Written for the Foyles blog.
I remember when I was about 14 years old deciding to be gay. I'm not talking about a decision to switch sexualities, but a decision to accept that that was actually the label under which my desires fell.
It's a curious feeling, the mental freedom that arises from accepting a label. All of those uncertain questions about your personal nature like, Am I really different? They disappear.
And they're immediately replaced by questions of how to be defined within the bounds of this label.
I told my friends eventually, first leaving some time for them to figure it out for themselves... actually, I was hoping that they would figure it out for themselves so that I wouldn't have to the broach the topic. The fear that comes from telling people at first is similar to taking a bungee jump without the guarantee of bounce. It's not the fear of horror, it's not the fear of the unimaginable. It's a paranoia, a slow and very realistic dread that the peace you found in your label could be an act of war for the other people. To make matters worse, there is constantly a floating question, a little devil on the left-hand shoulder: Do other people need to know?
Before I told anyone, I did what I usually do when I'm uncertain; I visited the library.
There was a gay and lesbian section, both sides of a row of bookshelves. The size of it alone should have indicated to me that I was not alone.
Terrified that other readers would pass judgement, pour scorn, and possibly start hurling verbal abuse at me because of the area I was browsing, I devised a scheme to remain clandestine whereby I would breeze past the shelves, discretely snatch up a book with an interesting spine, and sit in a more manly section to read it. I did this a few times over the course of a few weeks.
Not long after, it dawned on me. Nobody breezes in a library. My breezing was probably attracting enough attention on its own. I also learned quickly that an attractive spine is no way to judge the contents of a book.
Of course this is a ridiculous way to go about life, and eventually I borrowed a discrete looking gay novel (9781902852409) by burying it within a pile of 11 other books. I went home to read it quietly.
It was a good read. I would recommend it; good humor, apt sense of character, swift and engaging plot about a (possible) murderous flatmate.
More importantly it wasn't about being gay, it was just about gay characters. That was a mind opener to the boy who felt as if homosexuality was a branded lifestyle, like trendy, or skater, or goth. Here were characters that worried about normal things (because all young teenagers think the adult world is about layers of worries), like paying rent, and getting along with friends.
So I got bolder and bolder with my gay book borrowing at the library, learning more and more that being gay was not that important a defining characteristic, until I stopped borrowing them. I didn't stop because someone caught me, I stopped out of boredom. I needed to read something else.
I was gay, and it didn't seem so important anymore.
I realize it seems contradictory that I'd be writing about something I think is unimportant. But it is not without importance, not when it's possible to feel caged by a fear of other people's views. Other people don't need to know about your sexuality, but it shouldn't be a problem when it does come up. For me, being gay isn't about the things that go on behind closed doors; that's private and doesn't need labels. Being gay is being able to talk as freely as everyone else.
- ▼ June (5)