You never met my Uncle Alan. Not actually a blood relative, he was a dear freind of my father’s and a dearer friend of mine. He came to most of the family events, and was kind, funny and helpful. He was a dear who knew how to entertain and delight a young child and talk with a theatre-mad older one.
I must have been about twelve when I said to Mum that it was a pity Alan had never married for he would have made such a wonderful father. She said that he was homosexual. (This was years ago, remember.) I was puzzled. Desire was beginning to put exploratory feelers into my world, and I understood enough of the need for privacy over it to have something like understanding.
I was standing in my parents’ sitting room as my mother explained that this dear and kind man had had his life made a living hell because other people could not accept that he desired his own gender, not the other.
I stood looking at their old fashioned curio cabinet as I understood more. Nobody despised him as much as he despised himself, because he could not want a woman and he had to want men. This had ruined his life. My mother seemed to think this sad but not totally unreasonable. Not me.
I realised at once that it completely ridiculous. There could not possibly be any merit in desiring one gender or the other. If it was fine for women to be desired and fine for men to be desired, then it could not possibly matter if a man or a woman was doing the desiring.
People had taught my Uncle Alan a monstrous lie and they ruined his life, and I was utterly furious. Utterly. And I swore: never again, not on my watch. I have never seen or read or heard anything to change my mind.
I had a huge advantage over most people in this debate. I never knew a strange gay monster. Gay meant a dear friend. It never entered my mind for a moment there was anything odd in desiring ones own sex.
I have heard so many permutations of Alan’s story. Most of the early ones had a huge element of shame. Entirely socially produced shame. There was a lot of wasted love. More recent ones tend to focus on happy endings. On love found, on finding happiness in seeking the good of another. This gives me great joy. That some people are stuck with my mother’s understanding makes me sad. What was understandable in 1964 is no longer so easy to account for.
Two things have not changed. One is the courage of men and women who are prepared to discuss their most intimate lives until others can see that it is staggering normal to desire your own gender. The other thing is, sadly, that the fight still goes on, because some people are still trying to shame others by teaching the lie that the love for one’s own gender is different. Not on my watch.