Sexuality and Cheese (2011)

When I wrote this in 2011 I clearly didn’t know the word ‘heteronormative’.

It’s a flippant bit of writing which makes light of a very serious issue.

I’ve not edited this before re-posting it here but have added some political and cultural context at the end, and a few footnotes.

I was going to write something about the latest Tory attempts to scupper trade unions. It would have ended up too ranty.

I considered writing about the Royal Wedding. That would have ended up too sweary.

I even briefly flirted with the idea of writing about AV1 but felt myself falling asleep before I’d even constructed the first sentence.

So, I’m going to write about sexuality and cheese. Specifically my own sexuality, for that is the only sexuality about which I feel qualified to comment with any authority, and goats cheese.

My secondary school education took place during the early to mid eighties. It wasn’t a bad school. In fact it was rather a good school. A grammar school no less. This was the result of a brief academic aptitude which was soon to be recognised for the trivial flirtation it was. Anyway, the academic standing of the school is largely irrelevant. Of much greater relevance is that it was a boys school. All boys. No girls. Just boys.

During my teenage years I found myself being a little more attracted to my schoolmates than any of my schoolmates seemed to be to each other. I found myself thinking thoughts about them I was fairly sure they didn’t think about each other. In a couple of cases I even found myself feeling what was pretty much exactly what I had been led to believe a crush felt like. It didn’t occur to me that this meant I was probably gay. Being gay was something that gay people did. I didn’t think I was a gay person so didn’t think I was gay.

I had at this point never eaten goats cheese.

Towards the end of my schooldays I spent some interesting weekends with a couple of mates. We did stuff. It was stuff I’d wanted to do for quite some time and it was fun. Yet still I didn’t realise that doing gay stuff with mates and enjoying it probably meant I was gay. The world wasn’t shaped in a way that made being gay an option. Everything was aimed at heterosexuality and there was nothing to indicate that being gay was anything that applied to folk outside Frankie Goes to Hollywood videos.

Time moved on and I found myself finishing school and briefly popping by college, still closeted to myself and the world and still not having eaten goats cheese.

Adulthood brought with it guitars. At some point during my teens (November 14th 1986) I became the proud owner of an electric guitar. I got relatively good at doing relatively impressive stuff relatively quickly. By which I mean I could whack up the distortion and play a minor pentatonic with enough dexterity to fool the casual observer in to thinking I was much better than I actually was. I’m led to believe I am not the first person to have exploited this ploy. Unfortunately I still didn’t realise I was gay so I really didn’t exploit it the way that one’s meant to exploit it. I ended up in a few very straight rock bands. We played pubs. They got laid. I didn’t.

Actually, that’s not strictly speaking true. I did get a girlfriend. It didn’t last. She really wasn’t my type.

I carried on getting thoroughly smitten with my straight mates, living a life of trying to hide my feelings and ultimately being proper lonely. There were dalliances though and, eventually, the penny dropped. I was well in to my early twenties before I came clean with myself, a few months later before I came out to a few mates. Nothing much changed. I went through a phase of telling pretty much everybody that I was gay but never actually doing anything about it. I hung around with straight mates and didn’t really consider trying to find any gay ones. Still, it was good to be out and to be myself.

I’d still not eaten goats cheese.

My twenties moved on, I moved to London, my twenties disappeared behind me. I went to see England vs West Indies at The Oval with some friends.

England lost. It rained. For the first time in my life I ate goats cheese.

I now know gay people but still mostly socialise with straight folk. This isn’t a conscious choice, it’s just that most of the folk I meet doing the things I like to do tend to be straight. Most folk are straight. I suppose there’s a law of averages thing going on.

So, is there any point to any of this ramble? It’s certainly not the ramble I intended to ramble when I started rambling. I doubt very much that it’s the ramble you thought you were going to be reading when you started reading it. Sorry about that.

I suppose there is a point: I wish I had come out earlier. I wish I had had the role models, the education and the support to know and accept who I am when I was young enough to have made the most of it. I tell you now, there would have been a hell of a lot more goats cheese in my life.

Actually, not only is there a point but there’s also a lesson.

Pop your oven on at Gas Mark 6.

Take a big mushroom, pop some goats cheese, fresh basil, black pepper and a little garlic on it. Wrap it in bacon2. Grate a little mature cheddar on top and sprinkle a sprinkling of cayenne pepper over it.

Whack it in the oven for twenty minutes.

Take it out, eat it and wonder why a chap who can do such things with a mushroom is still single.

I can still do impressive things with a minor pentatonic too.

Context (2022)

Homophobia was the accepted editorial stance in the tabloid press of the 1980s. At the time my parents read the Daily Mail, which repeatedly told me that being gay was scandalous, that the gays were trying to convert me and that homosexuality was being promoted in schools.

At least I only had the Daily Mail telling me that gays were wrong’ns – kids from red-top households were exposed to much, much worse.

A moral panic, born of bigotry and ignorance, grew.

Schools became terrified to even mention homosexuality, let alone actually educate young people about it.

Thatcher’s government could have challenged the tabloid myths, used its platform to educate, worked to reduce the confusion and isolation that many young people faced.

Instead, they chose to side with the tabloids, taking a populist path which led to the infamous Section 28.

The Conservatives fed off, and played to, ignorance and bigotry, marginalising and demonising already vulnerable people, either unaware of, or unconcerned by, the misery they caused and the lives they destroyed, ultimately legislating their despicable attitudes into law.

They haven’t changed.

The lives of young LGBTQ+ people in the 80s and 90s were to the Conservatives then what the lives of refugees are to the Conservatives today – worth only the popularity that marginalising and attacking them brings.

Further reading

There’s loads of info about Section 28 out there.

I recently came across this blog by Juan Nicholls, formerly of twentysixdigital, hosted on their website.

It’s brilliant; definitely recommended reading:

Growing Up in Silence – a Short History of Section 28


1 AV – Alternative Vote – a form of proportional representation

2 I wasn’t a vegetarian in 2011

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