I woke up with a start; there was something wrong in my bedroom. It was already light, but it was a Saturday morning in summer, so that was to be expected. I turned my head on the pillow and saw him, saw what was different. Someone was sharing my bed, someone warm and handsome.
He had dark-red hair that spiked every different way. His chin was covered in dark-red stubble. Even asleep he was attractive, but I couldn’t remember his name – shit, what was it?
I’d met him the night before. I’ve always had a distrust of phone apps and their quick rejection; I prefer to be at least rejected in person so I’d had a night of bar-hopping in Soho, and I’d met him in The Bar Code, the new bar off Berwick Street. From The Bar Code we’d gone onto three other places; I didn’t remember which ones because I was more interested in him. Sometime before midnight, we’d come here in a taxi, that little luxury before pleasure. Once inside, he was all over me as soon as I had the front door shut; he was kissing me and groping me and pressing our bodies close together. We only had just got into my bedroom before we had each other’s clothes off.
The sex wasn’t bad; it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either. He kissed me during sex and reciprocated everything I did, move for move, not just lying there and letting me do all the sexual work. He did stay the night, and I was glad of that. I hate it when a guy just up and leaves as soon as the sex is over, when the guy leaves in the middle of the night and I’m left on my own to try to find sleep. At least, he stayed and slept with me.
Shawn, his name was Shawn; finally, I remembered as I woke from sleep.
I lay there and looked at him as he slept, I know it was borderline obsessive, but he was so attractive even asleep. Someone like him had wanted me, and I couldn’t let him simply go; I had to see him again; I had to have a chance.
He let out a small groan in his sleep, and the next moment he was awake, as easily as turning on a switch, and he was looking at me with bright-green eyes.
“God… Oh sorry, morning,” he said as he woke up.
“Hi, Shawn,” I said.
“Yeah, right,” he said as he pushed himself up in bed. “It’s Chris, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Do you want some breakfast?” I said as I sat up.
I glanced over at his chest. His nipples were large, so prominent against his chest, and around them swirled a thin coating of red hairs. These faded out below his pecs, leaving his stomach bare. His flat stomach was plainly on display, lightly creased with muscles. He had the kind of chest and stomach I wanted to kiss my way down, brushing my lips over his smooth skin—which I’d done the night before and now I wanted to do again.
“No, I’ve got to go now,” he said.
“But its Saturday morning. Stay for a bit.”
“I’ve got work today. I’ve got to get ready,” Then he got out of bed and walked naked across my bedroom to where his clothes lay. “Did you see where my pants got to?” he asked as he bent over his clothes.
“Aren’t they there with your jeans?”
As he searched for his underwear, I just sat and watched him. I had an unobstructed view of his buttocks, and for a shameless moment I just stared. His buttocks were round, pert and ready. As he bent forward, their curves parted, and I glimpsed a hint of red hairs in the valley between them. It looked so inviting, a sudden, hidden part of him on display, even for the briefest of moments.
“Just stay for a bit; I can get us some breakfast,” I said.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, not looking back at me.
Then he pulled on his underwear, covering his nudity. He quickly got dressed in silence with his back still to me, and I just sat and watched as his body was rapidly hidden away from me
Finally, fully dressed he turned back to me.
“You’re okay, your stomach needs some work on it, but you’re too fucking needy for me. I don’t do that… I’ll let myself out,” he said, and then he was gone, out of my bedroom door. A moment later I heard my flat’s front door slam shut. He hadn’t even touched me before he left.
I fell back onto my bed; I wouldn’t get up for hours now, as disappointment again took over me. I hated when this happened, when I tried to connect with a guy and only got brushed off. What had I done wrong? Shawn and I had sex, we’d been as intimate as we could be, but he couldn’t wait to get away from me. I hated times like this.
I was lying on the grass with Kay when I saw him. We were waiting for Nina, Kay's girlfriend, to join us. We'd decided to have a rest; we'd been wandering around the Pride Festival for hours. The sun was out, and everywhere I looked there were attractive people who all seemed to have shed items of their clothing, showing off their flesh.
