[Yes, yes! I’m already insulting myself in my own head for being that prick who put a foreword in a newspaper article about my overt queerness, but stick with it. The cheesiness, self-indulgent narcissism and unconventionality of this piece gets worse as we go along, but do keep reading, there very well may be some laughs along the way.]
Over the last month gathering content for this so-beautifully diverse month of queer content, I have heard so many stories of people struggling/coming to terms with/supressing/celebrating/questioning their LGBT identities, and it has been such an incredible experience to be exposed to all these different journeys people have gone on – being even more inspiring that so many went through this all alone, with the struggles happening internally.
So in an effort to personally thank all the contributors from this month’s content for their raw honesty, and faith in me to deal with their stories delicately and respectfully; I humbly offer you this: My queer story, how exactly I came to be the ambiguous queer-identifying semi-cis human I am today.
Thank you for being brave and thank you for inspiring me to finally write this piece I have been procrastinating writing for a year now.]
LGBT and Me
So, like all good stories about queer young people, my story starts back in high school, back when Stuart was just a budding high school student in east Edinburgh.
And like all these stories, it started with a boy.
Now, before I go on to said-boy, I would like to address that I say this is where it started. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure when the ball of my confusion with sexuality, identity and all things Stuart was in fact set in motion.
Maybe it was from birth; maybe from my teacher in primary school who was the cheeriest, loveliest of gay men, who remains to this day one of my favourite teachers; or maybe some uneventful and seemingly benign occurrence in my early life that altered the way my brain saw the world, and the beautiful creatures that are humans.
But this point I am about to go on to ramble about in painful detail is the first memory I can recall of a queer thought popping into little baby Stu’s head.
As I was saying before my hideously long tangent, there was this boy, Franklyn.
(For the sake of his privacy, and to prevent my current close friends looking him up and judging me, and saying, yet again, that I have “a type”, his name has been altered.)
Franklyn was in quite a few of my classes in high school, and I’m not going to beat about the bush: He was quite an attractive guy – still is, for that matter.
Now I think my attraction to this particular boy developed over the time exposed to this bloody lovely face of his. But there was one specific moment where it maybe went from “that boy has handsome features” to “damn! That boy is hot”.
One night, up popped on my Facebook timeline a photo of this boy shirtless, leaning casually against a fence, with boxers just peaking above the waistline and “abs 4 days” – as the old-age saying goes.
When my eyes first caught this photo on my computer screen it was like all the air that was (and ever had been) in my body was punched out in one quick moment.
This reaction to a shirtless boy probably should have clued me about not exactly being the straightest nail in the toolbox.
But, of course, young repressive Stuart being the denying little fiend he was, put this attention that had been drawn to this boy down to jealousy.
I wanted to look like him, I wanted to have his hair and his jawline, and his lovely soft (looking) lips.
It wasn’t that I wanted to be with this boy – oh no, I’m not gay, of course, I just want to be like him.
This denial went on for quite a few years after this first boy.
I would love to say that the gay teen film’s cliché tropes stopped after this first boy, but that wouldn’t quite be true. Next I ticked “falling for the best friend” off my teen-film trope list.
Again, I will not divulge the boy’s real name, but you know who you are, boy. And, quite honestly, I thank you for helping me through the time that was probably the darkest in my story. But back to you, general reader.
I was infatuated with this boy, and being my best friend there wasn’t really anything I didn’t know about him. We saw each other almost every day, and this probably didn’t help my growing internalised hatred of myself for the ‘wrong’ feelings bounding around inside my skull.
Again I blamed the infatuation on jealousy, thinking I wanted to be more like him.
This lead to an eating disorder and some really dark times in my mental health for almost a year, but this article is not about that time and I shall move on.
‘Crush’ would be too light a word for what I felt, but as I went on to discover a year or so later, love was too heavy a word.
By this point I was in full clichéd denial mode, working my way through all the different excuses you’ve come to expect from an angsty gay teen: “It’s just a phase”, “Maybe I’m just bi, but for only him”. The list of justifications I made in my head goes on and on.
However by this point I was quite heavily indulging in those types of videos on the old interweb and there was no real argument to be made for my heterosexuality according to my search history.
Yet on I went, flat-out denying my crush and my sexuality when asked point-blank on a daily basis.
I believe quite strongly that our exposure to media which relates to us plays a strong part in forming a queer identity: Whether it be watching (and obsessing over) YouTube montages of Kurt and Blaine; watching (obsessing over) and rewatching the Maxxie-focused episodes in generation one of Skins; or simply looping the music video to The Maccabees song Toothpaste Kisses (which isn’t directly homosexual in its nature, but I took my film student “love is love” reading as I pleased).
