What’s so special about Madeleine?

Putting aside the enormous elephant-in-the-room questions regarding the McCanns’ failure to take adequate care of their children or ensure that a satisfactory childcare service was employed to look after them, the abduction of young Madeline McCann is obviously a terrible thing and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But after three weeks of media saturation I’m starting to become a little weary about the whole thing after sanctimoniously being asked over and over again to “pray” for her by politicians and celebrities, especially since the odds of her actually being alive any more are slim and get slimmer by the day. What’s needed here is some perspective.

77,000 children (yes, that’s seventy-seven thousand) go missing in the UK every year (source). That’s 210 children per day and nearly nine per hour. Why has Madeleine McCann been singled out for three weeks of media saturation? What makes her special? I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve as much attention as possible in order to maximise the chances of finding her, but why am I not seing the faces of the other 4,410 children that have gone missing in the three weeks since Madeline vanished on all front of all the newspapers and on the nightly news? Why do they not deserve the country’s support? Why isn’t David Beckham pleading with us to find them?

I’ll wager that a fair proportion of them are any number of combinations of black, poor, criminal, immigrant, orphaned, from broken homes or working class. Not nice pretty little white girls from families who can afford to go on holiday in expensive resorts in the Algarve. We must look critically at ourselves when so much money, time and effort is spent on one case at the expense of the other 76,999 this year alone.

I hope they find her, I really do. But it’s unlikely and putting her face up on big screens at football matches “to raise awareness” (as if it were even possible not to be aware of it by now) isn’t going to make it any more likely.


Confessions of a confused gay teen in love

Up until December 21st 1994, I did not accept the fact that I was gay. For many years I’d had feelings for other boys, going right back to middle school (8-12 in a three tier school system), although at that time such feelings were very mild and it was more the concept of being gay that intrigued me rather than being gay myself or being attracted to other boys.

Throughout my teenage years I developed feelings for a number of my friends, although I wasn’t entirely sure why and I simply assumed that such feelings would pass. Which they did, of course, for the friends concerned, but my general feelings of attraction to other blokes did not. Without any evidence to the contrary in my sheltered northwest Surrey world, caught between wealthy commuter areas and council estates, I simply assumed that my feelings were a phase, even if it did seem like quite a long phase, and that they would pass in time.

I initially screwed up Sixth Form at Fullbrook School. In my first year I took the wrong subjects and lacked the maturity to deal with them properly. Towards the end of the academic year 1992 to 1993 it was clear to all concerned that I was not going to fare well in the first year exams and that I really wasn’t enjoying my subjects at all. I took the decision to restart my time in Sixth Form in September 1993, except with two different subjects, which were of more interest and ultimately of more use to me.

The upshot of this of course was that I spent three years in Sixth Form instead of the customary two. Being “old in the year” in terms of the academic year this meant that by the time I left in June 1995 I was nineteen and a half years old, leaving a school that by that point accepted pupils that had just turned eleven. This combined with my efforts to have uniform at Sixth Form abolished gave rise to me being called “sir” by some of the younger students in the main school towards the end of my tenure, but I digress.

So, the academic year 1993 to 1994 saw me start my courses again. Although I was in Lower Sixth classes the school considered to be Upper Sixth due to my age and standing with my peers. I remained close with my Upper Sixth peers and due to my exposure to the new Lower Sixth students I very quickly formed some new friendships with them too. Things were well with me again and I was happy. I still fancied some of my mates, but that was nothing unusual and, of course, it was just a phase and it would pass!

During the remainder of that academic year, in 1994, my close Upper Sixth peers also became friendly with some of the Lower Sixth students, a group of girls, as one might expect. The trouble is, rather than being just friends with them, my Upper Sixth peers started to develop romantic attractions and relationships with them. This is not an unreasonable thing to have happen, we were all senior teenagers and that is of course what teenagers do, I had no problem with that. What caused difficulty for me was that this group of girls didn’t particularly like me very much. Sure, we had occasions when I got on like a house on fire with them, but when they started dating my friends we didn’t get on so well. I don’t know which of us saw the other as more of a threat, but that’s what the problem was. I saw them as a threat because they were taking my friends’ attention away from me. They probably saw me as a threat because of exactly the same reason, but vice versa.

