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A Gay Arbury Teenager in the 1980s - Part 3

From Chesterton to Manor...

Badger's memories of life as a gay teenager in Arbury in the 1980s continue...

Once in the shed with my books, I started to think properly. My Mum worked as a cleaner until 12.00 and was usually home by about 12.20. And then she'd do the housework and watch TV. Our living room window was big and overlooked the back garden. The kitchen window and back door were beside the passage way to the front of the house. We had a rickety little old gate there. How could I get out of the shed and round to the front door as if I'd just got back from school without being seen? Also I'd have to take care not to make a noise with the gate.

I decided I'd just have to watch the back windows and hope Mum went to the loo or had a bath or something. Sometimes she went to see a friend round the corner.

I was still shaken up by the morning's events at school and decided not to worry until I had to. It felt good to be tucked away in the shed, safe.

The first few days worked out fine somehow. I stood some way from our house each morning until I saw Mum cycling off towards Arbury Road on her bike, then let myself back into the house and sat and watched schools' programme on TV and drank tea. I always made sure to swill the kettle out well with cold water so Mum wouldn't come home and find it warm.

I went to the shed at 11.30 sharp because Mum sometimes came home early.

When I was due home from school, I grabbed chances when Mum wasn't near a window and sped round the front of the house and through the front door: 'I'm home, Mum!' We hit a weekend and I started worrying about what the school would do about my absence. The education people would be in touch soon. I just knew I wasn't going back.

My house of cards fell to pieces early the next week. I'd let myself in, put the kettle and the TV on, then Dad walked in. He'd forgotten some tools he needed for a job and that was it. It all came out about the bullying and how unhappy I was, and the fact I wasn't going back to school. My thoughts about my sexuality didn't come out.

There was a big hullabaloo, Mum and Dad were really upset, the education people got involved, and I had long conversations with an excellent guy and spat at him my thoughts about big, grotty schools for kids undergoing huge physical and emotional changes, like it was his fault. He was very patient though and let me rant. It did me good.

I'd really set my face against going back to Chesterton, and he said a transfer to Manor might be possible. I told him I didn't want Manor either. He said something about a place for children who wouldn't go to school, but he didn't think it was appropriate. He thought I needed to take some control of my life if possible.

I was 12 by then, and so did I.

Back on the shelf went my worries about being gay and I went to Manor, but I made some changes. I had my blond hair cut, it tended to curl and look really foppish. I had it cut short and spiky, used loads of gel on it, very fashionable, and looked in the wardrobe mirror and thought: 'This is me until I'm free of school.' I adopted the sullen expression I'd seen on a lot of kids' faces at Chesterton and went to Manor. I was acting a part, no more heart on my sleeve, and keeping my true, scared self tucked away inside.

On my first day, I walked through the Lower School gates at Manor with my spiky hair and sullen face and immediately saw some lads I'd known at Arbury and we talked. From then on luck was on my side for a while. The form I landed up in contained two old Arbury School comrades and there were no bullies in it or trouble making girls. I'd landed lucky, because there were some real ratbags in my year group but I wasn't in their orbit much.

I didn't like Manor much, it did nothing to change my opinion of big schools, but there was more space, a huge playing field on site, and it felt better than Chesterton. Despite some of its pupils, Chesterton had a slightly snobby feel to it. It was like, 'We ARE Chesterton School! with our academically gifted pupils and heated swimming pool!' Manor had no swimming pool and fewer 'academically gifted' pupils, probably because they weren't all piling in from posh parts of West Chesterton, but I preferred things down to earth - although I liked being at the top of the Tower Block for lessons because there was a great view! 

One of the teachers was really great, a real old lefty with loads of time for us kids, and she helped me a lot. They tried to shut Manor down not long after I arrived but it survived.

The years went by and I felt so different. When I got to Manor each morning, it was like 'Lights, camera, action!' and I was the sullen, confident lad again, all a big act. I kept the hair short and spiky and it definitely made me look less sensitive and vulnerable. I'd always hated my hair with its curly ends anyway. People talked to me and I talked to them. I made a couple of friends. They were OK guys, but not true friends because they didn't know me really. 

When I was in the fourth year, there was an event which still stands out in my memory. I was in geography class and a tough lad was sitting in front of me. He wasn't a bad lad - but he was tough, not known for being sensitive. Suddenly, he turned to me and said: 'Badger, do you like the men?' 

What did I do? Of course you'd think I'd deny it, but for some reason I didn't. The words 'I don't know really,' which wasn't the truth but wasn't a denial of my gayness either, leapt out of my mouth. I was shaken - didn't know what had possessed me - but the lad simply nodded and turned away.

He never said anything else about it, but continued to treat me as well as he did anyone else.

It amazed me.

I didn't feel as close to my parents as when I was a kid. My Mum started to say things when I was about 14 like, 'Any signs of a little girlfriend yet?' and I'd say, 'No, not so far.' She'd laugh and say, 'Always got your head stuck in a book! All work and no play...'

My secret was a huge barrier between me and them.

My Dad was watching Boy George on the TV one night and said: 'What a bloody great poof!' I felt really uncomfortable but thought, 'Are you in for a shock...'

I was on my life path and I felt strong enough to follow it, but I knew things would be far from easy...

Part 4 is here.


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