Stiff upper lip

By Alec Mapa

Originally published on Advocate.com September 11 2005 11:00 PM ET

I love London. My
travel-agent parents took me there for my 13th
birthday, and I immediately fell in love with the history,
the food hall at Harrods, and the pretty, ruddy-faced
boys who towered over me like trees. My mom and dad
took me to see A Chorus Line in the West End,
and when each male dancer stepped forward to sing or
speak about what it was like to grow up gay, I blanched in
recognition. I came home from London that summer wearing leg
warmers, emboldened by the knowledge that I
wasn’t alone.

I returned to
London this year for my 40th birthday. My partner, Jamie,
and I rented a flat in Knightsbridge and spent the first
three days doing all the touristy stuff I loved as a
kid. The cockney beefeaters told the same gory tales
of beheading at Tower Hill. The Harrods food hall, still
abundant, now incorporated a sushi bar and a stand that sold
Krispy Kremes. British boys were still hot and lanky
and made me feel like a Hobbit. The West End hit this
trip was Billy Elliot: The Musical. This time,
instead of sinking down into my seat, I was actually
craning my neck. Sting and Trudie Styler were sitting two
rows ahead, and I wanted to get a good look.

The third day we
woke up to a phone call from a local friend.
“London’s a bit of a mess this morning.
Turn on BBC.” Gradually the number of
casualties was announced.The footage of the injured and
bloody being escorted from the tube to the hospital
played and replayed. Jamie and I sat in front of the
set horrified. I did what any good Filipino would do
in a time of crisis. I suggested we eat.

We ended up at
Patisserie Valerie around the corner and proceeded to
ingest every baked good in sight. If Armageddon is on its
way, I’m going to face it with a croque
monsieur in one hand and a hot chocolate in the other.
I noticed that while the mood in the café was
understandably grim, something in the atmosphere was
completely missing: fear.

I saw Brits
riding double-decker buses that same afternoon and entering
tube stations the very next day. The bombing was henceforth
referred to by Londoners as “the
incident.” Nothing to get your knickers in a twist
about, just an “incident.” The following night
every pub was filled, every restaurant packed, and we
found ourselves at place in Chelsea called G-A-Y Club.
And it was. The entire club was at capacity, with two
floors of gay men who danced with complete abandon. This was
not denial. This was defiance. A Barbara
Stanwyck–like fuck-you refusal to be bullied
into paralysis or self-pity. We followed their lead and
danced until we could no longer walk.

As we sat in the
departure lounge at the airport there was a national
moment of silence to honor the dead. Before arriving in
London I felt 40 was an ordeal to be endured. As the
airport came to a standstill I was mortified by my own
vain preoccupation. In the silent tribute to those
less fortunate, it became clear that actually getting to
turn 40 was a spectacular gift. I once again left
London emboldened. Jolly good.