The rumours are true – there’s no new Guardian Blind Date review this week. Instead, another collection of ‘best bits’ from July–September.
Until next week, chuck.
The rumours are true – there’s no new Guardian Blind Date review this week. Instead, another collection of ‘best bits’ from July–September.
Until next week, chuck.
You’ve all already seen that little boy in the Barbie ad, right? Course you have, it’s been everywhere. But in case you haven’t, here it is:
The ad follows the standardised format for promoting a Barbie doll: booming backing track, children squealing in excitement at the sight of their perfect, plastic princess and, of course, a headache-inducing camera zoom in and out on Barbie’s latest garish fashion mishaps. But this ad doesn’t just feature little girls gazing in awe at their heroine, there’s a young boy in there too. A real-life formative fashionista, complete with runway-ready hairdo and oh-so-now catchphrase about how “fierce” his Barbie is.
The advert isn’t quite the watershed moment we’ve all been waiting for – the Barbie doll is a limited-edition in association with fashion house Moschino, and the little boy is styled to look like the brand’s creative director Jeremy Scott, so it’s all very tongue in cheek.
But, honestly, what I wouldn’t have given to see a boy in an advert playing with a doll when I was that age.
It may come as zero surprise to learn I was a boy who liked to play with dolls. At playgroup, you couldn’t get me out of the Wendy house, apparently, and on the first day at primary school, I marched straight to the dressing up box at play-time and put on a skirt.
As a child you don’t realise the consequences of your actions or that one day you’ll be embarrassed by what you’ve done – like a really innocent version of being mortifyingly drunk and uninhibited – and nobody has taught you that you have to behave a certain way just because, so you screw it up.
I’d never had a doll of my own – I had a lot of teddies and cars and books and games – and any time I found them freely available was a revelation. I would usually snatch an hour or two with them at my cousin’s, or with the girl next door.
I still recall how uneasy my predilection for dolls made most of my family. One of my earliest memories is being asked what I wanted for Christmas and being so desperate to say what I’d actually love most of all. Instead I said I didn’t know. “Well, you’ll have to tell us something or Santa won’t know what to bring!” was the answer.
I remember being really worried I wouldn’t get anything, but also nervous I’d be laughed at, so I checked, and double-checked and triple-checked I really could ask for anything I wanted.
“Yes, of course.”
So I did it. I asked for a doll. A First Love doll. And a pram as well, I think. I don’t remember the exact reaction, but it was gently explained to me I couldn’t have one of those, because they were for girls.
“But you said I could ask for anything. You asked what I really, really wanted.” I was heartbroken. So instead I asked for board games. Books. Pens.
The older I got, the more ridiculously male or super-normal presents from relatives became: toy power drills, Transformers, trucks, bibles, FOOTBALLS. I simply didn’t know what to do with them. My bedroom felt like a stranger’s, like my toys were somebody else’s.
I wasn’t one for giving up, though, and finally a neighbour (who I would play Sindys with every day) took pity on me and gave me an old doll of hers. An ugly one, with matted hair and pen marks on her face (a clumsy attempt at makeup artistry, I assume) but she was mine! The reaction was not great. Genuine bewilderment, I think. There was nobody else in the family like me; this just wasn’t a thing.
Within a day or two, our dog somehow got hold of the doll and chewed it up, ruining it. I couldn’t understand how it had got into the dog’s jaws, and I was sad. I cried, but I understood. I wasn’t supposed to play with dolls. So it became a secret, something I’d do when I went to girls’ houses. Shameful.
Using my two Action Man dolls as a smokescreen, I would play dolls with girls, but I lived in permanent fear of being exposed; the girls I knew were fairweather allies. They may have been glad of the company to play with, but even they couldn’t understand why a boy would like dolls so, if the opportunity came to sell me out and embarrass me, they usually took it. Over and over again.
For me, playing with dolls wasn’t just about dressing them up – I wanted to act out all the ideas in my head, scripts I’d never be able to polish but knew off by heart. My feverish imagination was desperate to see the stories I wrote in my little notepads come to life.
The risk wasn’t worth it, though, and I knew I’d never win. Eventually, Star Wars allowed me to transfer my love stories to outer space, starring a set of sassy female quadruplets (all different Princess Leia action figures), and then Lego came along and gave me the outlet I needed.
There was nothing ‘wrong’ with a boy playing with Lego, and I could build houses and shops and restaurants and a post office, usually undisturbed. Even then an attempt to masc things up wasn’t far away – I got the police station set two Christmases in a row. I had the last laugh though; I turned them into flats for all my fabulous single-girl Lego figures to live in.
