The Lockdown Trials of a Northern Gay

I don’t really know what this piece is yet, or how it will look when it’s finished. I usually have a plan formed in my brain before I sit down to write: a message I wish to convey, a start point, an end point, and some kind of imprecise mental map as to how I’ll join those two points together. I have none of that this time, just a bunch of feelings I need to get out of my head in the hope that they’ll stop fucking shit up in there, so please bear with me if it lacks the coherence you’ve hopefully come to expect.

I think the main thing I feel is lonely. And isolated. And a bit sad. On top of that, there’s a huge dollop of guilt gnawing away at me because I’m surrounded by a supportive and loving family, and I have no right to feel any of those things. There are millions of people who, over the past nine months, have lost loved ones, incomes, homes, and careers they’ve worked for decades to build. There are those who live alone, or who reside in a household with an abusive partner or parents. There are countless individuals who have been abandoned in care homes by a government that has singularly failed to protect them from the ravages of this pandemic, even as it shamelessly lined the pockets of its already obscenely wealthy donors. Sure, I’ve had a few financial struggles since March, but who hasn’t? Objectively and comparatively, I know I’ve had it ridiculously easy.

Most regular readers of this website will already know my story, but for those who don’t, I’ll give a brief recap. I am a 41-year-old gay man who didn’t come out until the age of 37. After I came out, unusually, I suppose, my wife and I decided to remain married. We did so for a whole number of reasons, but primarily because we recognised that there was more than one way to love a person, more than one way for a relationship to be successful. We still had (and have) a huge amount of love for one another and, together with our son, we remain a close-knit family unit.

The benefits of this decision are, I hope, fairly obvious, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But it’s not without its drawbacks either. Living in a northern city with a relatively small LGBTQ population, in what, to the casual observer, is a regular old straight marriage, leaves me faced with a choice between being my whole self and attracting a lot of unwanted, intrusive questions (for me and my wife), or continuing to hide part of myself to ‘fit in’. Unfortunately, I always seem to opt for the latter: the path of least resistance. And it’s not even necessarily a conscious decision. It’s a thing that happens automatically as a result of more than three decades of conditioning.

Before the advent of All This Shit, I had a way of offsetting this propensity to fall back into old, destructive habits. My regular visits to London, where lots of my friends reside, and where huge numbers of The Gays may be found, would give me the chance, for a few precious days, to feel completely comfortable with who I am, to be surrounded by others like me, and to free the repressed homosexual who has been hiding inside me since childhood.

My wife would always remark upon how happy I seemed on my return. How relaxed I would appear. How proudly and unapologetically gay I would be, like the spark in my eyes had been reignited. It was like there was a big old ‘RESET’ button somewhere inside me, the pressing of which returned me to the factory settings that were installed at birth, but which have been relentlessly corrupted, year on year, by the Gay Shame malware.

This system wasn’t perfect – what is? – but it worked to a large extent, and I know it would be unrealistic to expect that I could emerge from the closet this late in life without having to make some sacrifices. I have a million ‘what ifs’ in my head, but we can’t undo the past, and I couldn’t honestly say I would undo it even if I could. Maybe things would have turned out better if I’d realised some truths about myself earlier, but I could never wish away my best friend and the not-completely-terrible human we created together. We have to play the hand we’re dealt, and this situation was the best available to me under the circumstances, for all its imperfections.

So when The Bad Thing happened earlier this year, it pulled the rug out a little bit. At the time, I knew it would be difficult for a few months until things got back on track, and I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was this interminable omnifuck to stretch out for what will be well in excess of a year by the time things return to whatever the fuck normal looks like when it’s over. I wasn’t prepared – even with my rock-bottom expectations for this shit-dribbling clown car of a government – to be nervously eyeing the 2021 calendar wondering how much of it we’ll have chewed through before I can safely enter a gay bar again. At this point, it feels like not only has the rug has been pulled out, but like I’ve subsequently been beaten with a yard of pipe, wrapped in the rug and unceremoniously dumped off the edge of a dock like some kind of racist statue.

On top of all this, there was no Pride this year. Now, I realise there are lots of very valid criticisms of large Pride events – corporate pink-washing, admission charges, lack of representation for black and brown LGBTQ people, a failure to adequately raise trans voices at a time when it’s most necessary – but for all their failures, I do believe they are essentially a force for good. As a late-out gay who has hidden for most of his life, they’re an intrinsic part of my mental wellbeing. They’re a chance to be fully and unashamedly out, to be immersed in queerness, and yes, to embrace and promote those parts of our community that white cis gays have so often failed to support after they fought unflinchingly alongside us. There’s been a lot of talk about Christmas in the press and media over the past couple of weeks, how awful it would be if we had to cancel it etc, but I suspect Pride is at least as important to huge numbers of queer people, and its cancellation has barely registered in the mainstream discourse.

And I want to make it clear that this isn’t a sex thing. Sex is, to the best of my recollection, great, but it’s far from the top of the list of reasons I’m feeling all of the feelings. The opportunity to belong for a few hours, to be able to present freely in a (relatively) safe environment without looking over your shoulder and having to perform a thousand real-time calculations about whether The Way You Are is likely to lead to verbal or physical harassment, the chance to actively celebrate who you are, fuck, even just the opportunity to have some sort of affectionate physical contact with another man – I feel their loss. Keenly. Sharply. Increasingly.

