Monday, 2 July 2012

Fool's errand

Like many parents at that time, I guess, my mother and father were always worried that I might grow up to be homo-sexual.

In the fifties homosexuality was still a crime, homophobia was rampant (the word had still to be invented), and gay men regularly committed suicide rather than face a lifetime of concealment or persecution.

The worrying was fair enough. But my parents went further and tried actively to prevent me becoming "one of them". In those days there were all sorts of hare-brained theories about why people became gay, and they didn't realise the futility of their efforts.

After a certain age they withdrew all physical affection, be it kissing, hugging or touching. They somehow believed that too much physical affection would turn me "the other way".

They scrutinised all my friends, and any male neighbours I talked to, for any signs of inappropriate behaviour or homosexual tendencies - whatever they might be.

Then bizarrely they sent me to an all-male boarding school, seemingly unaware that such schools were notorious for routine homosexuality. As it happened, there was never a whiff of gay sex in my particular school, so luckily for them I was spared the evil tentacles of Sodom.

They continued to be suspicious of my late teenage relationships, especially my friendship with a sixty year old abstract artist. My father was convinced he was trying to seduce me, despite the total absence of sexual overtones.

Eventually I left home and they were no longer able to monitor my activities. They were probably horrified when I started supporting the Gay Liberation Front.

But I never became gay and their decades of neurotic concern were completely pointless. It was nothing but a fool's errand all along.

PS: A new report by Stonewall says homophobia is still rampant in schools. It says 55% of gay pupils experience homophobic bullying and 96% hear words like "poof" or "lezza" in the classroom. 


  1. This is all rather odd to me, as homosexuality seemed fairly unheard of where I grew up in the '60's and '70's. I'm surprised that your parents were so militant about it!

    The only thing I remember my parents saying on the mom would get really mad when we used the term 'queer' because in her mind (and time frame) that meant 'gay.' To us, it meant 'weird' or 'strange' and had nothing to do with sexuality. Oddly, the meaning seems to have reverted back to its original context and no one is going around saying something is 'queer.'

  2. Bijoux - My father was pretty obsessed with homosexuality, he thought it was beyond the pale. Now and again he even accused my mother of being a lesbian. The papers were always full of shock headlines about bent vicars and celebs with secret sex lives.

    I didn't know "queer" was now being used as an insult again. The word "gay" has also become a new insult in the UK.

  3. OH DEAR..
    I never had such parental worries
    mind you, I did have the occassional girlfriend when I was a teen, so I guess my parents did sigh a secret sigh of relief!
    when I came out in my late twenties... I didnt tell my elderly - mother ( I COULDNT FACE THE GUILT- hers not mine) however I was always surprised when my elder brother burst into tears at the news!
    ps I have gay friends who like to call themselves queer.. they see it as a positive collective noun

  4. John - Glad you avoided such parental paranoia. The girlfriends would certainly have misled them! Good point about the guilt - it was only recently that parents of gay children stopped asked themselves "Where did I go wrong?"

    I can remember a popular Gay Liberation Front chant: "We're here because we're queer because we're queer because we're here...."

  5. my sexuality was always blindingly obviously straight!
    my liam is often asked if he is gay because he has an interest in looking good. he finds it quite perplexing.


  6. Kylie - Yes, I expect that same equation operates here as well. Because after all, the straight male stereotype is still to be scruffy and a bit rough-looking. Only gays and girls want to look pretty.

  7. I guess girls weren't worried about in the same way. Nothing worse than a gay male. Gay girls? Oh they're just best friends.
    I remember many such housesharing and only later realizing what was going on.
    As to gay males, I was in theatre back in the day, and quite sheltered and it's only now I realize that there were many gay men in our company. They's wander into the female dressing rooms for a chat and we never batted an eye. Whereas the obviously hetero men would be given the heave-ho. Innocence!!!

  8. In India, it is still a mysterious preference though from Vatsyayan's kama sutra it was prevalent then too! With Muslim influence, bisexuality was sort of accepted as eccentricity but full homosexuality is still to be understood for what it is. There are more pressing issues like inter caste marriages to address I guess.

  9. www - When I was growing up, the pretence was still that lesbianism didn't exist, so nobody ever mentioned it. There was never any concern that my sister might become "one of those".

    Ramana - It sounds as if homosexuality is often still in the closet in India. Something known to exist but nobody wants to talk about it.

  10. Nick, the content of your post is questionable on many levels.If you would like me to expand please do let me know. I do not wish to take unsolicited liberties.

    Most importantly: People do not "become gay" as you say. They either ARE or they are not.


  11. Ursula - Please feel free to expand. I'm well aware that nobody "becomes" gay, but maybe I didn't make that clear. I think it's now generally accepted that gayness is something given. And equally something that can't be "cured" despite all the so-called therapists who claim the contrary.