Eventually, boys’ toys started to come my way less often, and I had books and writing and the aforementioned Lego as a distraction from the seemingly endless amazement I wasn’t sporty or into shooting at animals. I had to throw myself into things I still enjoyed but weren’t a ‘tell’, so I could be left alone. As long as I had my nose in a book, nobody could ask me why I wasn’t climbing trees or getting anyone pregnant.
I see now, however, that in a way everyone was saving me from myself. Life wasn’t a picnic as it was, growing up gay – and not even realising – in a fairly unforgiving town in Yorkshire, and I guess had I been allowed to run free, parading around like a princess, things would’ve been tougher still. Fierce was not a thing.
The campaign against gender-labelling of toys has been a hot topic recently, and there’s been some progress, at least in moving away from the pinkification of girls’ toys and allowing them the freedom to play with what would traditionally called boys’ toys – your trucks, dinosaurs and spaceships and all that.
It’s an important fight, and we need it, but when it comes to the other side of the coin – little boys just dying to pick up a dolly or play house – it’s a harder sell. Not to mention that, in 2015, gender is not just about ‘boys and girls’. Everyone is finding their own way.
Am I gay because I played with dolls, or despite the fact I couldn’t? Would it really have made any difference? With traditionally masculine sports’ stars now beginning to come out, it looks like there’s no failsafe way to stop your little boy being gay. Not even a good old rugby ball can save him. Sorry ’bout it.
If you ask your son or nephew or little brother what he wants for Christmas and he says “a doll”, first ask him what colour hair it should have, because that is important, and then just buy him the bloody doll.
If you’d rather your child grew up sad, confused and ashamed, the doll really is not the problem here.
If they grow up to come out as gay or bi or trans or plain-old “no idea, let’s just see”, it’s not because you bought them a Barbie when they were 5. And even if it is, so what? Be happy for them and congratulate yourself on being such a wonderful influence.
Just buy the fucking doll. She’s fierce.
Image: It’s actually me, aged about 3 or 4. With a ball. Not a doll.
Note: My mum and dad are, and were, great and very accepting and shielded me from a lot of grotesque, homophobic bullshit from moronic third parties.
The thing with many relationships is they have a certain shelf life, don’t they? When you’re in them, and know you need to be out of them, it can actually be difficult to move things along to their natural end.
Sure, you don’t want to be with this person any more, but it’s not like you want to kill them. What you need is a catalyst, that spark to ignite the fireworks that will send your relationship bye-bye, to that great love nest in the sky.
So if you’re eager to move on to the next stage of your relationship – jealously scouring their Facebook for new loves, bitching about your ex on WhatsApp and crying whenever you hear a Celine Dion – take your pick from this list of guaranteed relationship destroyers.
1. Put together a wardrobe from Ikea
There’s an old cliché that going to Ikea itself can cause catastrophic rows between couples, but if you can’t handle a three-hour schlep round a furniture shop without tearing each other’s heads off, you’re basic or whatever. Nobody argues in Ikea any more. It is the bootcut of argument-starters. Over.
What you really need is to buy, arrange delivery of and attempt to build, the hugest wardrobe you can find in Ikea. Tell yourself that you’re “dead handy” and “it will be fun, our little project” all you want – by the time you’re on to the second door you’ll be wielding drills and tearing the joint apart screaming at each other about how bad the sex is.
2. Fart in restaurants
3. Watch The X Factor
How can watching The X Factor end your relationship? Easily. Simply take note of whichever judge or contestant your soon-to-be-ex has taken a shine to, and berate them regularly. And then pick a judge or contestant that nobody in their right mind would ever stan for and praise them so hard, you practically disappeared right up inside them.
Do you know how difficult it is to enjoy a TV show when there’s an acidic little parrot on your shoulder telling you how awful it is? Ask my boyfriend what it’s like to watch Hollyoaks with me in the room.
They’re going to want rid of you way before the final. Start looking for flats now.
4. Pretend you had a sex dream about their father
5. Get things cooking
Have they got a signature dish they love to prepare? Perfect. Simply stand next to the hob with a sickly smile on your face and try to add turmeric. Even if they’re making cheesecake.
After they’ve slaved over a hot stove for hours to prepare a delicious romantic meal, pick up your phone and really loudly order a Domino’s.
