As with most of these stories, it’s hard to know where to begin, it’s a definite cliché to say at the beginning, but that’s where I am going to begin.
Little Mark was born at 0930 on Wednesday 30th August 1967, I would like to say that I was planned to arrive, but I probably wasn’t. My mum Linda was just 17 and had been married to my father Michael for about five months, Hmmm you can understand my reasons for believing I wasn’t part of their plans. Mum and dad met at school, got together and before you know it, I was on the way. My grandfather was a traditional man and as such, the pair of them were to be married before little Mark arrived. When I did they both lived with my grandparents, which oddly in the late sixties wasn’t that unheard of. We stayed living with them for a number of months until the new local authority flats, being built were finished, as soon as they were, we all moved in.
Clearly, mum and dad’s relationship didn’t start in the best way, their marriage lasted for four years before dad moved out and mum and I stayed living in our very nice flat in South Ruislip, West London. Life was pretty good, I had great friends in the flats and enjoyed school and spend most weekends and holidays playing and getting dirty down the park and in the local brook.
I spent a lot of my time with my grandmother, who being in her 40’s was more like my mum and as she only worked part-time, was always the home I went too after school. One Friday afternoon, while I was watching Crackerjack on the TV a policeman knocked on the door, to say that my grandfather had died of a heart attack at work age 55, I was just 7 but remember it like it was yesterday. So that was it, my grandmother was a widow and I was there at age 7 to help her through the coming years. During that time I virtually lived with her, it was great, well who wouldn’t want to live with your grandmother, I was spoilt rotten.
That was life for a number of years, I saw my mum, my dad, and had both a stepfather and a stepmother, He was a cunt, she was nice. My dad eventually moved to Weymouth in Dorset and when I went to visit, I was handed over at Fleet Services on the M3, which was roughly halfway between home and Weymouth. When dad went back to university in his 30’s they moved to somerset, so at around the age of 13, I was travelling alone on trains between Slough and Bath, it was exciting and I think that’s where my love of transport began, something which would serve me well in the career path I eventually chose some four years later.
My grandmother found love again in her life and so I went back to living at home with mum and my stepfather. He wasn’t a nice man, a drunk, a bigot, a racist and homophobic, to name but a few and despite me knowing I didn’t like girls that much, I put up with him and those feelings and just sort of buried them. He was abusive to my mum and I would often see her with bruises, but she always said it was her fault and for me not to worry, but I knew things weren’t right and that she craved love, which she just didn’t get.
At age 17 I left school and started a career at London Transport, in the mid-eighties, it was a very male-dominated industry, which just reinforced the straight stereotypes and even though I realised I was attracted to men, I again buried those feelings and kept myself to myself, giving every reason under the sun for why I didn’t have a girlfriend or indeed had ever had one, the idea repulsed me.
After many years of abuse and being in an unloving relationship, my mum turned to drink, we used to find empty bottle hidden all over the house. Things got so bad that mum eventually lost her job and would just stay in the house all day. After a family intervention, we eventually got her to seek help and mum went into hospital, where she was so brave and did so well to overcome what was a serious addiction. When she came out of the hospital, she was a changed person, well she was until my stepfather told her that he was leaving her for another woman, he had been seeing all the time she was in the hospital. Obviously, this had a massive impact on her and me. One morning I left mum in bed to go over to my grandmothers when I returned home, I couldn’t find mum, however when I pulled back the duvet, which was on the floor of her bedroom, there she was unconscious and not breathing. I did everything the 999 operator told me too, giving CPR until the ambulance arrived, but sadly there was nothing they could do, mum had died of an internal haemorrhage, caused by years of alcohol abuse, I was 27 years old and she was just 44.
I realised very quickly that I couldn’t live with my stepfather, who had returned after mums death, so once again I went to live with my grandmother, who was also dealing with the loss of her youngest daughter. For eighteen months we had a great time until what we first thought was sciatica turned out to be cancer and eventually took her. In the space of less than two years, I had lost the two most important people in my life, what was I to do.
My grandmother had changed her will after mum died so that my stepfather didn’t benefit if anything happened to her. This meant that after she passed, I had enough money to buy my first house. I had been through a lot and eventually decided that enough was enough, why was I hiding the person I really was, why didn’t I do something about it, how could I do something about it, I had hidden these feelings for years and had no idea where to go to meet people like me. One day I plucked up the courage and I decided to confide in my best friend, who I had known for years.
