Steven Smith’s latest tale tells us why it’s not just at Pride we should be holding our heads high and loving who we are and one and another. It’s never been more important to shout from the roof, to let our voices be heard, and to educate others.
Why have so many LGBTQ people had to turn to counselling? It is time to wake up and realise we are not the ones with the issues.
It is going to be one of those amazing weekends. Not only am I set to see legendary American actress Sally Field in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Old Vic…but Liz is jetting in from New York for the weekend and joining me for the show then dinner afterwards for my post-birthday celebration at Sexy Fish. That will be the cherry on the cake, Liz is a hoot. Can a boy want more?
However, the night before Liz texts to say that she has messed up and booked the wrong flight and now won’t be landing at Heathrow till six in the evening. Not to worry, she’ll jump straight on the Heathrow Express and will have one of her London PAs waiting to take her bags to the London apartment so she can be with me for the start of the show.
I am not sharing her optimism and tickets are like gold dust. The suggestion that I should take someone else goes down like a lead balloon.
So here I am, flying solo on a Friday at the Old Vic. The crowd is rather conservative, and I decide to take my seat at five past seven as there is not a text from Liz. My seat is on the front row of the dress circle, empty at this point except for one grey haired man in the centre of the row, next to my seats. He is wearing a checked jacket and dark glasses, making him look like he has been carved into a CIA agent. Judging by the large American audience, he could be. I ask him politely with a full 25 minutes to curtains up, “Excuse me”.
You would have thought I had offered to give him a lap dance, he looked so put-out at having to get his ass up. Either that or he’s a homophobe, as Liz suggested later. It’s not something that enters my thoughts as I was not singing “I am coming out”.
As the theatre fills up, it is clear that Liz is not making the start of the show. The CIA agent who is sitting next to Liz is standing up. I am not sure why, then he snaps at me, “IS THIS PERSON COMING?” I explain that she may be stuck at the airport, which gets me a huff and scowl as he sits down.
There is no sign of Liz as the first act finishes. But there is a text to say that she is delayed due to someone taking her bag at Heathrow. She is now on her way and at Waterloo as she is texting. Translation: she went for a spray tan and wash and blow dry at Paddington station.
Just as the second act is about to start, I look back, and there is Liz, wearing a sheer bright yellow dress and an off-the-shoulder petite leather jacket. Liz is glistening in body oil, hair blow-dried to perfection, in heels she can barely walk in. She is monopolising two ushers to show her where row A is.
Which one is Sally?
What’s amusing me more is what the CIA man’s reaction will be. The curtain rises and here comes Liz. The CIA man looks furious as he hears the words, “Excuse me” coming along the aisle, until he clocks this bright yellow vision of loveliness. Like a moth to the flame, he helps her to into her seat with a huge smile. He even takes his glasses down as Liz explains, “My plane was late darling”, talking over the now performing actors. She squeezes my leg and says in a loud voice, “Which one is Sally Field?” I whisper, “Be quiet”.
Liz manages this for a full ten minutes in between fidgeting and a lot of sighs. Then she comments loudly on the performance.
“What a simply horrible family darling, they should all be in counselling. Have I told you I am going into therapy?”
Later, I find out she is having cognitive behavioural therapy to stop dating bad boys. Not a life or death situation, but important to her. Over dinner, I could have told her the answer again she likes younger hot men (go enjoy), but a fresh ear always helps.
But she is right that the 1947 dysfunctional American family really needed help. Let’s face it, as Boy George says, “It takes two of them to make one of us”. Boy, what a mess many heterosexuals families can make of things…and some point the finger at us!
Maybe the very structure of family life needs re-grouping. So, when a loved one comes out, they find acceptance and happiness. Either way, it is time for positive change.
My parent’s reaction at me coming out at 15 in the 70s could make for an interesting play. No, they did not throw me out or hit me with a belt.
But among the many things they tried was a visit to the Samaritans for counselling. For sure I was not suicidal. It was explained there was a man there who had been in the Navy and knew about those types of people.
You’re kidding, was my thought even back then. But there I was, sitting talking to a man in a very unsightly blue pullover who was clearly uncomfortable and kept clearing his throat.
“You know homosexuals do not all look like your heroes Marc Bolan, David Bowie, or the group Sweet?” He coughed and continued.
Big hairy bikers
“In Portsmouth, there are big hairy bikers with taches and a lot of sailors waiting to take advantage of young men like you. You…you need to know this before making this type of choice.”
I think that it was a relief to him when I left. My mum said, “How was that?” “Great”, I replied, “How do you get to Portsmouth?”
Bless, there was even counselling from a man from CHE – Campaign for Homosexual Equality – who mum said reminded her of a friend of hers (we now know why he never married). He could not wait to have one to one time with me, and his idea of counselling was to expose himself.
As you can imagine, my early thoughts on therapy and counselling were not positive. Although, if a sensible therapy or any course makes you feel better about yourself or teaches you something, I say embrace it.
It is a rainy Sunday morning, and I am meeting my pal, Harry. He has just completed a two-day course empowering him as a Gay Man. Of course, I am excited to hear all the details, any self-help course fascinates me. My rule is as long as it’s not a cult and you feel better about yourself at the end, fill your boots with them.
Harry is keen to tell me about it.
“It’s amazing”, he tells me. Sipping his latte, he goes on to tell me he wishes he had done this a few years back.
Everyone’s a bloody life coach
“It really exposes you and then builds you back up.” I smile and say how great and ask who leads the class. He replies, “life coaches”.
