The homophobia we experience as children spreads throughout our lives like ripples on a pond. I remember everything, and so will your children.

We don’t get more than one chance at life. The more fortunate among us might get to enjoy eighty birthdays, eighty Christmases, eighty first days of spring, when the smell of the blossom and the gentle warmth of the sun mark the end of the cold, dark winter days and thrill us with the promise of the summer to come. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. The world moves on, but we do not. It’s precious and fragile and fleeting.

Imagine, then, if you had to spend the early part of the brief time we have on this Earth feeling alone, afraid and ashamed. Imagine if the very essence of who you are had to be hidden away like a dirty little secret, because who you are is bad, wrong, sinful. Then imagine what it would say about you if your actions were responsible for inflicting this misery on another person, perhaps even your own child.

When I was five, I liked my friend. I’m gonna call him James, because that was his name. He was my best friend and, when we were at school, we did everything together. We sat together in class, we played together at break times, we ate together, giggling and swapping bits of our lunches. 

We held hands. 

I liked holding hands with James. It felt nice. I had neither the emotional maturity nor the linguistic dexterity to describe what I felt for him, but I knew I liked him a whole lot more than my other friends, and that I liked him in a different way.

There was a day in year two when we were on our way to assembly and I took James’ hand, just as I had always done. He pulled it away and held it behind his back. I looked at him, confused.

“We can’t hold hands anymore,” he said. “It’s gay.”

I remember this exchange like it was yesterday. I didn’t know what ‘gay’ meant, I’d never even heard the word before, but the look on his face told me everything I needed to know: Being ‘gay’ was a Very Bad Thing indeed.

James and I were still friends after that, but it was never the same. For me, anyway. I still feel that loss today, not because relationships are particularly serious or enduring at ages 5 and 6, but because I didn’t only lose James that day, I lost a part of myself. It was the first day I knew that there was something wrong with me, something shameful that I had to hide.

My secondary school was a dark place. Literally and figuratively. Eight or nine dismal blocks of grey concrete full of Section 28-fuelled homophobia and low-level violence. I was routinely hit, kicked and punched, and I spent most of my days there with the words ‘poof’, ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ ringing in my ears. I wasn’t out, but that didn’t stop them. They had the weight of the media, the government and their homophobic parents behind them. Fighting the good fight, bashing the queers.

It’s little wonder, then, that by the time I left school, I was so far in the closet that there was the very real possibility I would never make it out. I think at one point I almost managed to convince myself I was straight. I just needed to ignore all the bad feelings, push them right down, and everything would be fine, right?

Needless to say, it wasn’t fine. 

I wasn’t a bad person when I was closeted. I wasn’t violent or abusive. I wasn’t one of those who used homophobia as a defence mechanism, and, whilst I didn’t always get it right, I tried to do right by people. Helped old ladies across the road, that sort of thing. I was still me to a point, but I felt like a faded facsimile of who I was supposed to be.

And I’m the first to admit that, because of this, I wasn’t always particularly pleasant to be around. I was often frustrated and short-tempered, converting every negative emotion to anger rather than admitting to myself what was really causing that sad, empty feeling inside me.

I did make it out of the closet eventually, as you know, but by that point, I was quite irreparably damaged. After the initial euphoria of coming out had subsided, I became profoundly depressed and anxious, mourning those lost years I knew I could never recapture, plagued with what ifs that would remain forever unanswered, and wondering whether I would ever feel truly at peace.

I was fortunate in that my wife and son were extremely supportive, more supportive than I had any right to expect, and that is a thing for which I’ll always be immensely grateful. My extended family were rather less supportive, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, with their love and understanding, some therapy, a bucketload of tears and many months of difficulty, I found my way back. I still have bad days, bad weeks, sometimes, but I have ways of coping with the fallout now that I didn’t have before. I’m happy now, overall, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be totally ok. Three decades of that level of damage is gonna take some rolling back.