I know this isn’t a permanent situation. One day it will be over. But in the meantime, it feels like a mental battle I’m not sure I’m winning. Maybe that’s what I wanted this piece to say: I’m not ok. I hope this doesn’t come across as too self-pitying – I recognise that we’re all going through it in different ways right now, but I suspect if you’ve never been part of a minority community, you’ll probably find it difficult to understand the impact of being cut off from that community. And maybe, hopefully, this weird stream of consciousness will have helped in some small way to further that understanding.

I’m always immensely grateful for the support I receive from strangers on this site and on Twitter, and I hope you’re all finding a way through this horror show that causes the least amount of damage possible. I share your anxieties about Covid and Brexit and all the other shit, and like the rest of you, I’m also missing my loved ones. The thing I’m most struggling to deal with, however, is missing part of myself.

15 thoughts on “The Lockdown Trials of a Northern Gay

  1. Hey Max. I’m a gay man that lives alone and who is surrounded by a large and loving family and circle of gay and straight friends. And I totally understand how you feel. I survived the first lockdown totally on my own and like you, I’m thinking when Is this going to end. When can I even hug someone again.

    There are lots of us out there, and an awful lot on Twitter. Chatting to many of these Twitter-friends, none of whom I’ve met, does help. Me and them.

    So where am I going with this. Only to say hi, you are not alone. Thank you for being so honest with this piece. I don’t always agree with what you have to say but I do recognise a buddy who just might benefit for a metaphorical hug so never be afraid of reaching out. Many in Twitter world know how you feel.

    Keep making me laugh and I hope you and your family have a great Christmas 🎄

    Cheers
    Simon x

    Like

  2. To some extent I think we’re all having to repress who we are / how we behave vs being our ‘true selves’ due to being cooped up for COVID.

    Most people have multi-faceted personas that shift and change depending on who we’re with. Whether that’s around friends, work mates, family or our kids.

    With home being the environment that ‘everything happens’ in at the moment, I certainly feel a pressure over me that’s grinding me down.

    You can’t compare chatting to a colleague in the office or your mates in a bar to a zoom call while you’ve got young kids running around you, constantly having to moderate what you say.

    I’ve had (thankfully) no financial worries this year, nor do I have anything like your dual in/out life to compare to, yet I still feel a sense of not being 100% ok, whilst also being mad at myself for being selfish enough to not be grateful for what I do have.

    Keep focused on the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully 2021 will be a year of renewal and we can all realise the best version of ourselves.

    Happy Christmas 🎄

    Like

  3. Merry Christmas Max , to you and your family . I love the way you write and I’ve particularly enjoyed this piece: you’ve managed , again , to make me feel quite normal for feeling the way that I have been feeling since ATS began. Thankyou x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read this, with increasing difficulty, as my eyes filled up.

    You have absolutely every right, to feel the way you do. Anybody, who attempts to take away your right, is a poor human being.

    I have lost a close family member in this time, I’ve lost too much, but, I recognise I am not alone. And regardless of ‘what’ we are mourning, we are all, mourning the loss of something.

    I love to read your fantastic Tweets. They often have me in stitches. But, I’m still in an empty room. I no longer get my child free weekends where I can be the wild middle aged person, who otherwise remains buried as I go about my single mum duties.

    My partner, says that he feels you have had your identity ‘stolen’ by this time, I can’t help thinking that’s the right word.

    It’s ok to feel the way you do, and I am grateful, you put this here. It helps.

    Take care. Jo.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wrote a comment and it tells me it has been sent but I don’t see it here.

    An important thing I wanted to convey came at the end. It’s that I have followed you for a long time and once upon a time you interacted with me but no longer do so. I don’t think I am blocked but maybe muted – I don’t really know what that does. I can only assume that something I posted upset you and for this, I am sorry. I would not knowingly cause hurt or upset.

    You are probably the funniest, and definitely the sweariest, man on Twitter which is why I love your posts so much.

    Julie Clarke x

    Like

    1. I just checked and you’re not muted. My mentions do get very busy, and I haven’t been receiving a fairly large percentage of my notifications for over a month now because Twitter have decided, for reasons best known to themselves, not to let me see them.

      Like

  6. Hi Max

    Don’t know if you read every comment, but I thought I’d write one anyway.

    I’ve followed you for ages on Twitter and I know you are an inspiration for so many people, including myself.

    Anyway, what the flippity fuck am I commenting about? Well, just to say you, and anyone else reading aren’t alone. I’m a married man in my early 40’s, from Leeds, in a fabulously happy marriage with a brilliant woman, with an amazing child. (Don’t care, my comment box so allowed to gush). And yes, you guessed it (well done) am gay too.

    No one wants to hear the coming out story, so I won’t go in to it but essentially what I want to say is that a conventional life is someone else’s idea. All that matters is that you , and the people you love are happy. And that Max, myself and many others reading are not alone.

    So that’s all. Just really to say if anyone else is in same position, you aren’t alone .

    Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! This conveys so many of the feelings I have been having for a while. I’m a 40 something bisexual woman living in a Northern mill town (i.e. very few out queer people at all). I live with my husband and we outwardly seem like a very straight couple. My husband is straight but I am not and we are polyamorous. I have seen my girlfriend three times since lockdown started and it is starting to take its toll on my mental health. I’m normally fairly active in my local city which has a number of gay bars but I too feel the loss of being in a space where I can be completely free and completely myself. So I know exactly the feelings you are describing. All I can offer is a virtual hug and the hope that in 2021 we can be in queer spaces that nourish us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think this is an extraordinary metaphor for the lives of many gays. The Lifetime Trials of Many Gays. I’m a year older than you and came out long before, but I can relate very personally to your feelings. To working with the hand one was dealt. To wondering what if things had been just that little bit easier, how life might have turned out completely different to what it is.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s