This is a longer than usual post so either settle down with a cup of tea and a biscuit or come back tomorrow
I must start with a caveat. The gay/straight dichotomy is misleading because sexuality is a spectrum or continuum. A point demonstrated by the author of the song (from 1978) I've used as my title, Tom Robinson, who went on to marry and raise a family. Having said that, there are quite a lot of people bunched up at the two opposite ends of the spectrum and this post is about those who are totally or predominantly gay.
I'm writing this because Peter at Naked Blog
has said that being gay is the pits, that he hates it and that it has ruined his life. This saddened me because it seemed to hark back to a past era when most people would have agreed with King George V's observation: "One expects men like that to shoot themselves
." Of course, I don't know Peter's particular circumstances and his sexuality may well have ruined his life and it's better that he says so with his characteristic honesty than dissemble. I posted a dissenting comment on his blog because I didn't want people to think this was a view universally shared by gay men, or even those of us born before decriminalisation. I said that, if reincarnated, I would choose to be gay again and this piece is an explanation of that statement.
But let's get the negatives out of the way first:
There are two principal disadvantages to being gay, one social and unnecessary and the other unavoidable.
Social discrimination is still a huge problem but it has diminished far more than some right-wing politicians realise. On the other hand, it hasn't decreased nearly as much as some members of the liberal elite, who sometimes stroll through Soho's gay village, think that it has and in some respects things are worse for young people than 40 years ago.
The one disadvantage that is inherent in being gay is that your choice of partners is limited to about 5% of the population. Factor in that most gay men, contrary to popular belief, are pretty choosy and the pool of potential partners is actually even smaller than that. But at least today this isn't made worse by isolation or invisibility. Even people remote from the gay scene have the possibility of the internet to make contact with others.
I suppose one could add childlessness to the list of negatives, although even that isn't inevitable today with the possibility of fostering, adopting or using surrogate mothers. It's not an issue that's ever bothered me much although, because of our biological programming, I occasionally regret that I won't hear that two tone 'Da-ad' disrupting my life. There's also natural curiosity about what one's child might have been like. But then I reflect that the little sod would almost certainly have disappointed me by growing up straight (joke
Now here are just a few reasons why I like being gay:
, I've had a more interesting life because I've met a broader range of people than would otherwise have been the case.
Our society remains very divided by class and income. But when people are thrown together on the basis of a minority sexuality you get a wonderful diversity. That shouldn't be surprising because, again contrary to all the stereotypes, gay people have nothing in common other than their sexuality. So in a gay pub you'll find doctors, bus drivers, teachers, local councillors, criminals, shop workers and sometimes, just to reassure any visiting heterosexuals, a hairdresser or dancer.
I've had interesting conversations, and in some cases friendships, with musicians, junior doctors, lawyers, bank robbers, estate agents (actually that wasn't so interesting), soldiers, bus drivers (lots of those for some reason), rent boys, actors, teachers, architects......you get my drift. This isn't a list of people I've slept with, by the way. That might be longer or shorter but this isn't the type of blog to reveal it. The point is that my range of social interaction has not been defined, as it so often is, by my class, income or domestic or working environments.
, it's made me tougher and more indifferent to what people think of me. It also politicised me at an early age. I think it was C. Wright Mills who said you should turn a personal problem into a public issue and that, in a very modest way, is what I did. I knew Antony Grey who was one of those responsible for the first law reform in 1967. He used to bravely venture into Middle England and give talks to Rotary Clubs and the like. In his talks he used to quote from a letter I sent him about what it was like to be a gay 16 year old in the sixties. I hope it made the provincial middle classes pause for thought and maybe choke on their prawn cocktails and their bigotry.
Later I ran a branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, an amateurish outfit by today's standards but, as with Antony Grey, we owe them a lot. We met in cold, bare meeting rooms provided by the handful of far Left organisations who would let us through the door but even they would come and look at us to see if we had two heads. And the kids in that group were so brave and strong in the climate of that time. So full of hope that we could build a better world. I don't remember anything we talked about, only that we laughed a lot and nobody ever brought their personal problems to the table. Then preoccupation with earning a living and having relationships displaced youthful idealism. But we can't all be Peter Tatchell and single-mindedly fight the good fight throughout our lives.
