Yesterday evening after the gardening at Auntie’s we went to Mark’s school because the little LGBT club that Mark belongs to there had its annual meeting. Mark asked if I wanted to come along, and I agreed, particularly since the last few times they’ve met I’ve been acting totally childish and jealous.
They had two speakers there, both older guys. One was a doctor who was there to preach to the choir about safe choices. The other, Spence, was really interesting because he wanted to tell us how lucky we were to be alive now.
He did that by telling stories so that they came alive for us. He made us laugh and gawp in turns, and he told the fifteen or so people my age that were there how it was like to grow up gay in the seventies and eighties in the colliery towns of Northern England.
First off. I have never been isolated as a gay kid. When I realised what I was, I turned – like most my age – to the internet. Mostly to find info of the moving naturalist kind in the middle of the night, under the blanket, with the torch on so that my parents wouldn’t notice that I was awake. I quickly found people who were gay, and talked to them.
The “official speech” only lasted about twenty minutes, and it was more of a pep-talk about pride and community, but afterwards, me and Mark and two others took him to a pub, and I basically interrogated Spence. He was only happy to tell us all about it.
Spence tried to tell us what it was like to grow up without the internet, when schools were banned from talking about homosexuality, and when you lived in some small shit town where nobody ever mentioned homosexuality, except as a horrible thing. Spence was the loneliest kid on earth, probably, and there was nobody he could talk to. Then he escaped to London and found people like him. This was when he was in his twenties. A few years later, after the happy escape to his new and improved life, people started to drop like flies around him in the AIDS epidemic.
He was a really good story-teller, Spence. The more pints he put down, the better his stories became. He is the sort you can feed beer a whole evening, and just listen and laugh to. What he told was actually pretty horrible. Like how he endured the dozens of deaths he saw directly because they were friends of his. How could he make that death and despair sound funny? He did.
There was a point, he told us, where he was at one or two funerals a week. It came to a point where it was so numbing that he stopped caring.
While I was listening, and laughing with the others, I realised that I couldn’t understand that life. It was like listening to a recount of life in medieval Italy during the Black Death. I have nothing to relate to, beyond a some sort of shared sense of mild isolation. How can I ever hope to write a story like that? And it’s only thirty years ago. I understand the fifties better than that time.
The only point he didn’t make a joke about was the literal sea of blood that him and his mates went through to get to this point where even the conservatives leadership are pushing LGBT rights. Makes you think, and makes you cringe about the petty little objections I might have. Even now I’m not sure how to interpret it all. I can’t imagine the isolation he must have felt growing up, and certainly can’t imagine what it was like during the AIDS-epidemic.