At the end of class he waited for the empty room and came close. Without looking at me he said “I need to talk to you.”
“That’s fine”, I said, “Anything special?”
“Wait” he pleaded “I’ll see you later.”
I liked the end of the working day; the quietness of the place; the space to catch up and prepare; the time to breathe and unravel the pressure of those frenetic hours. I had enough to do to see me into another hour before going home.
Almost giving up on the appointment, the quiet knock on the door brought me back and, similarly quietly I said, “Come in”.
He approached, sat down, and kept silent.
“What’s up?” I said “Anything happened?”
A sound, ‘miles away’ broke the awkward silence. He leapt up, went for the door, opened it, and looked both ways. Assured that there was no one there, he same back and took his seat.
His serious voice took on an air of forcefulness. “Do you promise me that you won’t tell anyone about this conversation?” he demanded.
“Yes, ok.” I replied, fearing that I was being cornered into hearing and being secret about something quite terrible.
“I’ve been thinking so much, and I feel almost like exploding. That’s why I need to tell someone.”
“Sounds serious” I said, smiling and attempting to lighten his load in some way.
“It is serious. I think I’m homosexual!’ His words now spoken louder and with a sense of despair.
He looked at me, his eyes seeming to suggest the imminent end of his world.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I know. I just know it. I look at boys the way that they look at girls and I try and fight the feelings away but they won’t go. I just don’t know what to do.”
The tears flowed.
My god! How I knew what he was going through. How I knew the fear, the self hatred, the guilt, the hope that I was in a never ending dream – all of that.
He composed himself and continued “I don’t want to be homosexual. I just want to be normal like everyone else. I want to be married and have children. I want my parents to be proud of me. I just want to get rid of these feelings’
“Is it really so bad?” I tried to suggest comfortingly, while desperately trying to send out signals that I wasn’t shocked, that he was accepted, and that there was hope.
We stayed silent for a while but then the seriousness of my situation dawned on me. I wanted so much to tell him that it really was ok; that I was homosexual too; that you could be happy, fulfilled and know love; that I was in a stable relationship; and so on and so on. I wanted to pour it all out to assure him.
Instead there was a feeling of horror and it lay in the words:-
‘You must not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.
That’s what the law said and, perhaps even by allowing this conversation to go further I could already be breaking it. There hadn’t been any court cases as yet and I didn’t want to be part of the first.
Out of the silence I asked him if he had spoken to his parents about his feelings and what he really wanted to happen. He mentioned about going to see a psychiatrist.
I wanted to come out with all those things we could say to young people as they experience the sometimes frightening realisation of their sexual orientation. My heart went out to him and I wished I lived in a world where his acknowledgement would be a cause for celebration rather than disaster.
Eventually composed and unburdened, he left.
I did not feel good. I felt I had let him down with meaningless platitudes and ‘comforting’ words. I had let myself and my community down by my unfaithfulness. Where was my courage to proclaim that it was possible to be glad to be gay?
I don’t have a happy ending to this story except to say that a few years later, and miles away from home, I bumped into him. Having got over the surprise of our meeting I asked him how he was and he replied that he was fine, and he smiled at me, and somehow for me that smile conveyed something positive. We had no time to explore further, he went on his way and so did I. I so hope he found happiness.
Roger Newman, Margate