I sat him down at my kitchen table and started to babble out all of this, his response after about an hour of me doing that was, “Mark, tell me something I didn’t know”, It would seem despite my hiding everything and having created cover stories for everything, I was was busted, everybody knew anyway, they were just waiting for me to tell them. I know it sounds like an old cleche, again, but I felt like a great weight lifted from me that day. I finally felt myself and finally free to be the person I had wanted to be, since about the age of 12 when I knew I wasn’t like all the other boys.
Within a week of me talking to my friend, he had arranged with a gay workmate of his, to take me around a few gay bars in London. So at the age of 29, I walked into my first gay bar, Kudos, just off Soho square and to my surprise everyone was normal, not odd, just normal and just like me.
There you have it, not a massive explosion out of the closet, but quite the journey, one which continued right up to today. Where despite where I started, I live in Brighton with my partner, we have two dogs and I sing in a very gay choir, something 12-year-old me could only have dreamed about. xxMark
Coming out of course is a continual process – every time I refer to ‘my husband’ that’s a mini coming out, but the first time you tell a good friend or family member is probably the most significant:
In 1979, I was 17 and I had just moved from Dallas to Austin to study at the University of Texas. I knew I was gay, but never acted on it until I turned 18 in October. 18 was the legal age to drink back then. There were a few gay bars in town, so I started going there to hook up and make friends.
My sister Ann was 3 years older and still attending the university. We were always close, so I told her within weeks. She was living with her friend ‘Gaye’. One day, Gaye straight out asked if I was gay, and I, not quite ready to share, said ‘no, you are!’ I turned beet red and left pretty quickly. It was probably the worst pun I’d ever told, and I hated myself for avoiding the question.
That New Year’s Eve, I ran into one of my old high school teachers at a gay disco in Dallas. We all suspected ‘Mr Nelson’ was gay or bi but didn’t know he was a board member of the DGPC, the Dallas Gay Political Caucus. He began mailing me literature back in Austin about coming out and how it’s okay to be gay. I think I was lucky he was there to mentor me.
Within months, I started dating a guy I’d met, and we made plans to move in together that summer, but first I had to break it to my father back in Dallas. He was expecting me to move back home until the next school year. Austin in 1980 was rife with Jesus freaks, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, and all sorts. Joining a ‘cult’ was a big fear for parents back then.
I was vague with my father about my reasons for staying in Austin, and he of course assumed I’d joined a cult! At that point, I had to come clean and tell him I was gay rather than have him thinking that. Ironically, being ‘gay’ in 1980 was sort of like joining a cult. We pretty much all dressed alike (the clone look), had our own lingo, and reached altered states by dancing to monotonous rhythms…
It took a while for my father and stepmom to fully come to terms with it, but I knew that withholding such a major part of my life was effectively cutting them out. For me, it just wasn’t a choice.
I soon found out my distraught father immediately told everyone including extended family and friends about me. He saved me having to come out to them, and it was a blessing. By the time I saw any of them again, they’d already gotten used to the idea.
So I didn’t really have a traumatic coming out or anything. Some would expect coming out in Texas 40 years ago to be more difficult, but it wasn’t like that for me. Being gay in the 1970s really was sort of cool. It wasn’t until the rise of the religious right and AIDS in the 1980s that made it such a stigma. By then, I’d already had a good idea of who I was.
Until I went off to university I had no idea I was gay. As an adolescent in mid Wales in the 1970’s gay role models were limited to Larry Grayson and other TV comics who I didn’t identify with in the slightest. I had intermittent girlfriends through school.
So it was when working in France during a holiday that I first went to a ‘gay’ beach near St Tropez and realised that there was, well, a lot more to life! I was 19.
I came out to my close friends the following Christmas at our annual Christmas meal at a local hotel, which we used to update each other on the year’s events, having had more than enough to drink. It was when my twin brother told me that ‘that was a great joke’ a few days later that I knew it hadn’t all gone to plan. I did some further explanation.
I knew where my father stood on ‘the gay issue’ and didn’t directly come out to my parents. At the age of 28 I decided not to ‘straighten up’ the flat when they visited me in Nottingham, so they stayed in a bedroom with a tasteful Athena poster (remember them) of a dreamy guy walking alone on a beach. The next day my father was taken into hospital by ambulance with a suspect heart attack. The doctors found nothing wrong with him.
