The sexual compass, p.1
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       The Sexual Compass, p.1

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The Sexual Compass
The Sexual Compass

  Michael Reed

  The Sexual Compass

  ISBN 978-0-9560813-4-6

  First edition printed 2014

  This edition 2017

  Michael Reed asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

  Copyright 2017 Michael Reed

  Unmusic Books

  Proofreading by Darryl Sloan

  The street map is copyright OpenStreetMap contributors. See

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  About the author

  Michael Reed is a freelance writer specialising in technology, gender politics and geek culture. He has written articles for magazines and websites such as RetroGamer, Linux User & Developer, Men's News Daily, Micro Mart, A Voice for Men, Den of Geek, Linux Journal, OSNews, OpenDemocracy and others.


  If you enjoy the book or simply want to leave some feedback please do so on your favourite book sites. It really helps me and encourages me to write more books.

  Part I - Susan, the mice and the men

  Chapter 1 - Coffee, mice and sex

  I'm going to tell you what happened when I first I heard about the mice. At that time, I was twenty-one years old and juggling single motherhood with studying for a degree. That morning, I had woken up early, a trade-off to have a few minutes with coffee before bedlam began. I had to make as little noise as possible to avoid waking Mum and Dad. To toe the line is a way of life when you live at home in your twenties.

  I twirled down the volume of the radio before switching it on. I filled the kettle and quietly stirred the coffee, still operating like a maternal version of the Terminator following its program. Speaking of quietness, I would have thought it was still too quiet and cold for sex, particularly from the BBC, but sex was the subject at hand this morning.

  The newsreader informed me: “Scientists in Manchester have announced that levels of insulin may regulate sexual orientation.”

  Initially, some scientists had made this discovery in mice, and now, some other scientists had confirmed it in human beings. This breakthrough was exciting news, for mice and for humans, but I risked moving away from the radio to switch the central heating on. When I returned to my seat, the newsreader had moved on to another subject, the mice and their sexual orientation be damned. It was funny, as I always felt mousy when scurrying around in the morning.

  Once the heating came on, the familiar knocks and bumps from upstairs began, and my day, proper, started. Fortunately, we lived in a house big enough to have two bathrooms. As usual, I took over the upstairs bathroom to get me and Tom washed while Mum and dad got themselves into gear downstairs. Tom had reached the stage where he could wash his own face and brush his teeth while I was in the shower. Mum would have breakfast set up by the time I got downstairs. We all ate breakfast together, something I had tried to avoid when I was a teenager.

  My mornings, along with my life in general, did not exhibit a great deal of variety. Following breakfast, I'd say goodbye to Mum and Dad and do the nursery run. Typically, I'd then do a shopping run and return to the empty house for lunch and then coursework. At 3pm, I'd make the return trip to pick up Tom. By the time I got back to the house, Mum would be well on with the dinner, which was always a family meal. Mum and Dad would chat away while I fed Tom. After dinner, Dad would say, “Let's see what rubbish is on,” and disappear into the lounge while me and Mum would start loading up the dish washer and clearing up in general. We'd talk about nothing in particular; the trick was to avoid any deep conversation. Disagreements are potentially deadly in such a confined environment. Later, as a family, we'd watch some TV together, which made my inner-teenager cringe. After that, I'd have a bath and then a final hour of study before bed. The next day, we'd all repeat the whole thing. At twenty-one, I was stuck between being immensely grateful for what I had and shuddering at what life had been reduced to. Oh, the blandness. But put the violins away, for I do not deserve them.

  The next morning, on the outward trip with Tom, the subject of mice and men was raised again. This time, the newsreader informed me that a spokesperson from a gay rights group had released a statement: “It seems unlikely that the complexity of human sexuality can be compared to that of a supposedly gay laboratory mouse.”

  This shit was getting real.

  Chapter 2 - Serious Simon

  Serious Simon is my brother and he's gay. And he's super-serious about being gay. A commercial for breakfast cereal, the symbol on a toilet door, and once, a park swing that was the colour blue–all have been accused of conspiring against him and gay men everywhere. I took my duty, to mercilessly rip the piss out of Simon's seriousness, just as seriously.

  “Has there been much progress for the movement of late?” I would enquire, with my most serious and concerned expression. This was a particularly good one, as I coined it on an occasion when he was suffering from constipation, and it also doubled as an enquiry about his almost non-existent sex life.

  “Such a shame…” was another good one. Apparently, disapproving people were always condescendingly saying this about Simon and other gay men.

  “There's nothing good on TV tonight,” and then, after a pause and with a weary tone, “It's such a shame…”

  Simon would sigh, and then he'd smile a bit. Once, he fired back: “Not got knocked up in a while, then? No babies going to pop out while I'm here, I hope.” A reasonable attempt at a comeback, but I still had a lot to teach him.

  The mouse thing was almost too good to be true, and I had saved it until I next visited his house.

  “I don't know if you've heard: They have gay mice now. I don't know exactly how a mouse comes out to the other mice. Apparently, they have organised themselves into a movement. They have a little pink wheel logo and everything.”

