My Life - The Difficult Bits, Anyway!
I've never written my life story before, so I guess I should start near the beginning.
Maybe it will be an epic that will run and run. I was born on 5 August 1952. My parents met during WW2, and married during the war. My dad was Viennese and a refugee from Hitler, who came to England in 1938, having got his whole family out of Austria in advance of the holocaust. He even got his brother out of the camp he was interned in.
You probably gather that I took a long time to arrive. I came along 10 years after they were married, and have no brothers or sisters. I've always wished I had an older brother, just for someone to talk to who had been through things before me.
I had a real uneventful early childhood, right up to the age of 13, I guess. Looking back, it was more than a little repressed, but I think that was probably normal for the 50s and early 60s.
At 7 years old, I started at a school 5 miles away from home, commuting there by foot and train each day. A one mile walk to the station, 10 minutes on the train, and a 1 mile walk to school. Cars weren't so common, and my dad used our only car for his job as a self employed salesman working on commission but no salary. Now I don't write this to complain. It kept me pretty fit, though I never realised it, and gave me a degree of independence.
I went to a Preparatory School. Today there are many co-ed prep schools, but in my day they were just for boys. Half of the boys were boarders, usually from families who lived abroad. England still thought it had an empire then!
Here I learnt how to be bullied. I was small for my age, quite cute, looking back at old photographs, with bright blond dead straight fine hair, blue eyes, and skinny. No muscles means great to be bullied, especially in a prep school. I also learnt to be shy about my body. In the changing rooms, when we changed for sport, there was no privacy, but everyone was desperately interested in trying to see what we each looked like unclothed, and teasing us if we objected to having our shirts lifted to be gawped at.
Even so, I reckon I escaped relatively unscathed, and emerged just before my 13th birthday "ready to take on the world". Do you know that feeling when you actually think that you are important? As a senior in a junior school, you think you are important!
September 1965 I moved to a Public School.
The system was that we all spent each day in "houses" - allocated groups of about 60 boys of all age groups. It was a sort of "team" concept. We spent our lessons in class and set groups, and our leisure time in houses. Sport was sometimes school sport, and sometimes house sport.
Now I had a major problem. Remember that I was shy as hell? After sport, we had compulsory showers.
Can you imagine the problems? I couldn't take my clothes off in front of ANYONE. Now I had to shower in a group of boys, under 4 open showers in a shower room. Now this didn't seem to give anyone else a problem, but it sure loomed large in my mind. I guess I'm explaining this so that you can see there is quite a difficult set of hang-ups here which most people would have seen as trivial.
The rest of this school I enjoyed, the more so once I had got over my shower hang-up. There was one very special thing about the place. I fell in love.
I met an almost amazingly self assured group of kids when I joined. After the dust had settled, I found I was becoming friends with another boy in my house, same year, but who joined the school the term before, and knew his way around the place. I never took much notice, except that I kind of got on well with him.
I guess about this time hormones started their trail around my body, and I became more and more aware of deeper feelings.
How can I describe him: he was about my height, which was around 5' 2", TO 5' 4", slim, with straightish hair just a shade darker than mine, and weirdly black eyebrows! He had green-blue eyes, a classic face with a slight snub nose, and a complexion which was what you might call "English Rose", slightly ruddy cheeks. If I describe an honest, open face, that might get us closer to it. I noticed none of this. The bit that I noticed was that he was covered in fur! (This is NOT a wind up. I MEAN IT!). At his previous school, he said he was called "The Furry Animal". I loved the look of just his arms. Blond, long beautiful fur. Not thick fur, but just like adult body hair, but downy.
His hair fascinated me. It grew down his neck, and gently under his ears. later, as he matured, I often wondered if it would join up with his beard if he ever grew one. Actually everything about him fascinated me, from his voice to his thoughts.
He was athletic, popular, and I enjoyed being in his company. I really don't know when it turned from curiosity into fascination into love.
