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This year, I turn 30.

It’s one of those milestone ages where you take stock, but something unexpected has happened...

You’d think I was

celebrating my 70th, the way I’ve been going on of late. I’ve caught myself trotting out phrases I never imagined I’d be using whilst still (just) in my 20s. Cringe-worthy things like: “Back in my day…” or “When I was your age…” to any gays aged 22 or under who’ll listen. Am I being unbearably

patronising and prematurely sanctimonious? Or – do I have a point? Are we late 20s/early 30s gay men a new breed: precocious, oddly nostalgic survivors of an altogether different time?

The changes on the gay scene and in the wider social, cultural and political environment have been so rapid, the chasm between my gay coming of age and someone just a decade or 15 years younger is enormous. Indulge my reflections for a

minute. Let’s start with a snapshot of the provincial Kent gay social scene at the turn of the millennium: it reveals a very different place to what it is now. There was one gay club and one gay pub called The Ship. Infamous around the local area, it was the place, mum later told me, that my gran warned her never to go to because it was “full of sailors, prostitutes, tramps and queers.” It was a segregated bar; straights used the front door on the well-lit main street and gays used the back door down a dark back alley. A bar in the middle separated us – gays to the left, straights to the right – and never the twain did meet. Once, a drunken man burst

through the back door and screamed “All poofs should be shot a birth!” and quickly ran

out, knocking a couple of apple Hooches over on the way. Our local gay nightclub was

called Secrets: a private members club – to keep the gay-bashers out – and you had to ring a buzzer to get in. The door would be opened two inches by a bull-dyke or eight-foot drag queen who checked you out through a grimace – each equally

instead. He was notorious around our village for being “the straight-looking lad who drives the white Vauxhall Nova – and is actually bent.” I used to hide in the front seat of that Nova under the glove box when we pulled into the hill that led up to my village. The police once caught us kissing in it – and cautioned us for public indecency. I was 17.

than it can be now. In politics, I remember

three ironic figureheads at the forefront of the anti-gay movement: ironic because they were all women and didn’t empathise with the effects of discrimination on the basis of rejecting macho ideals and all they entailed. They were Baroness Young, Baroness Blatch – and Baroness Thatcher. Everywhere I turned,

politicians, police, parents, hacks, teachers – even some gay people – were repeating the same subliminal mantra: keep this to yourself. Don’t let people find out. It’s shameful.

Fast-forward 12 years.

“Once, a drunken man burst through the door and screamed: “All poofs should be shot at birth!”

formidable to a gay teenager like me.

This is a time before Grindr or Gaydar. I remember being told, “If you want sex you go to the toilets at Chatham bus station and cough three times in a cubicle.” I protested that I didn’t want to resort to that to get laid and was told to stop being so precious; everybody does it. I got myself a boyfriend


Police officers weren’t the only publicly-funded workers I contended with. At school, homophobia stretched beyond the common anti-gay playground bullying: I distinctly remember one teacher saying there was something “seriously wrong with you” if you were a boy who kissed other boys. My parents bought the

Daily Mail which appeared to me to be even more gay-phobic

Secrets changed its name to the more celebratory Rainbows. The Ship is completely gay – on both sides of the bar. Gay men can drive white Vauxhall Novas while our straight mates drive fussy yellow Mini Coopers – and the only assumptions made are about how much you earn, not whom you take to bed. Teachers are becoming fiercely defensive of their gay pupils – as I discovered when I visited my old school with Sir Ian McKellen to promote Stonewall’s anti-bullying campaign.

Lefties like Suzanne Moore

and even a token gay – Andrew Pierce – now write for the Daily Mail. And there are more openly-gay Tories than there are gay Labour MPs.

I may sound like my nan when I say ‘You don’t know how good you’ve got it’, but then again, why should they know? Basic equality and respect is something nobody should have to be grateful for – it should be a given. It’s become my yawn-inducing ‘During the war...’ story. But – aged just 30 – I believe we have fought a war. And what’s more, we’re winning it.

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