  12. I have two sons, one gay and one straight. I adore both of them xx

  13. Oh my goodness - now I feel guilty, but I couldn't help laughing at the line 'and then, bizarrely, they sent me to an all-male boarding school'!

    How very, very sad it is that people felt they had to behave like this. And how sad for you, and all other boys so treated, that you were deprived of parental affection in the name of 'bringing you up properly'.

    People are very strange. :(

  14. Any minority difference is always viewed as suspicious.

    A good friend of mine and I decided that we'd be happy if our sons were gay as we'd have great shopping partners for life!!

    It really wouldn't bother me how my kids turned out as long as they were happy.

  15. Jay - Being deprived of parental affection can be very damaging. Fortunately I've had plenty of physical affection in my adult life, which partly makes up for it.

    Suburbia - A great way to look at the possibility of gay children! A tame fashionista to advise you on those tricky clothing choices....

  16. Thank you, Nick, for letting me off the leash. I'll try not to run far.

    Like Bijoux I am surprised that homosexuality was an issue in those days. That which was deemed undesirable was usually NOT mentioned, instead swept under the carpet. Hence the closet.

    Have you considered that your father may have had issues with his own sexuality? Few men will come down harder on their sons than those with a latent gay tendency.

    Boarding school? I have a very dim view of the British system of sending your child to those places. Why have a child only to palm it off? I am sorry to say so, but it may be of some comfort to you to hear it said out loud: Your parents were emotionally stunted. If what you say is your recollection then it amounts to messing with a young person's brain. As an aside: Is that why you didn't have children? Because you didn't want to either be reminded of or in danger of inflicting the same?

    Nick, I dearly hope that this is not rubbing salt into a wound. I do not wish to hurt. However, sometimes an outsider's view, someone with no allegiances, can help to shed some light into the dark corners of our lives.

    On a lighter note:

    Your father would have positively "loved" my 20 year old son's sleeping arrangements. When we run out of beds the Angel is perfectly happy to share his (double)bed with his mates. Makes my heart sing. A sight to behold.

    If you do interpret your parents correctly I feel truly sorry for you. I hope you won't have missed out on a lot of what male friendship is, a bond if ever there was one. Not least pissing into the wind, next to each other.


  17. Ursula - Thank you for those very interesting comments. I'll try to answer them all.

    My father's sexuality: He never showed signs of being anything but heterosexual, but certainly his idea of "normal" sexuality was very narrow. As it was for many people in those days.

    My parents were emotionally stunted: that's a harsh judgment but it has some truth in it (my mother is still alive btw, though she never reads this blog). My parents were totally insensitive to my needs as a child and sent me to a completely inappropriate secondary school.

    Is that why I didn't have children? That's certainly part of it. I couldn't see myself bringing up a child properly, as I had so little experience of good parenting to guide me.

    Missing out on male friendship: I've had great difficulty making male friendships for most of my adult life. Partly because of the relentless bullying at boarding school, which permanently poisoned the idea of male friendship. And partly because most men seem to want fairly superficial and impersonal relationships which do nothing for me.

  18. Nick, it does you honour that you answer in such a candid way.

    I am sorry you missed out on true male friendships. I am fascinated by the camaraderie of men: Give me a film with an all male cast, say, in a submarine, in the trenches, Fort Knox or herding cows in the Wild West and I am spellbound.There is something impenetrable, so very touching when men 'bond'.

    When the Angel's friends come round it amuses me no end to hear that faint murmur of their talk till the early hours of the morning. Touches my heart. It touches my heart even more how they will put themselves out for each other.

    Damn it, Nick, I want to say something comforting to you but can't come up with anything. Other than that you are a good man wit a questioning mind, and if I lived round the corner from you I'd be more than happy to meet up for coffee, lunch and dinner - in no particular order and not all on the same day (insert smiley)

    Humans are made with many a facet. Which is good. Do you remember that saying: "Variatio delectat"? And so it does.


  19. Ursula - Thank you for that gesture of sympathy. And for that invitation, which alas, I can't take up as I'm approximately 350 miles away.

    Unfortunately I've never experienced that profound male bonding that's so often depicted in the media. It's passed me by.

    I did study Latin at school but Variatio Delectat is a new one on me. Change delights? It depends on the nature of the change, but I've certainly changed a lot in the last 65 years and yes, it has mostly been delightful.

  20. Perhaps my lowest point living in Dublin was when university students voted against amending the law to make it more liberal on homosexuality. If even students were so intolerant, I thought, what hope is there? I left the country shortly afterwards. Thankfully things have changed for the better.

  21. Paul - It is disconcerting when even the young seem to be mindlessly intolerant. And about something that does them no harm whatever.