Like a lot of queer kids, there was always this feeling of just being different. Like while the other kids would be outside playing football, I’d be inside choreographing routines to Madonna songs. At first it didn’t bother me much but as I got toward teenage years, I felt more and more alienated and unwelcome.
My solution was to get away. So I focused on reaching that magical age of 18, when I’d be able to leave home, find my people, and be me.
That new home was going to be London. But en route I was to stop in New York for a weekend with a guy I’d spent most of my seventeenth year chatting to online.
He was called Scott, a recent NYU graduate working at MTV. He lived in a decrepit flat in Soho with a leaky chain-flush toilet and a bathtub in the kitchen. Tiny but somehow still shared with three other people.
My heart sank when he answered the door for the first time (he was hotter in person than I expected). But he invited me in, and instantly pulled me into a kiss, and then into his bedroom. (It seems I wasn’t as un-hot as I thought).
This was the start of three days of education and adultification. Also, the first lesson revealing something called rimming that I never ever imagined was a thing.
‘He showed me the Stonewall Inn’
Afterwards we went to dinner, where I had Japanese food for the first time. (I was so scared that I’d have to eat raw fish or tofu). Then he took me to a few shops and showed me that it was possible for a guy to wear something other than just jeans and a t-shirt. (I bought a pair of giraffe print socks that I thought were outrageous).
Then he took me to some bar in the West Village. A place with a reputation for letting under 21s in. Here, I saw a drag queen for the first time. (I was genuinely frightened). And then on the walk home he showed me the Stonewall Inn. I told him I’d never heard of it. He wasn’t annoyed with my naïveté, I think he enjoyed playing the wise older brother. And so he told me the story of Stonewall.
All my life I knew I needed to be with my gays, but I never fought for anything. Instead I just waited to be old enough to get to a place like London or New York, where I knew things would be better, without considering that these were safe places because others had fought for them.
‘I went to a gay bar on my own for the first time’
I felt so instantly happy in the community that they built and protected, and I instinctively knew that if we were to fight again, I would join that battle.
The weekend passed quickly. On Monday I reached London with new confidence. On the first night I went to a gay bar on my own for the first time.
It was the Village, where I met this guy who worked as a waiter in Ed’s Diner. He took me back to his bedsit for the night. The next day I stopped by his work to say hi, where he had to explain that us sleeping together didn’t mean we were now boyfriends. I shrugged it off, went out again, met others. Within weeks had a proper boyfriend.
That boyfriend, Mark, who would become my husband, led me into my own battle.
‘I found my way to a British NGO named Stonewall’
Being able to stay in the UK on the basis of our relationship was not automatic. I found my way to a British NGO named Stonewall. There I did an internship in their immigration team where we campaigned for the immigration rights of same-sex couples, which would succeed under the then Tony Blair-led government.
It would be a decade before such rights would come to the USA, where the Stonewall Riots first truly put LGBT activism into people’s minds. But even if the Americans who started it couldn’t reap all the rewards yet, their work inspired and bettered our communities elsewhere.
Soon I’m going to a country to shoot an issue of Elska Magazine where homosexuality is both criminalised and actively prosecuted.
A place where recently the founders of their country’s only LGBT organisation were brutally murdered, a place that’s so unsafe that I won’t even mention its name until after I return.
Of course I’m grateful that I don’t have to live there, but I don’t want to ignore them. It’s up to them to do their own kind of Stonewall, but I’m here to support them however I can, and at least tell them how much we can achieve through community.
For more information about Elska, visit the official Elska website.
Stonewall 50 Voices
Gay Star News will be marking this 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world. They will focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community. They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.