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Story 8

For as long as I remember I knew I was different from other kids. I didn’t know why of course. My brothers looked similar to me but somehow I was not the same. My sister looked very different from me but somehow I related to her with more ease than to the other boys. They all noticed that their baby brother was an oddity too. 

When the world expanded into school days my contemporaries saw the difference too. The fact that I was a pretty child was a double-edged sword. The boy with golden, curly hair had to endure the cries of “girlie” or “ sissy ” that invariably followed in his quiet wake. 

My father, a middle aged, rough farm labourer, also openly resented the effeminate cuckoo who was somehow, however unknowingly, polluting his isolated nest; not unlike some alien from a distant planet. 

My early life continued thus in pretty much the same way .I could not relate to any male influences such as sport or anything mechanical but was at ease with music and writing and even learned to sew and knit albeit in a very rudimentary fashion. I also spent a lot of time drawing and was fascinated by horses. Even though in actuality they terrified me. 

In fact most things scared me. I felt insecure and for the most part unloved and unlovable. All this was lived against the backdrop of a remote, rural community, which provided no point of reference for an embryonic homosexual. Not that I, nor probably the majority of the scant population of Leigh, Worcestershire would have known what a homosexual was. In such society, apart from being illegal, such things would not be discussed. 

I said earlier, and quite deliberately, that for the most part I felt unloved and unlovable. I think that had it not been for my mother I would not have developed even the simplest concept of love. She showed the true example of unconditional love and constantly defended me against my brutish, unfeeling father. I was her child; her baby and she adored me as she did all her children. 

I entered my second decade a shy, lonely, introverted child. At the age of eleven I left the insular protection of Leigh Hurst County Primary School and found myself in the stark, bewildering purgatory of the Chase County Secondary School, Malvern. Then ruled with a cane of iron by the Headmaster, Mr P Garth and the delightfully dotty Headmistress, Miss Mizen. Mr Garth or Perce as he was more irreverently called but only when safely out of earshot, was big on scholastic achievement and bigger on sport. No more running up and down the “ big class” with bean bags and such; now it was cross country runs in whatever happened to be pelting down at the time or in frost so thick a brass monkey would have found it a very high risk pastime. And horror of horrors I had to play football and CRICKET! Now if someone could have explained the rules of either pointless exercise to me I may possibly have fared better, although I doubt it very much. Even the “ girlie” games were rough; all that “tit to tit” confrontation was not for me and pubescent young ladies can be so brutal at times. 

But all was not lost. There was the school choir and having been a member of the village church choir since I was “discovered”, by the Vicar, playing Joseph to Margaret Chapman’s Virgin Mary, in The school nativity play, at the age of seven. I was, of course, a natural, and passed the rigorous audition with flying colours. Pay no attention to suggestions that my finest performance was picking my nose and eating it during a rendition of our fine school hymn,” God be with you till we meet again”. This was just a foul slur upon my artistic integrity. 

It was, however, at this time that I met someone who I can now identify with. Then I did not have the right vocabulary to describe him but hindsight is an amazing gift and the phrase “ camp as tits” springs perhaps too easily to mind. Even more so his nickname, “Bummer”, now conveys far more to me now than it did then. All I knew was what I saw and heard. The extravagant gestures, the small steps he took when he walked and the fact that his whole attitude was less than masculine It was all so familiar it was like looking at a mirror image. Even so at that time there was nothing sexual in the way I regarded him I was too young and far too naïve then and even though within two short years I was to develop an attraction for older men I was not attracted to this one. Of course rumours abounded concerning what went on in the music storeroom. Why you shouldn’t sit at the desk next to the piano during one of his lessons but the only effect he had on me was that I knew there was at least one other person in The World was a little like myself.  Even though at that time it was nowhere near enough to convince me of my own true sexual identity. 

For the first couple of years in this foreign, sometimes seemingly hostile environment I did reasonably well for a “ country bus” kid. I was top stream and always came out near the top in form position, especially in subjects like English, Religious Instruction (strangely for a born again Atheist) History and Geography. Although I had no talent for maths, the sciences or any practical subject such as Metalwork, Woodwork or Rural Science (gardening). But then, as the saying goes, Sex reared its not so ugly head. 

Puberty is a time of turmoil and confusion at the best of times and for an unsophisticated bumpkin like me it was somewhat akin to the opening of Pandora’s Box. I wanted to be loved but now sexual desire blasted it’s way into the equation. I had always sensed that my father didn’t love me so I suspect that my most unconscious desire was for an older man who would. So I looked and I found. Not of course the love I was looking for but my first, and I have to say profoundly disturbing, experience of gay sex. 