A week later he called me and told me I should still get married (to a woman) but didn’t (or couldn’t) mention the specific reason for the call. My mother was upset that I’d be lonely. I’m now married to my partner of 24 years and have a great circle of loving friends.
My father never accepted my being gay and I never broke our relationship off over it. My mother visited my husband and me regularly. My father met my husband once. Both my parents died in 2010.
These are better times for gay children, and their parents, at least in this country.Steve
“Gay. Such a beautiful word. What a shame they’ve used it for something so horrible.”
Words that I heard my Grandad saying when I was about 12 or 13. It didn’t really mean much to me at the time. I can’t even remember how the subject came up – it was probably a comment on a news item. Funny though how of all the many conversations I had with my Grandad over many years that phrase struck a chord at some level.
I loved my Grandad. He was very much a family man, enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren; had a great sense of humour but some of his views were very much of the generation that he grew up in. At the time he said this I only really had a vague understanding of what being ‘gay’ meant. Up to then gay meant happy and carefree. I’d not long been at secondary school (an all boys grammar) and had become aware that if one of the older pupils asked you if you were gay, you could not say ‘yes’. You didn’t see gay people on TV. There were camp people like Larry Grayson, Kenneth Williams and John ‘I’m free’ Inman in ‘Are You Being Served’, but they were entertainers putting on an act, it wasn’t something that an everyday person would be. None of our family was gay, none of my parents’ friends. Being gay just wasn’t an option.
So should I have been worried when I started going through puberty and began having strong feelings for one of my best friends? Well, of course not. I went to an all-boys school; I didn’t really see many girls so there wasn’t much opportunity to fall for a girl. My Mum bought me a book all about puberty and I read with interest the section on having crushes on someone of the same sex. The book helpfully advised that this would, in the vast majority of cases, be a passing phase, so not to worry. Rather unhelpfully the book didn’t advise what to do when that phase didn’t pass. In my own head I very sensibly reasoned that I just got into an unfortunate habit of forming intensive friendships with other boys.
Fast forward a few years and despite joining a drama group, going to university, entering the world of work and thus meeting quite a few members of the female sex along the way, I had still failed to find a woman with whom I wanted to have as intensive a relationship as I wanted to have with several of my male friends. And then the inevitable happened. I met The One. The most beautiful man in the world. We had been volunteers at the same care establishment and had quickly formed a very close bond. We spent a lot of time together and finally I knew in my head what my heart and other parts of my anatomy had long acknowledged. This was Love. It was intense and wonderful and painful and bewildering. It was overwhelming in its passion and glorious in its revelation. But it was impossible and it was cowardly. For it could not speak its name.
I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be rejected by friends or family. I didn’t want to be this ‘horrible’ thing. But I couldn’t contain my feelings any longer. I went away on holiday with the man of my dreams down to the south coast of Devon. And so on a momentous night in 1997 I came out to him, whilst sitting on the Plymouth Hoe (insert your own joke here – oh, you already have). And, you know what? It was fine. He already knew of course. He was still very straight, which did rather scupper the marriage prospects but he was cool with it. He was very supportive and has remained my best friend ever since.
This was of course only the start. Coming out was a long process but ultimately a positive one. No one had a problem with it. No one disowned me. I never came out to my Grandad but I’d like to think that his love for me would have outweighed the prejudice of his generation.
And so I was out. But not terribly proud. I was happy for my friends and some members of my family to know but I didn’t feel the need to announce my sexuality to work colleagues. Conversations at work would thus have to be carefully steered to avoid topics such as film stars you fancied or favourite member of S Club 7. Not that I really cared about people knowing but it just made me feel awkward even having to acknowledge what I was.
Then a couple of years ago, having moved to Brighton but failed to make any new friends, I joined a group called the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus – you may have heard of them. I’m not terribly good when it comes to meeting strangers so this, for me, was a huge step to take. It has literally changed my life. I’ve made so many friends, seen such an improvement in my social life and felt part of a supportive community, as well as thoroughly enjoying singing once a week. But above all else it’s boosted my confidence in myself. Now at work everyone knows I perform with the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus. One of my friends came to see the first show I was in and said how moved he was, knowing the struggles I’d been through with my sexuality when he watched me on stage proudly singing ‘I Am What I Am’. A week after that I was on the Pride float singing that same song and having a ‘pinch yourself’ moment that this was actually me, embracing who and what I was.
