I was born in London, England in 1951. I suppose by the age of 12 it was a rather important moment in my life when I was caught kissing a boy at a rather conservative private boys school in London. Scott and I, we sort of found each other. And in a cloakroom with a rather lovely sort of smell of wet raincoats and boots, and we were kissing and a teacher walked into the cloakroom and we immediately stopped kissing because we realise that, by the look on his face, that it wasn’t the right thing to do.
We were called into a classroom and we were sat down and the headmaster sat down facing us and he said, “You will tell us what went on today.”
And I couldn’t bring myself around to doing it. There was a mixture of “I didn’t do anything wrong” and “this is going to end very badly.” And I didn’t know what the best way out would be.
And in the end after an hour of complete silence, and our teacher…don’t forget in those days there were mortarboards and gowns and were very serious. And Scott put his hand up and he said, “I was kissing Graham.” And that was the end of that. We left the room.
The very next morning I hadn’t a clue what’s going to happen. And school assembly was, of course we had school assembly, we’re the Church of England. We sing a couple of hymns and then get on with the day. After the hymns were sung, after we’d been terribly Christian, I was called up on the stage and I had to lower my trousers in front of the whole school and with a cane, I was whipped on my buttocks and down my thighs.
I didn’t remember…after that, I didn’t remember how painful it was. I didn’t remember how embarrassing it was. I didn’t remember anything but how unjust it was. And I remember thinking that I should be very careful for the rest of my life because those in power can inflict a great deal of pain. And then after that I went down and heard Scott being thrashed. I don’t know whether anybody knew why we were being thrashed. Nothing was said.
After I was beaten, I remember that, after I was beaten, practically within an inch of my life at my rather conservative school, I came to my parents and said that I had been beaten and I was red raw.
And my father took me back to the school to find out what was, what it was all about because I couldn’t come around to telling him. I was 12. I seemed quite normal kissing this boy at 12 years old.
And he spent about two hours talking to the headmaster, it seemed like more, talking to the headmaster. I was put in the back room. Evening came, it got darker and darker. I didn’t dare turn on the lights. There I was sitting in the dark and my father was pleading to the headmaster not to expel me. And that would have been the end of that. I was coming up to thirteen, coming up to the common entry examinations which then took you into public school, which you call private school. And that will be the end of that, without having a public school education I would be unemployable to our class. Isn’t that awful? But that’s how it was.
And so in the car afterwards, my father said, “What happened will never be spoken about again. If this happens again I could easily risk losing my job.”
He worked for a very conservative company. He could lose his job because of something I did, which seemed to me to be perfectly okay at 12. And so that was the position I was put in at 12 years old.
Both my parents retired to the south coast which is why I’d go through Lewes to see my father. There are a lot more widows than there are widowers, and we were driving to a cocktail party at one of their friends and my father said, “Graham, it’s alright with me, it’s perfectly alright with me, but can you be a little less gay and perhaps not say the word ‘gay’ quite so often as you normally do because we come from a generation where we don’t sort of talk about things like that.”
And I said, “Very well, Daddy. No problem.”
So we get to June Bateman’s and there’re a half a dozen ladies there and they’re all drinking fish bowl-size glasses of gin and tonic and June Bateman, the hostess, she turns to me and says, “Graham, darling. A friend of mine came up to me only the other day and told me that her daughter was a lesbian.”
And my father spat out his gin and it went all over the floor and all over the table, absolutely everywhere, and he went absolutely flush bright red. And she said, “And she doesn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps you being a younger person could give us an idea of what to say.”
I said, “Well, June, if she’s in love with an image of her daughter, she’s in trouble. If she’s in love with her daughter, it’s going to be plain sailing. It’ll be fine. Nothing actually has changed.” And she said, “Thank you so much. And Peter would you like to refresh your gin and tonic?”
So everybody knew. Everybody was cool with it. But my father was a little bit conservative, was kind of shocked. That’s the story of the south coast in Sussex.