Am I gay?

question marks, love hearts, school logo, phoenix

Four summers ago I met a woman called Cath who had tried out three husbands and who had concluded that marriage is “boring.” Her sister is a “gold star lesbian” (in fact has never even kissed a man), and still the penny didn’t drop for Cath until she herself was fifty-three, when she first fell in love—with a woman. How many women have spent their whole life not realising that they’re gay? How many women realised when they were five years old? How do you know?

From the age of five, in the mid 1970s, I adored my female teachers, particularly one who played the piano in school assembly. I was transfixed by the elegance and mobility of her hands. I felt pain when that teacher left the school. And at the age of six I tried urgently, though in vain, to summon up the courage to ask my next teacher to be my mother … as if that really could have been so.

At ten I was obsessed with Cheryl Ladd who played Chris from the 1970s TV show, Charlie’s Angels. The feeling was so strong that I hated my mother for not having named me ‘Chris.’ And I pieced together my Cheryl Ladd jigsaw over and over again.

At twelve I had a monumental crush on my best friend, who finally dumped me after two years for being so jealous and possessive over our friendship that I would routinely fend off others who dared to approach her.

In the first year of senior school, our geography teacher told us that she had been with her “girlfriend” at the weekend. What could this mean? Silence descended on the classroom, after which a note was passed round referring to our teacher as a “Les.” I had no idea what “Les” meant, yet somehow I thought it had something to do with me, and that this would not be viewed favourably, and that I should keep quiet about it. I hit the dictionary after the class. And there it was. ‘Les’ expanded into a new, scary word before my eyes: ‘Lesbian.’ Could that be me? Was I gay? How could I know?

A few months later I fell completely in love with our new French teacher. This was ‘Miss Williams’ of my published diaries (not her real name). I fell in love at first sight, no less. This love lasted until the end of the sixth form and beyond.

I would stare, captivated, at Smash Hits photos of Kim Wilde, Laura Branigan, Elaine Paige (I always felt the need to ridicule myself for this latter one).

But … was I gay?

At fourteen I met a boy called Matthew at a disco between our girls’ school and the boys’ school down the road. Matthew badgered me to go out with him until I reluctantly agreed. So, we met up with a few of his friends in town the following week, after which he walked me to my bus stop. To my dismay, he rammed my mouth with his emormous tongue, which tasted heavily of tobacco. That heralded the end of going out with boys for me.

My parents sent my sister and me on Christian holidays for teenage girls. I fell in love there, too. I was fourteen. Sharon was a divinely mature sixteen, and physically stunning. She danced The Charleston. We spent all our time together, talking and playing table tennis—for hours every day, for two weeks. Every night Sharon and I lay together, in our sleeping bags, underneath one of the beds in the dormitory we’d been assigned. When the holiday was over, we wrote lengthy letters to each other by return of post for years, ending them in pages full of kisses. Sharon would write to me about the boys she’d been dating. And she would sign off her letters telling me how much she loved me.

At fifteen I swooned at Julian Clary, and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and anyone or anything that crossed gender norms.

But … was I gay?

A year or so after we met, Sharon invited me to visit her for the weekend. We were to share her single bed for one night. She asked me whether I preferred to sleep head-to-head or head-to-toe. I lied.

For an unknown reason I had been holding the belief that I would wake up on my sixteenth birthday with the answer to the question, “Am I gay?” As it turned out, on my sixteenth birthday, the answer did not reveal itself.

On my seventeenth birthday I launched an experiment which I followed faithfully for one entire year: I changed myself in ways that I decided were more ‘feminine.’ Somehow I reasoned that this might shake out the answer to that persistent question, “Am I gay?” So, I grew my hair, I wore a skirt (every day for three hundred and sixty-five days), I wrote letters on pink paper (especially to Sharon), I made my hand-writing less angular, and I stopped writing addresses in capital letters on envelopes.

All the while I was fixating on female teachers at school, female friends, female celebrities. I had intense romantic friendships with girls. I stalked and haunted and obsessed over a considerable number of females.

I called myself a Christian, and I tried to believe, as I’d had the fear of God pumped into me. Being gay was wrong, they said. There it was, in the Bible. In my late teens Channel 4 started broadcasting gay films every Friday night—lesbian one Friday, gay men the next. This was revolutionary. And it continued for all too brief a period until Section 28 was passed in 1988, which ‘prohibited the promotion of homosexuality.’ The films were obscure, old, foreign, and bad things happened to the homosexual characters. I took on the belief that if I touched another woman, I would be ruining her life.

I wanted to be gay because it felt special. To be straight felt ordinary. But it wasn’t easy to be gay in the 1980s. When I told my best friend about the feelings I was having she screwed up her face at the thought of what I was doing (I really wasn’t) and she stopped hanging out with me. Fellow students at university told others to keep away from me because of my obsessions with other women. I tried attending the Lesbian and Gay Society, but all the women there were shaven-headed and butch. They didn’t look like Cheryl Ladd or Sharon. So, I would go to parties, get drunk, hit on men to kiss. I had pictures of women kissing on my bedroom walls. I would pretend to people that I fancied men, yet flash the tattoo I had on my wrist proclaiming my love for Miss Williams. And I would buy The Gay Times in secret. I was a mess of contradictions for some time.

In my mid twenties I kissed a woman. Somehow, eventually, some sense must have stirred within me. I kissed a woman. I had had no idea that kissing can be a turn-on.

So, how did you know you were gay? When did the penny drop?


  1. marikor
    Posted May 11, 2015 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    How did I know I was gay? Not my sister’s Girl’s World. Not my obsession with my moustachioed Physics teacher. Not my girlfriend and our awkward failures at “normality”. No, it was a one *day* stand with a guy I met in London, where I was at Uni, and we had sex in his dorm room. He was a nurse. It was not “good”, but it felt right, so much better than anything I had shared with my girlfriend. And that is when I knew I was gay and what gay was. When I knew it was me. But far before that I had known that I was different in some strange way. I had lapped up late night homosexual movies on TV. I had never been “normal”. When I was 17 I cut my long hair to try to look more masculine. My relationship with my girlfriend was an exercise in assumed normality. But she wasn’t normal for me. Some random nursing student with a penis was more normal than any girlfriend could ever be.

    • Natasha Holme
      Posted May 12, 2015 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Wonderful story, marikor, thank you. I’m intrigued by your one-day-stand. I suppose you must have been pretty open to being gay for that to suddenly happen?

  2. renee
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Wow, I have just read an excerpt of lesbian crushes at school and wanted to give appreciation. I’m 35 years old, bisexual and a writer doing memoirs of my own. What a precious reservoir of emotion you have in your diary collection. I’m amazed and touched at how delicate and intricate the teenage mind is, at times the entries reveal a fiery passion of a woman yet there are moments of true vulnerability and bafflement at your predicament of feeling such emotions.

    I am so intrigued on your perceptions and reflections on your teenage years – you definately have a story to tell, do you keep a regular blog that I could follow?

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