No cook worth their salt will tolerate any interference in the kitchen and you’ll be eating cold beans in a damp bedsit before you can say “Great British Bake Off”.
6. Go on holiday
So many couples break up while on holiday that I wonder whether airlines are missing a trick not offering a pricier, flexible return fare that allows you to sit in separate rows. Or planes.
If you’re in charge of planning this ultimate vacation – in every sense of the word – arrange to fly out via Ryanair, get the time of the flight wrong so you have to run through the airport screeching, right past all the Duty Free opportunities , and make sure your cabin baggage is sliiiiightly too large or heavy and has to be put in the hold.
Arrange a resort and hotel that only the criminally insane would be happy to stay in, and cheerfully ignore every cockroach, bout of salmonella and dead lizard in the bidet.
To be honest, that’s all quite an effort. You could just as easily organise a perfectly nice holiday and then irrevocably fall out in a souvenir shop, but where’s the fun in that.
7. Sing the jingle from this song over and over and over again on long car journeys
8. Take up a new saying
Maybe start saying something is “bare good” or “sick” –this is especially effective if you are in your mid forties and can rest a plate of paella on your belly.
The more embarrassingly anachronistic the saying, the better. “Schermazing.” “Skill.” To really set the cat among the pigeons and have the divorce lawyer at the door, plump for “groovy” or “funky”.
9. Go on Don’t Tell The Bride
You’ve seen this show, right? Usually, the hapless twat groom pulls it back from disaster because the bride is so exhausted from freaking out about lack of hen night/decent bridesmaid dresses/wedding gown that looks like a bin bag, she’s just relieved it’s happening at all.
Instead, then, do everything right – luxurious hen, beautiful dress, bridesmaids all decked out like models – and then at the last minute, reveal to your beloved that the ceremony is taking place atop the municipal tip, with boiled eggs dipped in shit for the wedding breakfast and Vanilla as the wedding band.
Yeah, they’re not too mad about that, usually.
11. Just be you
That should probably do it, to be honest.
More like this:
– The over-analytical, relationship-destroying Christmas Gift Guide
– What your man’s favourite Spice Girl says about him
– Know your dating enemies: Texting
– 17 things couples do that make single people want to kill them
Main image: Ikea
If years of hysterical media coverage have taught us anything, it’s that lusting after children is wrong. Paedophilia – the great cause everyone can get behind and feel safe raising a flaming torch or pitchfork to. It’s immoral, and always will be.
The legal definition of a child can vary from country to country – and even states within countries – but it’s generally agreed you can’t go around dreaming about a teenager in their underwear until they’ve passed that great invisible milestone, the age of consent. Or if you do, you don’t talk about it.
And yet here’s Brooklyn Beckham giving us something else to scratch our heads over, other than his family’s incessant quest for world domination. He’s the latest in a long line of tween-to-teen sex symbols who’ve been finally declared “Hot, ready, and legal” by a load of people who are, at best, pretty cold, desperate and morally bankrupt. This time, it’s Tatler doing the inappropriate salivating:
Brooklyn’s been not-so-quietly making his way from cutesy kid to potential object of lust for the last couple of years. He kicked things off with his cover of Man About Town magazine at barely 15, which was largely innocent but had just enough ick that you’d want to see the browser history of anyone who’d bought it. Recently, he cemented his heartthrob status with his ‘Guide to Instagram’ video for Vogue. The media’s been grooming Becks Junior for our bedroom in plain sight.
Nobody’s dared to call him hot before, of course; that’s not the done thing when you’re talking about a 15-year-old, so why the sudden change for Tatler? Why is he “hotter” than before? More trips to the gym? A new haircut? Well, maybe. What is he “ready” for, exactly?
In case you needed a neon sign with a huge flashing erection on it to get their general thread, they’ve made it easy for you, by shoving the word “legal” on the end. The big change here is that, in March, Brooklyn blew out an extra birthday candle. Now there’s been a respectable grace period between the last song played at his birthday disco and today, it’s time to get your objectifying specs on! Yuk.
Congratulations everyone: you can stop looking at as cute, ultra-famous offspring and instead imagine him undressing and getting in the shower with you! Result! Right? Even though only the day before you… couldn’t do that? Yes, correct! What a time to be alive.
Now he’s “legal” – no word on whether he’s remotely interested in you or willing to be a part of your gross fantasies, of course – it’s open season on having improper thoughts about the no doubt bemused teenager.
One wonders how long these pant-wetting articles have been sitting on ice within computer hard drives, just waiting for the calendar to change.
