It must have been somewhere in the early 2000s. There was a family lunch one weekend, just a few streets from where I lived in London. At the lunch was a cousin of my father’s, someone I hadn’t met before, a rather glacial man in his sixties. I would find out later that he’d grown up involved in the sinister and viciously homophobic Moral Re-Armament movement. As we finished pudding, he fixed me with a stare and, apropos nothing, with a steely conviction announced, “I have seen the true face of evil. And it is male homosexuality”. If it hadn’t been so chillingly vindictive, it would almost have seemed rather camp. Like the million and one darts that had preceded it, this one lanced me. By then, I was psychologically ulcerated by years of such experiences.
No one said anything. No one ever did. But never mind that no one else mounted a defence on my behalf – why didn’t I? Why did I always let such remarks slide? Why did I cower and thereby become complicit in my own oppression? I wish I’d said something. Not attacked him, but asked, “Don’t you think murder is worse? Or genocide? Or spousal abuse?” Or “I’m a male homosexual. Do you really think I’m the epitome of evil?” Or maybe something a little stronger, a little truer to how I really felt, like “Take your hangups, your creepy ‘moral re-armament’, your frosty, pathological anti-sexuality and go away. Go and be loveless on your own”. By itself, an encounter like this could have been dismissed, swept off one’s shoulders like dandruff. But my life up to that point had meant dealing with them on a near-daily basis. I tried to cling to positive ideas about myself; maybe I was moderately good-looking, kind, talented, worthwhile. But those ideas were dwarfed by the towering belief, acquired via pitiless inculcation, that I was a ‘poof’, a ‘queer’, a ‘faggot’. At best, I was the pathetic butt of a joke. At worst, I was disgusting, revolting, a mistake, something to be extinguished. I would never succeed at anything, so why apply myself?
I entered adulthood in the early 1990s. The law would see to it that none of my relationships were celebrated by my friends and family at any sort of ceremony. I would also not be able to do normal things like hold hands on a date (that wouldn’t change until the ‘gross indecency’ law was repealed in 2003 and even today, you’re taking a risk if you do it). I mainly resisted the urge to kill myself. I had swallowed twenty paracetamol at 13, but that was more in the hope of pressing pause on life than ending it. There would be subsequent toyings with death. I used to think that if my parents found out, I’d have to finish off the job. Ruminating like this throughout my formative years was not fun. There were no allies, no one to trust. I believed that every friendship I had thrived only because I concealed my sexuality and in many cases I may have been right about that. I believed that all the love that had ever been extended to me was conditional, ready to be withdrawn if so much as a hint of my sexuality were revealed. I gave up my prime relationship years to secrecy. I’ve lost over half my life and won’t get it back. I’m angry about it and I know it’s left me somewhat quick to petulance although I try to hide it (and I do have considerable experience at hiding things). It’s taken me to the point of nearly dying more than once before I could even consider what pride meant and whether I deserved to have any.
This year in particular, as Pride commences, I think not so much of public homophobia, some of which has been restrained by law (though it would be a foolhardy to think that that can’t change). I think of private homophobia, the stuff going on behind closed doors, the poisonous ideas being put into children’s heads by ‘traditional’ parents, by both crazed and ‘moderate’ religious leaders, by people acting in loco parentis and by peer groups. It’s the kind of homophobia it’s impossible either to gauge the full and no doubt vast scale of or to diminish.
I think I owe my life to the people who campaigned bravely in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond, who put themselves on the line in ways I was too frightened to do. Sometimes I curse my own timorousness and trepidation, but that’s just another route back to self-hatred. I try not to make the mistake of viewing myself as uniquely wronged, a state of mind not only delusional but which also diminishes one’s empathy for others. And I think, most of all, of the people who won’t be at any Pride events; the teenagers in conservative households who fear, often with good reason, their parents’ opprobrium, who can’t see how they could ever possibly come out, who may hate themselves because of twisted ideas that have been planted in their minds. I hope they know that when the time comes, there will be people who love them as they are and environments free from censure and judgement where the can be themselves.
If you need help with any of the issues I’ve raised here (or similar ones), I suggest contacting London Friend, an excellent resource for the LGBT+ community in the capital.