The other new feelings I experienced were the desire for such a romantic relationship for myself. Although at that point I had not accepted that I was gay, I knew that I definitely was not interested in a relationship with a girl, and I think for that reason I found it difficult to fit in with my friends because they had discovered this new aspect to their lives and I was unable to join them in enjoying it. I became ostracised from them for a period, instead preferring to spend time with my own Lower Sixth friends. I became quite depressed about it, mostly during the spring and summer of 1994.

Ultimately this difficult period had no bearing on my relationship with these friends. As is common with teenage romances, their relationships came to an end and everyone moved on, especially since in September 1994 they all left to go to university, having completed their A-Levels of course. Because I had restarted my courses, I was of course a year behind, and was to remain at Sixth Form for a third year.

The academic year 1994 to 1995 started much like the previous years, except without my Upper Sixth peers and with another new influx of Lower Sixth students, the previous Lower Sixth having been promoted to Upper Sixth. I was now Super Upper Sixth; the school gave me a special “Year 14” designation, possibly because their computer system would have been confused by anything else. I remained heavily involved in the students’ committee, which I had been a part of for 18 months by now, which contributed to an increased level of popularity amongst my fellow students which I greatly valued.

I was doing well at my studies, I was enjoying a fantastic social life, I was fit and healthy, I was immensely popular, I had a bit of money due to taking a job in the petrol station at Tesco in Brooklands and I didn’t have any reason to be unhappy whatsoever. I’d still not come to terms with my sexuality, but at that point it just wasn’t important to me, especially since the difficulties of the previous academic year had come to an end. Other than that, I had it all. It was one of the high points in my life.

Ball On A Boat was by then a regular and popular event on the Fullbrook Sixth Form social calendar. As its name suggests, it was an evening party on a riverboat in London. My contemporary committee members and myself had organised two already: one in December 1993 and another in the summer of 1994. The third such event was organised for 21st December 1994, to celebrate the breakup for Christmas.

The event went off without a hitch, save for the inevitable necessity to stop the coaches on the A3 so that those who had over-imbibed before departure may relieve themselves on the hard shoulder; this was normal. Everyone arrived on the boat in his or her smart clothes, there was no fuss, there was no trouble and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

Then it happened. Everything changed.

About halfway through the evening I was on the bow of the vessel with a few other people. A blond boy from the Lower Sixth came out by himself, looking a little nervous. He wore a blue shirt that he’d spilt something on (not unusual, it was a party on a boat, after all). He glanced at me briefly and then looked towards the Houses of Parliament, which we happened to be passing. A couple of minutes passed and the other people went back inside the cabin, leaving me with the blond boy on the bow. He turned to me, smiled, extended his right hand and said “I’m Daniel”.

Capillary dilation, fluctuation of the pupil and involuntary dilation of the iris (also known as the “blush response”) was my immediate actual physical reaction. I’m also pretty sure that my heart stopped beating for two or three beats before it then started back up again, beating harder than I had ever felt it beat before. Everything I thought I know about feelings for other people, in that instant of time, changed drastically and permanently. Quite literally, I fell in love with this boy on the spot, and completely ill prepared for it. My world had, in the blink of an eye, changed forever.

“I’m Stu,” was my response. I shook his hand. I maintained eye contact with him for longer than either of us were comfortable with and we look away, at the sights around us on the Thames. I don’t remember what we talked about then, it was probably just small talk about the party, but it was short lived as some friends dragged me into the cabin for some reason or other. I told him I’d speak to him later, perhaps.

The rest of the evening played out without a hitch. But there was just one thing on my mind. When the coaches arrived back outside the Black Prince in New Haw Daniel and I engaged in some further small talk, but he was soon torn away by his own friends who wanted to make their way home to Byfleet.