About three years ago, there was a similar frothing at the mouth, and elsewhere, for Justin Bieber once he turned ‘legal’ – 18 in the States.
Rolling Stone breathlessly trotted out the old “HOT READY LEGAL” chestnut, alongside a picture of what looked like somebody who wouldn’t yet know their way around a can of Gillette shaving foam. The numbers may add up to make him legal, but everything else, not so much.
The anticipation at Brooklyn and Bieber’s balls finally becoming legitimate fantasy territory is nothing new. Kisses from child stars are usually the dream sequence of only fellow children, but that’s never been enough for the world of showbiz; adults have long wanted to get into the act of crushing on super-talented underage celebrities.
Polite society has, quite rightly, flagged concerns as the press counts down the days to young females’ sexual availability, but so far it’s perfectly acceptable to let out a barely concealed “phwoar” at the vision of a teenage boy in his scants. Witness the chest-clutching surrounding everything One Direction did when they first found fame, especially floppy-haired, MILF-loving teenage lothario Harry Styles. Your mother’s opinions of him are likely to relieve you of your lunch.
See also Olympic diver Tom Daley, who’s been photographed in his speedos since he was 13, the media very careful to remain appropriate, at least on the surface of it. Once he was 16, they held off still – the frustration probably making them froth at the mouth – as Daley continued his studies with his A-levels. Even a schoolboy past the age of consent is still a schoolboy after all.
Thankfully, on 21 May 2012, Tom finally got to climb to the top diving board and turned 18, leading to an inundation of articles about how sexy he was, complemented by pictures of him canoodling models (sigh) or leaping about in his underwear, under the guise of “Well, he’s a diver; it’s OK to show him in next-to-nothing.” And with his lucrative sideline as a calendar model, Tom’s been canny to exploit this to the max. Fast-forward to a coming out and an engagement, with his future husband Dustin Lance Black as an added extra, you’re never too far away from a topless selfie of our Tom.
In a world obsessed by sex and sexuality, we still haven’t worked out how child stars fit in with our very rigid ideas of appropriateness. “Can we fancy them yet or not?” scream our loins, in desperate need of moral guidance. Thank goodness the press is only too happy to spell it out for us.
Actress and tabloid punchbag Lindsay Lohan was herself the subject of a Rolling Stone cover once she became “hot, ready and legal”. And, boy, did she shake her pigtails loose.
It was almost as if the press had been waiting for the day it could stop reporting on rumours of a chaste kisses with members of McFly and get down to the hard stuff – the DUI charges, lesbian love affairs (rememberSamantha Ronson?) and the revolving door into rehab.
She wasn’t just sexually available; she was everybody’s property, every saccharine childhood headline eviscerated with harsh, adult, sexually active reality. Like a punishment for growing up.
Rolling Stone was also responsible for Britney Spears’s first photoshoot in her underwear, shortly after the release of her very first single. Britney wasn’t quite “hot, ready and legal” enough then, so she had to make do with “Inside the heart, mind and bedroom of a teen dream” as her pretty tame coverline instead. And we all know how that one played out.
On both sides of the pond, Charlotte Church was a child chanteuse who did all her growing up in public. She had the voice of an angel, but it wasn’t her acrobatic vocal cords the red-tops were interested in. Once she reached 16, the school uniform off and the Juicy Couture jogging bottoms on, every aspect of Church’s sex life became standard tabloid fodder – all ‘bad boy’ lovers and drunken snogs. A switch had been flicked. It didn’t help there’d been a website set up to count down the days until she hit 16 (but this was not created or hosted by a national newspaper, despite reports to the contrary).
Child stars confuse the media because the easiest way to sell a magazine or newspaper is sex. They’re popular, and also have the advantage of attracting younger followers, the kind of audience the media is eager to hook onto.
You can’t put a child on your cover and expect your older audience to get excited, but whisk them onto it within seconds of them passing their 16th or 18th birthday, in a cute little vest, and you’re in business. Hey, they’re legal, OK?
It is perhaps a reaction to society’s pathological fear of accidentally sexualising children that we take the first opportunity we get once they’ve reached the age of maturity. From the scandal of a childrenswear store selling what was perceived as ‘sexy lingerie’ in the 1990s to agonising over the early performances of Christina Ricci and Natalie Portman in sexually ambiguous roles, we’ve long been afraid of talking ourselves to the gallows.
