This is my first regular monthly column for ATTITUDE MAGAZINE, Britain’s leading gay lifestyle magazine, which appeared in the August issue. Seeing as it’s been out a few weeks now I thought I’d give it a wider audience.
I’ve always known I was gay. Well, when I say always, I mean I knew I was different to other boys almost from the age of 7 or 8. I have absolutely no doubt that I was born gay, yet I find it bizarre that some find that difficult to accept. There are still misguided souls who believe that people choose to be gay.
Well, perhaps we gayers play up to that a little nowadays. After all, legend has it we have the best music, we’re better looking (I exclude myself!), we have the best fashion and we have better skin (I don’t exclude myself from that one). But it wasn’t always like that.
People who believe we all choose to be gay should think back to when I was growing up in the 1970s. Homosexuality wasn’t illegal, but it might as well have been. Being raised in a small village in Essex meant conformity to a relatively conservative rural lifestyle. I loved my childhood and wouldn’t change it for a minute, but it did mean hiding a part of who I was, even from those closest to me. To have come out would have been unthinkable.
To most people homosexuality came in the form of John Inman and Larry Grayson. It meant camp cries of ‘shut that door’ or ‘I’m free’. It meant furtive fumbles in public toilets. In short, it was seen as a perversion, which few were willing to even try to understand or empathise with. Why anyone would have chosen to be a homosexual in those days is anyone’s guess.
Today it is very different. In some ways, it’s cool to be gay, so for some of our more bigoted members of society, you can sort of understand why they really believe it is a lifestyle choice. Believe me, I am very comfortable in my own skin, as I am sure most Attitude readers are. Were I now given the choice of being straight, I wouldn’t take it. But I suspect most of us, if we really examined ourselves deeply, might have given a different answer at the age of fifteen.
Because life is undeniably easier if you’re straight.
In some jobs being gay is still a big no-no. Gay people still suffer from discrimination, especially outside metropolitan areas. Being gay in some religions can lead to ex-communication and total exclusion from one’s family. From a personal viewpoint, I have absolutely no doubt I would now be a Member of Parliament were it not for the fact that I was/am gay, and didn’t mind who knew it.
On my LBC show I had a caller recently who told me she detested the ‘gay act’ and it was terrible that people should choose this lifestyle. She clearly hadn’t got a clue, poor love, who she was talking to. So in my usual loving, caring way I gently pointed out to take it from one who knows, that being gay wasn’t a choice. You were born like it. She still didn’t click. “I knew I was gay at the age of 7”, I then said. There followed an awkward two second silence, which on the radio sounds like two minutes. Whether I provoked her to examine her own prejudices I have no idea.
And then on Eurovision night it all started again. This time on Twitter. A fellow West Ham fan called Brian – someone who clearly believed it’s not possible to be gay and shout “Come on You Irons” every fortnight – told me that “nature, history and religion are against you. It is nurture and environment and perverse thinking.” Thanks for that. He continued: “Our minds are malleable and can be turned”. Speak for yourself, mate. And finally came this little gem: “We are all born heterosexual and get influenced to be gay in our twisted minds.” When I asked him if, as a straight man, he could be turned, strangely, I didn’t get an answer.
You may think it bizarre, but I don’t regard people like my LBC caller and Brian as homophobic. I just think they’re scared of something they have a fear of. Because they think that we’ve all chosen to become gay, they think we could persuade their kids to turn gay too. You might think it’s laughable, and it is, but it’s up to us to show that being gay is nothing for them to fear. As the brilliant E4 sitcom says – it’s the ‘New Normal’.
Next month in Attitude : Is there really any such thing as bisexuality?