Gay. Such a beautiful word.Stephen
It happened in so many stages at so many levels and is probably an ongoing process.
Stage 1 aged 3 or thereabouts. Hearing Dusty Springfield, loving the ‘big hair and the mascara! In my high chair singing along to Dusty and Shirley Bassey’s ‘I who have nothing’. It was a total appreciation and relationship to the world of the Diva.
Stage 2 aged about 8/9. On holiday staying at my Grandparents, we went to visit Aunty Pat and Uncle Brian, Aunty Pat was out and Brian who was not expecting us) answered the door with just a towel wrapped round him, fresh out of the shower. I had never seen a hairy chest before but I knew that this was a key life-moment, I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to be. There was not any sexual desire at this point, just a need to be as close as possible to men’s bodies, they smelled so good.
Stage 3 aged 13/14 ‘Play wrestling’ with friends after school, it was the only ‘legitimate’ physical contact available.
Stage 4 At university 18-21 getting seriously worried because everyone thinks I might be gay, a string of disastrous dates with girls where nothing ever happened. It was at this point I was at least able to consider being bisexual, I would get married, provide grandchildren, make do with mum’s Littlewood’s catalogues for any other ‘needs’. I clearly had not thought this out at all!
Stage 5 Hurrah! I have a girlfriend and have consummated the relationship! Problem solved. We shall live happily ever after, NOT! We did stay together for 5 years, in fact I moved to Brighton to be with my girlfriend.
Stage 6 It’s just not me. I will go to London and do a therapy course, if I pass that I can concentrate on everybody else’s problems because if I am a therapist I won’t have any! Tada!
Stage 7 I, a newly qualified therapist move to Brighton to live with aforementioned girlfriend. It does not go well, I am flouncing around explaining that if there is a problem it sure as hell isn’t me! The arrogance is nauseating!
Stage 8 We have a trial split explained by my girlfriend taking on a job that has accommodation for 1 working is a girls school where men, let alone unmarried couples are frowned upon. I move into a shared house where I meet the landlord, who is fun, entertaining, charming, sex mad and straight! Ideal! Someone I can idolize, but unrequited love is not a good place to be.
Stage 9 have a nervous breakdown. Eventually get some counselling. Admit I am gay. Phew, that feels better already.
Stage 10, I’m gay so I need a boyfriend, anyone will do.
No. 1 lasts 8 days – it wasn’t going anywhere
No. 2 lasted 4 days – we both got drunk and then he raped me.
No. 3 lasted 2.5 years – he was an abusive sociopath, he forced me to come out to my family before I was ready, he alienated me from all my friends, they were his apparently and they only put up with me because I was with him. He lied about everything, stole and was constantly looking for an argument which would become violent. I gathered my strength, told him it was over and he was to leave, this only happened when I got the locks changed and put his stuff out on the street. He then phoned me to tell me he had died.
Stage 11 Single and a lot less lonely! I don’t need a partner anymore, then I met L. 21 years later still together and enjoying life together. He is my rock.
It is a long and ongoing journey as I said at the beginning, but if I had done it in 1 stage rather than 11 and counting I may not have survived the early 80’s with AIDS/HIV, and I would not have met L.Anon.
I came out in the summer of 1989 just a few months before the Berlin Wall was to fall. I was living in Gay Paris at the time and the setting couldn’t have been more clichéd to fall in love for the first time in my life.
We found each at the Trocadéro, within sight of the Eiffel tower, and we enjoyed just one heady week of love. Tomas was German and over in Paris holidaying with his friend Lydia. I remember she was generosity personified; when he took me back to the small apartment they had rented, she insisted she sleep in the tiny bath so Tomas and I could be together in the double bed. I didn’t know any German and he didn’t know any English but we got by just fine.
I returned to the UK geared up to come out. I decided to tell my Mum first – I thought she would be easiest and maybe she knew anyway…. She was lying in bed reading. Without too much preamble I told her that I was gay. It suddenly turned into a telenovella. I’d never seen someone so shocked and so much in pain in all my life. The first thing I remember her saying was how could my sister trust me to look after my nephew ever again? Things snowballed. I suddenly became the most shocked person in the room and replied that if she really thought that then she never need see me again. She slapped me. I left her room and ran to my own, where I broke down in tears. She did come to try to talk to me but comforted I was not. It took her years figure it out in her head and find some acceptance. But she accompanied my stepfather to Gay Pride with me years later, and is now the proudest mother ever. I’m in turn very proud of her for the journey she has come on.
