I was six years old when I came out. Though not the habitual reader of dictionaries that schoolmates later liked to imagine me, I happened to be reading a dictionary at the time. My eye alighted on a word in the H section and I announced to my mother that I was a homosexual. I think she was taken aback somewhat, not having anticipated the necessity of having that conversation with me for at least another year or so. Still, I was gay and I was tired of living a lie, so why waste time?
Though the word was new to me, the feeling wasn’t, entirely. A male who is attracted to other males, it said. All of my friends were indeed boys. I had invited girls to my birthday parties, but more out of a spirit of egalitarianism than because I had wanted to spend time with them, let alone talk to them, a terrifying prospect. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where you didn’t have to talk to girls, I probably fantasised. Now, I found to my great joy, such a world existed, and its name was Homosexuality.
To her credit, my mother didn’t blinch (this is a word of A.A. Milne’s, but it feels appropriate here as it would have been in my vocabulary at the time). She did suggest, I’m sure for my own sake, that perhaps I ought not to repeat my proclamation to other people, but I sensed innately that she respected my lifestyle choice.
When I was fifteen or so I came out again. There was a boy at school. I think I told two people, possibly three, none of whom considered the fact sufficiently newsworthy to inform anyone else of it. I have a memory of mentioning it to my friend Richard as we walked from one lesson to another, and of his acceptance being so low-key that it was almost exhilarating.
I was quite happy not fitting in, not that anyone would have known one way or the other. I now wonder whether I wasn’t deliberately (if unconsciously) trying to fit out. Certainly there were no other ways in which I failed to conform, other than skiving the occasional PE lesson to go and write music. It was nice to think that something marked me out, even though the mark didn’t show.
By the time I decided that maybe girls weren’t so bad after all, I didn’t feel it was much worth going halfway back in. I had so little to show for it. As Alan Bennett is reputed to have said when asked about his own sexuality, that’s like asking a man in the middle of the desert whether he prefers Perrier or Malvern water. The brands of water vary according to whom you ask, but the sense remains: a little of each, not really enough of either.
Some years ago I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like labels, at least not for sexuality. It would be so convenient to be able to say that everyone fits into one of three boxes, wouldn’t it, and so dull; but the idea that anything, certainly anything to do with life, is black and white, is a myth. There are as many sexualities as there are people that have existed. If anyone asked what I call my own sexuality I’d probably tell them that I still haven’t made my mind up, and that’s OK. What does it matter what we call things?