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Who can cast their mind back 10 years?!
January 2001 – Wikipedia went live…Apple introduced iTunes…George Walker Bush marginally defeated Al Gore to become the 43rd President of the U.S.A….Channel 4 launches E4…Rui Da Silva featuring Cassandra were Number 1 with “Touch Me”…and I came out to my sister.
20 years old, at uni, balancing study with trying to have a fun social life. But nursing a broken heart.
Well…kind of. I had met someone in a Soho coffee-shop after a night out. There was an instant attraction; like most chance encounters, it was exciting, spontaneous, and intense. We met again, and had a magical night of wining (him), dining (me!), dancing and more. Leaving my flat late at night, I wondered when I would see him again. He wanted to go for a day-trip but didn’t want me to call. He rang several times to try and speak, leaving voice-messages as I was busy…but didn’t want me to ring back. And then on a Friday, I got a text saying he was sorry but did not want to meet me again and wanted no contact. He had a boyfriend and this had happened before. He wanted to call the shots but didn’t want to get hurt by not being able to be with me as and when he wanted.
I was stunned. And felt crushed. For months I was depressed; I remember it as being one of my darkest times.
“But why?” I asked myself. OK, I had heartache before…but I’d only met this guy twice! “Am I that pathetic?” Why did I care so much about this time compared to the others? My brain was saying one thing, but for some reason it was poles apart from my heart’s voice.
I was desperate to talk to people, and found myself confiding in many whom I would normally not confide half as much.
But still I needed help. And that was when I found myself yearning for family.
I had come-out to my parents at primary school but after it wasn’t taken seriously, I had decided to keep schtum to my immediate family until I was financially independent, had my own roof over my head and had more stability. It was agony…but I had to do this after I qualified from uni.
So with this in mind, there was some serious chewing of cud. I had no plans to come-out while at uni. And no plans to come out to one family member a long while before any others. But realising I needed to speak…there was only one person I could think of. My sister.
I had always kept a lot of stuff private from my family and sister when it came to personal life…but more so than most normally do, mainly because I was gay and didn’t want to attract any suspicion until I was ready to come-out.
But feeling at dire-straits, I had no choice. Speaking to her on the phone, I mentioned how it was important to share things…I knew she immediately thought I sounded odd in saying that. Still confused as to why I was so affected by someone I had met so little, I had decided to myself to tell her on the coming Saturday…20th Jan.
So there we were, in the living room, just finishing breakfast, Mum pottering in the kitchen, Dad somewhere out or busy. The usual Saturday morning telly. CD:UK was on ITV…I loved watching music television and performances, but that day it was going straight through me. “How was I going to say this?”, I thought. So…general chat it was, my sister saying what song she liked or didn’t like, me vaguely joining in, then turning to what she’d been upto recently, hoping she’d ask me too.
And then…onto what I mentioned on the phone. I could tell she was trying not to squirm and yet engage at the same time. “Ignore it!” I thought, and carried on. So…was I just going to come out with it? Of course not. So I continued by saying I had been really sad and didn’t know what to do about something that happened recently…I got really close to this guy…we had a great time…but now he said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me…he said he likes me and has got a boyfriend…and I feel really bad.
Inbetween this she interjected with “OK” and “I see”, and nearing the end while I wasn’t stating it, it would have been obvious that there was a strong link with this guy. So she gave her support and said “Don’t worry”. I said “I just feel bad for him, like I’ve done something wrong”. “You haven’t”, she said. “I know. But I miss him”.
After some silence, she asked more about my feelings for him, and I was honest. Until the last thing I was asked was, “Do you see your future with a man or a woman?” With a man”, I replied.
She cried. I came-out to my sister, but she was the one crying, lol! I had been prepared for the worst for years, so we consoled each other and she apologised for crying, and I said she didn’t have to apologise. She said it explained some things, that she had wondered for a while. She didn’t want me to think she was upset at me, but just hearing it out loud was a shock.
