In my earlier blog I talked about the first time I remembered being aroused by a sexual explicit image of a naked guy. But was this claustrophobic encounter with an erotic image the exact point when I realised I was gay?
Or did my gay awakening start with a kiss – at the age of ten, on the seam where the hard playground of my junior school met the sports fields? I was running, William was chasing. Breathless, I had fallen and William, yellow-blonde hair hanging across his jubilant face – a face I can barely picture now – had fallen on top of me. And then came the kiss – just a rapid peck on the cheek.
‘Why did you do that?’ I screeched – because that was what you did when another boy kissed you.
William responded with a shrug. And then we were surrounded by other boys, clamouring for the game to continue, oblivious to the fact that my world had been set spinning.
When you try and recall every memory of someone, it’s surprising how few you actually have. Someone you think of as so significant has been filed away as a handful of snapshots, adding up to a few minutes or even seconds.
This is how I remember William.
I told him I was gay – although I used the world homosexual – and that he was the cause. So, maybe I’m right to give the answer to that inevitable question as ‘when I was 10.’ This was definitely the first time I told anyone I was gay. It was also the last time I told anyone for a very long time.
I remember clearly the moment I made the confession. We were on the path that led to one of the side entrances to the school. I had run after him, wanting to confess. He seemed to take the revelation in his stride. He was 10 – he probably didn’t understand. I only knew the word because I’d watched an episode of Penmaric, a TV costume drama where the term had been used to describe two men. My older sister had filled me in on the meaning and I had related it to my feelings for William.
But William just wanted to be a 10-year-old boy– kick a tennis ball around the playground with his mates; play kiss chase – with girls; talk about how much he fancied our teacher, Mrs Waterlake. If he fancied Mrs Waterlake, why had he kissed me? I don’t think Mrs Waterlake even liked William that much. I’m sure I saw her sigh once when his hand shot up for the tenth time in one lesson.
But one lunch-break I told him I loved him in the playground and he said he loved me too. I thought this was it, that William was finally admitting his feelings for me.
‘Don’t send me a Valentines card though!’ William laughed. I laughed too, although I didn’t see why not. The next day when I mentioned our joint declaration, William said he’d been joking.
I had a girlfriend at the time called Jane-Anne. Poor Jane-Anne was so earnest about our relationship. We would take her dog – an old mongrel called Joe – for walks over the park and talk about when we were married, how many children we would have, what we would name them.
I went along with it all, although I felt nothing – no pre-pubescent butterflies, or yearnings. Jane-Anne had dark, straight hair down to her waist, large hazel eyes and a mouth that seemed permanently pursed with indignation.
She sensed, I realise now, that my heart wasn’t really in our relationship. I failed every test. When she asked if I thought she was beautiful, I’d reply, honestly, that I thought the new Charlie’s Angel was beautiful, but that Jane-Anne was very pretty. I did like looking at beautiful women. I loved the idea of a woman who was both beautiful and tough. Wonder Woman took my breath away. But it wasn’t a lustful admiration.
But then neither were my feelings for William based on anything carnal; I was a genuine innocent, with a regular early bedtime that protected me from anything post-watershed TV might have had to offer – I’m not sure how Penmaricand its homosexual heroes slipped into my awareness, but even they were just two men who loved each other – I never really thought about them having sex. So, perhaps this wasn’t the beginnings of my sexuality taking form. Wasn’t it just a platonic crush, like millions of other boys have, who go on to be totally heterosexual?
It was an intense crush though. A lot for my 10-year-old brain and heart to take. I thought constantly about when I could return William’s kiss.
We were walking home in the dark from school when the opportunity arose. William’s younger brother, Andrew, was with us, but other than him the road was deserted – we’d stayed late to rehearse for the school play. I kept whispering that I was going to do it – and I don’t remember him objecting – not to the idea of the kiss itself, just the presence of his brother.
William lived on the corner of Brompton Road, less than two-minute walk from my house. As he and Andrew stopped opposite the entrance to his road, looking left and right as they prepared to cross, I planted the kiss on his cold, smooth cheek.
I turned and walked away the second my lips left his skin. My legs weighed nothing and I thought I was going to fall. I made it to the driveway of my house and glanced back. William was laughing and rubbing his cheek.
William had a birthday party a week later. I wasn’t invited.
‘My mum says I can’t be your friend anymore,’ William told me when I protested, ‘Andrew told her about you kissing me.’
‘You kissed me first,’ I hissed. Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just sloped back to my desk, already carrying the weight of loss, and hurt – and the taint of guilt and self- hatred that would mark me as an outsider throughout the remainder of my school life.
If my love for William was platonic, then maybe it wasthat porn magazine that ignited my early realisation that I was gay. I remember that we hid it under some leaves near to the Hollow Tree, planning to come back for another furtive flick through its charged pages.
And then we’d raced each other back to the road. And for a while, feet thumping on the hard, dry ground, wind whipping my face, heart pounding, I wasn’t queer or straight, I was just a 12-year-old boy running across a park.