I am not the sort of person who turns out to be gay. So it came as a shock when, at the age of 40, it turned out that I am gay.
I grew up in Yorkshire, in a cosy Church of England family. We had enough money and my parents stayed together. I was (still am) the grumpy, clever one and my brother was (still is) the kind, funny one. I was popular but not well-liked, especially by grownups who regularly called me precocious. Some of my earliest memories are of feeling I needed to rein myself in.
I left home as soon as I could and, not least because my Mum died just before I sat my final degree exams, never moved back. I managed to get myself going in a career and moved to London to live a life. I had a few relationships with men – a photographer (nice), a painter (nice at first, then awful), a journalist (awful) and a TV executive (really awful). I enjoyed the flirting but never the sex and drank heavily all the time.
Then friends started getting married. I found the weekly carousel of identical weddings annoying and exhausting. I was acutely self-conscious – about being single, overweight, uncool, whatever – but what I thought was jealousy I now recognise as fear. To me, a wedding felt like an ending – of what, I wasn’t sure.
Still, life must be lived. So in 2008 I got married too. And soon after, kids. First I was swallowed up by the yawning chasm of early years parenting, and then digested by it, feeling myself dissolving in the toxic sludge of boredom and resentment. Somehow by 2013 I had a stay-at-home husband, two children, a big house, a four-hour daily commute, persistent headaches and an anxiety disorder. The life I had built was a fortress for me to hide in, but I could not hide from my own body.
I have joked before that feminism is the starter drug for lesbianism but in my case it’s more an explanation than a joke. I’d negotiated a Saturday afternoon away from home to go on the Women’s March with some friends from work. I arrived early (I’m always early) but it was already buzzing, just tens of thousands of women smiling in the chilly January air. I noticed myself feeling happy.
I saw her face through the crowd – grey bob, red lipstick, navy blue Carhartt anorak. Together, we carried a crap homemade “Feminist as F**K” sign and sang “Freedom” by George Michael, talking about work and friends and family and our exes and food and music and politics all the way to Trafalgar Square.
Susie soon became my best work friend. I bought her a notepad which said “feminist” on the front in gold letters. She took me to weird cafes at lunchtime when I should have been prepping for board meetings. I gave her clothes that didn’t fit me anymore. She texted me all the time. I could feel the foundations of the fortress shifting beneath my feet.
One Sunday evening, Susie rang me at home. She hardly ever did, because we both respected the sanctity of the unspoken wall between my home life and my “her life”. She told me she’d got drunk and slept with a woman. It was her first time. I was troubled to find myself feeling both devastated and delighted.
In my four hours of train time each day, I stopped working and started writing, just to see if I could put into words what the voice in my head was saying. I couldn’t. The truth still felt like a terrible betrayal, of myself as much as my husband. Someone, somewhere seemed to be taunting me with a long forgotten lie. It was a horrible, frightening feeling.
I did start listening to music. Songs from the musicals, pop songs, power ballads. Stuff I used to have in my car when I first learned to drive. Much later Susie said that listening to the music you like instead of the music you’re meant to like is the first step towards taking off the, ahem, straight jacket.
For nearly two years, I fought it. I even left my job to try and put some distance between us.
Home was like being underwater. I moved through the days, light but slow on my feet, my vision blurred. Somewhere in the distance I could hear someone calling for me. Gradually, I succumbed to the realisation that I was going to leave. I just didn’t know when, or whether Susie would be with me when I did. I still hadn’t even told her how I felt.
One night, after several failed attempts, I finally crossed the line. We went for dinner, I got very drunk and somehow managed to say out loud, “Everything would have been fine if I hadn’t accidentally fallen in love with you.” And that was that.
It still feels important to say that I did not have an affair. I was unfaithful, because I followed feelings that I knew weren’t safe, but once I’d broken my marital vows over dinner that night I knew there was no going back. That was when the real horror started. The telling of the kids, the moving out, the “sadmin”. Marriage, you forget when you’re jollying around in your big white dress, is a legally binding contract and an absolute fucker to undo.
I realise how lucky I am to live 2020s Britain, working in the right-on media industry, as this is by no means everyone’s experience but… coming out was a massive anti-climax. Nobody cares. They care about the end of your marriage, they worry about the divorce and the finances, but they don’t give two hoots about the gayness. My brother has embraced the rich new seam of lesbian-related comedy material with which he can tease me mercilessly. My Dad finds it hard but just tries his best not to put his foot in it.
The online “sapphosphere” encourages late-onset lesbians like me to remember, acknowledge and reclaim all the times that we repressed or just ignored the clues to our true sexual orientation. I am wary of such neat linearity. I definitely had a crush on a girl at school, but I fancied my best friend’s brother as well? I definitely fancied Justine Frischmann not Damon Albarn, but I think I was happy with my photographer boyfriend? I mean, I married a man FFS??
So here’s the current sit rep:
Am I gay now? Yes.
Was I always? Probably.
Why didn’t I see it earlier? **shrugs**
I don’t worry about it but I do think about it. I am still trying to put it together, but the puzzle pieces are clouds. Memories change shape, details sharpen and fade, timelines bend and blur.
I have never felt comfortable with “you’re so brave” although plenty of people have said it to me. I don’t feel brave, I feel selfish. I imagine people are judging me for choosing myself over my kids, the family, the promise. I judge me too. Most days I tell myself, and those imaginary people that, although it stings less now, the guilt is like grief. It will never go away.
My ex-husband is a good father and, I think, we are almost at the point where he and I are something like friends. He has told me that if I had to leave, he is glad it was for a woman not a man. The kids are hilarious, well-adjusted, interesting and loving young people. They love Susie too. And I don’t feel I have to rein myself in anymore. For that, and for so much else, I am very grateful.
By Liz Moseley
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