Did I say that after a few weeks I had overcome my inability to shower?
Can you imagine sharing a communal shower with someone whose face, mind and body you adore? Can you believe the total delight, coupled with the pure mechanical problems, coupled with the terror of discovery? I had never ever thought about this subject ever before. There was nothing in my upbringing which ever talked about boys falling in love with boys. Sure, we all laughed behind our hands about "homos", but we never ever associated them with us.
Worse, this set of thoughts was only just becoming legal in the UK around this time, and then only if it was in private, and both of you were over 21. Frankly, I had no idea what on earth I wanted to do anyway, or whether I wanted to do anything, or whether I just wanted to be friends, or what I wanted. I was so confused that I couldn't grasp what was going on. I just knew that my life lit up around him, and I didn't even know his first name. 'Furry' was the only thing I knew to call him except for his surname. It was a surnames only school. I even engraved on the desks "I love Furry". What was I thinking of?
As we got to know each other, I found out that his name was John. His birthday was in November on the 25th, and he was nine months older than I was. He lived 5 miles from school, but in the wrong direction for me. I had no transport except a bike, and faced the prospect of a 10 mile trip each way, even if he EVER would invite me home.
We weren't in the same class. I was slightly better academically than John, though he outshone me on the sports field. On match days I loved to watch the team where he was playing. We played rugby, and apart from sheer guts, agility carries the day. He had both, plus beauty of form. It was fantastic to watch the boy I loved dodging and leaping over the opposition. He was so wonderful I could have eaten him with cream and a spoon.
Each morning, at 8:45, we had a short chapel service to start the day. It lasted for 15 minutes, and we sat in year groups within our houses. I would always engineer things so that I sat next to John, always far too close, with my thigh touching his. It was as though electricity ran from him to me each time we touched. Sometimes I touched his arm with my fingers kind of hidden in folded arms.
I know he knew I was touching him, but I think he accepted it rather than welcomed it. We never spoke about it, but he never forced me away. Nor did he return the pressure. It was really difficult to have any idea of what was going on in his head. We talked about school things mostly, never about feelings. You just didn't.
You can probably visualise the problem I had continually. On the one hand I was in absolute ecstasy. On the other I was completely desperate. It is breathtaking to be with someone that you love to distraction. It is terrible not to feel able to even tell them. What would the consequences be of telling him? Well, the desired consequence would have been out of this world. The consequence I feared would have ruined my life and affected John badly. Let me explain a bit more: remember that I said that the environment was a lot less tolerant of non expected behaviour in the 60s?.
One of the prefects had approached a kid my age with a view to some form of physical liaison. What the form was no-one knew nor cared. Perhaps he even loved him. I hope he did. We were ritually disgusted when we found out some time later. I was hugely sorry for both of them. The older boy because he dared to speak, and the yonger because he wrecked someone's life, all unknowing. The younger boy phoned the head of house that evening to report the approach. The head of house phoned the Housemaster. The Housemaster phoned the parents of the "wrongdoer", and we never, ever saw him again. He reportedly had a nervous breakdown as his official explanation. He was in his final year at the school, and was allowed to sit his final exams in a private room. We discovered this three years later, when the brother of the then head of house told us all about in "complete confidence". Not funny.
And I had to pretend to be homophobic, too. Had to. Don't blame me for having no moral fibre. I had to live, too.
Obviously I knew nothing about this at the time, but I knew roughly what the consequences could be. Ridicule, shame, having to face my parents who were one hundred and fifty percent homophobic. I never took the risk, though I prayed that John might at least acknowledge me as more than a friend.
I should put matters straight here. This was real love. Sure, lust became involved, but it was love at its simplest and purest. I still couldn't work out exactly what the physical "method of expression" might be. I wasn't naive, but I was also childishly innocent at the same time.