I didn’t know it was gay sex of course. This was long before the word had acquired its current definition. But it was with an older man and it was sex and after its mutually wet, sticky silent climax I felt not loved, as I had hoped, but used and filled with self-revulsion. Blindly, however, my quest for love continued and my already fragile self esteem withered and all but died within me. There were more men than I care to remember including one whom actively stalked me for two years afterwards. So here I was, at the age of thirteen, already world-weary and with more negative sexual experience than a child of that age can rightly comprehend, with no ambition and a diminishing will to live. The seeds for the periods of severe clinical depression, which were to haunt much of my adult life, were, I am certain, sown at this time. My form position plummeted from third to twenty fifth reflecting my total lack of self worth and my academic decline continued for the rest of my schooldays. 

My active gay life was from here on in cocoon, as it were, as I tried to conform to the shape and form nature had outwardly bestowed on me. 

I had a succession of girl friends and had joined the Civil Service as a Temporary Clerical Assistant but much of my time was spent either alone or in an alcoholic haze. I had a social life of sorts but was disinterested in this and in any form of career development. It’s very difficult to recall my state of mind at this time I suppose it can best be described as existing in some sort of emotional free-fall or working by auto-pilot.

It was at about this time that that I met Liz again. Again because we had been in the same class together at school and I had endured a brief association with her sister, Catherine. Liz had had her own demons to fight during her childhood.  She had been born with a serious congenital heart defect and constantly battled with being over weight. But she had a wicked sense of humour and a bravery that comes from living with a shortened expectation of life. She had undergone open-heart surgery at the age of sixteen. Like me she also had an underlying lack of self-esteem. This, in my humble view being mainly due to her overbearing parents. 

We became close friends, then began to date and I fell in love with her and she undoubtedly with me as unlikely as that may sound. We became engaged at nineteen and married at twenty. The epitome of loves young dream. To recount thirty-one years of marriage in a few lines may appear callous and dismissive but that is certainly not my intention. Sufficient to say that some of it was blissfully happy but much of it was sad. I would not have missed being married to Liz and do not regret a moment of it. Even though my accusers may indict me for marrying her to camouflage the fact that I am gay at a time when homosexuality was still illegal I can face them and declare with complete honesty that I loved her with all my heart. She also gave me my precious children, my son Jason and my daughter Kate. Even though she didn’t really want children. They, in their turn, gave me their childhood and the memories of their growing up and finally the most painful rejection any father can experience. 

During the years of my marriage I publicly subscribed to the theory that sexuality was a spectrum with the extremes at either end with most of us falling somewhere in between and that we all had the potential to love any other person. That we belonged to our sexes incidentally and could love anyone regardless of sex.  I held this belief for many years. I suppose it was a half declaration of my own sexual confusion. Being gay for most of my marriage was not a real issue for me. Fidelity was and even though I felt attracted to certain men from time to time I would not have compromised my marriage. To have had an affair of any kind was taboo and I did adhere to a certain moral code instilled by my upbringing and general social conditioning. So I fought any temptation. 

I suffered many minor episodes of depression and had two major breakdowns, which resulted in my being admitted to a local psychiatric hospital for several weeks on both occasions. I was treated with Electro-convulsive Therapy, Anti-Depressants and with Assertiveness training. It was this latter course that showed me that I owned my feelings and what is more I had a right to them. It was these few words which opened my eyes again and began the slow and painful process of self-discovery and ultimately taught me to love myself. At the time I paid little attention to the warning that if I changed it would have a knock on effect which would in turn disconcert those around me. A prophecy indeed. 

Liz and the kids were shocked when this familiar worm suddenly turned and would stand his ground quietly but firmly. At work this new found confidence gained me the promotion that had eluded me for years. When my pendulum of change was in full swing, on reflection, I must have been an arrogant shit to say the least but at last I was a functioning human being and began to express all the feelings I had subconsciously repressed for all those years. In theory all should have been well then but there was still the small matter of my sexuality waiting there to be acknowledged and rightfully expressed. It was there simmering away like some dormant volcano. 

The first rumbles came shortly after my second breakdown in 1993. This followed a year in which my son contracted Chicken –Pox that developed into Viral Encephalitis from which he nearly died and the death of my beloved Mum. My absence from work resulted in my being prematurely retired on health grounds at the age of forty-nine. 

The first couple of months were OK. I needed the rest and it was just like being on holiday. But eventually I needed something to do so I signed up for an Open University Course to do the foundation years for an Arts Degree and I became a volunteer working for The Foundation. This was a Worcester based AIDS charity, which provided support for those with or affected by HIV. 

It was this that was to have the most catastrophic effect on my whole existence. To put it mildly I was in heaven. This work brought me into contact for the first time with other gay men. Not the furtive kind of my early youth but men who lived openly gay lives and who were happy with their lives. It was like the stars coming out and the lights going on. I undertook the training for a volunteer with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm and was accepted to my utter joy to work as an active volunteer. 

