It was the 31st of March 2000: the night when I first admitted to myself that I am gay. I consider the moment to have been the end of my childhood and the premature beginning of my adult life. I was fourteen. Of course I had known in some dark corner of my soul for years before that, drawn as I was - inexplicably and shamefully - to the faces of other boys at primary school, and to the headless torsos in the men’s underwear section of Mum’s Kay’s catalogue. But to allow the words to formulate in my mind and then to say them out loud was a revelation which I have described before as being like a door opening to a huge area of my being that I didn’t realise existed.
I’m reminiscing on this moment in my life because, last night, I went to see Pride at the cinema. In some ways it flouts predictability and convention and, in others, it’s every bit the uplifting, inspiring and slightly cheesy film the trailer suggests it is. I was no less moved during these more predictable moments, though, because they captured - more than any other dramatisation I’ve seen - what life was really like for a young gay man in late twentieth century, working-middle class Britain. I saw it with a friend who is older than me, whose time was closer to the 1980s in which the film is set, but there were so many moments where we gasped, grabbed one another’s arms, laughed and - in my case - cried (a lot) at a shared awareness of how *true* the film is, how scenes and even lines of dialogue from my own life were being shown to me in drama.
I cried at remembering my own struggles. Although I consider myself very - perhaps even too - self aware, I am sure there is so much psychic shit in my subconscious from that period in my life that still needs to be worked through. I cried for the sadness and joy of the characters in the film, uniformly well-rounded and marvellously-acted. But I think I cried most of all for knowing that I was in a cinema occupied mostly by straight people, and most of them much older than me, who had no idea what people like me went through: the terrible shame and loneliness we felt (although this film is uplifting in its portrayal of people who found others like them), the cruel ways in which we were tormented. And, as I watched, I thought “Now you know. I hope you understand that now.”
Pride, the title of the film, is perfect. I left the cinema feeling proud. I have always said that it’s foolish to be proud of something which is merely an accident of birth, and so I won’t say I’m proud of being gay. But I’m proud of overcoming the obstacles I had to overcome in order to say that I’m gay, both to myself and to everyone I know. William Butler Yeats said that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on the battlefield. I believe this to be true and, though many dark corners remain unexamined - I’m sure that work never ends - I feel a great sense of achievement, I feel blessed, to have examined the big dark corner of my sexuality when I was fourteen.
I know, because I’ve seen it, how much has changed, how much easier it is for a gay teenager to come out now than it was fifteen years ago, and I’m heartened by that. But it’s still not easy, and I think this film will help. I encourage everybody to see it, because it is a shining and wonderful example of what, in my opinion, art is for: to allow us to stand in another person’s shoes and to walk around in them. As Atticus Finch tells us in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, that’s when you’ll really know them.