May 2012


I don’t have many heroes. The Dalai Lama perhaps. Yo-Yo Ma, he’s pretty amazing. Aung Sun Su Kyi. But Sir Simon Rattle is up there amongst the people I’d really like to know.

I’ve never met him. I saw him once in Edinburgh walking through the park during the Festival fireworks. And he walked past me again as I was queueing outside the Royal Albert Hall to get tickets for Prom he was doing. But he’s a legend. The hair, the voice, the amazing musicality.

And I guess, he’s probably the most famous and certainly most instantly recognisable conductor in the world these days. He’s handsome, has a stunning wife, is chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Ok. I’m going to have stop gushing because I’m meeting him tomorrow.

For the last five or so years I’ve been fortunate enough to host the Night Shift for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. They’re a bunch of inspired musicians who play on period instrument (that is, appropriate in style and construction to the age when the piece was composed) and they are fiercely democratic. They don’t have a conductor but chose to work with a cadre of ‘Principlal Artists’, in whose number is Sir Simon Rattle.

He was just Simon when they first worked together – a young exciting conductor from Liverpool who was making a big noise in Birmingham. Now he still works with the OAE and later in June they’re performing an evening of French music. And most excitingly, he is doing a Night Shift.

We try and make classical music a bit more …. well, friendly. Less bow ties and zimmer frames, more beer and talk. The music is still flawless and the musicians fervent, but the atmosphere is so much more welcoming.

We started out with just a handful of audience but recently we’ve been filling the hall – and all that at 10pm on a weekday, with an audience mostly under 30 and mostly underawed by ‘big names’. They just enjoy quirky ‘different’ music. I try and put together a Spotify playlist for people to listen to. There’s a massive Twitter and Facebook presence. Free beer for students. Oystercard holders and fake tattoos. What more could we want?

Well, on Sunday 10th in London, at the Royal Festival Hall, we’re doing an hour-long Nightshift with Sir Simon showcasing that mild-mannered revolutionary Debussy. We’ve got the whole of La Mer and the horny faun Prélude. It will be – swoon – ravishing.

I must try and gush less.

This is an article I wrote almost 10 years ago but it still seems to hit the right note.

COMING OUT IS GOOD FOR YOU.

This article was written in response to several emails I received from young men around the world who had read an interview I gave to Gay Times in the summer of 2003. For this reason it addresses the problems of gay men rather than gay women. I’d like to pretend that I could speak for Lesbians around the world, but I’d clearly be lying. Sorry.

1.Getting it straight in your head.

Being gay is not always easy and I reckon a lot of that dis-ease is caused by a distorted notion of sex that most of us – gay and straight – carry around in our heads.

Like most modern girls and boys, I grew up thinking about sex in terms of Darwin. It seemed an unconscious truism that we have sex in order to breed, to perpetuate the species. But on mature reflection, I think this notion of sex is wrong-headed.

Sex is not about making babies. Sex is about meeting people.

Without the sexual urge, human beings would stagnate in their own pool of personality. Sex pushes us out of our own stale orbit and lets us into other people’s solar systems. In this way our horizons widen, our lives get richer, life becomes meaningful. True, it also freshens the gene pool when men and women have sex, but that is just a fortunate side effect of the greater purpose.

This greater goal of sex means that it’s irrelevant who we love. The important factor is that we do fancy and love other people.

I should have got this clear in my head before even coming out to myself… Instead I fell into the trap of going out, meeting men and having sex with them, while all the time, deep in my heart, I was actually thinking : this is aberrant, this is not in the natural scheme of things, I like it but it’s invalid.

We really have to get away from this kind of thinking, because slowly and surely it will eat away the joy of our sexual encounters. It will either makes us despise the whole gay sex scene or makes us so furiously heedless of our true feelings that we start using mindless sex and drugs and serial dating to mask that deeper unease, that tiny voice that’s saying: this is not right.

It is right. And, more than that, it’s good. And with that insight firmly under one’s belt then the next stage – coming out to yourself – is going to be a whole lot easier.

2. The Beautiful Brotherhood

I went through a nominal coming out at University. It was rather cool to be openly gay and on paper I was a cool guy. I was gay but not camp. However, most of my friends were straight. I didn’t go to gay bars. In my heart I really rather despised gay people and that included myself.

I found actual sex impossibly tortured because I wasn’t really out and happy with my sexuality, even though I wore it like a badge of honour.

