Reading time: 6min.

by Michael Lee

The great straight propaganda

Get a job, marry a Woman, get a house, have children and live happy ever after. As an easily influenced and impressionable teenager this was the kind of ‘great straight propaganda’ that was narrowly shoved down my throat. Taught to be straight and processed out on a conveyor belt into the big wide world. Programmed and conditioned to believe that boys like football; boys like kissing girls and boys will become men. Real men are aggressively proud of their masculinity and are more likely to be found downing a pint of lager down the pub then sipping on a cosmopolitan with extended pinkie finger in the air.

Growing up, Disney princesses were always being rescued by the dashing and handsome prince perched heroically on his galloping steed. It comfortably fits the Heteronormativity notion that people fall into very specific gender roles. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls, all very neatly pigeon holed, organised and fits nicely within the lines. But what if you fall out of the lines? What if you’re a little boy who wants to play with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures while inside his Wendy House with pretend kitchen set? This was the kind of head scratching and confusion that led a bewildered boy to question where he fit in a world that was molding him to be something he was not.

I actually cannot remember the first time I heard the word gay or even knowing what it meant, but it certainly was not in the classroom that’s for sure. Section 28 of the Local Government Act made showcasing other alternatives to the heterosexual accepted way of life near impossible. The amendment was enacted on 24th May 1988, and stated that a local authority: “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. So I certainly was not going to be learning about this ‘alternative lifestyle’ on the chalkboards at school, and the UK media was not exactly doing its share of promoting equality and diversity.

Growing up, the only public figures that were deemed or suspected to be homosexual that I can remember were Dale Winton or Julian Clary, and even then they were always portrayed in an effeminate, camp and suitable for Saturday night family friendly viewing kind of way, the kind of gay your nan would invite around for tea while reciting quotes from a Barbra Streisand film. On the other end of the spectrum there were Drag Queens, larger than life like Lily Savage or Dame Edna Everage, always looking fabulously OTT and glamorous, drawing applause and chuckles from the audience at the Queens royal Variety show. What variety? Why were all gay people on TV presented like animated, laughable screaming queens seen only as comedic value?

Apart from the occasional lipstick wearing gay man mincing around on BBC alongside Mr Blobby on Noel Edmonds House Party; where were the gay men that lived in houses, walked the streets and brought their groceries in Tesco? Where were the normal, everyday gay men that were not flamboyant and theatrical and lived next door to you? For a socially awkward and unassuming teenager in the 1990s meeting another gay was like coming across a multi-coloured Unicorn on a council estate in North London, very unlikely, despite my active and colourful imagination. Twitter was a sound a bird would make and Facebook simply sounded like a face consumed in the pages of a good book. I don’t think my naïve mind at 15 could ever fathom meeting a gay guy would be as simple as a swipe of the thumb.

It wasn’t until my eyes stumbled across billboard adverts promoting a new Channel4 TV show entitled ‘Queer As Folk’ did I actually get to witness what being gay actually looked like physically and emotionally. There were small moments of male on male affection here and there, I remember watching Tony and Simon on EastEnders snog as I sat there uncomfortably with my family, but this was the first TV show dedicated to full blown gayness in all its glory. Still tightly sealed ‘in the closet’ I watched on mute from the sanctity of my bedroom in case my family overheard or discovered I was watching a gay show.

I watched wide eyed the captivating tales of a 15-year-old school boy coming to terms with his sexuality as he discovers the wonderment of the ‘gay scene’ (In the bright lights of Manchester’s gay village) and encounters two older gay men on his journey. Sex, clubbing, alcohol and the thrill of meeting older gay men, this was everything I wanted to experience and yearned for, yet I was able to live vicariously through this fictional teenager whose adventures seemed worlds away from the sheltered and reclusive life I led.

It was a shame there were not more young and relatable characters like this on TV, but back in the ‘90s something so ‘controversial’ like broadcasting a 15-year-old boy and an older man in his early 30s having consensual sex must have left the conservative, ‘great straight propaganda’ followers open mouthed and flabbergasted.

That’s when at sixteen years old, I made the decision to make an announcement of my own: “I’m gay”.