The 1995 spring term did not start until 4th January, a full two weeks after Ball On A Boat (such is the nature of the Christmas break). During that period I was absolutely beside myself with my new and quite frankly unwelcome feelings that, no matter what I tried, I could not seem to shift or even alleviate. I was simply ill prepared to deal with them, I didn’t know what they were much less what I was doing, and I was scared, confused and upset by it all. From the moment I woke up to the moment I (finally) went off to sleep all I could think about was him. What the living fuck? What on earth had I done to deserve this? I felt like someone had kicked my legs out from underneath me and was continuing to kick me very fucking hard in the guts whilst I writhed on the floor. All day, every day.

On the first day of term I was making a cup of tea in the Sixth Form common room kitchen, a room that usually boasted untold horrors of cleanliness and “facility”, although that is a different story. As I was making my morning cup of char, I saw a blond head go past the window. It turned to look at me as it went past, presumably having spotted me through the previous window. We exchanged very brief eye contact before he passed on, on the way to whatever lesson he had. My heart, again, jumped up into my throat, and at that point I knew that this just wasn’t going to get any easier very quickly. I was stuck with this and I had to deal with it.

Oddly enough it was Daniel’s birthday on the same Wednesday that the new term started; he was turning seventeen. A group of lads with whom I had become acquainted in the weeks leading up to and including Ball On A Boat invited me to an evening on the weekend in a pub to celebrate one of their mates’ birthdays. I quickly discovered that the mate in question was Daniel and so of course I agreed to attend. I think it was in whatever pub the Harvester in West Byfleet is attached to, but I can’t be sure. I do know that it had a pool table, which was one of the major requirements of the selected venue, although whether it still has a pool table today is anyone’s guess.

I bought him a birthday card and I turned up at the pub. It was a pretty normal evening as far as evenings in pubs with teenage friends goes. There was lots of beer, lots of pool and a fair amount of small talk between everyone, including Daniel and myself. I found out that he lived in Byfleet, was the eldest of a large family of boys (three or four younger brothers), his major hobby was Tae Kwon Do (with which he had become very advanced) and that his father was a tradesman. I also met his best mate, Paul, who did not attend Fullbrook Sixth Form, with whom I got on immensely. He had been Daniel’s closest friend since they were kids. Although I gleaned all this information casually and nonchalantly in reality I wanted to find out everything there was to know about him.

What was to become a very close albeit brief (in the grand scheme of things) friendship had begun. I still don’t know whether it was the correct thing to do in terms of handling my feelings, but at the time I just had to be part of his life in any way that I could, and he seemed to be open to a friendship.

Being the data-harvesting nerd that I was (and still am), I had of course computerised the guest list for the Ball On A Boat party. Somebody, I forget who, suggested to me that I should print out the final guest list for Ball On A Boat and pin it to the noticeboard in the Sixth Form common room and put up a notice next to it encouraging people to draw lines between names on the list who had “got off” with each other. This may seem puerile and immature now, but it is what teenagers do at parties when drunk and so to facilitate the resultant humiliation and friendly jibing seemed like a good idea at the time.

This started out as a right laugh. There were some very legitimate lines drawn between people, and some not so legitimate ones, including a number of lines drawn from one particular person to a great many people, which was mostly true, but nonetheless created a fair amount of shrieking in the common room when the person concerned found them.

But it stopped being funny for me when, after the lists had been on the board for a day or two, someone drew a line between Daniel and me. I don’t know who it was, it might have been him, it might not have been, but it certainly wasn’t fucking me. I totally panicked and ran out of the building and down the road to where the canteen was, eventually losing my breath and leaning against a wall, holding my head in my hands and fighting back the tears. I knew that there could have been only three possible explanations for the line:

  1. It was a random prank. But how unlikely was that? Out of a guest list of over two hundred, why was the line drawn between him and me as part of a “random” exercise? It didn’t make sense. It was too much of a coincidence. It had to be.
  2. Someone had found out that I had feelings for Dan. How this was possible I didn’t know. Perhaps someone was better at reading my own body language than I was. This scared me immensely. Not only was I not ready for anyone to know that I was gay but I certainly wasn’t fucking ready for Dan to know that I had such feelings for him, or for anyone else to know for that matter.
  3. It was him. By God, what if it was him? Was he trying to tell me something? What the hell should I do now? I had no support network, so I couldn’t take advice. I was on my own.

