My 50 years of Gay (But most of it was spent deep in the closet)

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Michael* ponders how his life might have been if he’d felt able to come out as gay earlier in life, and how community group support can make a difference now . . .

 

OK, in retrospect I’ve probably been gay for more than 50 years, but it was around 1967, when I was at the tender age of 13, that I began to see my friends in a new light, and it dawned on me that some of them were rather good-looking.

Prior to this, I’d always preferred to be around other boys, girls just didn’t interest me.

I remember at primary school, when I was probably only about 5 or 6 years old, I used to prefer being with the other boys, and as I got a bit older it was boys that I spent my playtimes with, both in and out of school.

There were lots of girls in the neighbourhood, but it seemed that boys played with boys, and girls played with girls, and that suited me perfectly.

At the age of 7, I had been enrolled into the Cubs, so even more of my spare time was spent with other boys. In fact, I remained an active member of the Scouting movement until I left home for university some 11 years later.

Starting secondary school was a big adventure for me. I’d been very insistent that I would only consider an all boy’s school, so my four choices were all for single sex schools. I was offered a place in the school that was my first choice, which pleased me.

At 11 years old, I was still not interested in girls. I had female cousins of about my age, but I didn’t really mix with girls outside of the family.

As I progressed through the early stages of puberty, lots of my school friends started to talk about girls, but I didn’t really join in with them. I just stayed on the edge of those conversations and nodded in agreement at what I guessed were the appropriate points.

It was at about this time that I began to realise that some boys at school were rather good looking, which coincided with the news that gay sex was being partially decriminalised.

It didn’t mean that much to me at the time, but over the next few years I began to realise that society hadn’t paid too much attention to it either; being attracted to the same sex was still seen as being abnormal, and not something you’d freely admit to. The closet seemed the safest place to be.

Over the next few years I began to realise that I was, in fact, gay, or to use the term of the day, queer, although I could never work out why something that came naturally to me could be called queer. I was finding other boys sexually attractive, and only had a passing interest in girls. My fantasies always involved boys, usually someone from school or the Scouts.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, I just knew that I wanted to be close to another boy.

Comments from other boys at school made it clear that I couldn’t announce the fact that I was gay. As I said, I was in an all-boy’s school, with somewhere between 550 and 600 pupils, and in all of my 7 years there I never heard of anyone who was openly gay.

As I progressed through my teenage years I was still predominantly using boys for my fantasies, but now I was beginning to think about girls, and this confused me.

People spoke of straight sex, and a few people spoke of gay sex (usually in a derogatory manner), but no-one ever mentioned the possibility of liking both, so I began to think of myself as some sort of freak, and this may have had some bearing in my lack of success in finding someone I could fall in love with. You must remember that in those days there was no internet to turn to for help, and there were very few books on the subject. This increased my isolation, and I became rather good at shutting out my true feelings.

In retrospect, I feel that my attraction towards girls was because it was expected of me, it just didn’t feel strong enough to be something that I was born with. I just felt that I had to learn to like girls, because that was what I was supposed to be doing.

I did have one or two girlfriends, but we never really got past the ‘getting to know each other’ stage. I don’t think any ‘relationship’ lasted for more than a few months. Looking back, I think it was almost certainly an attempt to hide my true feelings, I thought that if people saw me with a girl then they wouldn’t accuse me of being gay. I’m sure now that it was the indoctrination of society that had driven me to do this, not my natural urges.

Then I went off to university. Going to university was a big thing for me. Leaving home, moving into a flat in a new city, all by myself (I couldn’t afford the student accommodation, and I didn’t know anyone to share with) and making new friends.

The university had many societies, and new students were encouraged to join as many as they wanted.

There was a gay society, and after a few days I managed to pluck up the courage to go along to their office. I got to the door but chickened out. I stood there for what seemed an eternity, but was probably less than a minute or two, then turned and walked away.

I’ve spent the rest of my life wondering how different my life could have been if I’d just entered that room and talked with someone who was openly gay, at such an influential time of my life.

