This article first appeared in Attitude issue 305, February 2019.
Words: Thomas Stichbury
My hands are gripped tightly around a gun. My palms are sweating so profusely it feels as if it could slip from my grasp at any second.
Short and squat, my weapon of choice is a pistol, the Lord Alan Sugar of fi rearms. Heart thudding, legs wibbling and wobbling, arms shaking, I take aim: chest or head?
Oh, fuck it. I pull the trigger again and again, ripping through a round of bullets.
A bit of context for you. It is August and I’m on a stag do, the only gay on the outing, I hasten to add, in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.
Fret not, the seeping testosterone from a twentysomething-strong group of straight men hasn’t triggered a Michael Douglas Falling Down-style mental breakdown. I’m not writing this from solitary confinement in prison, using a stubby pencil.
Nope, I am locked and loaded at the region’s local shooting range as part of the celebrations for my good pal Felix, who is about to enter a new chapter in his life: as a married man. I don’t know if the guns are supposed to be a motif for marriage being akin to a death sentence, or maybe it’s just that boys like to shoot the shit out of things.
Anyway, as predicted, I am hopeless, and it feels like school PE class all over again as everyone gathers to watch, almost awestruck by just how terrible I am.
“Why you do this?” the instructor asks, with genuine curiosity in his voice, before mimicking my unique “technique”, which involves the vigorous wiggling of one’s hips.
He pushes a button, summoning forward my paper human-target sheet. It is unblemished — not a single bullet hole. To rub salt into the wound, an actual one, I somehow managed to bruise my cheek from pistol Alan’s kickback.
In total, I’ve joined four stags as the only member of the all-male troupe who has a penchant for cock. That I know of, at least.
I can’t remember the first stag I had the pleasure of attending for Butters — his first name is Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not — except that it was many eons ago in Amsterdam. So, chances are it was just one extended beer and pot session.
Changes in location aside, these buoyantly heterosexual rites of passage tend to follow the same template: booze, boobs and (non-testicular) balls. As a result, I often find myself in situations I wouldn’t necessarily choose.
Take my trip earlier this summer to Hamburg, Germany, for Olly and Seb’s double stag. One of the hangover-addled activities on the “organised fun” itinerary is zorb football, a twist on the so-called beautiful game, featuring plastic hamster-esque balls.
In an attempt to become one of the “lads” I climb inside, but only last a few minutes. Confession: football is a trigger of mine. It brings back childhood memories of Seb asking me to be a goal post — correct, a human goal post — alongside a soggy, screwed-up jumper, a request I eagerly fulfilled. He has long since apologised.
On the same jolly, we sampled a smorgasbord of strip clubs dotted about the city’s red-light district, the delightfully named Reeperbahn, in the heart of St Pauli. It’s a single street littered with neon signs that scream “sex”, swarming with a hive of horny hetters looking to satiate their carnal desires.
While the rest of the group rinse their bank accounts to have tits rubbed in their faces, I spend my evening chatting to the pretty barmaid, who tells me she is marrying an old American in order to score a green card. I tell her not to do it. Then she mentions he is filthy rich.
“Does he have any equally wealthy, single gay friends?” I enquire...
Illustration: Ego Rodriguez
The next day, an acquaintance spills that he got his rocks off at various brothels in the area. He also managed to shit himself in a local park and, having disposed of his dirty undies, used a leafy branch to mop up the remaining mess, before squeezing in another visit to a prostitute. He spent €2,000 on sexual favours.
I’ve been on a couple of London-based stags, inevitably culminating inside a Wetherspoon’s, with a watered-down woo woo cocktail in hand, but catching a cheap flight to somewhere in Europe is normally the go-to for these swansongs to single life. Never underestimate the pulling power of legalised prostitution.
Indeed, I can’t help but wonder if Brexiteers considered the devastating impact leaving the EU would have on the planning of future stags?
Flashback to three years ago and Andy’s jolly inside a beer hall in Munich, where my mate Daz flipped an entire bench while making his way across to another table to chat up a girl, only to be left sprawling on the floor, covered in the contents of his tankard of Schneider Weisse. It never fails to make me chuckle. Hee hee.
Giving our livers a break, we did soak up some culture in the birthplace of the Third Reich. A guided tour leads us to Viscardigasse — “Shirkers Alley” — which dissenters would sneak down to avoid having to salute Hitler at the looming Feldherrnhalle, a site sacred to the Nazis. So, you know, sometimes stags are also educational.
I really treasure my friendships with these guys from school and sixth form. Since I came out, they have never failed to have my back.
Case in point, the time in Hamburg when I regrettably got into a row with a homophobic bouncer, who wanted to charge me €50 for directions to a gay club. The bruiser said he wouldn’t administer a fee if I was looking for a straight establishment. I accidentally dropped my beer bottle on the floor and flounced out of the bar. It was Andy who chased after me and comforted me when my stockpiles of sass inevitably turned into tears.
Back in Tallinn, when I volunteer to take a wasted friend back to the hostel, “Chef Tony” insists he accompany us. It turns out he’s done some research into the city’s dodgy history when it comes to gay rights before we flew out and doesn’t want me wandering the streets pretty much on my own.
So, why did I willingly subject myself to such horrors? Because I also comfortably had the best time of my life, knitting together a rich, raucous, sometimes soiled tapestry of memories that will be fun to unfurl when we’re old and wrinkly. Well, those bitches will be, I’ll be Botox-ed to my cataract-filled eyeballs.
It is incredibly important to build a gay “family” and, for a while, I left the straights behind in my home town of Chingford in search of “sistas” in Clapham. But I’ve never forgotten my “bros” and them, me. Our lives are heading in different directions, most of them are getting hitched and having children, and it’s increasingly difficult to find time to hang out as much as in the past.
That’s why stags have become the most anticipated event in our calendars, a chance to properly reunite and be adult-sized kids again. Sorry, ladies. Stag dos beat hen parties all day long, too. I went to my cousin’s in Barcelona and was confronted with a vagina for the first time since I popped out of my mother’s. (And no, it wasn’t my cousin’s.)