It wasn’t until I left the matrix of the English Motherland and headed into the warm belly of the Cold War, post-Wall Berlin, that I was able to discover guilt-free sex.

There on the nudist beaches of Wannsee and in the gay street festivals of Motzstrasse; in the plush gay clubs buried like ruby-velvet jewels in the grey decay of the East; in the clannish, exclusively male Gay Scene of that city, I found that my dirtiest dreams were pretty mainstream and for the first time in my life I could chat openly to other men about those communal sexual pursuits: flirting, fancying, sharking, hunting and getting your heart broken.

And that’s when I was able to say: yes, I like this. I like talking about it. I like giggling like a teenager about it. I like standing at the bar jawing about it. I like the other people who share this with me. And that was my real coming out: a coming home to a sense of community I never had, the brotherhood of boys.

And that sense of Brotherhood is what most gay man have missed all their lives. Left out of laddish cliques by the embarassment of fancying all the other members, stuttering and styleless around the handsome young men of their youth, most gay man just need a clique of their own, a space where it’s ok to talk about heartache and hard-ons. Ok to engage in the sort of sub-erotic banter that glues together groups of straight lads and lasses on their nights out.

So I’d say the first thing to do is to get out and meet other gay men. Talk about it. Compare notes. Launch into the delayed adolescence that most gay men have in their 20s. The Internet provides ample forum for finding gay men in your area and the gay pubs and clubs have come on a long way since the grim, dark leather lairs of yore.

3.Coming Out to Everyone Else.

However you make peace with your own sexuality at some point you need to tell those near and dear to you. This “official” coming out is famously tricky, but if you’re happy in your own gay skin, then it tends to come out a lot more eloquently.

Much of the anxiety and uneasiness around coming out is to do with the insecurity of the gay person in the centre of the event. If you feel guilty or diseased then those around you will naturally tend to condemn or cure.

If you’re feeling relatively sorted and self-assured those around you will have to react with acceptance or if they reject you it will be their problem not yours.

However, remember that you’ve had your whole life to wrestle with the issues of being gay. Your parents and friends will have only had the last few seconds to come to terms with it. Don’t be too harsh on them. For many parents – their newly outed son or daughter is the first gay person they will have encountered. You can’t expect 100% ease around a concept that – up until recently – was shrouded in prejudice and paranoia.

Don’t rush people. From my experience it took around 2 years for my family to really accept my being gay. And I’m extremely proud of my Mum and Dad for making such a major mental shift. It can’t have been easy for them.

Of course, there were lots of sticky moments, hidden resentments and not-so-hidden temper tantrums, but that’s perfectly normal. I’d say it was almost impossible to have a completely pain-free coming out, even with the most seemingly liberal parents and friends. Nothing in life is completely pain-free.

But the overall picture is almost always positive.

I was able to stop lying to my loved ones. I was able to share some of my emotional life with my Mum and Dad. I even found – heavens! – that they had some useful, kind and wise things to say about it.

I shed a few friends along the way. But the relief of having friends with whom I was able to share every emotional mood, every love affair, every broken heart was of incomparable worth.

My coming out was also the moment that I grew up and took responsibility for myself . It was the point in my family history when we stopped being “son”, “mother”, “brother”, “father” and became 4 adults dealing with this tricky proposition. It was the best thing that every happened to us all. In my opinion.

And finally…

At the risk of sounding preachy: Remember being gay is a great blessing.

It may not always feel that. It may feel a great big pain in the ass. But in end effect, we homosexuals have been granted a chink of difference that lets in a lot of light. Most heterosexuals – especially male heterosexuals – ride through life never questioning the world that seems tailor-made for them, unaware that it is actually tailoring them into a rather tight strait-jacket.

Our eccentric sex drives force us to examine the world that conditions us and forge out own way of living. Gayness means we don’t blindly follow everyone else’s blueprint from cradle to grave. And that, my friends, is a good thing.

Of course, my ponderings are far from authoritative. They come from my own, necessarily limited, experiences. However, there are several well-regarded websites and telephone help-lines specially tailored for the problems that cluster around coming-out or for just getting to know some other gay men in the less intimidating environment of the Net.

Here’s just a few:

http://gaylife.about.com/od/comingout/u/howtocomeout.htm

http://www.gayyouth.org.uk/info/coming-out

Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (UK): 0300 330 0630 (DAILY 10AM – 11PM)
http://www.llgs.org.uk/

Meeting people:
http://www.gaydar.co.uk
http://http://www.outeverywhere.com/