I decided that the best thing I could possibly do was ignore it and let the line drawing exercise work itself to its natural conclusion, which it did after a couple of weeks or so, at which point the lists were taken down from the noticeboard. I discarded the lists, except the page with the line between my name and Daniel’s. I still have it.

Six weeks into the term Valentines’ Day came around. Thinking back to the guest list incident, I very carefully considered what I should do, if anything. I decided that Valentines Day had given me the perfect opportunity to respond to the guest list incident as it allowed me to send him a message without him knowing who it was from, which is essentially what the line on the guest list did for me, although it was and still is unclear as to who actually drew it.

I sent him a card with a number of words pulled from the dictionary. Were one to look up each word in the dictionary, one would notice that each started with the letters “stu”. It went as follows:

Be keen, be diligent, apply oneself to, be a supporter of; keen on, fond of, partial to; eagerly; enthusiasm, application, inclination, fondness, affection; party spirit, partisanship; foolish talk, folly, silliness; simple sighted, silly, fool; stun, astound, be stunned, be astonished, be brought to a standstill, marvel at, become amazed, senselessness, astounded; ravish …

I sent it to his home address, unsigned of course, posting it from outside the school just in case the postmark would have been different had I posted it from closer to my home. He received it. He told me so when the subject of Valentines Day came up between us. He said that he received one card and it that it had a weird poem or something in it. I too received a card. It contained a large question mark flanked on both sides by two smaller question marks. There was no message. I have absolutely no idea who sent it as the envelope was typed and the postmark gave nothing away.

Our friendship continued to grow, and with it did my feelings for him. I believed at the time that I loved him, and now, twelve years later, having now been in love a number of times, I know I was right. I’ve loved others as much as I loved Dan, but never more. This is no bad reflection on my previous relationships whatsoever as I believe that I have merely each time experienced the maximum effect on myself that being in love can have. Dan was no different. I loved him, totally.

We very quickly became best friends and very close indeed. So much so that certain behaviours started to be exhibited by both of us. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to me now that these behaviours were not what you would call normal between two people who were just supposed to be friends. This is not to say that I now believe that he had feelings for me similar to those I had for him, but I do believe that something unusual was going on between us.

For example, because he was in the Lower Sixth and I was in the Upper Sixth (or whatever you want to call it), and we were on completely different courses, our academic timetables were completely different. We didn’t share any lessons together and we weren’t even in the same tutor group, so the only time we would be together was if we both had a free period at the same time, and then at break time and lunchtime as one might expect.

Often one of us would have the whole afternoon off whilst the other had lessons all afternoon. Yet, despite this, the person with the afternoon off would always wait until the end of the day for the other to finish, even if it meant sitting in the common room for two hours, just so we could walk to the gate together. Once at the gate we would say our goodbyes and walk off in completely different directions, so it wasn’t even as if we shared the journey home together. It literally was the walk from the Sixth Form block to the gate of the school. It was over in 5 minutes, and yet each of us would faithfully wait all afternoon for it. Similarly, we used to meet each other in the common room every morning, without fail, whether either of us had a lesson in first period or not.

Each evening one of us would phone the other. There was no rule or pattern as to who phoned who, it just happened one way or the other. Despite spending most of the day with each other, we would still find things to talk about and each call generally lasted between 40 and 60 minutes. Quite often during these calls there would be long pauses, and when I say long I mean up to a few minutes, where nothing was said. This might seem strange now, but at the time it didn’t. We just both stayed on the line, not feeling pressured to say anything, but eventually of course doing so when another topic of conversation was thought of. It was as if each of us was just happy knowing that the other was there, on the end of the phone, whether talking or not.

When we went out in the evening and I was driving, it would always be the case that I would drop off any other people in the car before dropping Dan off, even if it meant going out of my way. Sometimes I would even drive past Dan’s house in order to drop someone else off before dropping him off. One on occasion I thought I would test this and pulled up outside Dan’s house with someone else still in the car. He insisted that we should drop off whoever else it was in the car first. On this and every other occasion I dropped him off, we would talk in the car for a quarter of an hour or so before he got out and went into his house. Similarly with the phone calls, such conversations often included pauses that anyone else would consider awkward, but not us.