Kay had bought some beers, and we were just lying there, watching the world pass by all around us. I loved it. I loved seeing the variety of people there for that day.
Kay was lying on her back, drinking her beer; I was half sitting up, my beer nearly gone, when I saw him. He stood at the back of some fast-food vans, just waiting. He looked in his twenties. He was attractive. His curly blond hair was short, only just touching the tops of his ears. His skin was turning a golden brown with the sun. His body was lean, though covered up with clothes—pale-blue shirt and casual, pale-khaki trousers. His body seemed all long legs and arms, all alive with energy, even though he was just stood there. He was on his own but gave off the strong impression he was waiting for someone. Then I decided he wasn’t. He looked like was on his own and just looking around, his body full of tight nervous energy.
Kay sat up.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Nothing, just taking in the view."
Kay looked over at him, obviously following my eyeline.
"The blond in the clean chinos?" she asked.
"Yes." I pulled my eyes away from him and looked back at Kay.
"He's nice," Kay said.
"I know; I've got good taste."
"Go and speak to him."
"Go and chat him up. Its Pride, so go and try your luck. For God's sake, Chris, its ages since you did anything. It's about time you got yourself a proper boyfriend."
"I do all right," I said.
"Yeah? But with the same guy?"
"Okay, I give up."
"And bring him back here to meet Nina and me. Don't just go pissing off."
I needed the emotional push she gave me, and quickly, but not too quickly because I didn't want to seem desperate, I walked over to him. As I got closer, I saw he had really bright-blue eyes. Why I noticed that I don’t know, but I did.
"Hi," I said.
He looked around as if making sure it was him I was actually talking to.
"Hello." He blushed as he said it. His accent was soft but not far from South London.
"Enjoying yourself?" I asked.
"It's very, very different. I've never seen anything like it before."
"Yeah. I remember my first Pride. It was something else," I said.
"Oh, right." His face still blushed with embarrassment, but it only made him look even cuter, a flush of real emotions.
"I'm Chris," I said and held out my hand to him.
"I'm Lenny." He hesitated before shaking my hand, almost as if he didn’t know what to do. I wanted to hold his hand that fraction of a second too long, that gesture that implied attraction and much more, but I couldn't because he quickly let go of mine.
"Are you here on your own?" I asked, hoping he'd say yes.
"No. I'm here with my friends. We've been giving out leaflets."
"Yeah, there's a lot of it about. People giving out leaflets, I mean. Always is at Pride. Kay moans about all the wasted trees that go into making them, but going home with your pockets full of bits of paper is part of Pride for me," I said.
"Is Kay your friend over there?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Shit, this is your first time. Kay's just a mate. She's a lesbian, and we're waiting for her girlfriend, Nina. I'm gay, so it really won't work with her," I said.
"Oh... So, you've got a boyfriend?" he asked.
"Not yet," I said as I tried to push a subtle message into my words.
"Oh..." He blushed again. I smiled back at him, trying to aim at a warm and encouraging smile.
"What about me?" he asked.
"Have you got a boyfriend?"
"Oh, no. No, that wouldn't be right." His body suddenly became tense with nerves, his back straightened, and his hands suddenly became animated, moving in small circles in front of himself.
"Why not? You're gay, aren't you?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I'm homosexual; well I have same-sex attractions," he said.
"Then you're gay. What's the problem?"
"Well, it's different. I don't believe being gay is right," he said.
A loud alarm bell started ringing in the back of my mind. At that moment I should have walked away, but stupidly I stayed.
"I'm a Christian, and I believe that any homosexual expression is wrong. God doesn't want us going about having gay sex that offends him and his creation. Being homosexual isn't wrong, only an accident, but expressing your homosexuality, living the homosexual lifestyle, is wrong; it's a sin," he said.