I went through my first year in this difficult state. I watched John grow as I grew myself, and loved him all the more as he gained height, power, had his voice break, and all the other things that go with becoming a young man instead of simply a boy.
During the summer term we had swimming as a sporting activity. Swimming also involved a fair degree of horseplay - bombing, ducking and the rest. I was astounded to discover something while swimming.
Obviously I got as close as I could, as usual. His legs were rough to the touch. Excitingly rough, but they looked smooth. I had already discovered that he was unusual in one other way, something I have only ever seen once before then, and never since. The palms of his hands were completely dry. Where almost everyone's hands are moist, his were dry and smooth. I wanted to be touched by those smooth hands so much that it hurt.
During the summer, we had a long break. There were 8 whole weeks without school. That makes 8 weeks without the chance to see him. Eight weeks of absolute torture. Sure, I went away with my parents, and did all the fun things that you do on holiday. I learnt to sail, got a passion for sailing and became very good at it indeed. Sailing led me to the rest of my life, but that's for later.
It was a great summer, except for that awful longing. Why didn't I phone him? I didn't have the means of transport to get there, and I didn't dare be rejected. It was a relief to get back to the start of a new term at school and to find him there again. Grown, tanned and fit, and just as beautiful. Nothing had changed in my feelings for him. Nothing had changed in his feelings or non feelings for me. We got on as
schoolmates, no more and no less.
About Christmas time 1966 I had an idea. I had an aged aunt in Bournemouth, on the south coast. To get there we drove through the New Forest. I had the idea of a cycling holiday at Easter. What I wanted to do was to get some time away from school, with John and without any pressures. He really enjoyed cycling, and was a great fan of cycle racing. I planned a tour from near where I lived, via Winchester, through the New Forest, by ferry to the Isle of Wight, round the island, back to Southampton, and back home.
Next term I asked him. Excellent result, immediate acceptance, but "Who else is coming?" was what he asked me. Now I should have been brave and said "Just us", but I chickened out, and nominated two other boys of the same age. They agreed, and I felt a complete fool. In one go I had invited the love of my life to spend a week alone with me, and then spoilt it at once by inviting two others. Sometimes I hate me.
Even so, we made the plans. My idea was to take two tents and to go camping. My parents approved. John's parents (or perhaps John) didn't like the idea of camping. We settled on Youth Hostels. Dormitories of more than two people, so a total system of chaperones. Still, we would be together. Just the problem of the extra two, and I still had no idea how, or whether to tell John how much he meant to me.
Everything came together, and we met on the first day, the four of us. It was windy, wet and miserable. Have you ever ridden a bike laden with a week's luggage into a headwind, on a wet, wild day. At least it wasn't cold. We battled the first 20 miles, stopped for lunch, and rode on. 20 miles further, we came to Alton, and voted to take the train. Four wet boys and four unwieldy bikes crowded into the guards van on the passenger service from Alton to Winchester.
Do you know, the whole trip was as though the other two didn't exist in my life. John stood, looking out of the window at the scenery rolling by. I stood next to him, a bit away. I felt really peculiar. My heart started to pound, I couldn't breathe, I felt drawn into his being. I've never felt so good in my life before. If I had died then, I would have died happy. And I still hadn't told him.
I didn't, wouldn't, couldn't tell him. We went through a fantastic holiday, I felt as though there were just the two of us. There weren't, but I felt that way. The only thing missing was that I had no idea how John felt about me. Truth to tell, I only really remember that bit on the train. Sure, there were other bits too. Going down a dangerous hill where we should have dismounted, and nearly killing ourselves at the tight bend at the bottom. Going on board the first passenger hovercraft service in the world and getting shown round by the pilot, getting served in a public house.
I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn't invited the others. Would John have come with me? Would I have plucked up the courage to tell him how much I loved him? Would he have returned my feelings? Life is full of "If Only". I've had my share, and I've had my share of good things too.