Another thing that happened reasonably often was prolonged eye contact. Often we’d be hanging out together and engage in eye contact that lasted way longer than eye contact normally lasts between two friends, be they best friends or otherwise. Sometimes it would even take the interjection of an unwitting third party grabbing our attention in order for the eye contact to be broken off. It was weird, but as with the phone calls, did not feel wrong or unusual, at least not to me.

There was also a almost constant stream of little incidents. For example, on the day of the school photo, we were all asked to line up in height order, as is the way with these things. Dan was noticeably shorter than me, by a couple of inches, but he refused to stand in line anywhere else but in front of me. A number of people suggested that he moved forward since they were obviously taller than him, but he point blank refused to do so.

These things, of course, are all reported from my own perspective. Perhaps I was looking for things that weren’t there. But with hindsight it’s very clear that they were unusual to say the least. Were Dan to write his side of this story, he might write something very different.

During all this I had of course been thinking about my now obvious sexuality, regardless of any feelings I had for anyone else. Falling in love with Dan had been the proverbial saucepan being struck very hard across my head, wielded by a robust matronly woman who was basically saying to me “you have to deal with this now, you are gay, it’s not going to go away, it’s not a phase, it’s part of you and you have to accept it and make it a part of your life otherwise you’ll never be happy“. She was right, of course. But although I wanted to act on her advice, I was still petrified of what might happen to me.

I lost weight at an incredible rate through a combination of my feelings for Dan and the worry over the unknown regarding my sexuality. I lost three stone (42 lbs, 19 kg) between January and March of that year; that’s a stone each month. Everyone started to notice. At first it was healthy remarks, saying I looked a lot fitter and healthier, but soon the remarks became expressions of concern that I was starting to look thin. Even the head of Sixth Form, an outwardly hostile and uncaring man (although this proved not to be the case once you got to know him), remarked that my face looked “very angular” and asked if there was anything wrong that I wanted to talk about. My college work also started to suffer, which was perhaps his ultimate concern since it was him that dealt with me restarting Sixth Form eighteen months earlier.

My big problem with dealing with my sexuality was that I had no support network. I knew I had to get a support network, but I didn’t know where to start since I had no frames of reference. I didn’t know any other gay people and at the time there were no local youth organisations that I knew of and because of Section 28 nothing about homosexuality had been taught in the school, including the Sixth Form. Internet access was difficult and expensive, and even if I had it the Internet did not boast the sort of resources for gay people that it does these days. I quite simply didn’t know where to start.

I decided eventually that I should carefully select some friends to tell. They should be female, so as not to invoke a reaction that at the time I believed typical of what a bloke’s reaction would be, and they should be relatively recent friends whom I’d only known whilst at Sixth Form, not before, because I only wanted my recent years of life to be taken into account when discussing matters. I don’t know why this was important to me but it was at the time. It was possibly due to the fact that I was massively more popular at Sixth Form than I was in the main school or any school before that. I was a different person.

I told two girls: a close friend from the “first” Lower Sixth, i.e. technically the year below me but the year into which I had been adopted when I restarted Sixth Form; and one from the “second” Lower Sixth (the same year as Dan) whom I’d become friendly with and I valued her for her maturity and reason. I trusted them both, as did I one of my French teachers, who I selected as the third person to tell. I wouldn’t have told any other teacher, but this particular teacher seemed to be much more open minded about things than any of the others and she had this air of experience and trustworthiness that put my mind at ease. I wanted to tell a teacher in addition to the two friends because I thought it was important to get more than one type of perspective on the matter.

I told a total of ten people in the end before I went to university. However, I only told the first two, Nicola and Marie-Ann, about my feelings for Dan. They were so personal, so much more personal even than being gay was, that I only felt comfortable extending my revelations in that regard to Nicola and Marie-Ann. Whilst they were sympathetic, there was of course nothing they could do to help me feel better beyond being shoulders to cry on. But I knew this, and what they could do for me was what I really needed.