"No, it's the truth of God. I have same sex-attractions, but I've never acted upon them. I'm celibate, and that's the way God wants me to live my life. I believe one day God will heal me of my homosexuality," he said.
"You're still a virgin?"
"Yes. I'm not ashamed of being a virgin. God has kept me pure," he said.
"God, you're so screwed up."
"No, Chris, God has opened my eyes to life as it should be."
"How can you know about life, you've not loved any one."
"I love God, and I love my friends, and God can love you, too, Chris. Let me show you." He quickly bent down and rummaged through the backpack at his feet. When he stood back up, he was holding a handful of brightly coloured leaflets. "Here, have these, Chris." He held out the leaflets.
I don't know why I did it, but I took those stupid leaflets. They were all about a thing called The Release Trust and Michael Hamilton, the guy who started it all, his plain face staring back at me from several of them.
"I'm here with some friends from The Release Trust. They're other men like me, and we've been handing out our leaflets to people here. We want people to know that God can save them from their sin and make them whole again. People don't have to be lost in the darkness of the homosexual lifestyle. People can be free to live a new life in God. All you have to do is repent of your sins and turn your back on homosexuality. It's easy. I know because I've done it," he said.
"God, you're so screwed up."
"No, no. Chris you're looking at this all wrong. You're looking with man's eyes not God's eyes. God wants us to be free from sin. We're here because God wants to save the lost and lonely homosexual. God has saved me from that lost and lonely lifestyle."
"Lenny?" Someone called out from behind me.
"Lenny, we're back," another guy called out, also from behind me.
"Look, my friends are back. Arthur and Colin can explain it all a lot better than me. They were both practising homosexuals before God saved them. I know you want to hear more, and you'll love their testimonies," he said.
"Sorry Lenny, you're really cute, but you're way too screwed for me. I know because I've been there. I've been where you are."
Before he could say anything more, I walked away. I had to put as much space between him and me, to get away from him now. I hurriedly returned to where Kay was sitting on the grass.
I hadn't lied to him. I had been exactly where he was but nearly ten years earlier. The scar it had left behind ran deep within me, and the pain was again stabbing away at me, suddenly real again.
When I got back, I found Nina sitting on the grass with Kay. Nina was taking swigs from a bottle of water while Kay lay with her head in Nina's lap.
Kay sat up when she saw me.
"That was quick," Kay said.
I sat down on the grass next to them.
"Not a fucking chance," I said.
"Did he resist your charms?" Nina asked as she smiled at me.
"Worse than that."
I dropped the handful of The Release Trust's leaflets in front of Kay and Nina. Nina picked one of them up, staring distastefully at them.
"Shit! What the fuck are those bastards doing here? It's our day, and they come and spoil it. I don't know how anyone can be so stupid as to believe all this shit," Nina said.
"Drop it, Nina. Chris was involved with that lot when he was a teenager, and they really got to him," Kay said.
Kay put her arm around my shoulders and gently pulled me into a hug.
"Oh, God. I'm sorry Chris. I'm sorry," Nina said.
I looked down at the grass I was sitting on.
"Why won't it all just go away?" I said.
I was lying in a tight foetal position in bed, but it was still dark; night still hung all around me. I rolled onto my back, I was still in my bedroom, the clothes I wore last night were still dumped on the chair, and my laptop still sat on the table next to it. It had only been a dream, but one so real. I pulled the duvet close to me; my skin felt cold, but at least I wasn’t bathed in sweat again. I was now wide awake.
