounded more my scene – that is, until I went there the next week and discovered it was an English version of Ruby Tuesday.
When I arrived on one late Thursday night, ugly heart-shaped booths lined the wall, and the venue reeked of cheap margaritas and salty BO. Descending the stairs to the crowded basement, I found a throng of boys in suits dancing in the dark without touching each other, as if they were attending a ball instead of a club night. One boy smiled at me. Grind up on him, girl, show him how you ride it, Beyonce sang. I always take her advice, so I approached him and grinded on his ass. Grind up on him, girl, show him how you ride it. The boy pushed me aside. “We’re straight,” he whispered in my ear, gesturing toward his redheaded friend in a purple suit. “But you can still dance with us.”
Sure, “straight”. Whatever. I turned around. A few more Beyonce songs played. I flung my hair back and forth and sang along as the DJ kept playing Beyonce tracks. Then a tongue licked my neck. The redhead stood over my shoulder – alone. “Oh, don’t mind me,” he said. He dry-humped my ass while I attempted to twerk it as a stripper friend had once taught me. Then I remembered that this tongue and the purple suit attached to it were, despite available evidence, into chicks.
“Wait. Are you straight or gay?” I asked.
“I’m not gay. It’s just a British thing.” He licked my ear and moaned. “I went to boarding school. This is just how we say hello in Britain.” My penis told me to let him lick me; my brain told me Super Market was entering some dark turf. I pulled away from the redhead and sprinted out the club.
I bypassed the drunk white girls asking me if their accents sounded posh and found the redhead’s friend sitting against a burrito joint’s wall. He waved at me. “Did the redhead lick you?” he asked. I nodded. “He’s the biggest closet case in all of Oxford. He just went to a boarding school in the South. It’s not a British thing at all.”
Except it was.
Over the next few weeks, crazy “straight” boys and their unbalanced homosexual counterparts gravitated toward me. At a house party, a supposed heterosexual complained to me about how his father burned through their old-money fortune and then made out with me. Afterward he stood with a group of bros on a table singing “Niggas in Paris”. A week later he asked me to punch him in the face in the middle of a bar because he thought I would “punch like a kiss”. The same night, a boy pulled his tongue out of my mouth to say, “I go to Oxford. I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and I go to Oxford. Did you know that’s very impressive in England? I can do anything – ANYTHING!” After the sixth time he stopped kissing me to mention he attended the same university as everyone around us, I said, “I’m from Florida. I really don’t care that you go to Oxford.” This inspired him to drag me across the club to introduce me to his friend: “This is Mitchell. He’s from Florida. Can you believe people actually live in Florida? They roller-skate everywhere there!”
I loved receiving the attention of Oxford boys until I realized that no matter how many drunken snogs I got involved in, nobody was asking me to sleep with them. Worse yet, I started to feel like I was a model of stability. One day, as we were washing our hands in the library bathroom, Isaac the Gay King of Oxford, turned to me and said, “I just wish I lived in America. I’m going to move there.” A few nights later at a party, he drunkenly told me he wished he were “at least bi”, so he could marry a girl and hated living close to Wales. In England accents define class, and the moment he spoke everyone could tell he lived far from London. Confessing his problems to me, he never touched my body or hit on me. He just wanted to talk. I always thought of myself as the hot mess express intellectual queers like to ride for one night and one night only, but the British manboys desired something from me other than my body. What did I have that they lacked?
The author experiencing modern gay English life.
Although lower- and middle-class boys spoke to me and closeted boarding school graduates stuck their tongues down my throat, openly homosexual rich boys hated me. One week at gay drinks, my American roommate and I introduced ourselves to a gay who attended Corpus Christi, Oxford’s snootiest college. The manboy heard our accents and rolled his eyes. “Where are you from?” I asked.
He looked at the wall. “Corpus.”
“No. Like where are you from?”
“Where was I engendered?”
“Yeah, we want to know where you were conceived,” my roommate said. “My mum conceived me on our stairwell. No! Where the fuck are you from?”
Corpus bit his lip. “They go to Wadham,” he said to his friend, another Corpus gay. “It’s Oxford’s ‘gay college’. Do you know Wadham’s theme song? ‘Wadham’s going to fuck you up the butt/Fuck you up the butt/Wadham’s going to fuck you up the butt,’” he sang, demonstrating that apparently gays can hate homos too. Since that moment, I assumed that Corpus was too high-class to speak to low-class boys – until I accidentally brought his fuck buddy to dinner.