Our stars are getting younger and younger, but Joe Public isn’t growing up fast enough. Youth is everything. Kidults of 35 can bop to pop and nobody bats an eyelid. We are all Peter Pan. But when it comes to our crushes, shouldn’t we leave the young to the young and start picking on someone our own age for a change?
Any adolescent reading Tatler and in love with Brooklyn Beckham doesn’t care whether he’s ‘legal’ or not, so who is that message actually for? For people in their 20s and 30s? “Don’t sweat it, guys, you can jerk off thinking of him and not worry about being sent to prison”, is that it?
Thanks for the heads-up, guys, but I’m good, honestly.
This is an updated version of something I wrote a few years ago about Justin Bieber; it appeared in Huffington Post.
Despite trolling, misery-lit and the best efforts of rolling news, we actually live in very positive times.
For every one person on social media demanding refugees are flayed alive in the town square, there are 20 posting inspirational quotes or GIFs of puppies and kittens tumbling over each other in glee.
We are encouraged to be ‘up’, to root for each other, to be positive and inspire others, to believe in our own talents, and nobody but the biggest sociopath would ever want to be, or be around, a hater 24/7.
But what of the rest of us somewhere in between, the no-man’s land between frothing rage and wide-eyed enthusiasm? Whither the attention for the snarky, the whingers and the nitpickers who aren’t quite sure where they fit into this new world of extremes?
“Follow your dreams!” say millionaires. “Do what you love!” squeak minor aristocrats who lunch on privilege and have never seen a red bill or worried about a bus fare. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told money isn’t everything from someone who has nothing but.
The trouble with following your dreams and doing what you love is it comes with prerequisites. Confidence. Security. Financial backing. And an actual idea of what you want to do in the first place.
In peddling plaudits and starry-eyed inspirational slogans we are ‘motivating’, yet avoiding saying anything actually useful. Yes, I have loads of dreams, but how do I make them happen? Never mind self-belief, I need really detailed instructions.
But hang on, then I wouldn’t be in charge of my destiny, would I? And I know how important that is – you keep telling me.
I admire people who can be positive all the time. It looks like exhausting work. And there are some – many – people who I really like who are effortlessly positive 99 days out of 100. While it’s admirable or whatever, we must not be fooled into thinking this is the norm and feeling inadequate we can’t hit that high every day ourselves.
Some of us are, naturally, a little more realistic. This is usually dismissed as being a misery, or defeatist and cynical, and our snark and acidity is repressed.
There’s no room for even the mildest of haters in the 21st century – you’re written off as a troll or a Katie Hopkins wannabe or a buzzkill. But you can’t cast your eye over the world and tell me honestly that everything’s amazing and all we need to do is believe, can you? Really?
Thing is, you need us. You need the damp squibs. As admirable as your eat-cleans and your 10 Awesome Things You Should Do Today and How I Turned My Life Around positive daily motivators are, they’re not for everyone.
To taste the highs, you need the lows. And I don’t mean Margaret and Shane in Dunstable experimenting with syntax and the word “racialist” on the Brittan Furst!! Facebook page. You need balance. How can you truly appreciate how beautiful and rewarding it is to renovate your house until I drive a big lorry through it, before backing out extra carefully to avoid killing you?
I have tried “glass half-full”. I’ve spent many a moon nodding my head with a fixed smile and saying what I assumed were all the right things. Biting my tongue. Killing with kindness. I’m not a malicious person, but I’m not a ray of sunshine either. I’m not even a raincloud. I’m fog. Sleet. Not enough to totally ruin your day but you probably wouldn’t Instragam me with a smiley face next to it.
Snark usually comes from a weird old place. The naturally acidic among us tend to have developed our razor-sharp tongues as a defence mechanism. Maybe we were bullied at school, or shy, or had overbearing friends and parents, or never quite fitted in.
When you’re not the prettiest, or the brainiest, or the sportiest or the most popular, you either develop a suit of armour made of gallows-humour, pithy putdowns and, if you’re a proto-gay, a bawdiness that is somehow utterly sexless. Otherwise you fade away. Who wants to fade away? Only the most desperate and wretched souls of all.
Perhaps you’re lucky and grow out of it. Maybe you evolve and turn your anguish and awkwardness into an amazing, successful blog about pilates or childcare or fitspo or telly or books or whatever. Or maybe, just maybe, you become a snark machine, a Debbie Downer, a walking truthbomb. You can always to be depended upon to glide into a room that has all white furnishings and spill red wine everywhere.
