Τετάρτη, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

I could be a lesbian and I don’t know it.(Thanks, mum)

 during that summer of ’86, I fell in love with a man for the first time.

X and I had been penpals for three years (we met through Smash Hits when Neil Tennant was editor) – and he’d already come out to me earlier that year. I had a girlfriend at the time and simply commented that it didn’t change anything between us (though it did: it made bedding him a possibility I’d always secretly fancied him). In July I split up with the girl and X invited me down to stay with him in Portsmouth whilst his parents and sister were away on holiday. On the first night, a bit drunk (though it was really the morning – sun rising and birds singing by the time we’d plucked up the courage) we touched each other, after lying side by side in a sofa bed for hours simply holding hands, my heart trying to escape.


The first person I told was my sister, who was two and a half years older. And the first thing she said was, “Do you know about Richard?” (My older brother; also gay). I said I did and we discussed whether or not I should tell our parents.
I was about to leave home to start a degree in Communication Studies at Nottingham Polytechnic, and I knew that if I didn’t share this knowledge about myself with them – my mother in particular – then it risked becoming something I kept from her, a shameful secret I would fret over, and I would more than likely, as a consequence, embark on a life I couldn’t tell her anything real about. I didn’t want to do that. We’d always been close, but this was going to be a real test of intimacy and love – or so I thought.


The first thing she expressed was surprise, saying she’d always suspected that my older brother was gay but had never imagined that I would be. She asked if he was, but knowing even then that it was up to him to tell her I lied and said I didn’t know. She asked how I knew and I told her about the relationship I’d begun with my friend in Portsmouth, whom she hadn’t yet met. He was due to come and stay the following week and she said she didn’t want us sleeping together in their house, but she’d made the same rule when girlfriends had stayed so I couldn’t argue. My younger brother was 15 at the time and she said she’d rather wait till he was older before I told him. She asked whether I would tell my dad, or did I want her to? Which was a very generous offer, as I dreaded telling him. As it turned out, his response too, surprised me, his love for me unaltered.


In the subsequent years, hearing other people’s coming out stories, I’ve grown more and more grateful of the supportive grace my parents provided, never making me (or my brother, who it took another five years to come out to them) ever feel different or wrong, always respecting and welcoming my partners. I’ve been extremely lucky, I know that. But the lucky stories are important too, because they provide a knowledge that counteracts the dreadful homophobia which laces many a coming out tale. We are, sometimes, lucky; sometimes blessed.
That afternoon in the kitchen in Timperley, mum said: “Well, at least you’ve slept with both; I could be a lesbian and I don’t know it.” We cried, we hugged, we discussed AIDS and safe sex. It was a textbook liberal response, but from a working class Mancunian woman with practically no education who had only ever voted Tory (she doesn’t now, thank God), and I love her for it.
The very next day she rang Gay Switchboard who put her in touch with a support group for parents with gay children and she went along. It touched me that she did that, eager to understand and learn rather than, as many parents do, judge.

 She also found out about a gay youth group that met every Saturday afternoon. I went along regularly until I left home in September. (And where did they meet? Bloom Street!)
I’ve ‘come out’ many times since and no doubt will again, but this was more than a sharing of knowledge – it was a sharing of our lives that has continued; a defining moment in our friendship. When she said, “I’m glad you felt close enough to me to tell me”, I knew I’d done the right thing and that I would have the love and support I’d need to get me through life.
Thanks, mum.

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