So when I look at what’s happening in Birmingham and Manchester, and no doubt other cities across the UK by now, I feel angry. Angry that we’re having to refight battles we’ve already fought, and which belong firmly in the past; angry that narrow-minded people seek to use the protective veil of religious belief to excuse their hateful bigotry and intolerance; and utterly fucking enraged that another generation of children might have to endure what I and so many others like me had to endure some thirty years ago.

Of all the two thousand or so gods man has invented during the ten thousand years of recorded history, I don’t believe in any of them. The idea of a supreme being just doesn’t seem plausible to me. What I do believe is that, if a supreme being were to exist, she wouldn’t be petty, malicious or vindictive enough to describe one human being loving another as a ‘sin’ or an ‘abomination’. Moreover, I don’t believe she would make beings who are attracted to other beings of the same sex, then punish them for acting on that attraction. Because that would be a fucking dick move.

In 2019, more and more Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews are coming around to this way of thinking. Their belief in their chosen scripture, and their interpretation of it, has evolved over time, as is only right and fitting. So just as it’s no longer necessary for proponents of a particular faith to offer rape victims the choice between marrying their attacker or being stoned to death, it’s equally unnecessary for them to behave like a hateful dickhole to LGBT people in order to appease their favourite deity. Being gay isn’t a choice, but using a centuries-old book to justify your intolerance most definitely is.

If your adherence to a particular faith requires you to oppress those who are different to you, you either need to choose a less abhorrent ideology, or consider whether your interpretation of that ideology might be the problem. Your faith doesn’t trump the rights of others to be safe, accepted and supported.

There is a great deal of debate surrounding how many of us are L, G, B or T. Some studies place the figure at around 5% overall, with younger generations showing figures as high as 8 or 9%. And that’s without including those who are still closeted, so the true figure could easily be in excess of 10%.

But even if we take the lower estimate, if you’re standing outside a school of two hundred pupils shouting anti-LGBT hate into a microphone from the back of a flatbed truck, at least ten of the children present will be left feeling hurt, frightened and alone as a direct result of your actions.

If you are successful in your poisonous, spiteful aim of removing any and all LGBT-related education from the curriculum, those children will grow up thinking that who and what they are is fundamentally wrong. It might even be your own child upon whom you inflict this most grievous and unforgivable harm.

They will remember that day. It will stay with them forever. And just as I am able to sit here as a very nearly forty year old man and shed a tear for the innocent little boy whose life changed forever in a single minute one day in 1985, your own child may very well have to look back and relive the instant that broke them thirty-odd years from now. Will you really be able to live with yourself if the face staring back at them is yours?

20 thoughts on “The homophobia we experience as children spreads throughout our lives like ripples on a pond. I remember everything, and so will your children.

  1. Not exactly the same journey as me but incredibly close. I’ve been gay for as long as I can remember, small village upbringing, didn’t know what gay meant, married for 30 years, three grown up children, two grand children. My ex-wife is an awesome person eh sadly can’t handle my situation now. I am happily partnered to the most awesome man and life has truly never been better. We need society to accept that you love who you love. Sex is just a mechanical base instinct in all of us but attraction and love is what feeds the soul. Thank you for all that you do.

    1. My first experience was when I was 14 and his name was James 🙂 He’s now married with kids. @andrealeadsom should read this, although she probably won’t be able to relate to it…

  2. Sometimes I wonder if I can truly be myself around everyone. The answer is no.
    I’m protecting myself. Besides, I love who I want to love & it is a fluid thing. Max, you are brave, I am 10 years older than you. This is me being brave.

  3. I had a friend who lived with her work colleague. Surprised when they retired to carry on living together. I don’t know if they had sex. What does it matter? I fear that perhaps my friend never had the chance to share her happiness with any of us; to introduce her, get engaged, feel the approval, get presents. The colleague was never invited to parties, weddings, funerals, hardly ever even asked after or included on Christmas cards. That is very cruel. Only one person included her and that was my Mam. Well done, Mam.