Self-belief and positivity are important – we need them – and while you shouldn’t let anyone tell you you “can’t”, you need to recognise it in yourself. As any overlooked realist or misery will tell you, dreams are important, but so is the power to realise and accept that sometimes that’s all they’ll ever be.
As long you’re not spiteful or doing some stealthy negging and making someone else feel awful, you carry on. Don’t let them say you’re a moaner or a whinger just because you’re only on Cloud 7 – you’re only being yourself. Just like they ordered you to be.
There are difficult conversations you must have with yourself. There are thoughts you have that rage and burn until you address them. I’ve blogged pretty openly for the last five years about my romantic life, my dating disasters, but I only ever tell you as much as I want you to know. I often wonder where to draw that line. This is not a confessional, but I realise I’ve never before talked explicitly about the time a date made me do something I really didn’t want to do.
I find the past a strange animal. I look back on previous events in my life like they happened to someone else. Impassively. Only a few things truly feel like they still belong to me – the 7th July bombings being one, I still feel that, I know that was me – but others…
Well, if I didn’t have the pics or the texts or, of course the blog, to prove it a lot of the time, I’d wonder whether I was there at all.
I feel a little like this about my date with Joe. I know I was there, because I blogged about it (almost a year later) but even then I glossed over what happened in a race to get to the punchline.
In fact, it gets a throwaway paragraph:
The night I went home with Joe, back in 2010, I had made him order shots to loosen him up. He was so earnest and clearly fancied me, but needed a bit of encouragement. Was I taking advantage of him? Maybe. I had dated regularly for quite a few months by that point. I wasn’t embittered but I knew how to play the long game. Joe wanted to take me home but wasn’t quite sure whether he should or would have the courage. I gave him that. I climbed into the lion’s mouth.
As we made the long journey back to his, I lost enthusiasm. My judgment was clouded with beer and tiredness, but by the time the train had chugged out of another suburban London station, I knew it would be too late to turn back. The way home from the station to his house was even more convoluted – I remember busy roads and subways and waiting at pelican crossings, hopping from foot to foot to both keep out the cold and shake my libido into action.
It’s no surprise, then, that once we were back in his room – a staid and charmless cell that backed onto an eerily silent wood – I’d feel too fatigued to do anything, let alone fuck. I let his hands and his tongue wander over me and reciprocated his kisses long enough to be polite – it felt like poor form to do otherwise – before persuading him it was late and we needed to sleep as he had work in the morning.
“I’ll set my alarm an hour early,” he whispered in my ear as he turned out the light. “I’m not finished with you yet.”
I didn’t realise it was a threat.
As I mentioned in the earlier blog, his alarm did indeed go off an hour early. I pretended to sleep on and, as I described, he pawed me for quite a considerable amount of time.
Perhaps ‘pawed’ is the wrong word.
A cat paws you as it tries to settle in your lap; dogs paw you as they nag you for a walk. Joe’s attempts to wake me started off gentle but the more I refused to play ball, the angrier and more frustrated I became. In a way, it was quite comical playing dead while Joe tapped and prodded me. It soon turned into pinching and putting his hands where you really shouldn’t on a sleeping person. In the original blog, I said “So I give in” – what persuaded me? It was when he gripped my throat with his hand, and started to gently squeeze, leaning in to say “I know you’re awake”.
I feigned ignorance, trying not to open my eyes too quickly, even though I was not frightened, just… surprised he thought this was OK. This guy was clearly determined I wasn’t getting away without handing over my payment for my bed for the evening.
The sad thing about this, for me, anyway, looking back now as I do, is I didn’t lie there impassively and just let him get on with it; he expected more than that. I had to show enthusiasm. I point-blank refused to let him penetrate me and I declined to do it to him either, but that was the only bargaining he’d allow. I had to go along with everything else.
I wouldn’t let this happen to me now, of course. It is scant comfort. The problem with the present, and living in it, is you don’t ever think you can be stronger than you are at that exact moment. You think this is as tough as you’ll ever get; you don’t know where you’ll find more. You don’t have the foresight to see that future you would have grabbed this guy by the throat and told him to get his fucking hands off. But again, this is present me talking, what do I know? I’d probably do exactly the same again.
Mercifully, for me, Joe was so excited by my barely compliant, hungover state that I didn’t have to endure him for too long. When it was over – for him, at least, he wasn’t too concerned with me reaching any final destination and I would’ve found it impossible anyway – he acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. He offered me tea and toast, complimenting my body like I was a nice vase he just noticed on his mother’s mantlepiece.
