I ended the last part of this tale by saying that the 12 year-old me didn’t want to think about being gay or straight. And that is partly of the problem with giving anything close to a clear-cut answer to the question I still get asked “When did you first realise you were gay?” When I was 12, the last thing I wanted was to be gay. I wanted to be that boy running across the park, not the one furtively poring through the men’s underwear section of my mum’s catalogue. I spent years pretending I wasn’t attracted to boys, which makes pin-pointing the age at which I fully realised my sexuality almost impossible. Because even when I did know for sure, I was trying to convince myself I’d got it wrong and that one day I would wake up wanting nothing more than to make love to Debbie Harry.
Certainly, once I moved up to secondary school – a pretty rough all-boys comprehensive – the feelings I had for other boys became less platonic. Although, I was so naive, any sexual fantasies I had were pretty tame. And the romantic feelings never rose to the levels they had with William. They were transient yearnings, with one subject replaced with another within weeks. They were often intense though, and the effort of hiding my feelings from the boys concerned must have taken a constant effort. I obviously succeeded, as I don’t remember ever being called out for a lascivious glance.
But can I even say with absolute certainty that my sexuality had fully formed during this time. There was another major crush to come before my school life finished, and just to confuse the issue, it was on a girl.
After the fifth year at my secondary school, I progressed into the sixth-form college, which combined pupils from my school and the neighbouring girls school. It was exciting to be in mixed company again. I hadn’t always been the outsider I’d become in secondary school. In junior school I’d been popular, partly because it was mixed and maybe I found it easier to form friendships with girls, which in turn led to friendships with larger groups, including boys. In an all-boys school, this process hadn’t been possible.
My sixth-form crush was called Laura. She was full of energy and humour, and a bundle of insecurities, combined with an apparent boundless confidence. I loved her, I’m sure of that. When I found out she was dating another boy in the sixth-form, I was devastated. If I tried to talk to Laura about him, I couldn’t even bring myself to say his name, my jealousy was so acute. I wasn’t sexually attracted to Laura, but if she’d been romantically interested in me, I would have been delighted and I definitely would have dated her, maybe ended up in a sexual relationship, who knows, I may have ended up married to her. How often must that happen, that someone who knows they are gay forms a crush on a girl at an impressionable age, enters into a serious relationship, only to devastate her years later with the revelation that its other guys they actually fancy?
Perhaps that’s my answer. I genuinely knew I was gay at the point when I stopped separating romantic love and sexual love. Once I started having sexual relationships with other guys (later than most, at around 20), I stopped having crushes on girls. Once I allowed those lustful floodgates to open, my crushes were for guys only, and always a combination of romantic pining and lustful longing.
So, next time I get asked the question, “When did you realise you were gay?”, maybe I’ll give a truncated version of this essay. Watch their eyes glaze over as I recall each crush, each early lustful dream, and analyse them before judging if they marked a genuine sexual awakening, or just another step towards one.
Or perhaps I’ll just ask them ‘When did you realise you were straight,’ and let them do the hard work while I eat my dinner and sip red wine.