Monday, 11 February 2013


Since I noticed my follower count on Twitter hit 1,972 (the year I was born), I've started sporadically tweeting things I remember from the year it shows. One thing I've noticed is that my follower count goes down as well as up. A lot! I suspect it's mostly Grant Shapps following and unfollowing me on his various accounts.

But today it hit 1988, and I tweeted this:
And it's true, that's a real, abiding memory I have of 1988. Sunshine, handsome boys, cheesy music and spectacular diarrhoea.

But there is more to say about 1988, to the extent that I'd feel dishonest about not having said it.

In 1988 I was a 16 year old at a Catholic school, and Section 28 was introduced. As the youngest of four brothers I was laden with familial and gender-based expectation. I knew what was expected of me. And I was successfully suppressing the knowledge that I fancied boys so deeply that I could make it imperceptible even to myself if I wanted. And I wanted.

I wasn't sporty or strong, but I was smart, and I could be funny, and this was my armour. Friends looked to me for advice on things. I was a leader. I was confident. I was exactly who I wanted to be, as long as I forgot about the fact that when I had sexual fantasies they were about Marcus from the year above and Paul from the year below and Bluey from Fields of Fire that I used to watch on the little black and white TV upstairs away from everyone else.

So I did forget about it. And Section 28 was introduced. And in the playground and the classrooms we laughed and joked about the "new gay laws". And we poked fun at the boys who walked differently. We poked fun at those who were a little more effeminate than they should be. We poked fun at those who were a little more sensitive than they should be.

And one day at lunch I told my friends to watch and I went up to a boy called Carl, in the year above me, and  I pretended to be holding a microphone and said "So, how do you think the new gay laws will affect you?" And he looked angry, and shocked and a little hurt and I ran away laughing.

I'm surprising myself by having to hold back a tear as I remember this. This is the root of homophobia. People say it's a misnomer because it's not about fear. Of course it's about fear. It's about the fear of being found out.

Carl, I'm so sorry. When I grew up, I tried to atone. I threw myself into voluntary work with Pride Scotland and the Equality Network and I so desperately want no-one else to have to be treated the way I treated you. I hope you can forgive me. I'll never forgive myself.


  1. A poignant post Duncan, so much so I'm unsure about commenting upon it.

    As a thirteen year old, I and a younger boy, out exploring the countryside came upon a tent pitched inside a barn. Inside the tent were some belongings, including a guitar. We took the guitar and smashed it. I've no real idea why - it wasn't the kind of action I'd normally take part in. It wasn't peer pressure - I was the older and wiser of the two of us. Perhaps I was trying to look 'big' to the younger lad.

    It's an incident I've looked back on many times with sincere regret. Someone came back to their tent to find their guitar missing and had their faith in human nature reduced because of what I did. Maybe it was a family heirloom with great sentimental value, maybe not. In all likelyhood my action has affected me over my life more than my victim.

    I imagine it's part of every teenager's life, doing something they regret later on. But it's also likely that having something done to you which the perpetrator regrets is part of every teenager's life too, even if they never know.

    As a small child you learn many of your morals from the education given to you by parents and other adults. Once you become a teenager perhaps your conscience becomes your own teacher. No doubt the most important thing is to learn from what it tells you rather than to forever hold your actions against yourself. 40 years on I can't think of any other occasion when I've treated another person's possessions as callously, so perhaps I did learn a lesson.

  2. Garve that's a great parallel to my story, thanks for commenting. It's possible to hold on to such events to the extent that they damage you, and agree it's a danger to do so. We are best to learn from them and move on. I think the danger is that we do the latter without really doing the former.

    I wrote the post pretty quickly this morning I have to say, and reading it back I'm struck by the last sentence and I wonder if it's really true. And I'm reminded of the Leo Buscaglia quote:

    "Love yourself; accept yourself; forgive yourself; and be good to yourself, because without you the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things."

  3. A thoughtless moment has led to a lifetime of positive campaigning. That's a net gain. I had a very similar experience, blurting out something really stupid in my teens. The important thing is to learn from it. And we both did. Everyone mucks up - it's what you do with the experience that matters.

    You really should forgive yourself - but never forget the insight the experience gave you.