I had to wait as he showered because the front door was locked and, despite desperate searching, I couldn’t find the key. We trudged to the station together through streets unfamiliar to me, my skin still burning from his intrusive touch and his stale mouth.
His train came first and I watched it pull away, knowing then I’d see him again, at least once. Seriously. I was lonely; it was autumn. I told myself I must’ve got it wrong. He must have really fancied me to act that way, and that at least he hadn’t been overly cruel, and it was just sex – a small sacrifice to make.
And hadn’t I been the one to get him drunk? Didn’t I give him all he needed to take advantage? Who was controlling who? Wasn’t what happened merely what he was owed? I knew I’d give him another chance to show me he could be normal. Like I said, you only ever feel as strong, or potentially strong, as you do at that precise moment.
This all seems distant to me now, but I kind of remember the feeling. At that point, almost exactly five years ago, I didn’t realise I would grow up to be someone else.
And I did see him again, the second date even more painful than the first. My earlier compliance had given him an unattractive confidence. He thought he could just have me now and, disappointingly, I thought he probably deserved me. So I went home with him again, and it all played out exactly as before, except this time when his alarm went off, I woke up immediately without letting him grab my throat. Annoyed with myself for being unable to fight him off again, I fulfilled my duty but meted it out like a punishment, to make sure he’d never forget me.
We both knew something had changed. Whether he had realised what he’d done before I will never know, but we walked to the station in absolute silence and he looked at me with haunted eyes as I boarded my train.
I never heard from him again.
When I originally posted the blog, the comments were almost universally against me. I had got him drunk, taken him home, and then slated him for being boring, or asking me if I ever wanked into my running shorts. Nobody seemed to notice the part where I had sex against my will. I knew then I’d have to wait to tell the full story, until I could be sure it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if nobody ‘got’ it. And now I have. And I’m glad.
One last thing: fuck you, Joe.
It’s National Coming Out Day! Closet doors up and down the country are being wrenched off their hinges and brand-new LGBTs are taking their tentative steps on the Yellow Brick Road.
If they’re lucky, it all goes well, but let’s make no bones about this: coming out is hella difficult whether you’re doing it at 15 or 50 and you – yes, you – owe it to these brand new members of “the club” to make it as easy as you can.
So to help me help you help them, here are some of the worst things we hear when we come out, and why. (Don’t worry; I tell you what you should say later on.)
1. “Sorry ladies/boys! They’re gay!”
This is a popular one in the media when someone comes out as gay and is therefore immediately unavailable to the opposite sex. Never mind that it reduces the person to little more than an object of fantasy and devalues their own personal journey and makes it about their usefulness to others, eh?
Here’s a hard truth for anyone straight who finds themselves suddenly out of range of a newly gay celebrity – they probably wouldn’t have shagged you anyway.
2. “Yay! He’s on our team!”
It’s not just straight people who get coming out all wrong, you know, so there’s no need to sit looking all smug over there, gays.
You may mean it in a sweet way, but claiming ownership of someone who’s just come out again makes it all about you, and not them. It’s meant with the best of intentions, sure, and is supposed to be inclusive, but this guy or girl has spent God knows how long thinking they’re different, and wanting to explore that. Now you’re telling them they’re part of a huge club that, let’s face it, doesn’t have the most amazing membership privileges. Let them find their own way.
3. “KNEW it! You could so tell!”
Congratulations! Thing is, maybe they didn’t know or were trying their best to ‘pass’ as straight. You’ve been sitting there all along, having worked out the mystery, well done. But this was not your case to solve. Back off, Jessica.
4. “What a waste. You could have your pick of the lads/girls.”
It isn’t a gay person’s responsibility to make themselves available for straight people to date/screw/wank over. So you’re out of contention, but there are plenty of lads and girls we’re still interested in. It’s no waste, baby, believe me.
5. “Take me SHOPPING!”
Usually one for the gay men. Look, the whole point of being gay – like 97% of the reason we want to go out with men, even above sex – is we want to avoid having to go shopping with ladies.
Yes, Gok Wan loves it, and so do a couple other gay guys you know, but guess what? Many of us don’t! Our shopping bag is small and there’s no room in it to critique your dress sense. Wear what you want; you’ll look great! And you shouldn’t need a gay man to tell you that.
7. “I know the PERFECT guy/girl for you.”
We all miss Auntie Cilla, but now she’s gone to that magical seat 1A in the sky, it doesn’t mean your matchmaking skills are required.