  “It is quite serious actually,” he said with a serious expression on his face.

  Oh, everything about being gay is, Simon.

  “Some scientists up in Edinburgh claim that homosexuality is a disease caused by an imbalance of insulin. They claim that they can test for it–and get this–they can cure it.”

  In all fairness, that sounded somewhat serious, if true.

  Simon's life had gone differently from mine. He did his A-levels, went to University, and then came back a gay man. He mumbled this fact to Mum and Dad, who nodded and said, “Erm, okay.” They already knew, because I had told them. Simon had informed me a few months before and I had had a quiet word with them. Being middle class and British is great sometimes. When the big announcement was made, everyone pretended that everyone didn't already know. A few awkward moments, and then, subject changed to football as soon as possible.

  I was born in the 1990s, and being homophobic was probably passé for Mum and Dad by the time they had hit University in the 1970s. In all fairness, I think they must have done some hand-wringing about it, behind the scenes. If a son is gay, it's probably going to have some effect on the future family structure, after all. Back then, I couldn't have guessed how much opportunity I was going to get out of the situation for making sport of poor, serious Simon.

; Chapter 3 - Steven

  “There's beggary in love that can be reckoned.”

  Steven, the father of my three-year-old, isn't evil, but he is completely useless. When I was seventeen, I got caught up in a romance with him. Walking along the seafront at midnight he said, “Duya know summat? If I could go out with anyone in this town, it would be you. I can't see it happening, mind.” Who could resist something like that?

  He couldn't see it happening. I was a seventeen-year-old swot doing her A-levels and he was nineteen (a massive difference at the time) and on the dole and living in his own flat. At a young age, I felt I had met my other half. He had the right materials but he needed someone to fix him up, and he was in luck, because getting things organised and on-track was my speciality. He struck me as manly, direct and kind, and I was right about that. If I'm being honest, the fact that he seemed like a completely gorgeous, self-assured, masculine man probably blinded me to his faults.

  He was my third boyfriend, but taking him home was a toughy compared to the others. I don't think anyone in my family knew anyone who was on the dole. Or covered in tattoos. Things didn't go as badly as I had feared. Grandad had been a rigger on the steelworks and Dad appreciated a man's man.

  “How the hell are you going to get through life without qualifications or a job?” he berated. “I feel like my daughter's bringing home a layabout.” Steven grinned at that, and I could tell that he had never had a bollocking from a dad before, the poor thing. A lot of male behaviour that looks aggressive from the outside is actually affectionate. It's how they play. In fact, the two of them were getting on like a house on fire. My parents recognised a lovely lad who was going through an awkward phase.

  However, I could tell what they were thinking: play things wrong, and I'd be pregnant within a couple of months. Very long story short: that's what happened. I still don't understand how it happened, because Steven and I were very careful in that regard, and I had always been suspicious of girls who “fell pregnant”. Telling my mum was the hardest moment of my life. As it occurred halfway through the year, it seemed that I was ruining my education, the core of the expectations that people had of me. I wavered back forth on the subject, but when I said that I wanted to keep the baby, as we lay together one night, Steven hugged me and said that he wouldn't have it any other way. This commitment and assuredness tipped me in favour of a life-changing decision. I had soon moved into his flat, but what sort of a family would this be?

  Steven took drugs. Some days, he'd be fucked up. That meant that he could be found either sitting up while giggling to himself or slumped over, asleep. Other days he'd be fine. In addition, it seems that when you take drugs, you have to sell them and hide them in the flat; that's when you're not stealing them. The most important thing is that you give them away to your mates so that you look like the big man at all times.

  To Steven's credit, even before I became pregnant, I don't think I was allowed to take drugs. Maybe it was because he expected immaculate behaviour from his consort, or maybe it was because he loved me?

  His friends were awful. He was part of some weird North of England gangster culture in which everyone seemed to think they were a character from a cheesy 80s film. They all fancied themselves as a cross between the stock “cop on the edge” and what gangsters were like in movies. “You got it!”, “Ten four, buddy!” and “Let's roll!” were the type of movieland expressions that you'd hear from their stupid mouths. I realised that the men in films were the only positive male role models they had been exposed to. However, that could be said of a lot of young males, and yet not every young man led a lifestyle like Steven's mates. It was a lifestyle fuelled by a welfare situation, one that got better every time they did something wrong.

  Their dress style showed off their tattoos and their muscles. I don't understand how they all came to have such big muscles as no one ever went to the gym or owned any weights. I should have made a closer examination of their habits and turned whatever they were doing into a diet plan. It might have been that they did visit the gym and own weights, but admitting to it would have been “gay”.

  Everyone was a complete fuck-up and no one made any effort to behave sensibly or to better themselves or their situation in any way. All of them were unemployable losers. All of them were idiots. And yet, all of them would run across the road to walk you back to the flat, a friendly arm thrust across your shoulder, as soon as they saw you in the street. All of them were harmless little boys who had lost their way–a happy few, a band of brothers.

