discriminable authoritarian exterior

Miles Linnington, a classmate of mine and at least for some of the time a co-boarder, had distinguished himself at the age of twelve, before my arrival at SACS, by stowing away on an ocean liner bound for the UK. Miles, an outrageously camp and daring boy, had mingled with the passengers, eating in the first-class dining room and sleeping in a life-boat at night, until he was flushed out by one of the crew.

In a system that seeks uniformity, difference, however discriminable, becomes a problem. Sent back to school, he conducted a one-boy war against the authoritarian regime, which tolerated neither his ambiguity in gender matters, nor his theatricality, nor his unrepentantly ironic and questioning attitude. He was not a class jack-up of the shouting, desk-banging, jeering kind, but his mere presence in a group of boys was subversive. In an English class, when spoonerisms had come up, it was an eyelash-batting Miles who said, ‘Friar Tuck, sir,’ and was immediately booked for detention. He made a splendid Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, and played the Steinweg (which Duncan Miller remembers as a Steinway) in the hall as the school filed in for assembly. But, specializing in difference, Miles attracted the disapproval of the boys as well as the staff. He became a figure of fun, and all his attempts to present himself as deliberately or theatrically funny could not disguise the mockery, rudeness and petty violence that came his way in a constant stream. He made friends with Tony Levin, a sensitive younger boy who was almost as camp, albeit in a more intellectual style. The two of them became school scapegoats, openly mocked for their homo-sexuality, their femininity, their cultural rather than sporting interests, and thence for any perceived or invented character flaw, including their intelligence and articulacy. Both the masters and the prefects punished them more than the other boys. When one of them entered the showers, someone would shout ‘Bums to the wall, here comes Tony!’

Miles and Tony became intermittent friends of mine. We were drawn together by our outsider status and our fluency in cynicism, but as I was straight, I was excluded or excluded myself from the gay side of their friendship. We talked instead about music or writing, or railed mockingly at our persecutors, the big muscly prefects who had hairy legs.

Miles’ flip and self-mocking exterior covered an unhappiness that took him, a year after school, to the edge of a high building, from whence he jumped. A few years later, Tony walked out of a psychotherapy session in a tall building in the city, climbed to the top and leapt off.

Did they really jump or were they pushed?

__________

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