Not all gay people fancy each other – in fact when they first come out they’re likely to run screaming from sex with anybody – and to lump us all together is kiiiind of insulting.
Also, when it comes to our first few dalliances, we’re going to screw things up SO badly. It’s unavoidable. It’s probably best if we have these starter flings outside our social circle, not through friends-of-friends. That way, when it all goes horribly wrong we can pretend it never happened and erase them from our minds. And lives.
8. “You totally can’t tell you’re gay.”
Cool. And if you could, would it make my coming-out any less meaningful?
A lot of gay people – men especially, I feel, but apologies if I’m getting this wrong – would be thrilled to hear this. I was, back in the day. But what you are saying here is that it’s somehow intrinsically important to have ‘straight’ mannerisms or a ‘hetero’ look. Sure, it will make coming out easier at first, but we shouldn’t congratulate anyone on being able to hide it. It’s not a treasure hunt.
If you couldn’t tell, you couldn’t tell. Awesome. But we don’t care.
9. “Well, DUH.”
A rather less elegant version of “I always knew!” – thanks for reducing the hardest decision of my life to a shrug of the shoulders and making it all about how smart you are.
10. “Are you the man or the woman?”
11. “Maybe it’s a phase.”
Maybe. Probably not, though, eh? You don’t think this is the very first time we’ve thought about this, do you? That halfway down the stairs or just as you were ordering that pizza we had a lightbulb moment: “HEY! I might try being gay for a bit!”
This moment, however random the delivery, however arbitrary the location, no matter how badly put together it all feels, is not a snap decision, a moment of madness. We have ruminated, brooded and worried about this for months, years, decades even. Don’t tell us we don’t know what we’re doing. Right now is all we know.
Phase? Maybe you’re a phase.
12. “Are you sure? Have you actually… y’know?”
I don’t need to eat a dog turd to know I won’t like it, just like I don’t need to have swung on a dong to know I prefer them.
I tried being straight for years and it was interesting in an “Oh well I guess I can just pretend this is what I want for ever, because it’s only life and who cares, eh?” kind of way. But I knew something wasn’t right. And I didn’t kiss a guy until I was 22.
If someone is telling you this news, they’re pretty sure, or are looking to you for reassurance. Don’t crap on it.
13. “This will kill your father/grandmother.”
Ah well, something had to.
14. “Do you want to go clubbing?”
YES! But that’s not why we came out. Thanks for the offer, though.
15. “You’re bi? Doesn’t that just mean gay?”
No, it means bi. Sometimes I do what you would call gay stuff and sometimes I do what you’d call straight stuff, but to me it’s just stuff and it’s not for you to try to reclassify me because it helps you understand better.
And, no, being bi doesn’t make me any more likely to cheat than you. I have more options, but I’m not a dog on heat.
So I’ve smacked you on the nose and told you not to poo on the parlour steps again, but what about how you should do it? Surely I can stretch to that, right? Sure I can. A few things you can say that might make it easier.
“I’m so glad you told me.”
Be clear that you’re honoured they trusted you. They might want to hug you, they might not. Open your arms anyway and see what happens.
“Do you want to talk now or leave it for a bit?”
Often, despite best intentions, the coming-outer might just blurt it out rather than give the considered statement they’d prepared in their head. They might be shocked at what they’ve just done. They may not want to talk about it right now. Just wait, they’ll come round eventually.
“Do you need me to do anything? Or just listen?”
Don’t assume this is necessarily a problem they want you to fix. Often, they just need to tell someone, to hear it out loud, from their own mouth, to know they’re not going mad. Listening is good.
“Do you need somewhere safe to go?”
Often coming out comes with risks. Not all families are pleased to hear one of Dorothy’s pals has been hiding in the second bedroom all along. If you can, offer them a space. Whether it’s a few hours a day in your kitchen or a sofa for a few nights, it can make all the difference. Even if, on the surface of it, you think their family might be supportive, still offer. Families can be secretive, distrustful entities – all may not be as it appears.
“Who have you told? What did they say?”
You might not be the first. They may have already had a difficult coming-out with someone else. Talk over this with them and, if it went badly, learn from it and if it went well, outdo it.
You’ll be brilliant, I know it. Good luck. x
I write an online advice column for the wonderful Gay Times and am here to help if you have any dilemmas on love, life, relationships or macramé. Email me at email@example.com (marking your email for my attention) or fill in the form on this page. It’s all confidential and I’m proper serious about it – no GIFs to anything.