Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Living in fear and trembling
When I was 17, a man fell in love with me. I don’t know if I loved him back. I was too frightened to explore my feelings. But I have a strong sense that if we’d been allowed, he would have been my first love.
His name was Mike Whelan, and I still remember him with the greatest fondness and affection. I hope it’s OK to out him now; because then it was absolutely impossible.
He was afraid and ashamed, and I was afraid and ashamed. And so nothing came of our feelings for each other. And i wonder how many opportunities for love have been denied by prejudice.
This is the last day you can watch BBC Scotland’s documentary on the LGB history of Scotland’s recent past, and I’d recommend it if you can.
It brought back so clearly my memories of the oppression we both suffered; and made it clear that he was so right to feel so very vivid a fear that he would lose his job if his homosexuality came to light.
The terror I felt didn’t stop me becoming extremely attracted to an older man when I was in my twenties, when homosexuality was still illegal. i still carry in me the distress I felt at not being able to hold his hand when we walked down the street.
That fear made it all the more remarkable for me to encounter two openly gay men at a meeting in St Andrews university when I was still a student. The fact that they seemed to be so much at ease with themselves impressed me very profoundly and still, I think, serves as a model for my activism to this day.
My homophobia had a very particular cause. My mum in particular had terrified me on several occasions with the possibility that I might be interfered with in mysterious ways she would not or could not specify by a man and that if that happened I would be lost for ever.
One of the images in the documentary is of a young man wearing a cravat and applying make-up to his face in the mirror. He absolutely represents, I realise, the kind of person my mum and dad both greatly feared I might become.
My mum died very suddenly when I was 12, and the fear she instilled in me got frozen, somehow, and stayed with me. Much longer than the memory of her love.
And to this day, I still feel uneasy about cravats.
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