Coming Out — an act of repetition — because the personal is still political
TS Eliot died in 1965, four years before the birth of the modern gay liberation movement. What he might have made of being quoted on National Coming Out Day, goodness knows.
And yet his words, from the final stanza of part three of East Coker, came to me this morning — as they often do.
‘ You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.’
Coming Out is an act of repetition. It isn’t a single moment, but to use Eliot’s words again, ‘a lifetime burning in every moment.’ To put it more simply, it just keeps on happening.
It was, for me, something that first happened 40 years ago. It wasn’t an obvious epiphany. Not an exclamation, more a murmur. A few hesitant words to a friend after an evening in the pub a month after we’d left school.
My words were a strange kind of a revelation in another sense too. In referring to a phase, which I said had now passed, my admission was also a denial. But in its unburdening, we both knew the admission was the real story. One that was only just beginning.
Earlier this week, a colleague mentioned her gay brother to me. His life as a gay man was, she said, one he described in three parts. I could relate immediately as I’m sure many gay men of my generation might.
For me, there was the first phase, up until that day in July 1979. Let’s call it, to use Matthew Todd’s words, the straight jacket phase. Growing up in a world where I increasingly realised I was expected to be something I was not.
It was a dark tunnel. Some people, to this day, never see the light at the end of that tunnel. They wear the straight jacket for life. I’ve met them. It’s a choice — of sorts. The lamp, to use Radclyffe Hall’s words, remains unlit.
The second phase, which began falteringly that day, was beyond the tunnel. It was, for me at least, a strident phase. One of fighting, unapologetically, for rights in the days after the birth of gay liberation and before Clause 28.
And of refusing to go back underground after its enactment.