My father was a different fish. The first thing he said was to ask me if it would be ok to tell his friends, as he was so proud. I wonder if he really did. I wonder if he truly was. But I appreciated him for saying that.
I spoke to Tomas again years later. We decided to stay in touch but never see each other again. We were wise enough to preserve that moment in time.Anon.
I look back now and think when did I know I was gay ? quite late in life ? no not really as I remember a song called
Georgina bailey by noosha fox in about 1977 it was about a young girl sent to live with her uncle,falling for him but the punchline was …..jean paul keeps company with a man from gay paris you see georgina that’s his way.
So I kinda knew back then when I was sixteen but kept it deep inside for some years,had a couple of girlfriends
But it never felt right ,going to pubs or cinemas never felt right,kissin just wasn’t me it was required of me but again never felt right, I probably began to surface in my late 20s ,phone chat lines were an eye opener,the odd meet ,but confidence was not my forte i had straight friends ,a straight life a whole existance that was so far from being gay that I just clung to it for dear life.
I then got a job bus driving in south London and surrey,I knew of the Richmond arms but had never ventured in but one Saturday after leaving my friends celebrating harlequins rugby team winning a tough match I drunkenly stubbled inside I must admit I felt so out of place ,eye contact was just not me but strangely I felt comfortable I felt brave ,it sadly didn’t last as I sobered up ,though the feeling never left me ,months later I returned then more and more mostly I stood at the bar sharing the odd glance then back to reading my bottle of Budweiser label
I can still remember it now(exclusive beechwood ageing process by anheuser busch inc) the inevitable happened
I started chatting and meeting a boyfriend or two came my way but life was still closeted,I moved back in with my parents when my dad became ill now in my mid to late 30s ,after a while their phone bill started to sky rocket
Curious questions arose but I dodged them ,then my dads cancer caught up with him before he died he asked me if there was anything id like to tell him I pathetically declined, it played on my mind for some time then at the age of 39 i came out to my sister it was just such a relief ,then the oh yes we knew conversation with my mum, thus the snowball moved on to my brother all was still fine so I started with my friends id say the effect was immediate from 15 to 6 pretty much over night then 4 slow burners who fully supported me but became gradually unavailable over a few months I’m lucky then to still have my 2 true friends .yes the experience has left me a little wary and I don’t let people near me readily but late out or not I’m me cant change, wont change but joining this chorus has been a massive boost although I keep that inside to ……Ray
At 21 when I was outed to my parents, it was bitter and brutal; but other than that, I never really came out. I just was. I knew from a very early age that I was different to the other boys in my village on the edge of Exmoor and it came to a head when, mains electricity having finally reached the village, and television having followed in its wake, the big boys decided to create their own version of Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Someone suggested that being called Tucker I should be Friar Tuck. The objections were immediate. I was small and weedy, Friar Tuck was big and strong. In the end it was decided that Reggie P would be the Fat Friar and, all the other parts having been allocated, it was decided that my presence obviated the need to admit a girl to the group and so I ended up, aged 7, trailing round the woods in their wake, wearing an old cocktail frock of my mothers as Maid Marion. All of a sudden I was in the thick of their games as never before and in my element. A few years later I tumbled, fully fledged as it were, out of a rhododendron bush and never looked back – except for a residual fondness for rhododendrons.Stephen
Coming out to my parents was the hardest thing for me to do but it built trust, honesty and love. It gets better – trust me!Ameet
I grew up in a town near Brighton but worlds away in terms of acceptance. I was bullied at school for being gay before I even knew it myself so it wasn’t a place where I could be open about my identity. I chose to come to college in Brighton instead of going to the one in my town that everyone at my school usually moved on to. It gave me a fresh start in a place where I felt safe to be myself. I was ‘out’ there from day one because for people I was meeting for the first time it was just another fact about me and not a big revelation or secret that I’d been hiding. The friends I made there are still in my life over 20 years later.Evan
I came out three times. Firstly as a lesbian, secondly as a trans man and thirdly as a gay man. Go figure 😊Anon.