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Sexuality is infinitely complex and yet, at the same time, incredibly simple. Something the world at large seems to be constantly trying to get their head around. It is, in my experience, one of the most misunderstood things in the history of ever.
For my own part it wasn’t until 2008 that understanding came to me. In the shape of a young man in his mid-twenties, called Bob (obviously that’s not really his name, but names have been changed to protect the innocent, yadda yadda). At the time I had been openly attracted to men for almost seven years, and was quite content in my attractions that I never felt the need to hide it. Neither did I like to label myself gay, but that’s a story for another time. I was just a bloke who happened to be attracted to other blokes.
I’ve been a writer and editor professionally for fifteen years now, and throughout that time I’ve always supplemented my creative work with a regular job – after all, you can’t honestly write about the real world and the people in it unless you remain as regular a Joe as the next person. Back then, in 2008, I was working in a carvery pub in Essex (the exact location I shall not tell in this story). I was, as ever, out and unbothered about who knew. I would flirt and chat to whoever – male or female, it didn’t matter to me, as long as the women knew they’d never stand a chance with me (not that it stopped some of them from trying, of course). So when Bob came into the pub one Summer afternoon I thought nothing of it. He was young, good looking, and quite chatty. Bit of a lad, but that’s how I like ‘em.
It took a few weeks before I decided to talk to him properly, after all I was at work and had a job to do. But this particular afternoon it was very quiet, and on my break I decided to join him outside. ‘You alright, mate?’ I said, in a typical Estuary greeting. I can’t really remember what we talked about, his interest in girls, the usual nonsense that guys talk about. But that first conversation sparked up a casual friendship. Or so I thought at the time. You know how once in a while you completely misread a situation? Yeah, it was one of those times.
I think I spotted the signs, but it’s easy to ignore them if you so wish. But the girls at the pub would often query his regular presence. Even when I wasn’t there he’d pop in to ask after me. Some were sure he was gay. He was always watching me when working, apparently, and tended to hang around for hours when I was on shift. I supposed it was possible. He was often drinking with an older man, Fred, who was gay, but there didn’t seem to be any attraction between. Although I do remember Fred once mentioning something about how Bob was a cock-tease. I dismissed it and carried on. We started hanging out, going to other pubs, and even gay bars. It was those nights out that I started to suspect there was something more going on that simply two guys socialising.
Now I love to dance. Ask anybody. Music is always on around me, even when I’m working. So, take me to a nightclub and you can bet I’ll be on that dance floor almost the whole night. The thing was, though, those nights where Bob was with me I was often asked if we were together. ‘No,’ I’d tell them. ‘He’s straight.’ Nobody believed me; indeed, if there was a group of us I was the one people tended to think was straight. And they had a point. Now I’d be very stupid if, by that point, I couldn’t see it. He’d dance very close to me, which on a crowded dance floor may not seem so unusual, but I mean really close to me. Grinding against me, the whole works. Not the typical behaviour of a straight guy, right? And I have to confess. I kind of liked it. Here was this ‘straight’ guy showing some very obvious attraction to me. It’s one of those oft-spoken things that gay guys like to ‘convert’ straight guys. I’m not that kind of man, as a rule, but in this instance I could certainly see the appeal. He was attractive, to me at least, and we got on really well. Feelings were developing, and I was pretty sure that it wasn’t only me feeling the attraction.
Before long he asked me to move into his flat. I did think it odd, but he had a nice place and, as I said, we got on really well and it was becoming very obvious something more was going on between us. In one of those water-testing moments I said to him, ‘But you only have one bed.’ He pointed to his small couch, but in for a penny, I continued with a smile, ‘Seems a waste to have such a big bed for one person.’ He agreed, and soon I was moved in and we were sharing the same bed. Nothing further happened between us. I continued to work, he continued to work, and life went on. We weren’t in a relationship, but it was beginning to feel like we kind of were. Especially when he’d had a few to drink. Now I can’t comment on his upbringing, but I did know he liked to be a bit of a lad and liked to think himself ‘tough’. But I was seeing something else in him, a softer side, a side that needed love and acceptance. Something to which we can all relate on one level or another. Despite his laddish behaviour, he was a kind-hearted young man, always eager to please (perhaps a little bit too eager at times), and we had a lot of fun.
