Mark Tricklebank is a Wellcome Trust Career Reentry Fellow in the Department of Neuroimaging Sciences. He is a committee member for Proudly King’s. For LGBTQ+ History Month, he writes about his experiences coming to terms with his sexuality before and after decriminalisation.
The greatest achievement for the LGBTQ+ movement has undoubtedly been the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults. As a young boy enrolled at a C of E school, trying to come to terms with same-sex attraction, the path to damnation was clear enough. The glint of golden hairs on the suntanned arm of a classmate that made me feel deliriously happy and incredibly curious about what the sun reflecting off his delicious legs would look like, were dangerous dreams that at this age would only introduce me to the word “pervert”. My headmaster committed suicide in his study for “interfering” with his pupils.
The word homosexual was muttered with emphasis on the “O” in the BBC English of the time. My world was a world of spies and Germans. Philby and McClean were ‘hOmOsexuals’ who were intent on surrendering our country to the evil Russians. My aunty was a nurse in Winson Green Prison, and she had spoken with the spy Klaus Fuch who had warned her that Armageddon would soon be released on the West whose governments were full of traitors and upper-class hOmOsexuals. But what was a hOmOsexual? I had no idea until puberty was released on me. At ten I realised that my perceptual set was tuned to pick up the slightest hint of sexual interactions between men. The occasional television play that carelessly incorporated a hint of something not quite right in the interactions between male characters; an insistence for shirt cuffs to be folded absolutely properly; the Brylcreemed hair and perfectly chiselled features all provided an aura of things not being quite right.
The idea that hOmOsexuals were perverts who hid their true nature and desires – like Soviet spies – was common sense. Handsome police officers were stationed on watch outside public toilets, ready to catch out returning commuters lingering at the stall for the briefest sight of a male member gloriously standing to attention. Avoiding the glances of Constable Dixon, ready to exert the full force of the law on anybody showing interest, these men scurried off home to wives, families and the safety of their typical British sanctuaries, content with their Philby-like performances.
There was no need to label yourself a pervert when it was easy to obtain training to hide your deviant desires by simply reading the newspapers or watching the television. If the keeper of the Queen’s pictures could do it, why not Joe Bloggs on the 5.30 to Effingham Junction? That way, Winson Green’s promise of hOmOsexual Armageddon could remain safely out of sight, hidden by the chimneys still belching smoke. Until an episode of intense temptation would defeat even the most stalwart of spies, and the whispering would start: “I always thought there was something odd about the way he dressed,” or, “he always needed to visit the gents before getting on/off the train”. Deceit and denial were the order of the day until the door closed and relief could be obtained in private behind the locked door. The scrawled messages on the walls and doors of what others could provide serving as pornographic stimulation to ensure relief was rapidly achieved.
Yes, things have changed so much for the better. Now, we can just say, “so what I’m gay, just get over it.” But even today some cannot. It might be incredibly easy to hide your true desires from family, friends and employers, but at what cost? Those adverse childhood experiences will return to impede our achievements of happiness and contentment in the form of midlife depression, anxiety and stress-related illness. And what about those coming from environments where Colonial-era laws are still rigorously applied? What about the refugee children imprisoned, separate from any role models or positive adult interactions to offer advice and support. Those adverse childhood experiences will come back to limit and harm all of society with a vengeance.