I’m From Axminster, Devon, England

by Bill Drayton

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I’m From Axminster, Devon, England

On November 6th, 2011, I arrived back at the local railway station at the end of my trip to Charleston, South Carolina, jet lagged and exhausted. That day was going to be the turning point in my life.

During the time I was away, Sara, my wife of 24 years, read a book about a married man in his 60’s (like me!) coming as gay, and as she read through it, she suddenly realized that this could easily be my story. There had been plenty of “clues” throughout our time together of me not being quite the husband she expected. Increasingly (although I had given no hint of this, or least I think I hadn’t!) I felt trapped in the marriage.

Also since June 1994 I had “committed my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” – the terminology used by evangelical Christians, whose view on scripture is hard-line as far as homosexuality is concerned. So there I was agreeing to a theology whilst denying my true identity – which I had done all my life. I was in fact hiding a “dark secret” and behaving in a homophobic way whenever I felt threatened.

I grew up in a traditional, conservative, Anglican family, where churchgoing was the done thing but you never discussed religion, unless you were a zealot (which was frowned upon!). In fact, any subject which was deemed awkward or unhealthy was just swept under the carpet. I do remember my father once saying that if he had his way, he would line up those “queers” against a wall and shoot the lot of them. He was and still is the archetypal male, who is incapable of showing love nor of expressing it. The only emotion he has showed to me was that of anger when he lost his temper. Only occasionally and that almost by accident there are hints of some kind of feeling with him, but it is just as though he is in a prison of his own making. I feel sorry for him, especially when I think that his own parents were probably not demonstrative in their love for him.

Between the ages of 8 and 17 I went to single-sex boarding schools – firstly to a preparatory school and then to “public” school. “Public” is in inverted commas, because it was far from being a state school. It was one of the top private schools in the country. I remember the first time I had a crush on a boy. It was my first school. We were just kicking a football around and I was somehow drawn to him – not understanding what that attraction meant. When we went to separate public schools, we did write letters to each other, but it petered out. At “public” school homosexuality was rife. Everyone took part, but this was at a time when it was illegal. I felt ashamed and guilty that I had been drawn into something which I secretly wanted. That was when I tried to “keep a lid on things” but not always successfully. When my aunt asked me when I had the first inkling I was different, I told her about the incident at prep school. Oh you were just going through a phase! was her reply. Well, I am still going through it!!

Having spent a miserable time as a pupil at school, being bullied for being a “sissy”, especially by my younger brother, I took the ridiculous decision to become a teacher in secondary schools. I thought that since my subjects were foreign languages, that was all I could do. I lasted 20 years, at the end of which I had a nervous breakdown and took early retirement, but not before I had had a crush on a boy at my last school. I thank God I did nothing about it. So I was hiding my secret then, and again living a life of hell.

During my career as a teacher, I spent two separate years teaching English in Germany. In my first year I got friendly with another young British male teacher, who had a fiancee back in the UK and who was sexually active. One time, when she had gone back, and I was feeling particularly lonely, I asked him whether I could share his bed. At that moment our friendship was killed stone-dead.

And then just before meeting Sara for the first time, I was involved in a disastrous relationship with a woman who had three sons. I had a crush on her eldest, and told her so. He was 16 at the time, and was acting as the man of the house. I was the weakling and the intruder. That is how I felt. When Sara and I met, I gave her the wrong impression about this incident – that he was coming on to me – not the other way around! She said that if I had told her the truth, we would never have got married.

So now we come to that day in November 2011. Sara, being the astute woman she is, decided to ask me when I was exhausted whether I was gay or bisexual. When I said yes, it felt as though a great weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was free to be the person I was always meant to be. Why did I wait so long to “come clean”? Simply, because I was terrified of other people’s reactions – especially my family’s. As it has turned out, my father, who will be 90 in September, and his sister say that no-one is interested in me being gay (although they do not use the word gay!). What they mean is that they do not want to know, because they are so embarrassed and ashamed.

Since the time I came out in November, I have grown in confidence and now know where I am going. Also, if others do not like the way I am, then it is their problem, not mine! And that includes my family! Recently I went through some excellent counselling. What I learned is that we need to take control of our relationships, not allow others to dictate them. Especially family members. And I have found that it works.

Fortunately my best friend is my wife. She knows me best of all, and she has accepted me as I am. Since November 2011, it has felt like being on a rollercoaster ride for the two of us. Twice I left her to go to see my then boyfriend in Malaysia. That did not work out, in part because of the homophobic atmosphere in the country. He was having to do what I had done for 50 years, and I was not prepared to go on doing it, hiding who I really was. I now have a boyfriend in the Philippines. I will be seeing him in October and November. He wants to be friends with Sara. As he says, she is an important part of my life. Eventually she and I will divorce in 2016, so I can live with my partner, but we intend to remain friends. Sara knows that one day I will leave and she knows that she will be sad when that happens, but that this is meant to be. She wouldn’t want me to go on living a lie!

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