I remember at the age of about 13 having an argument with my very Catholic grandmother. We were arguing about the rights of gay people. It wasn’t the first time we’d had the argument, and, as you might expect, I was very pro-gay equality and she was very much not. It’s not like she wanted homosexuals executed or anything, but she considered it an illness. She thought that Oscar Wilde had “ruined his life” with his homosexuality and believed that HIV and Aids were god’s way of eradicating gays.
I remember at the time having not the slightest doubt in the power of my position. I was one of those annoying little gits that went around describing themselves as “an equalitarian” (I’d read it in the dictionary and instantly adopted it) and as I grew older I met friends who were gay or who would later come out as gay. I even wrote a thesis on Oscar Wilde as a school student and remember feeling mortified when, commenting on the death of Freddy Mercury, a family member ‘joked’ to a neighbour that it “served him right for being a poofter”. (Imagine the embarrassment when the neighbour in question replied with “my brother’s gay”).
I guess the point of mentioning this, is to highlight that I myself never had any issue with homosexuality. Or bisexuality. Very much the opposite. That makes it all the more baffling to me that it took me so very long to realise that I myself was gay. I was into my twenties, had completed my degree and had even got married. And then it hit me like a train. I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. I wasn’t the person that I had thought I was – actually the person I married turned out also not to be the person I had thought he was either, which at least made it slightly easier to leave. But that still left me with a massive problem. I could leave him easy enough – I was pretty much stuck with myself. There was no leaving that behind.
I didn’t so much come out of the closet – more exploded out of there, hurting myself and a few others on the way. I told a close friend what was muddling around in my head. She seduced me. I tried to resist and then thought what the hell. The first time I kissed her I was terrified. No amount of alcohol seemed sufficient to calm my nerves and in the end I just had to swallow them. Once I’d taken the plunge I knew there was no going back. I think it probably remains the best kiss of my life, not only for how damn good it was but also for everything it symbolised. I then fell crazy in love and had my heart broken. It took me three years to patch it back together.
I went off the rails, had some brilliant and some awful times and never stopped to look back. It needed doing. I suddenly had all this catching up to do – there was a whole world out there that I had always known existed, but had never thought applied to me. Now it suddenly did.
I occasionally wonder why it took me so long. The gay community is now the centre around which my life resolves; it’s where many of my friends are, it’s where I go for support and a huge chunk of my social life. It’s where I feel safe. Accepted. Me. I simply can’t imagine my life without it – and I doubt I would want to live somewhere without a significant gay scene. And I suppose the answer is in the two stories I started this with. While I was able to know that there was nothing wrong with being gay, my entire experience of any discussion about homosexuality had been that of it being ‘othered’ by people. Being gay was what happened to other people – not to me or anyone in my family. It’s not like I had the kind of upbringing where we were encouraged to think about the kind of people we were or the lives we wanted for ourselves – there was certainly no questioning, let alone challenging, or perceived norms. We were all assumed to be straight, to be destined for a lifetime of unsatisfying low-paid work, marriage and kids. I bucked the trend by going to university after my history teacher talked me into it, but otherwise I was sleepwalking towards my future. It took the (apparent) finality of marriage and the prospect of a miserable life to jolt me awake and make me ask myself who I really was and what I really wanted. For that reason alone, I remain glad that I did it.
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