, I think gay sex is better than straight sex. Many people will think that's an absurd thing to say, particularly as it's not based on experience of both. But I believe that having sex with someone with the same physiology is inevitably more empathetic and that it's easier to give pleasure to your partner (assuming that's what you want to do) if their physical experience of sex is the same as yours. That's why around two thousand years ago the Kama Sutra suggested that men who wanted oral sex should do so with another man rather than their wives. It's also why, during one period of Greek history, sex with women was principally for procreation while sex for pleasure was with other men. And it must be why so many straight men with no emotional attraction to their own sex go looking for covert sex with other men. I could also cite the huge number of heterosexual sex manuals and videos and the common complaints of women about men's poor sexual techniques and sometimes vice versa.
Of course, heterosexual sex must have something going for it or it wouldn't be such a popular activity. And, to restore some balance, I did once ask a woman what sex was like when - in that peculiar phrase - you're 'trying for a family'
. She said that was something really special - awesome, transcendental. And so it should be; it's the act of creation, and you don't get that with gay sex. So feel free, straight readers, to say 'Na na, na na na!'
, I like being an outsider and the perspective on life that gives you. It's also useful to a writer because the ordinary and the conventional become more interesting. But you also know that another layer exists beneath the world of convention and appearances. You know that happily married Mr X can often be found in the gay pub on a Friday night or that your Conservative Councillor who speaks for the moral majority has a predilection for rough trade from the council estate. I'll quote it yet again: "Life is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural
" (regular readers will know it's Louis MacNiece by now).
So, to sum up, being gay is not a cross I've had to bear
. It's not a cruel trick of nature
. It's just another facet of the human experience. And all the things that have gone wrong in my life have been a consequence of being human, not of being gay.
I've lived my life in one of the richest countries in the world with good health and a supportive family and I've experienced the joy and madness of loving another person. I'd say that was pretty good karma,
Today I live alone, ranting at strangers in my blog like a demented bag lady on a bus, still laughing at the craziness of life, still revelling in the drunkenness of things being various
, grateful I'm still here, grateful to the people who've loved me and seen qualities in me that I can't see myself and never ruling out that there may be others who do so again.
Not that being gay is the most important thing about me which is why I don't announce the fact to every Tom, Dick and Harry I meet. But it is
an integral part of what makes me me
. It's not some optional extra or bolt-on accessory. It's an essential part of who I am. So if I said I hated being gay I'd be saying that I hate being me, in which case pass the sleeping tablets or the razor blade. But I don't hate being me. Maybe I should. But after 50 years I've got to know myself pretty well and got used to my strange quirks and funny ways. (Writing something as personal as this at midnight and sticking it on the internet is pretty damn weird when you think about it).
And I've got used to living with myself. No other bastard ever has, but that's their loss not mine.
The tough times in my youth weren't because I was gay. They were because society said being gay was deviant, wicked and evil. Attitudes have changed a lot since then. But there's still a long way to go. That's why I've become a supporter of FFLAG
which works with young gay people and their parents and is campaigning to stop bullying in schools (which I'll return to another time). Because I don't want to entirely give up on my youthful hopes of a better world. And because I don't want any young kids today to feel that being gay will ruin their lives. Plenty of other things might. Being gay won't. So I want them to embrace and celebrate their sexuality. Not because it's better than any of the alternatives but because they have an equal right to love and be loved and enjoy the pleasures as well as the pain of being human. I want them to sing. I want them to be loved. I want them to be strong and help to build a kinder world.
That seems a lot to hope for until I remember how far we've travelled and how in 1970 I met one teenager who was too scared to come to our group so I met him in a pub and his hands shook so much he couldn't pick up his drink and I was hardly any older than him and out of my depth. I didn't know what to say or how to help. I wanted to put my arms round him and tell him it would be all right, that things would get better, but I couldn't because it was 1970 and it wasn't a gay pub and even if it had been you didn't touch people in those days and even meeting him was technically illegal.
But things did get better. I just hope they did for him and that he found some happiness in his life. It would be another 8 years before Tom Robinson wrote 'Glad to be Gay' and another 34 years before we achieved some semblance of legal equality. But we've only come this far because my generation and subsequent ones defiantly refused to let the bastards grind us down and said: yes, we're glad to be gay; yes, we're happy this way.