For many days, my heart had pounded, and I found myself in danger of being found out.
My mother couldn’t understand why I’d been getting up so early every morning, especially on a Saturday.
I can’t sleep, I told her.
Whereas what I’d been waiting for so early every morning was the postman.
But that Saturday morning was a saviour for me because the postman sometimes arrived after I’d gone to work.
As the mail fell through the letterbox, it was only the large, brown envelope I snatched and took upstairs to my bedroom.
My hands shook as I quietly opened the envelope, thinking that any sound I made would wake up the entire household. As I took out the contents, the newspaper’s title, ‘Gay News’, in large bold letters, pierced my eyes.
Barely able to open the pages, because my hands were still shaking, my eyes darted all over the pages taking in a ‘life’ I knew I belonged to, but of which I’d had little experience. It was unlike any newspaper I’d ever read. It was like entering a new yet, familiar world.
Some 45-minutes later, I’d read just over three-quarters. While my fingers and hands showed evidence of newspaper print, I picked up the large brown envelope and gazed at the postmark – London.
Immediately thinking that London was the place where all gay people lived, I started making plans in my head of a trip. I’d never been, yet I somehow knew London would be the destination where I would work and live one day.
Turning my attention to the newspaper again, I scanned one of the back pages I’d not read. These were the kinds of adverts I remember reading.
For sale – Leather jacket and Muir cap, hardly worn, VG condition – £35 ONO (or nearest offer). Contact Jack at Box 625S, Gay News, London…
For rent – Lovely cosy room, in a large house with three other guys. NW10 area, only a few minutes to underground and good bus service. £15 a week, plus contributions towards bills. Contact Mike at Box 489A, Gay News, London…
Wanted – models for top-earning film studios. Must be good looking and over 21. Send full details of yourself and a photo to Box907W, Gay News, London…
Many adverts like those above covered the page, but others took my interest more.
Lonely, 33, good-looking, short hair, moustache, 5ft 9′, good sense of humour, looking for a younger boyfriend to go out with and have fun with. 21-30 only, no older guys, sorry. Will only reply to letters that include a photograph. Contact Clive at Box D212, Gay News, London…
28, just out of a relationship, short, blond hair, cleanshaven, fit, told good looking, non-smoker, Earl’s Court, London, area, looking for a new boyfriend. Age (21 – 80) and looks unimportant. Please include a photo with your reply. Contact Adam at Box D213, Gay News, London…
Bear, 55, looking for a younger (21+) cub to cuddle and have fun with. Must have facial hair and a hairy chest. Bristol area, but willing to travel for the right cub. Your photo gets mine. Contact Steve at Box D214, Gay News, London…
It wouldn’t be long before I discovered what a bear and cub were in the gay world. It also would not be long before I found that not everything in lonely hearts adverts was what I thought it was.
There were many adverts, and even though I was only 17, I started thinking seriously about placing one. It would be risky, but all I wanted to do was make some gay friends.
I noticed another advert before folding the paper and placing it back in the envelope.
South Wales area – genuine, nice guy in his early 40s, looking to meet other guys who haven’t come out yet. Maybe we could help each other? Write to Richard at Box 223D, Gay News, London…
Lifting a corner of carpet under my bed and placing the large, brown envelope and its contents under it, Richard remained on my mind for the rest of the weekend.
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49 thoughts on “True Stories: Gay Memories – Hiding And Seeking #LGBTQI #LGBT”
Loved this Hugh. Ahh, the good old days when we didn’t have to meet online and not be able to trust it wasn’t a scammer. Looking forward to hear what happened with Richard. 🙂 x
And the waiting for replies. Not like today’s instant result’s Debby. Although some scammers were out there even then, the anticipation waiting for the post was terrific. And these were the times when a Polaroid camera came in very useful.
Richard did feature again, but not the way I thought he would.
You are so right Hugh, there have always been scammers. Just these days so much more prevalent. 🙂
An emotional powerhouse of a memory, Hugh and I have to say, so well written. I could see you standing there with the envelope in your hand, hoping no one would come into your room.
I’m wondering though…how did you even hear of Gay News back then? I’m guessing it wasn’t in your high school library 🙂
Thanks, Aimer. And because I insisted on cleaning my bedroom, I knew the envelope containing Gay News would be safe under the carpet under my bed.
How did I discover Gay News? This post has the answer.
Thanks, Hugh. I read The Day My Life Changed when you first posted it. Can’t believe it slipped my mind. Embarrassing 😦
Not at all, Aimer. I don’t expect everyone to remember everything they’ve read on my blog. Mainly because I’ve been blogging for 8 years tomorrow. Where did the time go? I’m glad you asked the question, though. Thank you.
8 years tomorrow, congratulations !!!
I can do relate to this and I remember seeing these type of ads, maybe not in magazines but on the internet as it has just come about. I remember seeing chat rooms for the first time where I could talk to other like minded people. Although, like the ads, people were not always as they seemed. Thanks for sharing Hugh!
The 90s was when things really changed, Wayne. I remember hearing about a website called Gaydar for the first time. I thought it was a website that could tell whether a person was gay or not. How wrong I was!