Two of my least favourite words of now. Although there are life coaches who train for years at university, I’ve also observed that everyone and their mother seem to be a Life Coach, some after only training by phone or going on a quick course and that’s dangerous, but my face hides my feelings, and he’s pleased with the outcome. That’s what counts.
Of course, many people who go on courses of self-awareness need more validation and want you to want to go on them too.
“It takes real balls to do this”, he says, popping his latte down. “Yes, sure”, I say.
His statement about it taking balls is repeated several times during the next half hour. As we are about to part, there is a final statement:
“I say if you have the balls to do it, go on this course!”
Smiling, I stop. “Harry, people go on those courses to become me, I like being gay and who I am.”
There is a genuine look of shock on Harry’s face. He blurts out, “isn’t that narcissistic?”
Is that not the point of the course, to come out the best, most confident version of you? Being British, confidence can be mistaken for narcissism. It’s not, but I like being me.
That is what I wish for this Pride, for everyone to be the very best version of themselves and to be proud to be LGBTQ. It’s not narcissistic to love who you are, it’s what I would want for everyone. Any course or therapy counselling that makes you feel better about you, do it.
However, let’s not forget it’s not your fault you’re being made to feel that you need help because you’re gay. It’s other’s issues that have led you there. Saying that, many therapies and self-help courses can be a huge help and lead to you feeling better.
Equally, there are dangerous ones, such a conversion therapy.
There is no straight conversion therapy. I was screaming at the television when a Dr Michael Davidson was given airtime to discuss his therapy with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. Dr Davidson is a sad gay man claiming to have turned straight (he could probably not get a shag in a gay brothel). He says with two years of prayer and therapy, he can turn a gay man heterosexual.
I was screaming, “Could he take a straight man and do this the other way around? No!! That takes a six pack!”
Jokes apart, thank God Piers told Dr Davidson deservingly to “Shut up, you bigot”. Why was he allowed on the show or given the chance to spread his thoughts? It is a free world to speak as long as you’re not spreading hate like Dr Davidson.
According to a survey by Stonewall in 2018, over half of the LGBTQ community will experience depression (52 per cent). One in eight LGBTQ youths have attempted to take their own lives. According to The Independent, a quarter of us have felt discrimination against us at the hands of the NHS. Psychology Today says that one in four of us will seek help but possibly twice that many are too afraid to seek advice.
Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and for once, my passive attitude goes out the door, and I am very angry and want to shout from the top of the roof. F—— OFF, leave us alone.
Hatred and ignorance do not define us. We are your doctors, nurses, police, we make you look and feel good, we are you but often better dressed.
To the straight or confused, even one word from your mouth that is muttered that might make us feel bad means that you are the ones that need counselling and should talk about your issues. It is time to educate the haters.
People like Anne Widdecombe have a public voice telling us we have a disease that one day science can cure. I AM NOT SICK THANKS ANNE. Your hatred and ignorance are, and you should never be heard of again.
Two young lesbians are attacked and left bloody by a vicious mob on a London bus. We need to stay vocal and educate wherever we can. Right now, it’s two steps forward and one step back, and we are entering a scary time.
We need people like Diversity Role Models to go into schools, not to teach about sex but to educate young people on diversity, love, and tolerance. Only by starting at the core can we make a difference. It’s not going to be easy.
Failed Tory leadership Esther McVey thinks parents have the right to decide whether children learn about our very existence and she voted against gay marriage.
Shocking! In my opinion, it should be compulsory for all parents to take parenting classes that include LGBTQ education. There should be discussions about what if your son does not want to fit the so-called mould and play football or if your daughter doesn’t want to dress dolls.
It is bewildering that you have to take a test to drive a car and if you park in the wrong place for two minutes, you’re held responsible. Yet something as precious as a child, people are simply left to get on with it.
Anyone convicted of a homophobic or hate crime should be made to attend workshops to teach them about the community they have hurt, as well as being given a custodial sentence.
Recently I was asked, “What obstacles have I had to overcome as a gay man?” I took a deep breath, and my 58 years on this planet seemed to flash before me. It would be easy to reply with a tale of woe, highlighted with a lot of colour. However, my answer was? “Absolutely none.”
Others have issues with me; their bigotry, prejudiced attitudes, hatred, and petty jealousies over the years do not define me. They are the ones who have to overcome who I am.
Those with loyalty and love in their hearts for me and the people who have inspired me and shown me a path have affected me, but never will I allow the haters or ignoramuses to make me a victim.
I wake up happy to be me, and I have pride in my journey in life. Honestly, looking back to when I was 15 and came out my feeling was, “Thank
God it explains so much”, and I could not wait to hit the bright lights of London and enter what I hoped was a new life.
Yes, there were many issues with who I was and how vocal I was about my sexuality. At a young age, I tried to explain, often to impossible ears. Who thought I should hang my head in shame or beg to wake up and find it was all phase, and I could date a nice girl?
So, I carved out a life of my own.
Even as a young man in the late 70s, the scene was not always welcoming and could be predatory. But I was lucky that a few gems made me safe. My journey was not full of obstacles but experiences, some positive and some negative and it has made me who I am. I have never walked away from a homophobe but have listened calmly. Yet I have been sensible to know when I am danger of physical harm.
LGBTQ people in Saudi, Chechnya, Iran and the 70 other countries where it’s illegal to be gay have obstacles and hurdles.
I am grateful for my lot this Pride and happy that I was born this way.