"Are you a homosexual?"

Alastair Baker

We’re marking LGBT History Month by celebrating the diversity of our staff and giving everyone a chance to reflect on the progress we have made towards equality and tolerance, as well as the work which still needs to be done. Every week, an article written by a member of our LGBT Network will be published on Need to Know to help raise awareness of the issues facing LGBT colleagues while educating others.

Today, Alastair Baker, a community first responder (CFR) in Bressingham, shares his very personal story of growing up as a gay man in the UK.

“Hello all! I’ve been picked to write about my experiences as a gay man growing up in a time when such things were less talked about than today – I actually think I was the oldest bear they could find!

“I have seven brothers and therefore grew up in a very male household where rugby was the sport of choice. Yet even by the age of six or seven, I knew something (I couldn’t give it a name) was different. In our house, the only source of any interesting, juicy growing-up information pre-internet was in the Reader’s Digest Medical Encyclopaedia. I poured over the pages on homosexuality whilst utterly petrified that anyone would find me. Dad’s collection of ‘literature’ only had the odd flash of any images that did anything for me – if you get my drift. My eyes were finally opened in the rugby changing room when I went to see my Dad after he played – nothing at all sordid, but the deep realisation of pheromones that I was at home. Then the trouble started.

“I’d worked it out I was a poof (I don’t think gay was in circulation in my playground). It was the deepest secret I couldn’t tell anyone, and yet the thing all the bullies seemed to know about me with just a glance. School days were not the happiest of my life – I was a natural loner anyway and withdrew, just trying to keep my head low and get bullied as little as possible. Secondary school came at a time of Section 28 (making the school world frightened to even approach the subject) and the beginning of AIDS as a thing. I was subjected to shouts of abuse from the lads at school who picked on whatever difference someone had. It was just what I dealt with; I couldn’t really argue as by now, I knew what I absolutely was. It was just the way life was. You’ve probably worked out by now that I’m a sarcastic sod, and ended up making jokes at the bullies, diverting attention elsewhere by making the crowd laugh.

“The adults of the 1980s were more of a problem, parents included. All of the media attention and news coverage of ‘the gay disease’ just meant there was absolutely no way I could tell anyone. People gave you their opinion of such types, saying they should be shot or drowned and we should let them all die. I could go on.

“When I was 17, I got burnt and got to know the inside of Billericay Burns Unit very well. A story and experiences for another day, but it was a turning point in my life and partly why I became a CFR so many years later. Someone saved my life, while someone else very talented covered my hands with bits of my thigh. Months of recovery made me realise if I had the ability to survive this, I had the ability, want and nerve to be a gay man.

“I told my Mum at eighteen that I was gay. ‘How do you know?’ she asked. I guess that ‘I found out behind a bus shelter in Battersea’ wasn’t the best or even most truthful answer. I actually expected some compassion but within a week was told to leave home and was out on the streets so that I didn’t influence the life of my brothers. I hadn’t really had a close relationship with my Dad as I was never really into all the boy pursuits and he left when I was nine. But to give him respect, he said I could go and live with him and his new family. There were strict rules, which included that I wasn’t allowed to be gay, these brothers could never know, he would never be able to tell anyone about what I was – he was ashamed of me. I lasted nearly two years until I escaped to Norfolk to become me.

“Of course, there were also allies. I came out to a selected few at work when I was nineteen. Coming out is for you, not so much the people you are telling. The first person I told was one of the scariest things I have ever done as it was still a perfectly valid reason for employment to be ceased. To be instantly accepted was not the outcome I thought I’d get – but was the most amazing feeling.

“The age of consent was 21, which was lowered to 18 when I was 24 in 1994 and not equalised to 16 until 2000. I can remember being with a boyfriend who took me to a posh hotel in London for a romantic trip in 1992. Although we were both over 21, having sex in a hotel room was illegal as it didn’t fit the definition of behind a private front door. The hotel wouldn’t give us a double room and although we pushed the twin beds together, when the room was made up they were apart again with the bedside lockers back between them.

“‘Are you a homosexual?’ That was the question asked of me in 1992. I actually never got to answer as the man processing my mortgage application ticked no. Had I have been honest I wouldn’t have got my mortgage (gays are too likely to die) and they would have written to my GP and asked for an AIDS test (we never called it an HIV test then – there was only one way a positive test was going). We all got tested all the time – thank heavens for the anonymity of the GUM clinic.

“My Mother (it’s been a strained relationship) asked me directly in the early nineties if ‘I had AIDS yet’ (the ‘yet’ really hurt) and when I was going to die. She has never been to my house since. She tries her best but winds me up even now by referring to my ‘lifestyle’. None of my straight brothers have a lifestyle; equality for me will come when we can all just have a life.

To be honest I never thought same sex marriage would come in my lifetime, but for me the showing of rings happened in the civilisation years (we are two blokes we can’t actually remember the year and occasionally not even the date). My brothers all think it’s cool to have a gay brother and my nieces and nephews don’t blink an eyelid.

“I sometimes get asked why ‘we’ still have to have our own culture, and use terms such as Twinks, Bears and Cubs in these enlightened times. There is still a way to go in the world as a whole and after being marginalised for so many years, like most cultures emerging into the light, we seek solace and refuge into the life we know and the history we are proud of.

I read a quote recently which for my generation still rings true. ‘Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves; we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation and prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us and which parts we’ve created to protect us’.

“I’m fifty now, and I’m a fiercely proud gay man, and have been for a long time. Feel free to ask me any question, but be brave enough to receive the answer. And be as sarcastic as you like!”

Published 6 February 2020

0 Comments
Leave a Comment
Name (required)
Email Address (required, never displayed)
Enter a message

(all comments are moderated - your submission will be posted on approval.)