When Nick Guest begins to seek lovers who are gay, as he is, he must come to terms in a different way with the rampant prejudice against gay people. In his early 20s and just out of college, he has only recently come out and many people are not aware of it. Nick finds that other people see no need to hide their anti-gay sentiments. He has created for himself an imaginary sex life, which he sometimes tells his friends about, but is not quite ready to admit the lies to himself. At the other extreme, he is also reluctant to admit that he will now be included in the labels that others apply to gay people.
His confessed but entirely imaginary seductions took on—partly through the special effort required to invent them and repeat them consistently—the quality of real memories. He sometime had the sense, from a hint of reserve in people he was talking to, that while they didn’t believe him they saw he was beginning to believe himself. He had only come out fully in his last year at Oxford, and had used his new license mainly to flirt with straight boys . . . He wasn’t quite ready to accept the fact that if he was going to have a lover it wouldn’t be . . . any . . . drunk straight boy hopping the fence, it would be a gay lover—it would be that compromised thing that he himself would then become.
Nick, who is white, has set up his first date with Leo, a black man a few years older. After they chat at a bar for a while, they decide to continue with a sexual encounter. Nick is nervous but excited, and finds himself observing small, extraneous details such as the kind of clothes he wears, while he watches Leo unlock his bicycle.
He ought to tell Leo it was his first time; then he thought it might bore him or put him off. He gazed down at his strictly shaved nape, the back of a stranger’s head, which any minute now he would be allowed to touch. The label of Leo’s skimpy blue shirt was turned up and showed . . . Miss Selfridge. It was a little secret given away, a vanity exposed—Nick was light-headed, it was so funny and touching and sexy.
When he moves up from Oxford, where his father is an antiques dealer, to London, Nick goes to live in the home of his college classmate and friend, Toby Fedden, in the posh Notting Hill neighborhood. Gerald Fedden, Toby’s father, is a Tory (conservative) politician with an eye to becoming a cabinet minister. Gerald rarely proclaims his Tory...
(The entire section is 657 words.)