Things changed a couple of months later, during one of our regular night’s out. It’s a night that has never left me, and makes sad at the memory of what might have been had he been more open to what was going on inside him. It wasn’t much different from all the other nights out. Dancing, drinking, lots of laughs. But Bob needed to leave earlier than usual since he had work the next day. He worked on the railway, track maintenance. The fact that just a trace of alcohol in his blood would automatically get him dismissed seemed to mean nothing. He was sure he’d be okay. But that was Bob all over; a bit of a chancer. What would once have been called a ‘right Arthur Dailey’, but these days is more often called a ‘bit of Del Boy’. I left with him, and we stood outside. Unlike the other nights where he liked to tease, this night we stood there holding hands. Something was clearly shifting. We had a slightly drunk conversation, wherein he admitted he wanted to stay longer. Lots of sweet nothings, as they say. We talked, gently rubbing the back of each other’s hands with our thumbs. A tender moment between two… what? Almost lovers? Not quite, but if I was to believe those who had met us, then perhaps something close to it. I could tell, without doubt, that he was on the verge of something big. A decision that would change his life irrevocably. I was ready, but with every step he took close to it, he stepped back. It was both painful and beautiful to watch. An awakening of sorts. Eventually he decided that he would go home. He told me not to disturb him when I got back, and I promised to do my best. I had a few to drink, but wasn’t that far gone. But enough to not be as graceful as usual. I watched him walk away, and felt sure that tomorrow would usher in something new for both of us. I returned to the club and our mates.
A couple of hours later I made my way back, walking down to seafront wondering what I’d find waiting for me. As I walked it became very clear to me that I was falling in love with Bob, and I felt excited about being there with him when he came to accept the ‘gay’ side of himself. I found him asleep on the couch, clearly passed out by the evidence of the spilt drink on the table by the couch. Regardless of my feelings, I would never let someone sleep in a drunken stupor on a small two-seater couch. So I shook him awake gently. He looked up at me, smiling. My mind and heart raced. I helped him up and, to my surprise, he led me to the bedroom. I suppose I could have pulled away, but I wanted this, so I allowed him to lead me. He fell on to the bed. ‘Come on, you, you can’t sleep like that.’ I’m sure we’ve all experienced that one drunk friend who needs help to get changed. Well, here he was, only with a difference. I helped him get undressed, right down his boxers only to discover he was very much aroused. Was this the moment? Before I could even think more about it, he crawled under the duvet and reached a hand out towards me. I let him take my hand and he pulled me closer. I couldn’t believe it was happening, not like this. But I pulled away. I for one wasn’t going to be sleeping in my clothes. It was, by far, one the strangest nights of my life. Bob snuggled up to me in what I can only describe as intimately, trying to pull my hand down to his shorts. I’d be a liar to say I resisted initially, but after a moment, I di pull away. I wanted this, sure, but not like this. Not with a drunk man. I’ve been around drunk people enough to know the likely outcome. Things happen, and the next day it’s a case of ‘I was drunk, you took advantage of me’, or words to that effect. So I told him just this, and added, ‘if you still feel like this in the morning, then we can talk and see where we can take this.’ But the words he said to me in response stunned me. ‘I love you like you’re a woman.’