  For a while, Steven let one of his mates live in the cupboard on the landing outside our flat. For a few quid, his friend was allowed live in the cupboard and sell drugs from it. The dimensions of the cupboard meant that you could sort of sleep in there if you crouched down, and the evidence suggested that he had done just that: he lived and slept in the cupboard. About five local druggies had our door code and would come and go at all hours of the day and night.

  “No one will ever know,” said Steven. “It's our cupboard.”

  Hmm… Steven is a business genius whose plans always work, I thought to myself.

  One day, when I was about three months pregnant, I was leaving the flat, and the man jumped out of the cupboard.

  “Hi?” I said to him.

  He was huge, yet emaciated and had little scratches up and down his arms that looked fresh and sticky. He wobbled on his feet and grinned at me, showing me his cracked teeth. There was something unnerving about his teeth that I couldn't put my finger on at first. Afterwards, it occurred to me that they looked like they had been broken by violence and not tooth decay. The man grinned at me as though he were toying with me.

  “I'm just off to the shops,” I said.

  Silence was his reply.

  “See ya,” I said.

  And then he advanced on me, still grinning.

  “Erm, actually, I'm just going back in for a minute,” I said before bolting back into the flat. I had to stay in the flat for two days, as Steven had disappeared for a while. I phoned my mum and made up the most incredible bullshit to keep her away.

  When Steven came back, I told him what had happened.

  “No problem, babes, I'll have a little word with him.” That was good of him. Off he went to have a little word with the drug-dealing, near-catatonic man who lived in our outside cupboard. Half an hour later, he came back. He had broken the skin on his knuckles, as though he had punched something over and over.

  “Never see him again, babes.” And he was right, I never did.

  This was around the time I first caught him being unfaithful to me, and I didn't even catch him, he accidentally confessed to it.

  “Where the hell were you? And I want the truth!” I said the next day, locking my eyes on his. I must admit that I was labouring the point to extract a confession that he had spent two days drinking with his horrible mates. I could hardly believe it when he admitted that he'd been with another woman. Too surprised to be truly angry, I ordered him out of the flat, screaming as I went, arms flailing in his direction. All the time, he was smiling coyly and shaking his head. The situation was amusing to him.

  Even when I was throwing him out, I was planning how long I would have to punish him for before I let him back in. This was also the moment I began to realise that we'd both have to pretend that he slept only with me.

  When he came back three days later, his mum, June, was with him. As she talked to him, she looked at me imploringly as she explained how sorry he was while slapping him. She wanted to hang on to “Posh Susan”, I think. I knew that me and his mum could beat Steven to death with a blunt instrument and he wouldn't raise a finger to defend himself, because it was us.

  “Anyway, he knows what he's done, and I'll leave the two of you to talk.” Off she went. She'd been through it all too.


  Truth time: I did have my share of laughs with the lads. One particular night, we all piled into a MacDonald's around 11pm. Everyone but me was drunk
and buzzing on some speed that was going around. The atmosphere was edgy and frightening; not that I was frightened, being within the inner circle.

  One of them said to a female member of staff: “I'll have a Big Mac. And I'd like your telephone number please.”

  She smiled politely and said nothing as the lads stifled their laughter.

  After silence from both sides of the counter, she said, still as polite ever: “Can I take your order, sir?”

  “Yes… I'd like a big Mac and fries please. Oh, and a coke, if that's okay. Oh… and could I have your telephone number please?”

  “I'll take this order,” said a male colleague who then took over. He stood there, wrestler-build, arms folded; his annoyance with us was thinly concealed. “Can I take your order, sir?”

  “Oh right,” said our compatriot, suddenly serious. “Just a Big Mac and fries and a Coke, please mate. Oh… and can I have your telephone number? She wouldn't give me hers, and you're a hot piece of ass, if you don't mind me saying so.”

  So it went on. When it was my turn, I played it straight, but, JD, another one of Steven's mates added, “Could she have your telephone number, mate? She's fancied you for ages, but she was too embarrassed to tell ya. Don't ya believe me, mate? Don't ya fancy her?”

  Painstakingly, the manager managed to extract our orders from us, and the five of us found somewhere to sit.

  There was one other customer, a man with a reflector jacket and cycling gloves; he looked like he had just come off his shift. He avoided eye contact with our group as they sang rude versions of the song lyrics coming out of the radio. I didn't blame him.

  Now and then, one of the guys would walk over to the counter, get the attention of a member of staff and then pretend to forget what he wanted with a slap of his forehead and a “Sorry, mate. It's gone again!” Over and over he did it. There's something about speed that makes repetition seem hilarious and satisfying to the person who's on it.

  Before long, one of them came up with a new game: standing on a table and jumping from one to the other. Once he got to the end of the row of tables, he'd run back to his seat, grinning like a naughty schoolboy. Fortunately, the staff were hanging back in the kitchen area by then to avoid the daft remarks and stupid questions that were being flung at them. I didn't blame them either.

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