Marie-Ann bought me a ring-bound notebook and suggested that I used it to write down my thoughts and feelings as such a exercise had helped her in the past. It did help, and I used it extensively up until the time I went to university. I wrote some pretty terrifying things in it sometimes. I still have it.

The other people I told included a number of my male friends from my native Upper Sixth. They were all very good-natured about it, which relieved me immensely because telling another boy was a very big step for me. One of them wept when I told him, partly because of all the anti-gay jibes he had made over the years but also because I had chosen him to reveal this personal secret to. It was very touching.

So, the year progressed through the spring, through the final A-Level exams and into the summer. My friendship with Dan grew, as did my friendship with his friends from the Lower Sixth. It came to a point where the whole group of us was as thick as thieves. A long hot summer awaited us after the exams were over, most of which was spent in various pubs and clubs in the area (straight clubs of course). One weekend I invited the lads down to my Dad’s Thames Hut, with which some readers may be familiar. It’s basically a large chalet type thing on the banks of the Thames in Sunbury with a mooring and easy access to a local pub across the river. I’d taken groups of friends down there before in previous years although before it had always been my Upper Sixth friends, which incidentally we now do again every year.

The weekend went off as you might expect – lots of beer, lots of food, lots of larking about in the boat and in the river; that’s the whole point of going down there. When it came to go to sleep, we all bundled into the chalet because nobody had thought to bring a tent of course. No matter, I’d fit eight people in there before and so it could be done again. Being the gracious host I of course bagged the sofa. Everyone else had camp beds, air beds, roll-up mats and sleeping bags. I forget what Dan had, but he pitched his bed right next to me on the sofa. This didn’t surprise me as by then I was used to automatically sitting next to him or having him sitting next to me pretty much wherever we went. The lights went out.

I led on my side, facing out into the room. Alcohol and the effects of a little too much sun caused images of the day to race through my head. About 5 or 10 minutes after the lights went out, something very strange happened. Dan, whose bed was a fair few inches lower than mine, put his head up on my bed, so that it was in front of mine. It was so close to mine that my nose ended up in his hair, the back of his head facing towards me. His hair smelt of the same chamomile shampoo that I used at the time (common amongst blonds). My heart immediately doubled its rate and I began breathing very quickly. He must have noticed and he must’ve known that I wasn’t asleep.

Then it became even stranger. After just a few seconds, he lifted his head away again. My breathing instantly returned to normal and I continued to pretend to be asleep. What happened then still isn’t clear to me, but after he lifted his head up he made some sort of deliberate contact with my face. It felt like a very light peck on the temple, but because I had my eyes shut and all sorts of other things were racing through my absolutely petrified mind, I couldn’t be sure and I still can’t. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for both events, but even now, twelve years on, I can’t think of one.

I spent the next week thinking about nothing else. I thought about it in combination with all the other signs – the close friendship, the eye contact, the guest list, the phone calls, the obvious pining for each other and the strong desire to spend as much time as possible with each other. But I still did not have the courage to do anything about it or approach him and ask him what was going on between us. My reason for this was simple: if I had it wrong then there would have been a very real chance that I would lose him as a friend, that I’d ruin it all and I would lose him completely. I was simply not willing to risk that, he meant too much to me, and even though my love for him was almost crippling on a daily basis, it was the price I had to pay in order to avoid something worse.

The lads went on holiday on some dreadful Club 18-30 jaunt in the summer, taking Dan with them. Although I was obviously invited, I didn’t go, partly because my mother wouldn’t let me spend my money on a holiday like that when I was about to go to university, and also because my holiday was planned some months previously in the form of the Venture Scouts summer camp, which was basically an 18-30 holiday except with tents and pubs instead of hotels and clubs; very little actual “scouting” was involved, such was the unique nature of 1st West Byfleet at the time. I missed him terribly when I was away, and of course at the time mobile phones were still reserved for the rich and there was no such thing as text messages.

