Before I took my GCSEs, I went hunting for somewhere to continue my education. The place turned out to be Middlesbrough, where I got an unconditional acceptance to a higher education journalism course (I’m don’t mean to boast, but, hey…) and went on to do my NUJ prelims.
The catch was I had to move to Middlesbrough from the rural village in North Yorkshire my parents were living in. All was not well at home, with my dad behaving oddly (he had MS and lesions on his brain; we wouldn’t know this for many years) and me unhappy with being one of the few gays in the village. So I packed my trunk and ran away to Middlesbrough, taking a room in house with a mature student and her children. I was poor, I was cold, I was an idiot and I was completely out of my depth while thinking I was the bee’s knees. I was back home in under six months.
Flash forward a few years and it’s time to leave home again. Having sat on the dole for a long time, going somewhere – anywhere – with work prospects appealed. My parents had retired to a small rural town where the only work was in the cattle market, at the MAFF offices or in a supermarket. And even that was hard to come by. I told the JobCentre I was moving to find work, which they loved because it got me off their books. I told my JobClub that I was moving and they reported me to Adjudication for not being prepared to stay if work was offered. Joined-up thinking as usual.
Off I went to York, where I found a job – in the JobCentre, with Adjudication – in almost no time at all. I had a lovely flat there. Mum would pop down to visit and we’d do the touristy things York has to offer, then she’d buy me dinner and get the train home. It was lovely.
One weekend there was something called “Pride in the Park” held in York. I plucked up my courage and went along, without telling my sister who was by now living with me: she was entertaining my half-brother who was visiting from Leeds. I didn’t come home that night, as I was having some truly fantastic sex (after a drought of about 18 months). I didn’t come home in the morning, either, and for the same reason. Gosh but sex is good.
This is before mobile phones, so when I pitched up at the flat in the late afternoon, my sister was beside herself. A shouting match then occurred as I couldn’t explain myself. Eventually, to shut her up, I told my sister I’d spent the night with a guy named Harry. She exploded. “Harry? What kind of name is that? Couldn’t you find a bloke with a 20th century name?” And thus was I out of the closet to my sister.
A few weeks later, my mum paid a visit and we went to the theatre. Still buzzing from Pride in the Park, I had a bracelet on that said “OUT AND PROUD”. While I’d covered up for her visit the couple of centrefolds I had added to my bedroom wall, I never thought to take the bracelet off.
At the theatre, I went to get drinks for us, buying three pints of beer to my sister and mum’s shock (it never occurred to me to buy them halves, of course, but I got a lecture about bladder capacity which means I now generally ask in a sideways way. When I forget to ask, women get pints, because OBVIOUSLY and DUH and I’m not a douchebag).
After the lecture, I had reason to reach for something. This exposed my wrist and the bracelet. My mum’s hand shot out and grabbed my arm. “What’s that say?” she asked. “Um, it, um, says, “out and… proud” I replied in a vanishing voice.
“So you’re gay then?” she asked.
“Yes”, I said.
“Do you want an ice cream tub to take into the performance?” she asked.
And thus did I leap out of the closet, in a rather shuffling and hunched manner. If I had my time over again… I wouldn’t do anything on that day differently.
If you like this post, may I recommend There Must be Fifty Ways to Tell Your Mother for further reading? It’s a lovely book. [Affiliate link]