Seven years ago, a taxi driver in a certain City told me that in “six to seven years, this place will be like New York”. I remember grinning and nodding in a “oh yeah” kind of way. Back in town recently for a whirlwind contract with my beloved UNICEF and, while not New York, this City has definitely changed. Changed in more than one way. Almost as soon as I arrived, it felt different.
It was his absence. I didn’t realise how much my City had been defined by his presence. I don’t mean to be coy or dramatically elusive in mentioning “him” like this; it’s just that I don’t know how else to refer to him, concerned more than anything to protect his identity (which is also why I haven’t named the City). So let me just explain who he was…
The first man I ever fell in love with.
Until him, I was terrified of being gay, didn’t want to be gay, felt ashamed of being gay and, because of all of that, didn’t even think that I could fall in love. But then I did and, by some miracle, I think he fell in love with me. It was quite a revelation to realise that I could love someone at all, let alone love with such intensity. So, I finally, in my own quiet way, came out. Knowing that I could love, and loving the fact that I could love, gave me strength enough to do it. I was actually happy to be gay. If I hadn’t been gay, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with this extraordinary man. Imagine?!
Anyway, it is exactly seven years ago that we said goodbye to each other, through sobbing tears, kisses, laughter, hugs and the saddest smiles I’ve ever known. I was moving to a new country, he couldn’t leave his.
I know parts of the world hate me and my LGBT+ sisters and brothers, but clearly love – the need to love, the drive to love, the capacity to love – cannot only survive such hate, but render it impotent. When I think of gay pride, that’s what I think of: I’m proud that I can love.
I’m not usually disposed to share such personal things on social media. I tell schoolkids part of this story in my work with the extraordinary charity ‘Diversity Role Models’ – and as it’s LGBT History Month, I wanted to share a little of my own history with friends. Because it is history now: it’s seven years. Seven years since I stopped lying to myself, stopped judging myself and stopped wishing I was some other self.
Flying back to London, I was flicking through the airline’s movie choices and there, pride of place in the Classics section was Marilyn Monroe’s ‘The Seven Year Itch’. As melancholy as I was feeling, I had to crack a smile.
PS: I realise that I’ve been unintentionally dramatic: I’ve said he’s not in the City anymore without saying what happened to him. He’s alive and as far as I know, healthy and happy. My heart sings to know that he’s lighting up another part of the world with his smile.