What follows is not something that I can claim to be my story. It is not! What it is, is a discussion of my personal experience, my reaction to, and possibly even my advice for people who find themselves in a situation similar to mine. The people who I write about in this article are aware that they are being written about, and they are more than happy for me to put this out in the world.
The truth is that we all make mistakes and I am no different. Although, I think that life is less about the mistakes you make, and more about how you move on from them. Failure, is indeed, part of the learning process.
As a young man, growing up in nineties Britain, when lad culture was reaching its zenith, I was a little bit of an outsider. I struggled to maintain relationships and friendships and I was, more than anything, frightened of not being accepted by my peers. I had little time for anything that might have marked me out as different. I was (taking ownership here), ignorant to the consequences of some of my actions. I was too wrapped up in what may happen to me.
Interestingly, on this matter, I want to point out that major lad mag Loaded was marketed with the tagline, ‘For men who should know better’. So, I was not alone in this, many of the young men of my generation were part of the problem. Now, I am trying to be part of the solution, an ally, and an advocate for change and justice.
To be clear, I wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologise for my transgressions.
Things for me started to change, as I became more informed. To my mind, education is pretty much the answer to everything, and it is definitely not a coincidence that I am now a teacher myself. The older you get, as the saying goes, the more right-wing you become. But this need not be true. Indeed, as I read more widely, as I engaged in difficult conversations, and re-examined the way I had acted in my youth, I began to understand just how dangerous and harmful some of the things I turned a blind eye to, and on occasion contributed to, were. Ignorance is never an excuse, but it is something that needs to be overcome, on the road to a more tolerant, and accepting society.
My feelings of difference emerged through childhood. I was not much like the other young people I hung about with. In truth, with reference to most of them, we are no longer in contact. My experiences, coupled with my maturation, and for want of a better word, enlightenment, meant that I was well prepared for some of the things that would eventually come my way.
You see, I thought that I was always tolerant. I realise now that I was far from that. I felt that politically and socially I had become a top-level liberal during my study of A-Level politics. And yes, it did help me to formulate some of my more permissive positions and ideas, but it was not until I entered higher education, and began to engage with artistic texts on this level, that I really began to understand who I am, and what I needed to do to become a better man.
My degree has taken me in a number of different directions. It was during my final year as an undergraduate that I started engaging with the local arts scene, writing about work that much of the establishment turned its back on. At this point I really grew into the man I am now. It was a long road for me. But without any of this personal experience, without these moments of clarity, I may never have been able, with the help of my wife, to foster an environment in my familial home, in which my two teenage children could come out as gay, and pansexual respectively. My son, who was fifteen at the time announced his coming out on Instagram, it was not a surprise. I left a comment for him confirming that ‘Nothing changes!’ The only discussions that have occurred since on the subject are those that have happened organically. My daughter confirmed her sexuality on the same day, perhaps in solidarity with her brother. It has brought them closer together. She had long since been an advocate for Pride and in 2018 she encouraged the family to march around Liverpool, standing shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQIA+ community. We obliged.
I think I should take the time out here to point out that I know I have made this sound as if it was easy for me and my wife, the children’s mother. If I can lift the veil for a moment, it was certainly intentional to make it appear as a non-event, because in terms of our relationship dynamics, nothing did alter. Or rather, nothing ever got weird, although my son started talking about his crushes openly. However, the truth is, despite me attempting to take this in my stride I was terrified that I had not. I am fortunate enough to have a bunch of gay friends, and even more who consider themselves progressive and allies, and I called on a host of them in turn, asking, have I done this right? Should I have made more of this? It was clearly important enough for my children to have had these conversations with us, perhaps we ought to do more, be more inquisitive. I cannot pretend that all these thoughts did not race through my mind, because they did, naturally. But the feedback I got, from those who had lived this themselves was to allow things to happen instinctively; it was to not let this become the sole focus of conversation; it was to simply keep on watching and laughing at Friday Night Dinner with them, and not to worry. So that’s what we did!
I suppose this is what I have been working my way around to discussing. Me at thirteen years old, wanting to be Liam Gallagher, and deifying Gazza, could never have understood what it is to be a parent to children from this community. I suppose, at thirteen years old, none of us could really understand what it is to be a parent. However, the point I am making remains, I recognised that I needed to adjust some of my actions and world views, because they were harmful. Had I never had this epiphany, and many adults out there have not had theirs, then I could have made the life of my children and others insufferable.
So, it is of paramount importance to me now, that I use my platform to extol the benefits of creating a safe, loving environment that exists without judgement for your children. I am asking each and every one of you to look hard in the mirror, and think, am I as tolerant and as accepting as I claim to be? Do I say I support diversity, or do I proactively do things to encourage it? Do I engage in important conversations with the people close to me, and in society more broadly? Am I part of the solution? If you can answer these questions, confidently, in the affirmative, then that is a wonderful thing. If you still have some way to go, that is okay too, providing you are working towards it.