The summer came to an end and a few days after an almighty party with the boys I went off to Aberystwyth to start my new life as a drunken university student. There was no big goodbye with Dan, we just said goodbye on the last day that we saw each other in the normal way. It was as if we were just going to see each other the next day as usual. At university I kept in touch with him by phoning him occasionally (no mobiles, so had to queue up at payphones) and I also wrote the odd letter because, although I had been blessed with the power of e-mail, he had not.

The trouble with starting a new life anywhere is that, no matter how good your intentions, you do lose touch with your old life to a degree. I had started off as I meant to carry on at university and I had come out to everyone I met as I met them. I was determined not to hide my sexuality any more, and so I didn’t. I was young and very pretty with my blond hair and thin physique inherited from the past nine months and so naturally I was very much in demand by the other gay boys. I took full advantage of this of course. The upshot of this, combined with the distance now between us, meant that Dan and I stopped being as close as we used to be.

When I came home from University at Christmas 1995, I met up with Dan and the lads as one might expect. By that time I wasn’t afraid to come out to pretty much anyone, and I came out to many people, full of confidence and relieved of my fears and apprehensions. A couple of them made stupid remarks, but they weren’t particularly close friends and they very quickly got the message from both me and everyone around them that they were being idiots and were no longer welcome in the conversation.

I told Dan in the car, sitting outside his house, after an evening out, just like we always used to. This was the last ever time in my life that I was apprehensive about coming out to anyone. I valued his friendship immensely, but I was no longer afraid of losing it by coming out to him because of all the overwhelmingly positive responses and acceptance that I had received from so many people up until then.

“Dan, I’ve got to tell you something. For the past few months I’ve sort of known that I’m gay”. I deliberately made the time frame refer to my months at university rather than the months previous. That’s all I said. I didn’t tell him about the feelings I’d had, and to some extent still did have, for him. Just the gay bit.

“Wow, I’m really sorry,” was his reply. He went on to explain that the reason for his apology was, as with a number of other friends to whom I had come out, because of all the gay jibes he made, at gay people in general rather than anyone specific. But gay jibes amongst groups of straight teenagers are not uncommon and they never bothered me, because I knew that they weren’t meant in a homophobic way. Most people, once they discover that one or more of their friends are gay, immediately stop and often feel bad about it.

I told him not to be concerned and that his apologies weren’t necessary, indeed I then apologized for not being more honest with him earlier, which he said not to worry about. Of course, the truth was that I still wasn’t being completely honest with him.

A large part of me saw my coming out to Dan as a possible opportunity for him to tell me any secrets he had at the same time. I thought that it would be an opportunity for him to come out to me if he was gay, and possibly even to admit that he had feelings for me. But Dan did neither. If I’m totally honest I was very disappointed. Me telling him that I was gay was way more effective at clearing the way to acknowledging any feelings than Valentines cards or drawing lines on a guest list. Perhaps all those things really were nothing, perhaps I was just reading too much into them, seeing what I wanted to see rather than what was actually there.

So, was he or wasn’t he gay, and if so, was he or wasn’t he interested in me in the way in which I was interested in him? With the benefit of twelve years of hindsight, I would certainly say that there were some pretty strong signs that would answer both questions positively. But even if he was, for exactly the same reason that I did nothing definitive about it, he might not have been able to either. I lacked maturity to deal with it properly, and I was two years older than him, so he certainly lacked the necessary maturity. Perhaps he too was as petrified if not more petrified than me as to what might happen if he acted upon his feelings.

Perhaps he wasn’t gay at all and it was all in my head. Perhaps he was going through a phase and was too confused about his feelings to be able to deal with them.

The fact is that, unless I ever meet him again and have a very honest and frank conversation with him, I’ll probably never know. Even with my twelve years of hindsight and wisdom, I can’t make up my mind for sure. I guess it’ll forever be the biggest “What if?” of my life.

I lost touch with Dan after my first year at university as I by then had moved on and discovered boyfriends and the gay scene and all that jazz and we lived in completely different worlds. I sent him a few birthday cards over the years but I never heard anything back from him. I’ve heard on the grapevine and through doing cursory Google searches that he now works for a marketing agency and runs his own martial arts club.

I hope he’s happy.