Tag Archives: gay

Most men have had a Prince George moment

From the very first moment babies draw breath, we obsess over children’s behaviour – be it concern for their safety or searching for possible clues about their future. We observe children to find things we recognise in ourselves. Parents are quick to assign character traits to even a three-month-old baby – “he farts all day, just like his dad” – because it reassures them that the circle of life shan’t be broken, that some part of them will remain long after the sandwiches at their funeral have curled up at the edges. More troublesome markers are also exposed from this constant critiquing – violent tendencies, a selfish streak or bullying behaviour can be spotted quite early on. It’s the human equivalent of having CCTV everywhere. We’re watching for your own good; there is no reason to be alarmed. But of course that is not always the truth.

Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge (I know royal protocol prevents it, but Princess Kate would’ve been so much more 21st century a name) and their two children have been touring Europe and, as it was for William and brother Harry, the children have been a source of fascination. I am not one for drooling over the Royals and their offspring, as I’m of the opinion that the most interesting one died in a road tunnel in Paris in 1997, but plenty of people are so, wherever they go or whatever they do, no matter how humdrum, there are photographers waiting to capture every moment.

Take away the wealth, the privilege and the predilection of his parents for dressing him like a ghost off the Titanic, Prince George is much like any other little boy growing up in the UK. And in this last week he’s found himself under the same scrutiny as scores of young boys his age, because of the way he looked in awe at what I believe was a helicopter. You have seen the picture already but here it is again because context.

I saw the picture before I saw the reaction on social media, and my first thought was “uh oh”. I thought “uh oh” because I remembered, all too clearly, what it was like to be Prince George’s age and to have every single facet of your behaviour analysed like it was some great mystery to be unravelled, as if it foretold the future. A dangerous future. To me, the picture looks like Prince George was captured kind of midway through extreme excitement. He was probably jumping up and down in glee or doing that thing children do, which is kind of a crude attempt at a squat, when they’re really happy. In short, HRH Peppa Pig was losing his shit, and rightly so. And yet I saw something that thousands of other men – most of them gay – saw too. I saw myself, and I saw the beginnings of something. I will confess, I was a little worried for him. Time has moved on and attitudes have changed since I was George’s age – 37 years, to be exact – but the crushing, double-threat chokehold of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity is still present and correct and we live in a world where your hands cupping your chin in glee or excitement would be, for a man, seen as very unusual. This is because, from an early age, men are taught that standing that way, or positioning their arms that way, is a feminine trait and this behaviour is wrong somehow and thus not available to boys.

Don’t believe me? Check out how everyone sits on public transport. Men with legs akimbo, like they’re in stirrups and birthing twins; women with legs together, trying to take up as little space as possible. While it might seem ridiculous and trivial to you, the way man and women sit, speak, stand and laugh is policed from the moment we can crawl or make a sound. This tiny moment, now forever frozen in time, could mean everything, or it could mean nothing. To me, the prince is showing that wonderful lack of awareness of such restrictions and toxic thinking that children enjoy up to a certain age. It shows to me that his parents and extended family may, thus far, be letting George get on with being himself – no mean feat when you are the future King – and, if he is displaying traditionally feminine traits, that they either don’t care or are assuming it will sort itself out at school, as it tends to do. I know little boys who carried round handbags and pushed prams and turned into great hulking rugby players, whose idea of being in touch with their feminine side meant not leaving the room when an advert for Tampax came on the telly. And I believe their lives are all the poorer for this reinvention, to be honest.

