This is going to be a difficult post to write, partly because I know that the person I’m writing about would have hated this to be made public. Really hated it. That’s why it needs to be said.
This is the story of what happens when you tell a gay child that being gay is wrong.
This is the story of what happens when you tell someone they don’t deserve a real relationship, and can’t have one.
This is the story of my uncle.
It’s not going to end well.
My uncle Peter was born in 1954. He was brought up Roman Catholic, and went to a Roman Catholic school. He realised that he was gay when he was quite young – he said around 12 or so. At that time, in that school, it was going to be a problem for him. He was taught that being gay was a sin, and disgusting, and that it would send him to hell. As much as our world moved on during the course of his life, I don’t think he ever really stopped believing that, or ever stopped being ashamed.
When he was older, as a result of that and other issues in his life, he became a heroin addict. To him, being gay meant he had to put himself completely outside mainstream society, and he ran into all the risks that go with that – drugs being one. He experimented with different ways of living his life – I remember fondly my mum dying his hair in multi-coloured punk stripes when I was young. He never really settled to a life that suited him.
Equally, he never really had a settled relationship, and he certainly didn’t have a chance at having a family. He adored kids, and was great playing with them. No-one who saw him playing with his friends’ kids could doubt the joy that they brought him, and he brought them. If he could have settled with someone and had kids, I think it would have made a huge difference to his life.
When my parents split up, he stepped in as “replacement dad” and during my teens he provided the taxi service that a dad usually would. When I was at uni, it was he who mostly dropped me off and picked me up each term. I think I was probably the nearest he got to having a kid, and I’m proud of that. I hope he’d be proud of me.
He died at the age of 42. If you feel like I’ve missed out a huge chunk of his life: well, not really. He missed out a huge chunk of his life. He spent his life trying to come to terms with who he was, and in the end he failed.
Peter was a wonderful influence in my life, and the lives of others. (He had his problems too). But in many ways, his life was wasted. He could have been, and done, so much more. He had huge potential – he was an avid reader despite being severely dyslexic, he learned to program computers, he was always ready to help out friends and family, he was an amazingly quick learner.
I still miss him, and wish he was around to meet my son, who would have adored him and been adored back. I’m angry that they didn’t get that chance to meet. I’m angry that Peter didn’t get a chance to have a relationship and maybe children of his own. And I’m angry that he spent his whole life feeling like a disappointment, and wrong, when he meant so much in my life and the lives of others.
But he never stopped being uncomfortable with who he was. When he died, I know there were several things about his life that he was bitter and disappointed about.
We have a chance to stop this – times have changed, but there’s still a long way to go. I want us to make sure that no-one else ever goes through what Peter did. I want everyone to have a chance at a life with love in it, and a family. I think it would make the world a much better place.