For a few weeks I had seen this fuck-buddy from a distance. He wore the same red and grey sweater and blue left ear piercing to clubs and dinner parties; he seemed more punk rock than smug Oxford slut. We never met, but he added me on Facebook, where I learned his real name, Charles Winthrop-Hearst. (Although I have changed the names for this article, Charles’s real surname is just as hyphenated and ridiculous.) I had never met him in person, but he was cute so I invited him to a Halloween-themed dinner party at my flat.
Like Cady “Africa” Heron in Mean Girls, he missed the “dress like a skank” memo and arrived in a suit. I refrained from mocking Charles, since he claimed he would apply Corpse Bride makeup to his face after we ate, and 7PM is too early to insult your party guests. But after half a box of wine I told everyone about my encounter with Corpus. Nobody laughed, and Charles covered his face with his hand. Even I could pick up on that social cue.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m in a non-relationship with that guy.”
“We see each other, but we’re not dating. A non-relationship.”
“You mean fuck buddies?”
“It’s a non-relationship.”
“You fuck him, but you don’t date him. That’s a fuck buddy.”
“We don’t say that in England. We have manners in this country.”
“Chill. You just fuck him. Why are you getting so upset?”
“I don’t just fuck him. It’s complicated. He goes to Corpus Christi.”
“Oh, 'cause you’re so low class with your hyphenated last name and Oxford degree.”
“It doesn’t matter if I go to Oxford. I’m from East London.” That meant nothing to me. “It’s where they hosted the Olympics. Used to be a bunch of old factories. Now it’s sort of hip.”
Oh. Right. I had read about that neighborhood – the influx of cash the Olympics brought had helped businesses, but barely affected residents’ class stature. Like accents, class never changes in England. Corpus would never date a boy from East London; he would just suck his cock. I attempted to apologise to Charles, but he said everything was fine and excused himself from the table to apply his makeup.
I ran into Charles a few nights later as I was applying fake blood to my face before Halloween drinks. He walked up to me and I readied myself for a confrontation, assuming he would finally call me an asshole. “I’m so sorry for the other night,” I said. He put a hand to my face. “No. Thank you,” he said. “I’m done with him. I needed someone to tell me he was a dick. Thank you for doing that.” He looked at the bottle of fake blood in my hand. “Could you cover my chest in fake blood?” He lifted his t-shirt. I rubbed the red gunk all over his chest, and he pulled out a bottle of gin from his bag. I figured I had made a new friend.
On the walk to Baby Love he slapped my ass on the street, so when we were inside the club I tried to kiss him, figuring that was the next step, but he pushed my face away. Two weeks earlier I would have laughed or called him a cunt, but I no longer cared about laying a British boy or understanding what went on in their minds behind the mixed signals and manners. I walked across the floor to dance on my own. Half an hour later Charles saw me and tried to grind on my ass. I pushed him away. At the end of the night, as I walked home alone, he grabbed my arm.
“Mitchell,” he said. “My uncle in New York says New York’s my spiritual city. Do you think that? Would I do well in New York?”
“I don’t know what a spiritual city is but sure.” I pulled away from him; he collapsed on my chest and wrapped his arms around me. “What are you doing?”
“I just have so many feelings.”
After that night I was through with trying to fuck English boys. I wanted an orgasm, not a therapy session and British boys didn’t want my body. They wanted to spend a night in their “spiritual city” and experience "gay freedom”. But you can’t have a full gay life when you’re chasing the dreams of upper-class straight men. Even after I gave up I still went to nightclubs, where I saw what I realised was the ordinary amount of drama. Charles made out with a student from Trinity, Oxford’s richest college, posted a Facebook profile picture of them together, and a week later stood against a wall pouting when he saw Trinity Boy at a club. Corpus left him to hook up with a preppy boy, and last week I saw Charles following them around Baby Love before ripping them apart and pushing Corpus halfway across the dance floor, then bursting into tears and running out of the bar. Corpus followed him and they stood in the street for 20 minutes arguing about their “non-relationship”. Afterward they apparently fucked. Last I heard they no longer talk.
They technically speak my language, but English gays are a foreign country to me. They desire freedom and sodomy but also a traditional upper-class English life – which is a problem, since there’s nothing traditional about homosexuality. English accents no longer turn me on. They just make me sad.