  4. Moving and erudite as ever. Had similar experiences and ended up in a deep closet. I too got married and then came out. What the hatred does damages not only ourselves but those people caught up in the cross fire I work in education and see how real the need is to challenge bigotry so that we can all grow up feeling happy and loved.

  5. Beautifully written and so right, my son is out and proud, but in coming out at school had a horrific time, which he often shielded from me sadly – he is a kind thoughtful individual and I am angered that the other kids who treated him so badly, and so called friends who turned their backs so as to not be the gay kids friend were the majority! Teachers turned a blind eye to shocking bullying and terms like faggot being used regularly and when he spoke to someone who should have been there to support him was told “what did you expect coming out at school” What I expected and what he deserved was for him to be accepted for who he was – coming out didn’t change him a jot but their attitudes did – marrow bigoted kids and some encouragement for their parents – people I’d previously considered friends This country needs to get over themselves and let people be who they are and live their lives without bullies and bigots. I stand proud next to both my sons and if I had to I would march next to and for my sons right to be accepted for who he is – an incredible human being. No child or adult should be shamed in this way!

  6. This is a very carefully crafted piece. I was brought up a catholic and my mother in particular was terrified that I might be gay. On more than one occasion she berated me calling me a poof and a queer. I am straight and married with kids. I have never forgotten my mum calling me those names. I never brought it up with her because I knew was was neurotic and worried about everything and anything.

    Ironically my daughter is gay and my mother (who is dead now) was totally accepting of her and her sexuality.

    And I do know that my daughter went through much of what you have described in your blog in her school days and youth.

    Thanks for sharing this it is a meaningful piece of writing.

  7. Beautifully put. I still feel ashamed for getting it wrong when my best friend came out to me many years ago. I also remember the way a guy I talked to (at a Dalek convention!) expressed his *gratitude* to me for being cool when he talked about his boyfriend. I felt sick that he felt grateful for something I take for granted. Our society if fucked up, but we can change it. Never stop fighting.

  8. Thank you for that beautifully expressive piece of writing, you took me there. Appalled by the current school rows, but encouraged by what I hear from my 14 & 11 yo sons, what they and their mates talk about, and are fine with, and militant about. Some things have changed for the better

  9. Wow! That was very moving. Thank you. My eldest daughter is gay but there was no coming out as such. She just is. Thankfully she has a family who just accept you irrespective of sexual orientation. 🌈👏🏼❤️

  10. Please continue telling your story! I had the sweetest friend in middle school in, the 70’s. He was teased and bullied daily for being ‘gay’, He was murdered when he was 16.
    I look at youth today and they are far more open and confident at expressing their sexuality. This gives me hope for the future.
    Ann

  11. Hi. Powerful stuff. I’m still that dark place not knowing what I am, but knowing something’s not right. A loving partner and two sons. How could I upset all that. Except I’m miserable, depressed and occasionally suicidal. I was born with deformed genitals, my entire childhood until 16 spent under a surgeons knife trying to correct what nature had gifted. That was my dark secret and nightmare. To face up to my buried, troubling sexual inclination, on top of that is beyond me. I am in awe of your courage. Thank you for sharing and fighting.

  12. Thank you indeed for this moving personal narrative, particularly in respect to your formative years. I am gay and was born in 1948 which means that I was born a criminal according to the then UK Law. The same law that subjected Alan Turing to chenical castration and probably suicide. I can remember clearly as a boy reading local newspapers which reported on court cases where gay men had been convicted of gross indecency and sent to prison, losing their liveiihoods, family and friends. Many committed suicide.Sadly and despite the passage of time prejudice continues. I have been an Anglican Priest for over twenty five years during which time I have ministered to many gay people regardless of Church teaching. In my books of poetry and non fiction I have highlighted the many problems in contemporary society of being gay. Those who continue to demean and revile us are the ones with a problem based on their ignorance and basic lack of human understanding.

Leave a Reply to Victoria Rudd Cancel reply