Suddenly I feel very old, I feel very old. Normally this feeling comes unexpectedly, and this time is not an exception, my mind is putting images, sounds and phrases that I have collected today, and it has coalesced into my feelings of being a 20 something year old in Sheffield, and being gay. It is hard to describe what it was like to be gay in Sheffield, or anywhere else, in the 80’s. The 90’s were fun, it was almost chic, not legal, but legal enough to have the gay pubs to become tourist traps for the ‘straights’ to come and feel a little bohemian, but in the 80’s there was still something to fight for, a point to be made, injustice to be fought, and arguments to be won.
Being caught unawares once I was nearly blackmailed, very Dirk Bogarde, which cost me the princely sum of £10, but that taught me a lesson – never do anything you can’t justify yourself. The legal situation was, as I remember it, that it was OK to be gay if you were 21, though like most people I wasn’t going to wait around for the right birthday to come around, I had looks and needs so stuff that! Of my time in Sheffield I remember several encounters, but more than anything I remember Alex, a Miner from Rotherham and waking up one morning to find his sisters walking into the bedroom with their kids to talk to Uncle Alex, I often think what happened to him. I was utterly embarrassed, and looking back i think I should have questioned why working class people were being ‘queer’ – it was something for middle-class people did, wasn’t it?
More than anything in the 80’s feeling a strong sense of ‘belonging’ to the Gay Community, we had a clear sense of identity and relationship and the taint of oppression gave us cohesion – we had to be political to survive. Words became important as we strained for reinforcement of identity, where we Gay, Homosexual or Queer – I think I was most happy with Gay, though I would ‘own’ the wordQueerif needed, especially after reading Joe Orton’s biography.
One of the things which I think has changed over the past 30 years is one of stereotypes. My role models, and boy did you search around for them, in the 70’s were camp Queens,and to be honest I failed totally to identify with them, this was not me. Occasionally someone would be ‘outed’ who wasn’t camp, and immediately a sigh of relief could be heard as we discussed who was, or wasn’t gay. Today I am grateful that the role models presented range from Alan Carr (who I can’t stand) to Rugby Players, Members of the Armed Forces and the whole gamut of experiences, for once we are seeing people who look ‘normal’ – which is in fact what we are.
The first time I bought the Pink Paper I had to get up really early to go into Rotherham and but it from the Chocolate Box (how appropriate) before anyone was in the shop, several attempts were made, but eventually I managed it, then meating my first gay person – the boyfriend of Terry Sanderson who lived a few miles from me, it was a weird meeting – it was like an iniation, I am not sure what we talked about, I think I was just relieved to meet another person like me – nothing happened that involved taking anything but shoes off – at last I was not the only person; I believe he died a few years later, shame.
I remember, crikey I had been trainspotting on the day trying to get a picture of a Class 151, hearing Ian McKellan saying that coming out was not an event, but rather a process, first we tell those people who we trust, then a few others, then a few family members, and then it seems to be perfectly natural, you become a functioning person, I think coming out to my brothers was the hardest for me, and I am not totally sure about how they view me, I know my Nephews are pretty cool with it all, but it is something that isn’t talked about much.
A discussion at work, with someone who I would not have associated with equality legislation, made me think I am not fully comfortable with my sexuality, at work at least. I was thrown a pretty left ball question of ‘would you like to adopt kids’ (no!) and then I had to admit that when the other blokes are leering at the women on the TV I very rarely will pass comment about the blokes, though I will think it sometimes. The question that got put to me “why not, if they do with women, why don’t do it with the men on TV’ Why indeed!
As a disclaimer I think people are totally cool with me being gay at work, I can flirt outrageously with my ‘circle’ of colleagues, and my boss came to my Civil Partnership – which was really nice, though I think he only came to see what happened, I think he had been watching too many episodes of Friends – the one with the Lesbian Wedding 🙂
Things have changed, someone being Gay in politics is not an issue today, I didn’t know that Brian Piddick was gay, or Ken Livingstone, and in a very real sense I didn’t need to know, it is irrelevent.
Not sure how to end this instalment, I know …