The rest of the day was a bit of a haze. There was a family dinner that night for my approaching birthday, and the meal at the restaurant was great, was fun, but it seemed a little surreal. I couldn’t believe I had said it but was glad I had. And so night drew to a close, we all went to our homes, and my family retired for the night and we all went to bed.
Next morning I woke up. For a few seconds nothing, then I remembered. “Gosh”, I thought. I really did it. What would the future bring? I checked my mobile. And saw I had a text. It was from my sister. She sent it the night before while we were in our beds. I still have that text now. It read “Don’t worry about me brudda I’ll be fine, just look after yourself and take each day as it comes. See you in the morning. Night night, X”.
For the first time, I cried. Out of nowhere, it just hit me. Her text really brought it home, and I felt she had listened.
So…what about this guy? Well, I did a lot of soul-searching over the weeks. And I realised exactly why I felt so lost. It actually wasn’t really about him – I had questioned myself already as to why I was so affected by someone I had met only twice. But the last time we met, I was a little blown away. I met his friends, we talked about university, background, he was 36 and I was 20, holidays, sharing anecdotes, then just us two onto a posh restaurant, then more chat, to a bar, then mine…it was a very intense evening and I had a taste of a world I was able to now have. Be free and open as a gay man with a potential partner, or even just with friends but have a social life that was fun and honest and fulfilling. Having lived a life in secret, it was that night that blew me away. So when he said he didn’t want to see me anymore, I landed back to Earth with a bump right on my heart. It wasn’t so much him, but more the reminder of my double-life I had been living for so long, which at that point had been going in completely different directions. It felt like the life I had a right to was suddenly being taken away from me, and there I was, back at university, back to rewardless hard graft, back to my horrid, torn, secret existence, back to lying to my family where I was tired of this facade. So I had a meltdown. I was sick of it, and found myself telling friends, even acquaintances. But I had to tell family. Tell someone. Tell my sister.
I told my friends that I came-out to my sister. It was a big deal for us, and they were all excited. My friends would joke, ‘Oh she must be a fag-hag!”. It couldn’t have been further from the truth! A combination of things including the friends she had at the time, her goals in life and her own views on a ‘gay’ in our family meant that while she wanted to support me, she found it difficult. She had been to gay clubs a handful of times, found it fun and novel…but that was someone else’s life. Of course, I was expecting it to take a long time for her to get used to it, I didn’t after all take just a few months and think, “Hey, I’m gay, it’s all cool!”. And of course my sister had serious cultural and religious misgivings, and yet was a modern girl. But after all, this was me and it was the start of telling my family, ‘Love me as me, as I love you as you”.
She spent time with her friends and talked about gay issues. Then would go to gay bars with her friends, sometimes with me, and had fun. Waiting from the sidelines, I was looking forward for her to meet my friends. Seeing her getting comfortable, I was really happy for her progress, and with our lives we started to share. I did wish there was a lot more of this sharing. Being gay; it was the life her brother had but had never shared, part of my identity, and I expected, and I wanted – most of the time at least – to share my sister’s new experiences, to be the one to introduce her to ‘my world’ as it were, after so long. She preferred to explore the gay scene with her own friends separately. And it’s important to have separate experiences and not do things together always. But for the longest time she’d feel reluctant if I encouraged her to explore the scene, then tell me about being out all night at a gay venue! But hopefully there’ll still be time for sharing.
10 years on she’s a fully-certified fag-hag. Ha! Clubbing every week…wish I could rather than study! But seriously, looking back, it was an important milestone. Melanie Phillips recently wrote on how kids were essentially being brainwashed into being gay. What she refuses to understand, is that if schools and families continue to ignore the fact that gay and lesbian kids exist and do not choose to be that way, instead of talking about it as natural and something that has and will always exist, then the millions of queer kids’ suffering will never cease. No more years of having to hide who you are, living as a ghost with your family, never knowing what your full potential in life is, growing-up with a daily, never-relenting fear of being disowned. I wonder if she and journalists like her will be doing anything worthwhile for LGBT History Month this February.
