“I was born in a small town in the north of England just before the start of the war which is one of my first memories of childhood. Some German bombs fell on our street, a hundred yards from where we lived. My brother and I were shifted around to various schools until my mother who had become a Catholic, had the crazy idea that I had a ‘vocation’ to be a priest and at the age of 13 I was sent to a seminary near Liverpool, the worst six years of my life. There I had a number of crushes on my classmates but as there was no sex education at the time I had no idea of what was going on inside me and nobody to talk to I could trust.
I left when I was 20 and was immediately called to do my military service, two years in the Air Force working as a nursing orderly. There I learned about sex – including ‘homos’ – and discovered a name for what I was feeling. At the time homosexuality was regarded as a criminal offense by the State, a mortal sin by the Church, and a mental disorder by the psychiatrists. There was no such thing as ‘coming out’ and I knew no-one else who was like me. I thought I was the only one.
I finally escaped to London, taking the first job I could get, and there I disovered the strip-clubs and porno theatres in Soho and the ‘rent boys’ hanging around Piccadilly Circus, and wondered if this was ‘it’. I worked for a time on the fringes of showbusiness but was sickened by the attitude that every good looking young actor or pop singers was fair game, someone to take advantage of sexually – and then discard.
By chance I got to know the Homosexual Law Reform Society and worked for them part-time as a volunteer, campaigning to get the law changed (which happened over a decade later). During discreet meetings with members of parliament and lawyers, I learned about men who were being prosecuted just for living together. It stayed like that for another ten years or so, I was always looking for Mr Right but assumed I was not good looking enough to attract anyone. I found relief in becoming a fairly successful businessman. Eventually three people saved my life – all of them non-gay – and slowly became my adopted family, my protectors, my life support system.
They are A, whom I met when he was just 15 and he came to work in my office during his school holidays. I knew his parents and took him with me on business trips all over Europe. He is now the father of three adult sons and we remain close friends after 35 years. The second is B whom I met through work, the father of two married girls, and we have been close friends for over 45 years. The third is C, whom I met much later, when I officially retired and left London for the south of France. We met by chance in a sports shop, he seemed incredibly young (he was just 23) and now 12 years later, he lives with his lovely girlfriend, and he has become ‘the son I never had’. As I approach the age of 80 C worries about my health and has become my official guardian should I eventually become too ga-ga to make my own decisions. There are inevitably some moments of loneliness but I could not ask for anyone more kind and supportive than C. I help him with some of his writing projects. He says I have brought some order into his life.
I am aware that there are places where there is a gay scene, including London of course, though probably not in the small French town where I now live. I have never been comfortable with it. Nor with events such as Gay Pride. I have only one friend who is also gay, we met as university lecturers in London, but being gay has never been the centre of my life. It is not something I feel the need to disclose but will answer to if pressed. It is only a small part of my identity.
Looking back on my early inexperience and confusion, I envy the young people today who are more aware, less restrictive in their choice of partners – though many still face oppression (there is a Refuge in my town which accommodates young gays rejected by their parents), both here and elsewhere in the world. I’d like to do more to combat all kinds of prejudice but feel I am running out of time. I wish I had done more when I was younger. I believe there is a duty of (all) older people to help (all) younger people get their start in life. I hope this contribution to your project helps a little. And a personal thank-you to all the contributors whose stories I have read so far…I found the site by accident and am still working my way through the histories. What an inspiration!”