Friday, July 27, 2007

Queer as Old Folk - fifty years on...

"All of these men made choices about their sex lives and sexual identities pre-legalisation, and 40 years later, they’re still living with the consequences of these choices, and sometimes exploring whether they did indeed make the right decisions after all."

Thus the Channel 4 notes on a programme I watched on last night's TV, with interest, some nostalgia, and - I admit - a lump in my throat to hear the loving testimonies of two men in a long-term partnership that had lasted over forty years.

No-one who didn't experience the endemic paranoia around the issue of homosexuality in the late 1940s and 1950s can have any idea of what a torment it involved for homosexual men (and boys) at the time, as it did for me. I have written briefly about this on the Buddhist Conflict Resolution blog, for which a link appears to the left of this post.

In early puberty, aged 11 or 12, I was aware of my sexual awakening, and deeply troubled by its significance. I have never felt so alone, so desolate, so troubled, so vulnerable, so frightened, so trapped. In those days homosexuality was a crime, and no-one ever mentioned its name. I only discovered, quite by accident, that I wasn't alone by finding a book in the public library. The book was called , I think, the Secret Garden, and it had a "star" on the inside cover, meaning restricted circulation. For some reason the librarian let me borrow it. For the first time I learned the name of my affliction, and this afforded me some consolation, but augmented my feelings of isolation and fear of exposure. These recollected feelings haunt me still, fifty years or more on.

Despite my strong romantic and sexual feelings for persons of the same sex, these have never, throughout my lifetime, been requited through a homosexual relationship - however brief - although opportunities have arisen occasionally across the intervening five decades or more, and invitations made. I have always been so paralysed by fear and shame as to be incapable. Fortunately, perhaps - a very big perhaps - I have also had heterosexual feelings and have been able to enter into more-or-less satisfying relationships, become father to six children, and enjoy a marriage that has lasted thirty five years.

This isn't a complaint, there's nothing to complain of, and everything to celebrate. Life is as it is, and it's what we are able to do with it that matters. My wife and loved ones have come to understand my strange, burned-out conflictedness, and made their own kind of peace with it, and with me. It helped them make sense of my at-times difficult behaviour, and my ingrained and inexplicable defensiveness.

So it was much vicarious pleasure and satisfaction that I was able to share in the experience of a few men of my own generation who had made choices that I couldn't, and found their own happiness, not without a struggle, not without tears, but with an authentic queer kind of love that, from my own shadows, I admire and honour with these words.

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