30th June 2011 - Ben Sweeney
I told my friends eventually, first leaving some time for them to figure it out for themselves... actually, I was hoping that they all would so that I wouldn't have to the broach the topic. The fear that comes from telling people at first is similar to taking a bungee jump without the guarantee of a bounce. It's not the fear of horror, it's not the fear of the unimaginable. It's a paranoia, a slow and very realistic dread that the peace you found in a label could be an act of war for others. To make matters worse, there is constantly a floating question, a little devil on the left-hand shoulder: Do other people need to know?
Before I told anyone, I did what I usually do when I'm uncertain: I visited the library.
There was a gay and lesbian section, both sides of a row of bookshelves. The size of it alone should have indicated to me that I was not alone.
Terrified that other readers would pass judgement, pour scorn and possibly start hurling verbal abuse at me because of the area I was browsing, I devised a scheme to remain clandestine whereby I would breeze past the shelves, discretely snatch up a book with an interesting spine, and sit in a more manly section to read it. I did this a few times over the course of a few weeks.
Not long after, it dawned on me. Nobody breezes in a library. My breezing was probably attracting enough attention on its own. I also learned quickly that an attractive spine is no way to judge the contents of a book.
Of course this is a ridiculous way to go about life, and eventually I borrowed a discreet-looking gay novel - The Lodger by Drew Gummerson (unfortunately currently out of print) - by burying it within a pile of eleven other books. I went home to read it quietly.
It was a good read. I would recommend it: good humour, apt sense of character, swift and engaging plot about a (possibly) murderous flatmate.
More importantly it wasn't about being gay, it was just featured gay characters. That was a mind-opener to the boy who felt as if homosexuality was a branded lifestyle, like trendy, or skater, or goth. Here were characters that worried about normal things (because all young teenagers think the adult world is about layers of worries), like paying rent, and getting along with friends.
So I got bolder and bolder with my gay book borrowing at the library, learning more and more that being gay was not that important a defining characteristic, until I stopped borrowing them. I didn't stop because someone caught me; I stopped out of boredom. I needed to read something else.
I was gay, and it didn't seem so important anymore.
And I am glad that I don't have to feel paranoid anymore when book browsing. I don't think this is just a change in my mentality either. Since my (not so) clandestine operations in the library I have noticed a merging of subjects. Gay fiction is less and less a product solely in the gay section of bookshops and libraries, and standard A-Z fiction is becoming graced more and more with gay characters.
This is a good thing, that the rest of the world is catching up with authors who had already realised that being gay is really no different. I realize it seems contradictory that I'd be writing about something I feel is unimportant. But it is not without importance. The world of fiction is still just that. In real life it is still possible to feel caged by a fear of other people's views.
Other people don't need to know about your sexuality, but it shouldn't be a problem when it comes up. For me, being gay, as a statement of who I am, isn't about the things that go on behind closed doors; that's private and doesn't need labels. Being gay, saying, 'I am gay' shows that I can talk as freely as everyone else about what make us who we are.
The London Gay Pride March is this Saturday. Come party, and show your support for the freedom to talk at whatever volume suits you.
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