I am a man. I would, I assure you, pass any sort of sex test the International Olympic Committee could devise. I do manly things several times a day. I have hair on my chest. I don’t talk about my feelings. I watch sport. In short, I am as typical a bloke as you’re likely to meet in a day’s walk.
Only lately, I’m not so sure. I’m wondering if I’m not getting a little too closely in touch with my feminine side. Am I, I wondered, becoming a metrosexual? I mean, only the other day, I found myself admiring the suit of a Premiership football player.
It started innocently enough. I was having coffee with a friend and colleague who is about to get married. “I’ve got the dress!” she announced. “Great,” I said. Then I found myself asking her if it was one of those balloon/meringue affairs, or a slim sheath dress, or was it perhaps empire line. (Empire line? I surprised even myself with than one. Maybe I was overexposed to BBC period dramas in my youth…)
Still under the bridal spell, my friend began to describe the dress. “Not a word to anyone, mind,” she said. “Of course not,” I said, indignantly. He hands began to describe a shape in the air. The word bodice was mentioned, and the colour ivory. Then she stopped. We looked at one another. “Arragh,” she said (she’s from Cork), “what do you care about my wedding dress?”
And I knew she was right. We were having the sort of conversation Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett might have had in My Best Friend’s Wedding. (He played the Gay Friend, remember?) I had strayed a little too far into enemy territory. I was a little too interested in the dress. I was worrying my friend, who expected a more manly response – “So you’re wearing a dress, huh?” – and I was frightening myself too.
I made a promise to concentrate on more manly concerns. I vowed to start a fight at her wedding and show everyone how macho I was. And I would never mention the dress again. She might as well walk up the aisle in black plastic sacks for all I cared.
A few days later, I was chatting to another female friend and colleague over lunch. She had just returned from maternity leave and was recounting her birth experience, which sounded horrific. Ever since I began a dad myself a couple of years ago, I am fascinated by the process – and the politics – of childbirth. My friend was in full flow, describing how useless everyone except herself was during labour, when I asked what seemed to me a harmless question. It was an innocent query, designed to show (i) that I was listening, and (ii) that I knew a little about this birthing business myself.
“And how many centimetres were you at this stage?” I enquired.
Now, the process of childbirth necessitates the casting aside certain concerns of modesty. Topics that might at other times might be regarded as too intimate for polite conversation are openly discussed in the Merrion Wing of Holles Street hospital. Contractions, epidurals, umbilical chords – these are all spoken of in the same matter-of-fact way as one might discuss the weather.
But asking about the dilation of a woman’s cervix – and over lunch too – was a step too far. I had crossed a line. I had strayed into Gay Best Friend territory again. I had, to use sporting parlance, wandered offside. I began to worry that I was actually turning into a woman. Perhaps I was having some sort of internal sex change as yet unknown to medicine, one where one remains male on the outside but turns female on the inside.
Now that I thought about it, the evidence seemed compelling. I had watched the recent Rugby World Cup only sporadically. I found myself fingering my wife’s copies of Elle Deco and The Yoga Journal. When a mate told me about being brought down by a scything tackle only yards from goal during his Wednesday night soccer game, I heard myself reply: “Oh you poor thing…”
I was, I realised, fascinated by the world of women. When I recently began to think about putting together a book club, most of the people on my list were women. I didn’t want to have some bloke droning on about the authorial voice once a month; I wanted a group of friends who wouldn’t want to show off or have their egos massaged. Men, I reckoned, are curious about what happens when women get together, whereas women think – probably quite rightly – that on a boys’ night out, the talk will be will be about sport and sex
As I tried to work through this crisis of sexual identity, I realised that women, although they might express a preference for the pale and interesting type, really prefer a man to be a man. They want someone who knows the manly arts of tyre-changing and bag-toting; they don’t want someone with whom they can discuss current hemline trends or the rigours or childbirth. Then and there, I resolved to return to my former manly ways. Just then, my wife came in from work.
“Hello darling,” she said, “how was your day?”
I said nothing and just beat my chest.