Yesterday was a momentous occasion.
Not just for me, but for everyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong.
Just as the working day came to a close, it was announced that one hundred and five of you voted in favour of the Equal Marriage Bill, making Scotland the 17th country in the world to truly embrace equality for all of her citizens.
As corks popped across the country and people celebrated this amazing societal development, I couldn’t help but reflect on my childhood and the isolation I felt as a young girlish boy growing up in a community that rarely uttered the word gay unless as part of a diatribe against difference.
Like so many people born in the latter part of the 1970s my first experiences of homosexuality were astutely negative. Let’s not forget that while this 4 year old was wrapping himself in tea towels and disrobing like Cheryl Baker in Bucks Fizz at Eurovision, homosexuality in Scotland had only just been decriminalized the month before.
True, many a little one at the time regardless of their sex wanted to do the dance to Making Your Mind Up, but very few boys wanted to end the routine on Bobby Gee’s lap.
I’m pretty sure my differences terrified my parents.
Often I wake from fever dreams having remembered sitting on the living room floor watching Dallas and innocently singing I Want to be Bobby’s Girl.
I cringe when I recall my dancing at family weddings.
I still get palpitations when I recollect crying and screaming ‘I hate you’ out of my bedroom window at the young girl who lived next door who kept sending me love letters.
They say your earliest memories are of the most formative experiences of the time.
The fact that all of mine are shrouded in shame as an adult says much more about my opinion of myself than that of others. I used to struggle to see why, when I came from a home full of love and support that I could go through a childhood with such low self-esteem. A little bit of naval gazing later I realise that it was absolutely because of the society I grew up in.
By 1986 I was ten and I knew what ‘gay’ was. I also pretty much knew that I had a massive crush on Elek Kisch, the Hungarian boy down the street and that because of that, I’d probably die from AIDS.
By 1988 I was going through puberty and was terrified of life. As clichéd as it sounds, I cried myself to sleep most nights and hated myself for not being one of the boys. (I always was a bit of a drama queen).
That was also the year when everything got worse.
The year that my difference stopped being quirky and started being threatening. 1988 was the year when others took up the mantle of criticising me. 1988 was the year I went to high school. 1988 was the first year of the bully.
Most days at school I was mocked for some reason or other.
As the youngest of 5, I had gotten used to playful banter and the occasional lampooning. That’s how we showed love. It still is to this day. If at a family gathering there’s not someone in the corner mocking your shoes then you’ve clearly done something to piss everyone off.
What I went through at school was not banter.
What I experienced at school along with thousands of others just like me was verbal and physical abuse. An almost daily torture permitted by a society that seen me as different in a bad way. Of course you can call the teenage boy with the Sheena Easton hair a faggot and it won’t matter. Of course you can present him with a carrot carved into the shape of a dildo in front of 200 pupils and the Rector won’t do anything. Of course you can damage one of his vertebrae for life by hitting him on the back of the neck with a metal pole and you won’t be charged.
YOU CAN TREAT HIM AS BADLY AS YOU LIKE, BECAUSE HE THINKS OF HIMSELF AS A SECOND CLASS CITIZEN!
When you grow up in a society where you are not afforded the same experiences as others it affects you. When you teach yourself that you don’t want equal rights because you think you’ll never get them, it affects you. When you can’t find a positive role model just like you because they are too scared to come out, it affects you.
Last night I cried myself to sleep again.
What you did yesterday was nothing short of miraculous. Voting to pass the Equal Marriage Bill was one of the greatest acts of compassion this country has seen. By making your voice heard and saying that until we are all equal, none of us are, you have helped push society forward.
Never underestimate the power of this one gesture.
Thanks to you, this week all across the country, thousands of young boys and girls just like me are heading to their lunch halls, playing fields and classrooms knowing that they have a chance of a perfectly normal life, in a perfectly normal town, with a perfectly normal partner.
You have repaired our self-esteem.
Barry Church-Woods lives in Edinburgh with his Civil Partner Josef. They plan on getting married as soon as they can.
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