After telling my sister, the days of questioning about girlfriends or having to tell half-truths about my socialising were no more. And it was the first time there were no major secrets from me to someone in my family. Now our Mum’s died, it’s more important than ever to keep it together.
Thanks for listening to me that day 10 years ago Farrah. Gotta teach you some dance moves now!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year all!
Hope everyone enjoyed time with loved ones and ate loads.
I had Christmas on my own this year. It’s normally a time for families of sorts to come together. I had a reflective one.
And I also took part in something I had wanted to do for a while.
Sadly we’re all no strangers to seeing homeless people on the streets. And maybe for some Christmas can be particularly difficult.
Crisis is a charity for homeless and rough sleepers. Like other such charities, they work year round to help provide accommodation and improve lives for those affected in this way. At Christmas, many charities have a particular push, and for the past 39 years Crisis have launched an increasingly successful campaign.
From 23 – 30 Dec, Christmas Centres are opened across London that offer vital companionship, food, warmth, and a variety of important services that homeless people often are unable to access.
The charity estimates that this year, more than 2,500 guests will visit their nine centres across London; for some this might mean leaving homelessness for good.
After applying online, I found out that there are different volunteering roles. I had wanted to be a ‘service volunteer‘ – those who provide a particular service to the homeless guests, such as hairdressing, podiatry, legal advice to name a few. Many guests are also in urgent need of dental treatment, which is what I offered. However, luckily for the guests (but sadly for me!) I was informed that this was full, I had applied too late!
So, I plumped for the ‘general volunteer‘ role, and as this was my first ‘Crisis at Christmas’ I was more than happy. This includes greeting guests, providing companionship, giving out clothing and toiletries, feeding guests and more. You have to do a minimum of two 7-8 hours shifts on different days, and so after picking my days and submitting all necessary details, I was set!
My first shift was at a Day Centre in Stratford. After an introduction, we were allocated different roles randomly. It was a great to see so many people eager to volunteer. And it was clear to see that the senior volunteers were really passionate about bringing everyone together, and it was nice to be part of a team. And the place was teeming with guests; chatting, watching performances, playing games, eating, having a wash or just chilling. It was nice to see so many people happy, but sad that there were so many.
So…my roles! First up!…toilet duty. (Great!) Well, someone has to! We were all rotated at 1.5 hourly intervals and worked in pairs. So I cleaned the toilet-rooms, and then monitor the cloakroom, help carry food and equipment, and man the registration desk. In between I had a chance to speak with the guests. That was the best bit for me. It was great to chat together, especially when so many repeated the same thing, ‘we only ever see people’s knees’. If I don’t have money I apologise and say so, and was told that is so much better than just being ignored. But even when I give change, after hearing of some of their stories, it can feel like just a drop in the ocean.
Crisis also have Residential Centres over the same period where people can stay over night. As you can imagine, these are hugely sought after, and sadly after just one day there were no more spaces, leaving the rest to take comfort in the Day Centres, but from which they must leave come nightfall.
The Day Centres close at 9pm. Transport is often arranged to take people back to an easier location. This bit sucks. As much as they appreciate somewhere to stay in the day, you can feel rotten knowing they’ve got to go back to the streets at night. But they were cheery all the same, singing songs and making jokes (some very blue ones at that!).
So my first shift was over. Volunteers are normally required to do all their shifts at the same centre. But hit by a bad cold over Christmas, the thought of also travelling to Stratford again but with limited public transport wasn’t exactly appealing when I just wanted to stay at home and make the most of the 4-day weekend! If you’re ill you can of course stay away, but it wasn’t a flu and I felt I made a promise. And what I felt was nothing compared to how some of the guests sometimes feel.
The Day Centre in Bermondsey was supposedly fully-staffed…but as I live in Bermondsey, was a bit poorly but wanted to volunteer, and it was a possibility that some volunteers might cancel (as is the way), it was seen as probably totally fine if I go there first thing in the morning and explain.