I’m sure I’ve had many such Prince George moments in my life, but the one I remember the most is probably the last time I was able to display these tendencies without reproach. Oh, sure, it was a running joke in my family that I was “sensitive” and “not like the other boys”. I pouted if I had to play football and I enjoyed stomping up and down my grandmother’s garden in her high heels, and hanging out laundry on the makeshift washing line she would put up for me. I had a habit – which I still do occasionally, now I come to think of it – of sitting with my elbows at my hips and my arms bent to bring my hands to my chest, like a lovesick damsel waiting for news of her lover and BELIEVE ME there wasn’t one quirk I had as a child that wasn’t commented on in some way, by adults other than my parents. I was nicknamed “Quentin” by my uncles (for Quentin Crisp in case you are too young for the reference) by the time I was 3 and children on the street would call me a “poofter”. But I was still largely shielded from it. School would wrench that protection from me and make me wake up, far too slowly unfortunately, to the harsh realities of growing up as a gay child. And here is that moment below. The morning of my first day, posing in my front garden. I was 4, and my life would never be the same again.

You may think it is strange for me to talk of being a “gay child”, but they do exist. You may equate being gay with sex, and think it impossible to be labelled as gay until you are sexually mature, or even until you make that “decision” (it isn’t a decision btw) for yourself. But gayness is much more than that. It is that “feeling you are different” from an early age, before you know even know what sex is. It is the way you behave, your thought processes, it is your very spirit. It is, of course, hard to explain because it’s more nuanced than our very binary world or my memory of it will allow and, it has to be said, those feelings of being different are not always related to being gay – trans people no doubt experience very similar stirrings they can’t quite put their finger on.

Growing up as the child who feels they are different – for no reason other than any deviation from cisgender heterosexuality is automatically labelled as such – is a confusing, continual barrage of insecurities, criticism, and anguish. As I say, most of the boys carrying around a handbag as a toddler had these eccentricities conditioned out of them as they grew up, whether it was because of peer pressure or a genuine change in desires or character, but for some, it becomes who they are. And society as a whole is only too happy to define them.

I understood the gay men who felt a rush of emotion as they saw the picture of Prince George, who saw themselves and thought his nascent “fabulousness” should be celebrated. I also understood those who were angry a child’s harmless, unconscious actions were being instantly labelled in a potentially damaging way, because despite marriage equality and supermarkets sponsoring rainbows, being LGBT is still seen as something lesser. I also got the ones who shouted them down for wanting to ignore it or cover it up, who maintained it was nothing to be ashamed of. All of them were right in their own way, and as a grown-up who spent most of his early life driving myself mad over every little thing I said and did, in case it either exposed something about me or initiated cruelty and violence toward me, I encourage the debate.

And whatever happens to Prince George in the future, I hope he remembers his big moment for the right reasons – the day on a helicopter, where he had the most fun ever. Because whether you live in a palace or a prefab, there’s always someone waiting in the wings to take that from you.

Let little boys be little boys – whatever that means and wherever it takes them.

This post originally appeared in The Truth About Everything*, my regular mailout where subscribers can receive new writing by me before anyone else. Its not a newsletter;  never have any news. Just writing. You can sign up for it here.

Image: Flickr. This version has been cropped from the original.

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My gay voice

A new documentary on the concept of “sounding gay” has been making waves in the media, and among gay men. Do I Sound Gay? investigates whether there is such a thing as “gay voice” – when it comes to men, of course – and, if so, how do we get it?

I became aware my voice was more ‘girly’ than other boys’ at a very early age. I seemed to have so many ‘tells’ when I was a child that it was difficult to rein them all in. I could just about walk into a room and sit down without it becoming obvious but the voice – oh the voice – it always let me down. I was never any good at impressions and booming out like a bullfrog wasn’t really going to fly for a seven-year-old, so instead I reverted to silence.

I stopped answering questions in the classroom, would avoid shouting out – whether in joy or misery – in the playground and would pretend I was ‘shy’ in front of grown-ups I didn’t know. And if I ever forgot myself, perhaps giving a yelp of delight or saying a word with lots of  ‘s’ sounds in it, I’d see their faces change and know I’d gone too far. A slight twist of their mouth, their attention suddenly all mine, a quizzical look across their brow, maybe. I’d failed. They knew.