Do you know, I never looked at any other boys in the same way, or almost even at all while I was near John, or had the chance to be near him. He and I grew up in the same place for four very important years of our lives. Gradually we grew apart, though. Looking back, I don't think we were ever together, but I engineered it so that we were in the same places. The school had a sailing club. John and I sailed together. The school help sponsored walks for charity. John and I walked them together. He blew it academically, and left a year before I did, and I was devastated. At least I was now 17, and could drive my Dad's car, but it was hard to find an excuse to go and see him.
I went round to his house one Sunday morning. He had agreed to sail with me, but I couldn't get an answer at the door. Just as I was driving off, his parents came home, and invited me in. He was upstairs, still in bed at nearly noon. I couldn't believe being there with him, his body hardly covered by thin bedcovers, seeing every thinly covered inch of him, and just standing there, and I was starting to sweat. Of course there were several things wrong: we weren't alone, we hadn't ever talked about anything except normal "boy things", I didn't dare speak to him properly, and I didn't trust myself to talk sensibly. We agreed times and dates to sail. I left.
Around then I wrote this:
of anyone completely unattainable
This beauty that I see,
no other finds it so, but it is irresistible to me
and will be my undoing yet.
That lovely form -
so slim, so fair -
those eyes of blue and golden hair;
its gentle tresses curling round caress the ears and face.
The legs - so firm - are covered with a down of soft white hair
bedewed with droplets, damp from standing in a shower
they merge, and go through buttocks slim and round
to golden body - white where last year's sun was kept away.
Imagine this, then let your fingers stray -
Caress the hair and feel the perfect form,
begin the dawn of life again
and nibble ear and neck and face,
Then wander, tongue,
and with yourself embrace
and raise to fever pitch
When muffled beating of a drum bids all be still,
And peace to reign throughout.
He was tall, a young man. He grew a beard, and I loved him for it. He shaved it off, and I loved him for it. He existed, and I hurt for him. I have a regret that I have no real photographs of him: old school photos, the huge roll, plus house photos, and a couple of home snaps. In all of them he is pulling a silly face - typically John, but I can't see what he really looked like. Perhaps it's just as well.
Once, when we had been sailing together, his mum invited me in and gave me supper. I always knew he had a brother looking nothing like him, but I discovered two sisters as well. One looked like the brother, and one just like John. I tried to fall for her, but couldn't. She may have looked right, but she was not him. And I loved him.
You probably have come to the same conclusion that I had. Our lives were moving apart. I was facing the end of our "non-relationship". I almost thought I was facing the end of my life, but it was the end of a chapter. I haven't seen John since perhaps 1970, and I doubt I would even recognise him if I met him today.
I began to notice people I hadn't noticed before at school: other boys, beautiful boys, older and younger, but soft complexioned, all blond except one who had the most beautiful brown hair, doe eyes and long eyelashes. And I fantasised about what we might all do together.
I was desperate to know who or what I was. I've never been gay, and I'm not gay now. I've just loved deeply, desperately and powerfully, and loved the wrong person, whose gender made it unacceptable to declare my love. If John had been a girl, I could have told him, and been accepted or rejected in a conventional sense. I needed a girlfriend, and I needed to stop being a virgin, to "prove I was a man". Good Grief. [It is now March 2001. I wrote this first in October 1998, and I've been re-reading it. And I have come to be able to say the words "I am a gay man". Before I was unable to speak them, the more so because they were unthinkable. Also they were restricting. Those who know me well will know that I have a hatred of society's labels. But during the time since I wrote this, I have come to understand that I may admit to myself that I am gay. And that I am allowed to be proud of myself and happy about who and what I am.]
But I didn't know any girls, well not the ones I wanted to talk to. The solution: ballroom dancing lessons. Now don't laugh, it's fun. No really it IS. I met a girl who liked me. I think I must have made her hate me, and I'm truly sorry. She loved me, I think, as I loved John. I took advantage of her, and I think we both lost our virginity together, sordidly, in public, and for me to try to prove to my mates how manly I was. I was even careful to leave the condom lying about for people to find after the party. We never met after that evening, and I'm not proud of it. There are many things I would have done differently in my life, and that is one road I should never have trodden. She wasn't the right girl, I wasn't ready, and it was a horrible experience.
