I Used To Blame It On Charlie’s Angels: Growing Up Gay And Why We Still Need To Talk About It
News of a nine-year-old child taking his own life left me reeling this week. Shocking. Heartbreaking. A leveller and a reminder for all. Homophobia still exists. Homophobic bullying, attacks, murders. Every day. And not just in the US. Everywhere.
Even on our ‘safe’ open minded island. Even now. Today, in the UK, Section 28 may be a paragraph in the history books to most, just a distant memory.
We have equal marriage. What more do we need to rant about? And what’s the point of those Pride Marches? It’s just a flag waving exercise, after all. ‘You’ve got everything now.’
I’ve heard that several times.
Equality. So what?
So our children can grow up in a safe, held, loving space where they can learn, love and develop free from fear and judgement and grow into the wonderful person they were born to be.
This week’s tragic story reminded me of a piece I have been working on about my own coming out story, how it started at such a young age. Aged eight actually. But it took another 22 years until I felt able to crank that closet open, experiencing more than the odd bit of homophobia along the way.
So, please, take a look. Let me know what you think and, perhaps, I’ll turn it into a series of articles.
After all, love is love is love. However you identify, whoever you share your life with. #LoveAlways. Simple.
On with the story…
IWAS a child of the 70s. Born on the edge of the new decade (1968) — too late for England’s world cup victory (the holy grail for footie fans like my dad, and in turn, me) and for the swinging 60s — the 70s were my early childhood. All flares, record players, tie dyed tops and flowery dresses I hated.
To be honest I don’t remember a huge amount of life under the age of 10. Just a blur of fondant fancies, illness, death, Swap Shop, and laughter. A strange combination, but it was all the laughter that kept us going.
Under 10, I was the world’s TV expert. Sat glued to the television (my Saturday morning routine involved moving my favourite chair in the ‘front room’ to prime viewing location just a foot away from the magic box, and that’s where it stayed from 9am to 12.30pm) I retreated to a world of Noel Edmonds, John Craven and Maggie Philbin.
Here in this comfortable place, I could shut out the rest life had thrown at me. It was safe, secure and totally mine.
The only time I’d leave my retreat would be to take my bike out with my boy mate where we’d venture mobile free (they weren’t even brick sized back then), seek out all the alleyways between houses and turn them into our own BMX track, each one an adventure.
On a really bold day we’d take on the summit — better known as Marina Drive — a fairly busy winding road just 5 minutes from my childhood home. As we free wheeled (feet off pedals for added thrill) down the road, we never quite knew what was awaiting us. Occasionally, as we took on the bend, there’d be a squeal of breaks — ours and those of the angry driver’s car coming the other way). A little scary, a little naughty and it cost nothing meaning my pennies for sweets at the corner shop were still untouched. Perfect.
The sweet shop was another safe haven for me. Dumping our bikes on the ground we’d go in. A kind of mini Diagon Alley where chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans would be at home alongside the Flying Saucers, Blackjacks, Rhubarb and Custards and ice poles of the day.
It was amazing what sugary delights you could get for your money back then. Dentists across the nation must have been taking in a sharp, collective breath….or rubbing their hands at the thought of a rotting teeth generation needing their services.
Being the TV addict I was (and can still be if I don’t have a strong word with myself) gave me the first clues that I may be ‘different’ from a lot of my school pals.
Angels without wings
It was all Charlie’s Angels’ fault. Tuesday night was a night for me and the Angels and there was one particular flare swinging, crime fighting angel that drew me in.
Farrah Fawcett had it all — beautiful, long blonde hair complete with Farrah flick, deep blue eyes. A smile that could melt the icecaps (long before we discovered the secret) and the ability to run in heels (well almost). All this and she fought for justice. Perfect. Little was I to know that just over 20 years later I would find my very own Charlie’s Angel and soul mate in the form of Taz Thornton — my wonderful wife. *Sigh*
That hour of TV was gold to me. I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen. And woe betide my mum if she dared to interrupt my viewing. We didn’t even own a video recorder in those days so that hour, that moment was the only way I could get my Angels fix. One chance and then it was gone forever.
Talking about the show at school the next day I felt a mix of excitement and embarrassment. The way my friends were talking about the Angels was kind of how I felt, but for me there was a ‘something else’. I didn’t want to be one of Charlie’s Angels, I wanted something more.
