I was out for a drink with my best mate recently when another, younger friend of hers appeared, clearly gay, gloriously camp and wearing heels.
This, in the town I grew up in, was fairly extreme. We’re not totally alien to the wild variations of humanity in the rural end of Hampshire but, when confronted with something or someone that breaks the fourth wall on our comfortable, farm based existence we do sometimes behave like we would in a zoo when confronted with some strange creature from afar, eyes wide, mouths slightly open and no sudden movements in case you spook the beast.
For me, clearly belonging somewhere near the same end of the spectrum, it brought up a memory and an opportunity to reflect.
Rewinding 12 or so years, I was not yet HIV Positive, I was enduring my later teens and in the grip of a depression so deep and so dark it felt that I would never be able to claw my way out of the hole I had fallen in to.
The depression had been growing for some time, – it grew initially out of a feeling of insecurity, a lack of confidence born of some substantial bullying at an early enough age to have inflicted some real damage and which still existed like a wound on the skin, able to be opened easily.
The wound, at that time, was wide open – I felt increasingly trapped in my home town and was struggling against deep insecurities and feelings of isolation that stemmed from being the only gay in the village and having no-one around that I could talk to, if only to reassure me that everything I was feeling was entirely normal.
As a way of coping, I became increasingly self-destructive, – drinking too much, smoking too much and sleeping with guys just so I didn’t feel so alone.
I developed a fondness for black clothing, dyed my hair and found a pair of heeled boots. Looking back at photos, I looked… well… somewhere between terrifying and fucking ridiculous. Being naturally ginger and fair skinned, having black hair, clothing and – yes – nails I looked like a fairly fresh corpse.
In some strange way though, it worked, – like a performer who embodies their character when they put on a costume, as soon as I was done painting my nails black and completing the ‘death mask’ look I felt like I cared a little less.
It was while wearing this costume that I finally faced down some of my fears, – I stood up to a group of guys who used to walk around the town, not really going anywhere.
They weren’t really organised enough to be a ‘gang’, more a collaboration of guys around the same age as me who drank White Lightening and shared a communal brain-cell, focused entirely on fighting and fucking. They were my home town’s cavemen, just looking for a mammoth and instead they found a mammoth queer.
I had become adept at spotting them from a distance and diverting my route to avoid them, partly because I was afraid, partly because I hadn’t completely mastered running in heels.
On this day, I did not divert, I spotted them and kept walking in their direction. – Naturally it was not long before I heard the shouting – “Oi, faggot”, “Fucking queer” and saw them rise and move towards me.
As we drew closer, it dawned on me that I had no idea what would happen when we collided, though I think by that point I didn’t really care, – I continued on my path until I stood directly before the one who appeared to be in possession of the group’s brain-cell on this occasion, I feel able to make this supposition based upon the fact he was wearing a flat-cap, presumably to keep the precious grey matter within.
No one moved or spoke for what seemed like an eternity, they had their mammoth cornered, but, in the moment, seemed at a loss for what to do next.
“Did you lot want to fuck me or something, because you keep calling me over?”
Where the words came from I still don’t know. Where the bollocks to say the words came from, I will never know. They said nothing, but seemed to be wondering who would punch me first, I decided not to give them the chance and carried on walking forward.
I expected to be smacked around the back of the head, to feel some weight colliding with my skull, legs or back, followed by the warm flow of trickling blood from an open wound, but nothing came. The walk home seemed to take longer that day and I dared not look back.
It was a simple act, if reckless and stupid. But afterwards my insecurity seemed to bite a little less, I didn’t feel so lonely. If I had the guts to stand up to a group of guys who, in any other circumstances would have been willing and able to gleefully end my life, why should I be afraid of them ever again?
It’s only now that I realise I had the resource in me to stand up to the pack all the time, but because of the state of my depression was unable to access it for so long. I’ll be honest, it’s taken most of the intervening twelve years to reconcile some of my deep seated fears and doubts, to develop tools to manage my insecurities and begin to accept that I am what I have always been.
What hurts now is that I allowed myself to be cowed, hurt and assaulted by people picking on me for being ginger or short or gay for so long. I wonder what I missed out on when I was too scared to push myself out into the world.
Either way, the evidence was there in front of me, I am no longer the only resident gay in the village.
I’ve moved on, left the village, found comfort in my own skin through accepting myself and no longer feel the need to put on a costume to hide behind and protect myself.
I hung up my heels and oddly enough, walk taller than ever.
Steve – you can follow Steve on twitter as @SteveOfTheMarch
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