Of course you can’t stay quiet for ever and by the time I got to grammar school I had at least come to accept the way I spoke. I couldn’t do much about the tone and so I kept to short statements, avoiding using too many long words, even they were bursting to get out. I effectively dumbed down in an effort not to fit in – that never interested me – but not to stand out. A ghost. Continue reading My gay voice

Why being 39 ruined going to the hairdresser for me

I used to love going to the hairdresser. And, yes, I mean the hairdresser – a salon.

Gleaming floor tiles, with sparkly bits. Asymmetric-haired (and faced) receptionists alternating between flicking through copies of Vogue and leaflets on chlamydia. Shelf upon shelf of brightly coloured product that would “change my life”, destined to make me part with north of £40 and to lie unused and unloved in my bathroom cabinet after two or three disappointing washes.

Going to get my hair styled was an event. I have never been one for pampering because I don’t understand it – it seems like a lot of nenetting around covered in goo to me, and if I wanted a sauna like that I hear Chariots is still going. And yet getting my hair “did”, to use culturally appropriated vernacular popular on social media, was my one concession to luxury. Money was no object – and certainly left my wallet swiftly enough – and having my hair pawed by good-looking people while I sipped a complimentary glass of “fizz” was one of my very favourite ways to spend time in my twenties and early thirties.

I didn’t have haircuts, I had styles. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try, any scissor-wielding or treatment I would shy away from. I had it relaxed, lines shaved in the side, a series of unfortunate mullets that have ruined every photo of me in existence from 2004–2006. As someone who is, at best, average-looking and at worst a genuine milk-curdler, my hair was always my crowning glory. Thick and bountiful and able to grow at an alarming rate, my hair bravery lifted me from a “meh” to a “mmmmmaybe” and that was enough for me. Continue reading Why being 39 ruined going to the hairdresser for me

Gay’s the word

Last night my boyfriend and I were on a train coming back from a few drinks with a friend. At one stop, a group of younger people got on. They were in their twenties, I guess. They had been to some sort of concert and were wearing various items of band merchandise. I suppose 10 years ago we’d have said they were “emo” – nobody says that any more, do they?

There were four of them. One looked like an artist’s impression of Guido Fawkes, there were two more devastatingly ordinary boys and then a girl, who was very excitable and babbled about gigs she’d been to and made up loads of transparent lies about things that had happened to her at them. So far, so normal.

And then, in the middle of a really weird story about some metal band dipping their hands in ramekins filled with blood (no idea) she said “I know that sounds really gay, but…” and then continued. None of her acolytes batted an eyelid, but I, a middle-aged gay man staring into the abyss of our future hope, flinched and I felt ill and I couldn’t hear anything else they said because that word was ringing in my ears.

I thought we had done this. I thought it was over. Using “gay” as a pejorative term to mean something was inferior or unattractive, I had previously thought, was dying out. It enjoyed a brief power surge a few years ago but thanks to a largely appalled reaction, it had faded into obscurity. What a naive moron I felt. Continue reading Gay’s the word

Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Am I wrong not to care?

Nature, nurture, lifestyle choice, whatever. The world seems obsessed with finding out what makes the gays gay.

Every time it crops up, as it has today in the Guardian, I find myself puzzling over the fascination with unravelling this big secret. It’s just something that happens; why can’t we be satisfied with that? But, no, curious minds continue to peer through the dirty net curtains and into gay society for some kind of solution. And when the code is deciphered, then what? When all the research has been done, genes examined and endless, dull, wittering studies analysed and crosschecked, what happens next? Will it lead to society truly understanding and accepting homosexuality and its ‘practitioners’? Or will we be firmly on the path to extinguishing it altogether? Continue reading Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Am I wrong not to care?

Coming out isn’t a one-off event – you’ll do it day after day for ever

Did you come out on National Coming Out Day? And how was it for you?

What people never seem to tell you about coming out is that it’s not restricted to one day – it’s a never-ending event. See those closet doors? They’re revolving. Day after day, you will find yourself – directly and indirectly – coming out to a host of people, even total strangers. The coming out never stops.

