born in Easington, County Durham, in the north east of England in
1959. I was born into a coal mining
family, my dad was a miner. I had 4 sisters and my mum and dad in my family,
and I was the middle child. We were a Roman Catholic family. I went
school at the age of 5 but transferred to a Catholic school, 3 miles away
when I was 7. I didn’t like that school at first because I
was new and everyone had formed their friendships and made their
mates. I felt like
a bit of an outsider. But I got to like it, it was nice and comfy and so
it was a big shock when I moved to the new big comprehensive school
I was 11. My sisters had all gone to the Roman Catholic grammar school
but the comprehensive only opened in 1969 and it was brand new. So
off I went.
I stayed there until I went to college in London, after the 6th form. I went to do a diploma course in Occupational Therapy. I had been inspired when on a 6th form summer holiday work experience placement. This was in a mental hospital in Sedgefield – now Tony Blair’s constituency. The woman who ran the occupational department was brilliant and I felt easy working with the patients in this big Victorian asylum.
Two sisters had already gone to London to college and I had already visited them by bus – but it was a massive leap for a boy from a coal mining family to move down to London to go to college. But off I went to King’s Cross with my suitcase. I lived in a flat in Belsize Park with an eccentric, wacky old dear and her daughter. The landlady had been an entertainer during World War 2 and she was very bohemian and theatrical. I had never met anyone like her and her daughter before in my life. At the end of the road was the Central School for Speech and Drama and in the punk days of 1977, that’s where I wanted to be – doing Drama. I didn’t have the guts to make the change though. I had been brought up to stick with what you were doing. That was sort of ingrained in me. But now when I look back, I wonder if I should have been more flexible and open to change.
I was slightly isolated at this time. The college students used to disappear back to their lodgings at the end of the day and so there was little social life. I used to go and visit my sisters in Twickenham some week-ends, but this is also the time when I started to read Time Out to see what was going on socially. I was fascinated by the personal advertisements and would avidly read the Gay section. I felt amazed at the openness of all this. Such openness was new to me. I had been used to keeping myself secret.
Anyway, I left college and took my first job in London. I was growing in personal and professional confidence, but by this time, about the age of 22, I felt a personal need to “come out” but social pressure made it difficult. I struggled to tell college friends, found it impossible and became “unstitched” as a result. The keeping things secret made life very uncomfortable for me and this lasted for 2 or 3 years. I became phobic and suffered anxiety attacks. My life was dominated by anxiety and visits to psychiatrists and the occasional Valium followed.
I led a constrained existence, a dreary, dull life, where I still was forced to keep the real me secret – I still had told only a couple of people. I was living in a culture where homosexuality was massively contentious and so I walked around with a lump of myself that I felt unable to show. I could not be myself and that imposes such a strain that it can make you mentally ill. I had good relationships with my family but still had to keep a part of me out of the frame. This is quite usual for young gay men, I am afraid.
I started to pluck up courage though and began
to start visiting gay bars. I went to the Bell in Kings Cross first.
I was very nervous and
would buy the strongest lager available. I would swallow about 8 pints
and stay rooted to the spot as I was too nervous to go to the loo.
then have a boozy night ride home on the bus. Eventually, I began to
feel more comfortable and confident. I didn’t feel so self- conscious
and began to enjoy myself. I had learned how to manage the situation.
But, back to the past. My self-confidence was growing again by now – but then came Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS and the mid-1980’s were a very worrying time. The feelings of guilt grew again. I began to worry that this was a gay plague – I had grown up a Roman Catholic and still got worries that AIDS was a message from God. Also, I was living in a culture of negativity and hostility towards gays and I was surrounded by ignorant and threatening talk and chatter. All this found the negative bits I still had about being gay and really fed them. It felt like a punishment. I remember the worries about lack of protection and the anxiety about forcing myself to have a test. Then came the sleepless nights waiting for the results of the test and the eventual relief. But all this, of course, gets in the way of life, the normal everyday things like work and a roof over your head.
I bought a house in the early 90’s, had a very active social life
and everything was going well – but I began to tire of London.
I wanted to move but was worried about feeling isolated. I eventually
move though, and took a job in Gloucestershire in 1993. I felt alone
at first but after about a year it began to feel like home. I travelled
New Zealand and Australia to decide if I wanted to work over there but
decided to stay. So four years ago I bought a house in Stroud and I love
Harassment like that affects your future. It affects your results and exams are a passport to your future. I remember one incident that shows how vicious it got. He was having a go at me in the common room and although I am not a violent person, I poured a cup of hot tea all over his head. I thought this was the only way to stop him. Of course, I got into trouble. I was the culprit. But looking back, remember that I was an established kid in the school with a high profile – and I was being picked on by just one kid. That nearly destroyed me – imagine if you were harassed by a gang. Your life wouldn’t be worth living. That happened to some kids – kids with learning disabilities or kids with a problem with their size.
To finish off, I told my mum on a whisky-soaked night a year before she died. The next day she said that she and my father had never had a secret in all their years of marriage, but she said I’ll keep this a secret. In a way I didn’t mind as I had my own life then – but it also meant that I felt rejected as a person. My dad still doesn’t know.
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