Oddly, about this time my parents noticed that I was trying out dating girls. My Mother said to me one day "I'm so glad you've found a girlfriend. We were wondering if you were going to be homosexual". Well excuse me! [Though I suppose John was in my conversation a lot].
Anyway, what did she know? Every time I saw a blond head, I looked to see if there was a beautiful face under it. Always it was boys I looked at. I never troubled to turn my head for girls, just the chance of seeing a beautiful boy.
University next. Do you know, it was even harder to work out who I was there. Boys were still beautiful, girls were a foreign country, Gay lib had just been invented but I couldn't identify with the horrid, mincing, effeminate creatures. I may have been having a troubled time, but I was and am certain that it was the fragility and maleness of boys that attracted me, not effeminacy. I've even recognised now that there were boys who lusted after me, and whose feelings I never acknowledged, because I never noticed, and because they weren't relevant to me.
I also kept up some small attempt at writing poetry:
Oh John, I love you,
and yet to tell you
I need you,
but when you're near
I say no more than:
"Hello, it's nice of you to ask me" or
"I'm so glad you could come."
The day I met you first I knew;
that night your picture stayed inside my mind
but now it's harder.
I cannot find your face for longer than a flash,
and then distorted.
I see you every day, but still the picture dims;
I know you now by everything but touch,
though bodies met
and always by design,
Though touch, to me so precious,
to you is
You always will have friends,
for I will always love you as you were
those years ago
[written in 1971, remembering a meeting in 1965 and all the loss all the way through]
I was trying to say "goodbye", without much success.
I did the usual things at university. Beer is traditional, trying very hard to deny my love for boys, especially my inability to tell John how much he figured in my thoughts came second. I found a "real" potential girlfriend. I surprised myself by asking her out, she accepted, we went to a party, came back and went to bed together. It should have been wonderful, but it wasn't. She was lovely, I was incompetent, and my heart was elsewhere.
When I left university, I got back to the "real world", and got a job as a computer programmer, in ALGOL, no less. Probably stupidly, I went back to live with my parents, which seemed like a good way to save money, but was actually highly repressive. Since then I have become certain that I lived in a home with love, but with no affection. And affection is vital for a growing young man. And I'd never really had any. Probably that is why I fell so deeply in love with John. Probably. Or maybe I would have done anyway.
Recently people have said to me "Why don't you rewrite this to show more than just physical attraction to John?" I find it hard to do it, because I can't say why I loved him. I just know that he made me feel wonderful. His humour, his smile when he was teasing me, his laughter, his personality. How can you enumerate love. Sometimes it's too hard even to express it well as an emotion. Let's leave it that I loved him. If he had ever acknowledged it, then life would have been perfect, but it wasn't lust. Well, not only lust!
But then I do write about the emotional. John and I are in all my stories. All except one. Of course he looks different in each story. But he's there. So if you want to see the love then look there, for my heart is laid bare in them.
I went out to parties. I even chatted up girls. Throughout my teens I had always been able to make out with a girl, though it was a mechanical act rather than a passionate one. I spent several months visiting a sweet young lady, one who had troubles of her own, and I wasn't very good for her, though I think I was good to her. Tricia, if you read this, I was the guy who took you to Wales, and I was the guy you made love to under the stars in front of the sailing club. And I felt for you, though it wasn't love, and you knew it wasn't. But it was good, and I thank you for liking me and trying to teach me to be a lover.