All night those words ran around in my head, as I tried to get a grasp on just what he had meant. It was such an odd thing to say. I was very clearly not a woman. Was he saying he wished I was? Or that he was in love with me, and in his head that kind of love was only supposed to be for a woman? A brain puzzle for sure. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much, and I was itching to talk to him. Shockingly, he didn’t go to work the next day. Instead he remained home, a bit hungover. And after the usual banter, we both settled down on the sofa, his legs resting on mine, to talk. He told me much about his life, and the guys he worked with. I explained to him what happened the previous night. He claimed to not remember, but I could tell in his eyes that he did. ‘Well, you know I ain’t lying,’ I told him. It would be a pretty rubbish story to make up, after all. He didn’t deny what happened, which was at least a beginning, and so we talked about his feelings for me. He found it difficult, but was able to admit he did feel deep things for me. ‘Like I’m a woman?’ I asked him. ‘But I’m not gay,’ he said. He went on to explain how the guys he worked with would rip into him if he were gay, his dad too. These revelations, unsurprising as they were, shed some light on things for me. I wanted to help him, to see that being gay wasn’t the issue it once was. And as we talked something occurred to me. I was reminded of when I first fell for a guy. It wasn’t intended, and I had many girlfriends before that, but I met a guy and things changed. I never looked back, really, except for a dark time during the early days when I wasn’t sure I could handle the ‘gay life’. I told Bob about this. ‘I don’t think it’s as simple as being gay, or being straight,’ I explained, to myself as much as Bob. ‘Perhaps it’s just people falling for each other.’ This made sense to me. I’ll admit, at the time, it was partly me just trying to find the words to help him through this obviously difficult transition. From loving women to loving a man. But the more we talked, the more I realised that yes, that was the answer. It wasn’t about the gender, it was about the attraction between two people, be it emotional, sexual, or something even deeper. Just two people finding mutual feelings in each other. I think he understood, but I guess I was wrong. As events soon proved.
He got himself a girlfriend. Yes, that was a bit of a blow. I don’t suppose it should have been, after all he was having such a difficult time coming to terms with the feelings he had for me. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this, but I decided to weather it out. After all Elma (yes, I really am making these names up now!) was nice and we got on quite well, although I was a little bit shocked to discover she was only sixteen! It seemed an extreme response to a situation that was entirely workable, but Bob evidently couldn’t handle these new emotions as well as I. I stuck around for a while, but even the Elma’s mother and sister could see that Bob had a thing for me. It was rapidly becoming a very un-liveable situation for all. Not too long after all this I received a text from him while I was at work. It wasn’t nice, but the upshot of it was that he had it in his head that I was doing everything I could to get between him and Elma. And he wanted me out. Needless to say I was not best impress. I spent the rest of my shift in a quiet rage, because I knew what this all meant. He had decided to simply shut down what he felt, deny and hide from it all. I had no other choice but find somewhere else to live. The ever-rolling stone.
I’d love to end this with a nice happy ending, but life is no fairy tale. Things got worse from there. He hounded me, turning everything possible on to me, blaming me for everything. Even when his relationship with Elma finished he blamed me. (The irony of this being that Elma and I got in touch following this, comparing notes and trying to work out what was going on in Bob’s head, and we are still friends to this day.) He would drive past in the open-topped car with Fred, shouting out obscenities at me, sending me all kinds of threats to my phone. He got with a female friend (who he knew was married), then hounded her, too! The police got involved. I wanted to do something in response, but I knew the source of this anger. And it was, on some level, self-loathing, a denial of the person he was deep down. I saw him here and there, almost always at a pub. As I understand it from third parties he sank very far into alcohol a lot over the years. Which, again, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He told me about his father, who also drank heavily; patterns of life. A very unhappy soul indeed. Last I heard he has got with a woman, and they seem happy together, and he’s fought his way to sobriety. I don’t, to this day, wish him any ill will. After all, my experiences with him taught me a lot.
It taught me what I see as the truth of sexuality. It really is not about gender, it’s about attraction between one person and another. Gender is irrelevant. Let me end this story, which one day I may go into in further detail (especially the events after Bob booted me out), with this. After all those events I was speaking to friend about sexuality and she said something to me which I want to share with you, because I believe she is absolutely right. ‘Soon, maybe the next generation, or the one after that, but soon sexuality won’t even be an issue. Gay, straight, bi, whatever, it’ll all about who you fall for.’
© Andy Frankham-Allen 2016, All Rights Reserved