Even at that young age, in my heart — in my groin — things felt different. That feeling was to stay with me, even with my best efforts to quash it, to push it down, to drown it out with boyfriends and ‘safe’ girl crushes — the sort of thing that could be passed off as a phase, growing pains.
Years later, into my 20s, when the girl crushes were coming thick and fast, it was another story.
But back to my childhood.
Red headed temper
I was a pretty quiet kid. Quiet until my temper got the better of me at least. Probably something to do with my Irish roots (according to a DNA test I’m 29% Celtic) and my reddish hair. My temper tantrums were big (still are) and, on reflection, must have been a nightmare for my parents. Growing up in our terraced house less than 30 miles from London, our neighbours must have got used to my outbursts over the years, and were still lovely.
Always there with a smile, a friendly word, if I was brave enough to speak to them, rather than creeping past as they tended to their front garden and cooed over our cat Tingha (named after Tingha and Tucker, a kids’ TV show featuring two cuddly koalas).
As a child, despite my angry moments, I kept a LOT in, including my Farrah feelings. But what would I say and who would I say it to? My friends at school were great, but I couldn’t tell them about it. They’d just laugh and, anyway, you just didn’t talk about things like that.
It wasn’t normal. It was wrong, forbidden, not nice. It became my dirty secret.
It wasn’t normal. It was wrong, forbidden, not nice. It became my dirty secret. Only allowed out when I was in the safety and comfort of my own front room in front of the magic box — the land of Charlie’s Angels.
What’s the big deal?
As I write this in 2018 this whole situation seems ridiculous — so what if I was having these feelings? What’s the big deal, you may ask?
But it WAS a big deal for me and IS a big deal for thousands of people today, who may be questioning their sexuality or feel like they have nowhere to turn for support for fear of reprisals.
During a recent conversation with a friend and fellow business networker, she revealed how her six-year-old daughter had come home from school one day and said “Mummy, could I marry a girl?”. My wonderful pal replied: “Of course you could marry a girl if you wanted to”.
No prejudice, no fear, just love for her daughter and her happiness. In whatever form that happiness takes for her. Wonderful. My heart filled with love for this moment.
There’s a lot under that carpet!
In the 1970s, talking about the feelings I was having just wasn’t an option. The old phrase ‘Sweep it under the carpet’ was part of my DNA, even in those early years.
And so I retreated to the TV. Despite the crime fighting, despite the guns and the ‘bad guys’, Charlie’s Angels became my utopia.
Meanwhile, in the real world, life went on.
As I cushioned myself in the magic box world, life was changing around me.
Everything became pretty scary and yet I couldn’t really brave it to find out why. There was nothing to feel scared or down about. I had a privileged life in so many ways… although money wasn’t rolling in, my dad’s job as a fitter and turner for the guys who made loo rolls with the cute puppy as their marketing tool made sure I was always well fed (very often TOO ‘well fed’), was able to go on school trips (including my first trip to the south of France — the Loire Valley) and nearly always got the birthday and Christmas pressies I asked for.
However, sometimes in my spoilt world, they were just a little off the mark. An emu puppet wasn’t quite the Rod Hull and Emu replica I longed for, but a fluffier, rainbow-coloured version, and my ‘Walkman’ wasn’t really a proper Sony Walkman, although this was later rectified.
I was spoilt with food and presents. What’s not to love? So, instead of exploring my feelings I just stayed in this ‘happy spoilt place’ with the escape worlds provided by the big TV box in the corner. It was safer there. The greatest distraction.
The Brady Bunch, CHiPS, Marcus Welby MD, The Waltons, Little House On The Prairie, Crackerjack, Rentaghost, my angels… my life was a TV series. Well, at least for the length of the show.
That world seeped into my real world more and more. The Brady Bunch were like the big family I didn’t have. The Waltons too. All too often you’d hear me shout ‘Night Mary Ellen, Night Jim Bob’, to which my mum, across the hall, would reply ‘Night John Boy’, followed by a chuckle as I settled down to sleep. More than 40 years later, that memory still raises a smile.
As I grew older I loved the fact that the magic box transported me to the Midwest of the US in the late 19th century — the setting for the Ingalls family.
Although Laura Ingalls was the main character, it was her older sister, Mary, that caught my eye. Yet another blue-eyed blonde. Spotting a pattern anyone?
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.