I’d had this dream so many times now it was becoming a regular night-time event, but it didn’t make it any less horrible. It was always the same. I was stood at the front of my old church. It was the Sunday-evening, youth-ministry service, and the whole youth congregation was there, everyone in the church who was under twenty. Pastor Clive, the church’s youth pastor, had stood at the front of the church and called me up. I’d been nervous, really scared, being called up like that, but I’d gone anyway, I had to. When I’d stopped in front of him, he’d told everyone, all my friends at church, that I was possessed by daemons, ones that caused homosexuality. He then called everyone to stand around me and cast out the daemons from me. Suddenly, it felt like hundreds of hands were pushing down on me. Pastor Clive then started to pray over me, loudly demanding that God cast out the daemons and save me from homosexuality, and he went on and on about how bad it was. As he prayed, I stared down at the floor under my feet. The carpet had a dark, blue-and-black diamond pattern. I kept staring at it, wanting it to do something, to save me from this. I felt a fraud. I felt a liar because I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel God moving inside of me and freeing me from my daemons, I felt nothing. I knew I was going to Hell; God had abandoned me; God didn’t care about me. I was a disgusting sinner that not even God could redeem. I wanted to die, then, and I knew how to do it.
Then I woke up. I always wake up at that point, and I always wake up feeling the same thing: that I want to die, that my life is nothing. It was always the same with this dream. Afterwards, I’d always find sleep impossible. I’d lie there feeling tired, my mind racing with that fucking dream as insomnia dragged me into the early hours of the morning.
I know where that dream came from. What I dreamed happened to me, all of it, the memory of it was so horrible.
My parents are very strict Christians. Therefore, I was brought up to be a strict Christian and to go to church and believe what the pastor said, which I did. I believed that God was always right, that family was everything and you couldn't live happily outside of one; that everything I was told at church was always right, certainly what I was told by the church’s Elders; that I had to conform and toe the line; if I didn't it was a sin; that church and God had to be everything to me, my whole life, and no other life.
That was what I grew up in and where I found out I'm gay, but I kept very quiet about that. I believed right from when I was a little kid that it was wrong to be gay. No one actually told me this, they didn't need to because all that homophobia was there in the very air at church, and I breathed it right in, and I believed it all.
When I was sixteen, I found one of The Release Trust's leaflets hidden away at the back of our church. They weren't as glossy as the ones I’d been given at Pride, but they said the same things. They said being gay wasn't wrong, just a mistake, but expressing it was the sin, certainly if you had sex with another man. The Release Trust said there were only two ways I could live and not sin. I could either be celibate or be "healed" and turn straight. I believed it all, every last thing they said, the moment I read it because I felt so relieved. I thought I was going to Hell simply for being gay, I was still a virgin at sixteen, but The Release Trust gave me an escape, my fire escape out of Hell—or so I thought.
So, I joined them. I went for counselling from one of its leaders, a very strange guy called Henry Webb. I also went once a month to a support group for gay men "wanting to change"; it was called a "Release Group". They were all older guys who had been out on the gay scene before finding Jesus. (The group fell apart when I was eighteen after it was found out that two of the guys in it were having a relationship) Everyone there, the Release Group and Henry Webb, told me that I was perfect to change, to be healed, to turn straight. I was young, a virgin and terrified of being gay. I believed it all and begged God each night to turn me straight. Nothing happened, though.
At nineteen I was still gay, still a virgin and still involved with The Release Trust. The problems were mounting up, though. Nothing had changed, except my gay feelings were even stronger. I had a crush on another guy at church, Marc, who was straight and didn't have a clue how I felt. Then one of our church's deacons was thrown out for being gay and living with another guy. It was all getting to me, all the pressure. Being in the closet and everyone everywhere telling me that being gay was the worst sin of all. Also, I was feeling such a failure because I wasn't turning straight. I felt God didn't love me because I wasn't straight. It was all my own fault, so I believed.
At the end of summer that year, I’d turned to Pastor Clive for help. I’d sat in the sitting room of his tiny flat one evening, just him and me, and I told him about my problem with homosexuality, I still couldn’t bring myself to say I was gay. I told him about joining the Release Trust, wanting God to turn me straight, and how God hadn’t answered my prayers. After I’d poured my heart out to him, I felt complete shit; he’d just leant back in his chair and slowly said:
“You’re not homosexual. You are simply listening to the devil’s lies. The devil is sitting on your shoulder and whispering all these lies about being homosexual into your ear. Now, Christian, you need to stop foolishly listening to his lies.”