Think you have everybody covered? Relatives, friends, key people at work – check. However, you’re not out of the woods yet. We live in a world where there may be equality in law, but socially, we’ve still a long way to go.

Even a simple trip to the doctor, or a casual chat with a colleague, and having to say that dreariest, laborious word “partner”, like you’re in love with a law firm, is an act of coming out. It still feels strange on the tongue, let alone in the head, having to explain yourself.

You never know whether the news you’re gay will get you a shrug, a hug or a punch in the mouth. You wonder whether sitting next to that straight guy on the bus will make him think you fancy him, because he can tell, right? He knows you’re gay.

Will that drunk woman who caught you steal a glance at her boyfriend laugh it off or get in your face and throw a drink over you, calling you a “poof” and warning you to keep your eyes to yourself.? Welcome to the worst lottery ever.

Perhaps one day it will be no big deal and there’ll be no need for a lurching stomach or a mild stutter as you get the words out, wondering what the reaction will be. Here’s hoping. But despite all that, coming out is worth it. It really is.

I have already documented how I broke the news to my parents 14 years ago, and while I thought my work was done, about a month ago I realised there were two other people who’d remained blissfully ignorant over the years – my siblings.

I have a 17-year-old brother who I don’t see very often. He’s never really asked me about relationships or anything like that – teenagers tend to have their own stuff going on – but it niggled at me that he was in the dark.

I never had to tell my 18-year-old sister, to whom I’m very close. I suggested to Mum I should reveal all, but she said there was no need. Looking back, she was right. While it took her a few years to work it out, the fact she had her very own gay best friend at school helped her realise that I wouldn’t one day be bringing home a blushing bride.

Despite it never being explicitly said, she never questioned it,  instead accepted it without so much as a shrug – how disappointing for my inner dramatist – and my sexuality has become just another drab fact of life.

She may have had her suspicions about where my ‘flatmate’ and I slept in our one-bedroom flat but she never voiced them. We have settled into our relationship as grown-ups brilliantly. In her own words: “I didn’t really notice.” Perfect.

My brother was a different proposition. How do you tell a sporty 17-year-old just discovering girls that his big brother, who for some bizarre reason he looks up to, can never really join in on the whole lady appreciation thing? How do you prepare yourself to be a disappointment?

Well, the way I did it is spend the entire weekend with him and not say anything about it, before going home and telling him in a language he would understand – on Facebook Messenger.

In the middle of a conversation about a gig I was going to – Kylie! Of course – I decided now was the time to drop the bombshell, or gayshell, if you like. I decided not to make it too emotive – the slightest hint of sentiment can send even the most sensitive of teenagers reeling and heading under the nearest Xbox. I kept it matter-of-fact:

“It’s just occurred to me that you may not be aware – my partner is a bloke. I’m gay. Hope you’re cool with that. I should’ve mentioned it before, I guess. It’s a difficult one to drop into conversation. If you need a bit of time to think that one over, I understand. I should’ve said at the weekend really. Anyway, now you know.”

So now he knew. I awaited his reply with the kind of feeling you get when you know your electricity bill is due – crippled by inevitability. I was also kind of excited. Something was about to change. Finally, some drama.

Hours dragged. Then: a tick appeared by his message. He’d seen it. I closed Facebook and went into another room and pretended to tidy up. Any distraction welcome. Finally, I scraped myself off the ceiling and opened Facebook again. And like a beam of light, his reply shone:

“I can imagine you would’ve found it very hard to put that into conversation!
But yeah.
As long as you’re happy bro I’m really happy for you!
I have the utmost respect for you, it must be really difficult sometimes.”

Whether it’s a blatant acceptance like my brother’s, or a  marvellously unspoken one like my sister’s, never underestimate its power. And even though I have come out a thousand times to a million faces, the feeling of being accepted, that good reaction, never, ever gets old.

If you have come out to friends or family this weekend, I hope they reacted as brilliantly as my most excellent siblings.