I was 47 when I recognised that I wasn’t exactly as straight as I’d heretofore assumed. Now, I flatter myself that I’m about as liberal, open-minded and sex-positive a human as you could hope to meet in normal life, and given that I’ve been pretty open on the kink scene for about 4 years, my ‘normal’ casts a pretty wide net. But no, as far as I was concerned up to that point, I was comfortable counting a pretty wide variety of LGBTQ+ people within my friendship group, openly and on Facebook, but it really wasn’t my thing.
Except. Except … Except lots of things, as it turns out. My fiancée Helena knew. She’d always kind of known, and there were lots of bits of our play that had dropped some pretty broad hints. I was quite happy to slip into a little pleated tartan skirt and take photos to send her, entirely because she ‘needed a laugh and a bit of cheering up’; when I was in San Francisco, I went underwear shopping in the Castro and browsed Grindr (strictly for research); I thoroughly enjoyed anal play (although I found it a difficult thing to ask for). I still deny that my willingness and ability to run up a set of curtains for me and lacy underwear for her on her sewing machine is an indicator.
She’s not entirely sure when she knew for certain, but one of the moments was watching the Neil Gaiman fantasy, Stardust. When she saw De Nero as Captain Shakespeare, she knew – the rough, tough sailor, entirely in touch with his feminine side in the privacy of his own cabin? Oh yeah. That’s a pretty good fit. It’s entirely likely that I did too, but that sort of thought got pushed straight back under its rock. Thinking about it now, I remember a whole lot of different things over the years that I even recognised at the time, but shook off and pushed away.
One afternoon last summer (and I can tell you exactly when, because there were a lot of photos), we had a 4-day weekend with the house to ourselves, a little therapeutic social lubricant was taken. Half an hour later, we were full of good ideas, excitement and activity – out came the dressing up boxes (and there are plenty of them – we’re kinky, remember?). Masks, feathers, PVC shorts, silky stuff, the whole lot. Make-up was applied liberally, and with more enthusiasm than skill. Filth was spilled into my ear, ‘You’re such a pretty thing with your eyeshadow and lippy’, ‘You look like such a slut!’, ‘Look at my big, fat dildo. Why don’t you get down on your knees and give it a good suck. I bet you wish that was a real one, don’t you?’
Fuck. I so fucking did.
Later, when we’d calmed down, thoughts were thought that can’t be unthought. Things were remembered that can’t be unremembered. That time at an Outward Bound residential course aged 17, when we’d been camping in bivouacs and I’d wandered over to a neighbour’s camp, and come so fucking close to kissing him. It wasn’t conscious, it was just a moment, and I pulled myself up short and made my excuses and left. I remembered thinking about it a lot when I was doing my apprenticeship in the early 90s, and coming out to my Fine Arts student girlfriend that I thought I might be bisexual, and her shutting that down hard.
I got married when I was in my mid 20s to someone who wasn’t really open to the idea that sex might be something that one has for fun, and I was away with work a lot, in a job that was absolutely not conducive to personal growth and exploration – it would have been career ending prior to 2000. I don’t really remember doing anything more challenging to heteronormativity than occasionally putting a pair of stockings on to have a wank. See? Even then, suppressed, it hadn’t gone away.
It was only once I’d met Helena and started a second career that I had sufficient space and capacity to let those thoughts grow and develop however they may, albeit under the deep cover of my subconscious thoughts. Within the kink community, you meet all sorts – the Glaswegian truck driver with a harem of voluntary slaves, the Professor who does cutting edge research during the week and likes to be treated as a puppy at the weekend, the submissive to her partner who is a Pro Domme studying for her Masters, the sweet seller, the Buddhist, the leather, latex and silk fetishists, the Trans men and women and the Crossdressers. I can say three things for certain about that community; there is no correlation between career choice or success and your fetish; it absolutely teaches you to have an open mind and not to make assumptions; and kink, queerness and all your honestly felt sexual responses are bred in the bone. It’s nature that puts it there, nurture just guides its growth.
I completely recognise my good luck and privilege. I have the most incredible partner, who tells me that it’s the core me that she fell in love with, and the honesty and refusal to feel shame about my sexuality just grows that more, that all the other stuff is surface dressing. I realise that growing up white and in the UK (albeit a pretty repressive bit of it) confers huge fortune on me. She’s been with me on this path before I realised there was a path to be on. I’m out to my children and a select group of friends. I’m not out at work yet, but I know that’s coming in due course. Probably when someone makes a crassly homophobic comment and I come out of the closet, just to give them a verbal slap in the teeth. I’m definitely out to the blogosphere, or at least that kink/erotica subsection of the twitterverse. I’m rubbish at not being my authentic self, and now that authentic self has shifted a bit, so will the ‘me’ I present to the world.
Well, most of ‘me’. I don’t think the world needs to know that I’m a pansexual kinkster with a penchant for wearing stockings, suspender and knickers under his day clothes. I generally bundle all that lot up under the Queer flag. I see the non-heterosexual world as a multidimentiional space with axes for gender presentation, sexual attraction, gender identity and all the other spectra we use to describe ourselves. Detailed labels put you in a boxed off corner of it, and influences how others see you, and to an extent how you see yourself. A Sapir-Whorf hypothesis for gender studies, if you like. I want the whole space to play in, or at least as much of it as I feel comfortable in.
I’ll probably self-describe outwardly as bisexual, because anything else takes far too long to explain. Where this all goes, I have no idea, but I’m going to keep following my nose towards interesting people and places and experiences. That’s how we ended up in a party decorated with half a dozen ripped open feather pillows and lashings of golden syrup, how I ended up having sex with another man with our partners watching and enthusiastically encouraging us, and how there’s a decent chance I’ll be playing nicely with a pretty trans girl this weekend.
Are you coming along for the ride?