He just dismissed all my fears and sent me home. I didn’t feel any better.
The next Sunday at the youth-ministry service, Pastor Clive called me to the front of church and exorcised the daemons of homosexuality out of me in front of all the friends I had on Earth. None of them knew I was gay before that. Thank God, no one else from my family went to the church’s youth-ministry services; my sister Annie was then too old to attend, being twenty-three, but that was it.
I’d turned to the Release Trust for help and support. I’d gone to see Henry Webb the following week on my way home from work. I’d poured out everything that had happened to me, all about the exorcism. I was looking to him for help and support, but I didn’t get it. When I’d finished telling him it all, he’d replied that many Christians believe that homosexuality is caused by daemons, which is a very valid belief, and that the devil often tempted us with same-sex attractions. Henry Webb then said I had brought it on myself, that I should have tested out what Pastor Clive’s beliefs were before I talked with him. Henry Webb had talked a lot at The Release Group about testing out people’s beliefs before disclosing any problems we were having with same-sex attractions. Henry Webb was telling me it was my fault what Pastor Clive and everyone had done to me. I left Henry Webb’s office feeling even more down and hopeless then when I’d arrived.
Two weeks later, I took a drug overdose. I wanted to die so much. I was so depressed about everything but mostly about being gay and unable to change and about how all my friends had stopped talking to me after Pastor Clive had outed me. I wanted to end it all and stop the pain. Instead of dying, I woke up in hospital. They treated me for the pills I'd taken, and the next day they moved me to a psychiatric ward. I was mad, mentally ill. I stayed on that ward for two-and-a-half months. I met my first openly gay man there, a gay man who was happy to be gay: Eddie, one of the nurses. He was nothing like the image I had been told gay men were like; he was actually one of the most caring nurses on that ward.
The unchangeable problem was I'd written a note when I took the overdose, all about being gay and not being able to change and everything. My parents read it after my sister Annie had found me. I'd been on the psychiatric ward four days when Mum finally visited me, the only time she did. She had all my stuff packed into three big bags, and she told me I wasn't welcome back home anymore; Dad had decided, and there was no arguing about it. It was bad enough I'd tried to kill myself, that was a sin in itself, but being gay was too great a sin for them. I wasn't wanted in the family anymore. She wouldn't listen when I cried and tried to tell her what had really happened to me.
When I left hospital, I went into a hostel, a sort of halfway house, and later a place of my own. I never went back to The Release Trust or back to church—or even back home.
I've been trying to come to terms with what happened to me ever since and failing to do so. I was twenty-four when I had my first relationship with another guy. It didn't last long, like the few that I've had since then. Kay is one of the few people I've been able to get close to, one of my few real friends, and even with her I hold back so much about myself. She knows I was involved with The Release Trust but not about the overdose or being in hospital. I haven’t told her because I can’t.
That dream brought all these memories back. I lay there and stared up at my bedroom’s ceiling. It was gone four o’clock in the morning, but there was little hope of falling back asleep again. That dream always brought with it the same worry: were those Christians right? They always said being gay made for a lonely and sad life, full of disease and unhappiness. My life was lonely, and none of my relationships had worked. Was that because I was gay? Was I damned to be this sad for the rest of my life? I couldn’t face it if I was, I couldn’t face it if those Christians were right.
When I was in The Release Trust, they always talked about how harmful and lonely the gay life was. Now I’m living the gay life, and my life isn’t great, I didn’t have a lover or a chance of finding one, I hardly have any friends and only go to gay bars to find sex; otherwise, I hate the places. God, I was such a failure as a gay man, but I couldn’t go back to The Release Trust because I’d already failed at that. God, my life was a joke.
I didn’t want to think about that, but it kept coming back to me as I tried to sleep; every time I closed my eyes, that thought kept coming back…