When my husband told me about a study showing that gay people like us were more likely to have clinical depression and more prone to becoming substance abusers, I told him that was exactly the excuse I’d been looking for.
“You’re an idiot,” he smiled, and poured us both another glass of Oyster Bay. It was the end of the bottle and just enough left for us both to knock back our anti-dep’s with. Evidently we were not in a position to refute the study’s findings, but neither did we consider them at all surprising.
In twenty-first century Britain, with marriage equality finally becoming the law, with anti-discrimination legislation and anti-hate crime measures making it harder for society to get away with prejudice and homophobia, it is easy to forget the way lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people have been forced to live throughout history, and even within living memory. Conventionally, we’ve had little choice but to endure scared, secretive lives prey to social stigmatisation, persecution, violence, execution, living in fear of being ‘found out’. We’ve developed cultures around the necessity of substituting stable, genuinely intimate relationships with precarious sexual encounters behind closed doors or far away from prying eyes, our safety and health often placed at considerable risk. Many people have fallen apart through suppressing their sexual feelings and emotions and driving themselves mad and bitter with frustration, denying or hiding a fundamental aspect of who they are in order to avoid rejection or obliteration. Frequently this has been encouraged by so-called men of God. Is it any wonder gays are more likely to be depressed or seek solace in mind-altering substances than their straight brothers and sisters?
“Well, the study doesn’t exactly say that,” my husband tells me, though he cannot bring himself to say I’m wrong.
Growing up gay in rural Britain in the 1990s, outside of the more cosmopolitan urban centres, these fears were still as real as they were for LGBT people at any point in human history, and continue to be, particularly for young people who are the most vulnerable to such social pressures. In the nineties and before, gay children grew up in schools where discussion of health and emotional issues specific to them was strictly illegal. There were no civil partnerships to show that committed relationships were possible for us, and all representations of gay relationships involved promiscuity, deceit or disease; only a few public figures were openly gay and barely any of them were in a field other than the demented world of show business. There was nobody to turn to for guidance except for on the burgeoning networks of the internet, filled with damaged people who had grown up feeling even less accepted than the children of my generation did, and heavily populated with sexual predators in search of the needy and easily-influenced.
Slugging back my wine with a man that the law now allows me to call my husband, it is not lost on me that my own suffering growing up gay is nothing compared to the so-called lives that gay people in other parts of the world still have to lead, in any one of the seventy-plus countries where homosexuality is still illegal or one of the half-dozen countries where it is punishable by death. There really isn’t a day that goes by where I am not thankful I was born into the sexually-confused but progressive time and place that I was, regardless of the ill-effects that the conditions of my era may have had on my own mental and physical well-being. I’m humbled when I imagine the stoic desperation that our gay ancestors invariably endured, be it in the strictures of conservative polite society, the confines of the peasant village, or trapped in concentration camps waiting to be murdered. My own little life, compared to that, has been a walk in the park, my husband reminds me. Punctuated by sickness, danger and violence though it has been, it’s a fairytale in comparison. A fairytale, in a world where being called a ‘fairy’ is considered an insult.