So at 8:30am, Christmas Day I rocked up to the Bermondsey centre (having slept at 5am from a fun night at the 2 Brewers before…! :-/ ). I was told I could of course stay – hoorah! But even better…some of the dentists were based here. Explaining I was a dentist, I was warmly encouraged to make myself known to the clinicians, and luckily for me this time, I was informed they were actually under-staffed. Win-win!
I got to do what I had wanted originally after all! And as a bonus, I met a friend and fellow dentist – Soureya – who also happened to be volunteering her services (and who also had a cold!). Oral hygiene & dietary advice, smoking cessation information, scaling & polishing, restorations and extractions was what I achieved for the different guests over the whole shift. It was good to see the difference it made, and hear about the other services they had that made them feel good, whether a haircut, podiatry or even massage. The government have recently launched centres making it easier for the homeless to access dental care, starting in London, so it’s nice to know that when Christmas is over hopefully dental services for the homeless won’t be.
After the shift, I made it just in time for a late Christmas lunch at Balan’s restaurant in Soho. At the window, I coincidentally saw a homeless ‘Big Issue’ seller. I looked at the mince pie and christmas cake left on my plate which I was too stuffed to finish, and hoping I didn’t appear patronising, signed to ask if he wanted it…I was glad he said yes! His name was Jay. We had a chat after, and I gave him some change on leaving. Not expecting him to jump for joy – I was after all buggering off to a home and yet he was still on the streets – I nevertheless thought he looked a little disappointed. I had to turn back.
‘Sorry, that’s all I have. Is that OK?‘
‘Oh thanks, it’s just I needed some more.‘
I told him about Crisis and where I had been in Bermondsey, and I wondered to myself if there was anywhere similar nearby (there wasn’t unfortunately). Bless him, I knew he was wondering if I could take him there, and I explained they close at 9pm, and so I wouldn’t want to take him there if he’d be stuck with nowhere to go.
‘Oh, no problem. I just need £18 for a place I know at Victoria where I can get food and a shower and somewhere to stay overnight.‘
‘Oh, sorry, I’m out of money!’
‘OK, well, if you have a card and draw out money, I could wait?‘
‘Oh, it’s just I’m in a rush!’
‘OK, well, would it affect your life much if you were £18 less off? It would make a huge difference to me.’
Hmmm. Being 100% honest, I was trying to think of an answer! LOL. But I couldn’t. He was right. And even if he was lying about exactly why he needed £18, it would help him much more than I needed it at that point.
‘OK. Just stay here, I just need to get to my car. I will draw out money for you and come back, don’t move!‘
I got to the car and was about to pull-off, when there was a knock at the front passenger window, before the door opened. It was Jay.
‘There’s a cash machine just there!‘
And he sat in and closed the door. I won’t lie…I did think, ‘Oh goodness…I bet this looks great‘. But, who cares! He looked so comfortable, bless him. I drew out £20 for him and dropped him off at the corner. He gave me a ‘thousand blessings’, and we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Driving off back to my flat, I thought it a funny coincidence meeting him after volunteering. I wondered what he would do over this period and felt sad, but after our encounter I did feel a little less alone over Christmas.
This is kinda off the record, but there was a lady I met there who’s story particularly touched me. She’s American, hasn’t got on with her family there, and came to the Stratford centre having just had an operation in London which she owes the hospital money for. She’s got by with some donations from people she knows here. I got her email address and promised her I’d try and help her out too…so if you’re interested in donating and want to know more, feel free to contact me! But otherwise, if you fancy doing something different next Christmas, or even throughout the year, you must check Crisis out! They are always looking for help and it’s great to see a good difference being made. www.crisis.org.uk
Albert Kennedy Trust
This is a great charity that for many years has helped lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans young people to live in accepting, supportive and caring homes, providing services to help individuals who would otherwise be homeless or in a hostile environment. www.akt.org.uk
Since 1966, Shelter has helped the homeless by giving advice, information and advocacy, and by campaigning for political change to ensure a world where everyone has a home. www.shelter.org.uk
HAPPY 2011 ALL. Have a happy and healthy year! XXX