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My gay life: part 1
I believe that my sexual orientation was fixed before I was born.
Though I had friends of both sex as a child, I got along especially well with girls. We arranged charity jumble sales and staged shows in the oversized garden shed at my parents' house.
One of my best friends was Frances, who was a bit of a tomboy. We would climb the apple trees in the grounds of a derelict Manor House near to where she lived and snuggle up together in the overgrown grass, just talking for hours.
Pretty soon I think it become clear to many of my school friends that I was 'different'. I was quite open about the fact and got a bit of teasing over it. Especially as some of my outspoken views were way ahead of their time...
On one occasion I announced that I could see no reason why men shouldn't wear dresses (not that I wanted to wear one personally). This was ten years before Boy George. And at about the same time I remember embarrassing a teacher with my curiosity during a sex education class.
THE SCHOOL BULLY
From age 14 onwards, I decided that perhaps I should be a bit more discreet. Apart from anything, I was at a 'rougher' school and there were too many bullies about. From then on, schooldays were extremely frustrating in every respect.
Bullying wasn't addressed or taken seriously at our school. It's good to see the UK Government is now addressing it. It would be nice to think that times may have changed and I'm full of admiration for the kids who refuse to put up with it and have the courage to report it. It's intolerable that people can be physically assaulted at school.
Now I know a bit more about what often motivates these homophobes, I should probably have had a heart-to-heart with the main school bully -- a skinhead called John Cussack who was always threatening to 'see me' after school. I wonder what he had in mind?!
Note (May 2004): I got the shock of my life when I spotted him on the Friends Reunited website, reminiscing about our 'good old' school.
I was attracted to one of my best friends, Richard, who did gymnastics. One day in the school library, after much thought, I made a clumsy move. He wasn't interested, but it didn't affect our friendship. However, we never talked about what happened either.
At this time I was drawing and editing a a weekly 8-page comic-strip magazine, which was passed around among my sister's friends and had a readership of up to 100 teenage girls! I was something of a hero to them apparently. Unfortunately this took up so much of my time that I often neglected my school work, which I found extremely dull. My other passions were film-making, animation and puppets.
It's a pity that these interests weren't encouraged at school. Looking back, it seemed inevitable that I would eventually earn a living from some combination of them (though the puppets are currently on hold!).
One Saturday, when I was 16, I was travelling home on the bus and feeling pleased with myself because I'd just bought a piece of photographic equipment that I'd been saving for. When a man aged about 50 came and sat next to me.
He was drunk and kept saying something, but I couldn't make out what and I was too polite to ignore him. Finally, he put his hand on my knee and I realised, to my horror, that he had been asking me if he could 'feel' my leg.
The bus was busy and everyone was looking on in disapproval. Totally embarrassed, I jumped up and got off the bus. At the time I somehow blamed myself for this incident. However, that was not the end of it...
A couple of evenings a week after school, I worked in the local library putting books back on shelves. I worked with a girl of the same age called Karen. Libraries seem to attract some weird people... A man exposed himself to Karen one afternoon and another guy was banned for coming in with a mirror on the end of his umbrella, which he used to look up womens' clothing.
Yes, you've guessed it... One evening, the man from the bus walked in, wearing his overcoat. I'd told Karen about the incident and rushed over to her. 'That bloke from the bus is in here,' I told her. I turned around to find that the man was right behind me and had heard what I'd said.
He chased me around the bookshelves, but luckily I lost him in the reference section and he disappeared, never to be seen again.
Looking back, I can see the comical side of this. But, at the time I was traumatised by the whole thing and it knocked me back as far as being gay was concerned. I didn't feel bad about the way I was, just isolated and confused.
I left school at 18 and went to college for a year. During this time, I was looking about for other young men like me who might be gay. There were some openly gay men about -- at college and at the library. However all the gay guys I knew of were 'camp' and I didn't relate to that. Most of my fantasies were about soldiers, athletes and Nick Heywood of the boy band Haircut 100.
I'd seen a confusing BBC TV documentary about a guy called George who was having a sex change operation (this is Julia Grant who until recently ran the Hollywood Showbar in Manchester) and Thames Television's famous drama The Naked Civil Servant -- about Quentin Crisp. Plus, of course, camp comedians like Larry Garyson and John Inman as Mr Humphries.
In those days there were no 'positive role-models'. No 'out' pop icons, politicians or TV personalities. No Internet and little coverage in magazines or on TV, except negative stuff.
So, overall, my experiences up to that date had been quite bewildering and I didn't see where or how I fitted in. A feeling that, to a much lesser extent, continues to this day...
However, despite this, I was quite content in many respects. I felt happy about being attracted to men and I didn't feel any guilt. But nor did I feel any great need to do anything about it.
Although I lived in a city, I didn't feel a desire to mix with other gay men (I didn't explore the local gay bars and clubs) and I wasn't really too worried about having sex either. I felt that, sooner or later, my perfect guy would come along.
I should mention that I was also lucky that my parents were not the sort of people who pressurise their kids into dating, getting married and producing grandchildren.
I decided to take a year out. I continued to live with mum and dad and, the following year, I got a University place in Manchester. I was aged 20.
Dyeing my hair blond (it was fashionable then!), leaving home and going to Manchester was the turning point for me and soon I began to feel desperate to get out to some gay bars and clubs to meet men. But I was too cowardly to go by myself. Judith, a woman at college, came out to everyone as a lesbian quite early on and I began to feel that I wanted to be more open with people too.
I suspected that two other male students on the same course might be gay. Both had a slight 'girly' side to them (in fact there are lots of hetrosexual men like this, I just didn't know it at the time).
One was my friend Loyd -- an exotic-looking guy with long eyelashes and lushious lips. Loyd rode a motor-bike and dressed all in black, in a tight t-shirt and stretch jeans. He had that ever-so-slightly chunky build (think early-Cadinot) that I've always liked and an unbelievable ass...
I summoned up courage and asked Loyd if he was gay. He took it very badly and it was effectively the end of our friendship. The other guy said he wasn't either. Duhhh! Mysteriously, both got girlfriends pretty quickly afterwards...
Although I was friends with Judith, she wasn't the first person I came out to. I was friendly with another student, called Alan, who lived in the same street as me and, one night, I told him.
Like many straight men he thought it was 'a laugh', but he was OK about it and supportive. He even bought me some copies of Playgirl magazine. In fact it was Alan who unwittingly introduced me to my first boyfriend, Chris. About which, more later...
One night, I got a little depressed and told a female student who lived nearby. She was a bad choice to confide in as, within days, everyone seemed to know. Although it wasn't exactly what I had intended, I wasn't particularly bothered either.
After that, I pestered Judith to take me out onto the Manchester gay scene and, after what seemed like a long wait, finally she did.
The first bar we went into was called Stuffed Olives, which was in a basement on the other side of Deansgate to Kendals department store. I was scared and the first thing I saw as I entered was the DJ who was a drag-queen or transvestite.
That was quite shocking to me at the time, but is amusing in retrospect... You know what they say about first impressions? Well that was probably the one and only time I ever saw a 'tranny' DJ-ing in there.
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