Also, during my first few weeks at university, I managed to buy a book from the university bookshop about teenage problems, and in the section on sexuality it explained that some people were attracted to both sexes, and they were called bisexuals. I finally had a name for what I then thought my sexuality was.

At that time, I had convinced myself that I was attracted to both sexes, so I didn’t identify as being gay, but even now I still don’t know if my attraction to girls was just because it was expected of me.

I eventually figured that if you define sexuality as the gender of the people that you find attractive, then it isn’t just gay and straight, with bisexual neatly positioned in the middle, it’s a spectrum, and anyone can be anywhere on that spectrum.

It was much later in life that I realised that I’m closer to the gay end of that spectrum than the middle.

It was during my time at university, in the early to mid-1970’s, that I had my first sexual encounters, the first was with a guy, the second with a girl.

While this didn’t do anything to address my confusion, or confidence, at least I’d tried them both, and knew that I’d enjoyed the gay relationship more than the straight one.

After I left university, it was still very difficult to come out as being gay, so the few gay encounters I had then had to remain secret. There was never any chance of forming a long-term relationship with another guy, it would have been far too difficult to hide.

I started work, and, in the late 1970’s, met an older, married, guy who seemed to like me for some reason, but not because he was gay.

One day he told me that he’d been trying to chat up a girl who worked in the local supermarket, but she said she wanted to meet someone closer to her own age, and he thought of me.

He arranged a blind date for us, and that was where I met the girl who would, some 13 or 14 months later, become my wife. We must have clicked in a big way, because we are still together now, almost 40 years later.

I suppose that this next part of my life can best be described as being the ‘stable but uneasy’ bit.

I lived just like the heterosexual guy that I was pretending to be would have lived. I was married, I’d bought a house and a car, and I started a family.

It was about this time that the dawn of the AIDS era generated a fear that made it a little easier for me to turn away from what was my strongest attraction and remain firmly closeted.

But during this time, whenever I saw a good-looking guy, it still bought a smile to my face.

I had a brief flirtation with the gay village in about 1998, but nothing came of it. I only visited a couple of times, but it did make me wonder what I was missing.

It was in about 2008 that I discovered internet chat rooms, and this lead me to realise that I was not alone.

I chatted with a few guys, mostly about my age, who were married, and were in the same situation as I was. Most were, like me, still faithful to their wives, but some did mess around with other guys, at saunas, gay bars or even sports clubs.

After another few years this lead me to return to the gay village, and during one of my trips there, I picked up a flyer for a group that I thought might be able to help me. It was called The Married Men’s Group, and it was for men who were married to a woman but attracted to other men.

After thinking it over for a few months I decided to contact the group, and I started to attend their meetings.

It was an immense relief to find other people who had gone through the same problems that I had, and it helped me realise who I really am.

It was through this group that I learnt of voluntary opportunities within the gay community.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve realised over the last two or three years that I am actually closer to the gay end of the sexuality spectrum, and my thinking that I may have been bisexual was just down to the straight indoctrination that I had during my formative years in the late 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s. I don’t mean to disrespect bisexual people when I say this, it’s just that for me, bisexuality was a label I could use to make myself feel more comfortable with the way I was living my life.

So, my dilemma is this. I’m married, with children and grandchildren, and I suppose I’ve had an OK life, which could have been better, but could have been a whole lot worse.

But what would my life have been like if society hadn’t indoctrinated me into believing that I had to find a woman to marry, and I’d lived my life the way that I felt that I should have?

Now that I have many gay friends I’ve found the companionship that was missing from my life 30 to 40 years ago, but I do feel that I’ve been coerced into living my life in a way that I wouldn’t have to have done if I’d been born 30 years later.

I’m just glad that young gay people today won’t necessarily have to hide their true selves and pretend to fit in with what society expects them to be and will have a better chance of living their lives the way they should.

*name changed to protect anonymity

If you’d like to find out more about LGBT+ community groups and activities that welcome members who are aged 50 and over, visit our Ageing Better webpage.

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