I did all of these things, and kind of still do actually, yet found myself saying to myself on an hourly basis that this wasn’t who I was, and these dirty thoughts of men kissing would go away after a while.
They did not go away, and in fact they only grew stronger as I grew more and more mature, both emotionally and physically.
The notion that I just wanted to be like these aforementioned boys wasn’t really working as an argument; I didn’t want to have their lips or have their body, but wanted to feel these features with my lips and my body.
After a while, daydreaming about my best friend wasn’t enough.
Loneliness, as it does to this day, got the better of me, and I acted impulsively. I started up a strange Snapchat exchange with another boy in my year, whose sexuality, like mine, wasn’t exactly worth the debate.
It first started as strong flirting, but then – being the hormone filled youngers we were – clothes began to come off and snaps began to be chatted.
I make this whole encounter sound like it took place over a matter of weeks or months, in actuality it was a day or two, with the (probably quite illegal) Snapchatting lasting only a matter of hours.
Vivid memories remain to this day of the feeling in my stomach when the realisation that I had sent semi-nude photos to another boy began to sink in.
The shame I felt over the next few days was indescribable.
My skin felt dirty no matter how much I washed, and my throat was dry no matter how much water I forced into myself.
I would say that it was at this point I dealt with the strongest internalised homophobia I can remember: I both fag-shamed and slut-shamed myself into a depressive state whenever I was alone for more than an hour or so. Sleeping became very difficult.
To this day I don’t really know the exact time people in high school actually knew about me, but I believe it was around then (if not earlier) that people began to connect the dots.
In an interview earlier in the month, Michael Mullen made a statement that “the world normally tells you before you tell yourself”.
And until I heard that said, I didn’t quite realise the significance to my story.
I think the world didn’t just tell me about my sexuality before I told myself, but went one step further and accepted me for it.
I began to see what my twat of a brain had never taken into account, and that’s the world wasn’t quite as hostile as the prick running the show inside of me was.
From this point it got a lot easier. I wasn’t ready for a public “I’m gay everyone” dance number, but one by one I told my friends about my feelings for my best friend, and I was met with almost the exact same response from all of them.
A laugh, then a prompt “duh!”. There was, in fact, nothing more comforting.
After a rather confusing summer of not really knowing what to feel and for who, then I fell in love – properly this time, not simply chasing after the straight boy anymore.
But yes, fully head over heels, reciprocated feelings, “holy smokes this is the real thing”, in love.
With young Stuart promptly going from a rather closeted lonely and nervous high school boy to a not-so-closeted, nervous high school boy with a boyfriend.
I was happy and I like to think he was too.
I’m not going to go into detail too much about the relationship itself, but this relationship helped me move my identity forward in ways I didn’t think possible.
Because me and this boy were dating we started spending lots and lots of time together. We were sleeping at each other’s house on weekends, going for long walks in beautiful placse and eating lunch together most days in high school.
This didn’t go unnoticed, however, and soon both our parents began to clock on to our new found fondness for one another.
Over time I assume it just became more and more obvious. The first of two most nerve-racking moments in my life took place in Orlando, Florida.
I was about 10 days into a two-week holiday with my family and was missing my then-boyfriend quite a bit by this point, so was in rather low spirit. As we were sitting at a restaurant table waiting to be seated, my dad turns to me and asks: “So, are you missing [boyfriend’s name] a lot then?”.
This seems like such a small thing, but in that moment I thought I was going to choke, throw up and pass out all at the same time. Being confronted with a question that quite indirectly probed into my relationship with a boy – something that I had hidden from these people in my life for years – took me very much off guard, and I don’t even remember how I responded or acted at that moment.
The second stomach clenching moment was what I consider my “coming out”, despite my vocal hatred for the concept itself.
I don’t really remember even a rough time for when this happened but it was after the Florida holiday, and before I left for uni. I was heading out somewhere and was just about to leave the house when my mum called me upstairs.
When I got there she outright asked “Is [boyfriend’s name] your boyfriend?”.
I answered a quiet, “yeah”, and awaited the response I had been dreading for years.
“Oh, OK. I thought so, me and your dad were just wondering”.
And that was that really. I left to where I was heading out to.
My stomach was in knots at the time, but looking back now I wouldn’t have chosen any other way for that event to have taken place.
It wasn’t a grand spectacle, or an intense sit down discussion at the dinner table, it was a quiet ‘just checking’ question in passing that cleared up any ambiguity on the subject.
