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.