Eventually, at 26 years old, I went to a party I wasn't invited to, after leaving a party that was extremely tedious, and was introduced to a gorgeous girl, tall, with red-blond hair, slim, and beautiful, happy, ordinary in the best possible way. And I spent the night talking to her, drinking nothing but water, for who needs alcohol when drunk with the company. She is wonderful today, and no less beautiful. I saw her again a couple of days later, and realised I had fallen in love with her the next weekend. And I told her. And it surprised me more than anything else, for I thought I only loved boys.
And when I asked her, no told her to marry me, she said yes. And we both cried.
But I had a problem.
Much has been said by supposedly knowledgeable people about "coming out". I wonder if I "came out" when I told her, three weeks later, that I had spent my teenage years, my early twenties, thirteen years in love with a boy. I was so scared of losing her. But she held me, and stroked my hair, and said it was part of me, and didn't matter. She held me, but didn't understand. And I thought I could get rid of the feeling, but couldn't. Not for another twenty years.
In 1985, we had a son, and he's 14 as I write this, in 1999. He's beautiful. No, he's handsome. Tall, slim, funny, bright, intelligent, musical, happy; he's everything I fell in love with in John. Except I love him as a father, which is only right. But he went to boarding school last September, and it brought John back to me, in the foreground.
I found several things helped me. First was meeting my friend "Comicality" through his website. He and I have become very close, and his straightforward talking has helped me to get to grips with myself. Lest it be thought that my wife hasn't been vital, she wondered what was wrong in October. I was moody, sullen and horrible to live with.
It took a huge effort, but I told her all over again what I had been going through. It took her a huge effort to understand, too. She was scared, threatened by the other person who seemed to be sharing my head. And we cried a great deal. Our son was away at school, so it was easy(!) to talk, but it was hard as well. I showed her the first version of this history. She braced herself and read it, and finally understood what had been haunting me for thirty three years. The love of a ghost. But she couldn't help me. Almost, but not quite I laid the ghost. Almost.
Finally, in March I got desperate, and placed a plea for help on Comicality's messageboard. The friends I had been trying to help all tried to help me. Many suggested I should meet John. It wouldn't be difficult to find him - there is an old school club with addresses. One, Mike, a young man I have adopted as my brother, said very clearly how stupid I would be to meet John. And he was right.
Then my mother made me angry enough almost to tell her about John in front of my son! And I spent good Friday 1999 in tears. But that night my brain worked while I was asleep. In the morning I ceremonially declared the John I loved to be dead. And I grieved for him for a day. And then felt free.
John, if you ever read this, feel safe. I loved you. I remember you with great love, but I no longer love you in that way, for that John is dead to me. If we meet today I will be able to laugh with you about the boy who loved you. I can even see myself hugging you man to man, not lover to loved. Did you ever feel attracted to me? I'm not sure I need to know, now.
And I am nearly back to the carefree(!) person I was, or should have been. I am still attracted to young men. The only girl I ever loved or will love is my wife. She knows who I am, and I know who I am.
Will I tell my son?
What he does know, what he knows for certain, is that I will welcome his life's partner into my home whether that partner be a boy or a girl, and I will strive to love them as my own. I have said so to him, carefully. He knows he can talk to me about anything, and I guess he possibly wondered why! Until this spring, 2000, I told him. he said "So what?" and hugged me. "You are still my dad," he said. He is an awesome boy.
And my wife, does she feel the same?
Yes, she does. And I love her more than I can say. I fell in love with her all over again this year.
There is a postscript. I would like you to read it. It did not all go as I said above, just above. I am a man, simply, and I could not let him go without knowing. Read my postscript. When you have, please simply offer a silent prayer for John, for his wellbeing, and for all who love him and all whom he loves.
I have also not covered here how I actually have looked back on my life and seen how I grew to be gay. Or how I was always gay. Or how ever it happened. So click here, which is a discussion on orientation. It may help you to understand me, or yourself, or both of us
In addition I was outed at school. Not an ordeal anyone wants, especially when they are in fear of their parents. This describes the ordeal and my solution to it.