I was assigned my first client and there began my first small steps to the full realisation of my true sexual identity. My client was HIV positive and his family was unaware of his positive status. To begin with I was just required to accompany him to a local swimming pool. He had been a keen swimmer but was unhappy going swimming alone. Our association began well and we met regularly. Gradually our meetings became more frequent and I became what is known as his “ Buddy”. However apart from being HIV positive he also had a severe personality disorder a small fact that was to bring me later to the point of self-destruction. 

My new, full and active life was drawing me more and more away from my life at home with my wife and family. For the first time in my married life I was unfaithful. Liz was beginning to feel more and more neglected due to the time I was spending away from home and we had reached the point where we even had to compare diaries to see when we could actually spend a day together. 

It was on one of these rare days in late July 1997 that we set out to spend the day in Hereford. The day to be spent shopping and having lunch out as we had done many times before. I don’t think either of us knew, as we set out, that this was to be the last day we would ever spend together. 

Walking hand in hand along, I can’t remember which street, Liz said “it’s not the same as it used to be”. We walked silently to a restaurant and ordered something. She told me how unhappy she was and what she wanted from me. I knew that to comply would mean giving up most of what was now important to me. She asked what would happen and I said I would leave. 

We returned home silently and then discussed practicalities like when I would go. 

I slept in the spare room that night. The next day we talked a little more and it was then she said that over the past year she had seen me change visibly to the extent that my whole persona was now that of a gay man. It was then she asked  “are you gay”. I replied simply and without emotion “yes”. We told Jason first and later that day we told Kate that we had decided to separate. They received the news calmly but unbeknown to me then that  this was the calm before the storm. A storm of silent hatred which has prevailed until this day. 

I went out the next day and arranged to rent a flat in Malvern taking my client from the Foundation with me. He was very helpful and supportive and seemed to revel in being of help to me. I was still very conscious of my duty to him. 

Liz then handed me the keys to a friend’s house and told me she was not returning until later and by which time she wanted me gone. I hastily packed enough belongings to last me for the few days until my flat was available. 

During this time I experienced a startling grief reaction and mourned the passing of my safe familiar life but knew that I could never go back. I moved into my flat and my client continued to help with furnishing. I had intended to be alone, as I needed time to mourn, to reflect and work out where I was going. I did, however, mistake my client’s fervent attention for love and I returned that love willingly. It never developed into a sexual affair and in the ensuing weeks and months it became painfully clear that he was a psychopath. This was not a jaded opinion it was later confirmed as a clinical diagnosis. I don’t wish to dwell on the details but sufficient to say over a period of months he lied to me, cheated and robbed me. Ultimately I tried to end my life to be free of him. I moved flats again. This time buying my first home alone. I stayed there for a short time before moving to my present home still in Malvern. A place I have loved since my youth. 

Since my marriage ended I have found several enduring friendship and had countless affairs, been through a period of promiscuity but found finally a peace of mind and discovered that I am really not  

that bad as people go. There have been one or two unfortunate relationships including a brief association with a man, met through the Internet, who murdered his wife. 

The only flaw in the present perfect is that my children, to whom I was outed by my ex-wife, have steadfastly refused any contact with me. I have tried on several occasions to contact them. Prior to my first Christmas away from my family I received a phone call from my daughter telling me to keep away. If I insisted on buying them presents would I arrange for a third party to deliver them as my presence was unwanted. In future there were to be no visits, Christmas cards, Birthday cards, phone calls just KEEP AWAY! Adding only that I was totally selfish and had always been a  “crap father”. 

When I moved flats I once sent them a change of address card. It was returned to me with certain amendments. Where I had written  “Dad” my daughter added “biologically only” and on the blank reverse side she wrote “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK WE GIVE A SHIT WHERE YOU LIVE ANYWAY”. 

I was heartbroken at the time and it was some while before I attempted to contact either of them again. I have since written to my ex-wife and my son. Liz replied to the effect that she resented the fact that I was having a better time than she was. I had robbed her of her home, her pets and all her expectation of life. Jason did not reply. 

I was totally unprepared for their total rejection and the grief I feel is still a tangible part of my life. This I acknowledge but it is not within my power to change the situation. That is a matter for them alone. I live in hope against desperate hope that one day they will come to understand and that they will allow me some sort of contact again. But that is for the future and I have to cope with how things are now. So I live my life openly as a gay man. I feel I have to otherwise I have paid an exorbitant price for nothing.  

I found the gay scene superficial and youth orientated but found one or two close friends through it.

I have come beyond the point where I count the cost and have packed a wealth of experience into four short years. 

I found myself at last and am happy with my life. It saddens me that I remain unforgiven by my family but I know I am strong enough to go on with life. 

I now live happily with my partner who is everything to me as my best friend, my lover and my family.