I am endlessly happy that this will forever be my beautifully understated “coming out to Mum and Dad” story.
Fast-forward a couple of months and off I went to uni, and honestly it was the biggest and best shift there has ever been in my life.
Upon arrival to Stirling, I met the most amazing group of people, and began to really see how much queerness I was missing out on in high school.
I think when I was in school I lived straight but loved gay. I get how pretentious that sentence sounds, but it seems the most concise way to describe how I look back on my identity.
I did ‘normal straight guy stuff’, but was just in a relationship with a boy.
Despite this probably being an unconscious decision, I feel I masked the actions and behaviours I felt like doing inside, because I didn’t want to be another cliché.
I don’t think I wanted it to define me or be the first thing people saw when they looked.
This was sort of turned on its head, though, very early in my first ever semester at university.
I was at a social that had, by this point, reached Dusk. Now the society were all dancing around loving the fact there was no one but us on the dance floor.
Then two of the people I had met earlier in the night began to vogue in the centre of the group, they were covered in glitter and were rocking some unconventional fabrics.
In this moment I was intimidated and anxious as well as excited to the core from simply watching this incredible display of queerness. I was scared of these two people, but wanted nothing more than to be them in that moment – and this time wanting to be like them was simply that, this wasn’t more closet Stu stuff.
It wasn’t that they were the centre of attention, or even that they were good at vogueing – which, in fairness, they really were. The thing that hit me so hard in the chest was how accepted this was: Two rather overtly queer individuals almost shouting their queerness at the club with their bodies.
I think from that moment I began to see how restrictive I had been on my behaviours, in some poor attempt to be the exception from the clichés and the stereotypes.
From then on, thanks to the amazing people I grew closer to, I began to experiment with my identity. I let people do my make-up, I learned to do my own. I actively sought out queer art and history and culture, and anything and everything in between – saturating myself in it
These people, and everything I found online, taught me what it was to feel proud of LGBT identity: They showed me how to get eye-liner just right, how to vogue (badly), and how to walk down a street caked in glitter and give zero fucks about the heads I’m turning as I walk.
My grandparents still don’t know about me, and that is one thing I still struggle with, but I’m working on that… just slowly. I’m afraid of losing them, and not having the time to repair that broken relationship.
Constantly having my opinions challenged and changed has left me in a perpetual state of questioning my identity, but in the best way. I accept that I am LGBT, but what I am within that, well… that’s something I’ve not quite settled on.
Maybe one day I will, but maybe I won’t, and neither outcome would bother me in the slightest.
I used to cling strongly to the word ‘gay’ to describe me, but recently several occasions have arose within clubs and bars that I have found myself drawn – my delicate way of saying ‘really darn attracted’ – to people who aren’t necessarily cis men. I’m not sure why, but aesthetic androgyny seems to be becoming more and more what I like, and so those people and those faces I want to push my face against romantically aren’t necessarily male or female. So ‘gay’ just doesn’t really feel like its for me any more.
Right now I have settled on the word queer as an identifier and now use it to no end, much to the annoyance of anyone who has me on any social media, but who’s can say that term is gonna be the one I settle on.
I now volunteer at an LGBT organisation, and in the short time I have been there my eyes have been opened up. The spectrum of diversity you hear so much about when people go on and on about the LGBT community has never been so visible to me than when I go to an event and see brave people living openly and happily as part of the amazing community I now cling to so dearly.
For Halloween 2016 I ‘dragged-up’ (dressed up as a woman for the less queer-literate of you) two nights in a row, and learned I am more comfortable wearing and being seen a dress than I am wearing a tracksuit, or being seen in just a pair of swimming trunks.
I’m am not saying in any way that I am trans – for me that identity doesn’t fit – but cis seems to restrict me more and more I guess.
I find myself OK with the word ‘boy’ being used to identify me but the adult version of the noun, “man”, doesn’t really feel right for me.
Maybe I’m fluid or maybe it isn’t quite as simple as that, right now I have no real clue what I am. But, for that matter, nothing makes me happier; one thing I can say for certain after this incredible month with a huge amount of pride is: I am LGBT.
LGBT doesn’t have to identify you as a person by any means, but if you want it to there is a strong and amazing group behind you, cheering you on to the backing track of a showtune.
I chose my LGBT identity as one of my strongest signifiers, not because it’s the most interesting thing about me, and not because I feel like that’s all there is to me, but because I’m proud as hell of it, and because it feels closer to my heart than being a film student, or Scottish, or a Marvel fan, or an avid reader, or a half-arsed journalist, or a volunteer.
I’m queer as all fuck and that is at the centre of all things Stuart.