Haha I wonder is that where that term came from?! Knowing if someone is gay or not. Yes that was the first website I had heard of and became a member of. I think I was 17 and I was terrified my parents would see me using the website.
It goes to prove that what you said about being terrified that your parents would see you using that website, that what I was experiencing in the late 1970s, was still happening many years later, only in digital form rather than in newspapers or magazines.
The age of technology certainly changed the world. However, I’m sure it’s still happening today, but probably not by everyone, given that there are now many gay celebrities.
Yes so true Hugh. Things are definitely improving and with more and more gay people coming out, it’s becoming less of a big deal now. I look forward to the day when gay people won’t have to ‘come out’. It will just be normal to like the same sex or different sex, no one will care ☺️
As always an open and honest post Hugh . Your memories are so helpful to many.
I enjoyed your other series when you talked about leaving home and setting up home in London.💜
Reliving these memories has been lovely to do, Willow.
I think the other series you’re referring to was snippets from my diary of 1988. I may get around to sharing some of those memories again.
That’s the one Hugh that was brilliant, you asked us all to pick dates in certain years and you provided the memories. It was brilliant 💜
Thank you, Willow. Glad you enjoyed that series. That was just one year. These newer posts will take in many years.
Excellent Hugh it would make a great TV series ☺️
Just found your blog and it took me back a few years. My brother had always been “different” but I seemed to be the only one who noticed in the family. So, many years later we were talking on the phone when he said he had something he wanted to tell me but it would have to wait until he came home for a visit. I told him I was fairly sure I already knew what he wanted to say but the phone wasn’t the right place to say it for me. His visit finally came and we went into one of the bedrooms and closed the door, and then he asked what I thought he was going to tell me. I said something about his friend being my brother-in-law, and he told me I had it partially right. His friend had AIDS and my brother was cautious enough to be loving but not a lover. He then told me he had come out to both of my sisters long before that but when he asked them if he should tell me they both said I would freak out. I told him I had known about that since he was 10 and he said he wished I had told him about it so his life could have been better. I didn’t know the words at that time and neither did he, so at that age I could only be a good big sister to him. We did agree not to tell mother, a well intentioned lady who still lived in the age of Victoria! She discovered it on her own when she visited him and he decided to leave all evidence out in the open. A few years later he met and subsequently married J. and they remained happy until my brother’s death in December, 2020. Steve is finally at rest, J is still grieving, the family has supported J in his grief and are still dealing with our own, but he lived a good life, away from our hometown but still in places where he was accepted and loved. I remember his struggles so well and have always tried to befriend anyone who is different from myself. We were all created by the same God and formed in His image, so how can I do anything else? I wish you luck in your life and if you haven’t yet found your life partner, I hope some day you will be as happy as Steve was in his later years. Angie
Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing the story of your brother, Angie.
When I told my mother that I was gay, she put her arms around me and asked why it had taken me so long to tell her. So I can only imagine that my mother was like you with your brother Steve, in wanting to know why it had taken so long to come out to her. I wish I had come out to her a lot sooner, but I was always afraid, mainly of rejection. My father, however, took my coming out very badly. For 35 years, he never accepted that I was gay and had no contact with me. Fortunately, he finally came around to being me being gay in 2014 but sadly passed away in 2020.
I’m sorry that Steve is no longer with you, but it is terrific to hear that your family supports J after Steve’s death. I can understand why Steve moved away from your hometown to somewhere where being gay didn’t matter and was acceptable to more people. It’s one of the reasons why I eventually moved to London to live. I saw London as a place to protect other gay people and me.
I’m pleased to say that I found my life partner in 1993. We had our civil partnership in 2006 and will celebrate our 29th anniversary of the night we first met in September this year.
Thanks again for visiting and for sharing the story of your brother.
It’s so good to hear that you have been together for so long. Steve and J didn’t have that many years because of Steve coming down with Crones disease while stationed in Turkey. He almost died at that time, but lived another 50 years with it. The bright side was that he was in the Air Force and this was a time when he remained active in the service and was even called back as a civilian employee after retiring. The bad side was that he was never advanced after reaching his top rank of Captain. It had to have bothered him, but that’s the way it seems to work in the armed forces here. I think he and J were prevented from adopting a baby, and that was so sad. They would have been fantastic parents, and J would now have someone to help him through his grief. But they were happy, and were legally married a few years before his death with a Jesuit priest as their witness.
It just goes to show how hard a journey they had, but I’m so pleased they got married and, I hope, they had many happy times together.
I’m sure they would have made wonderful parents to children they would have loved and looked after far better than some actual parents. It’s good to see that in some parts of the world (including the UK), gay people can now adopt.
I think they would have adopted if Steve had been in better health. He developed Crohn’s Disease while stationed in Turkey about 50 years ago. They had several happy years together though with all the nieces and nephews in both families.
A life-changing page out of your history, Hugh. Seems a lot to have to go through just for companionship and the hope of meeting someone then. Apparently well worth it 🙂
Before the days of technology and social media, many people looking for love and companionship connected in this way, Terri. And you’d have to wait weeks before getting any replies (not instantly like it is today). I’ll be writing about the ‘wait’ in another post.
Of course, there were bars and pubs where you could also meet new people, but for gay people at the time, meeting in a gay bar was something almost not heard of unless it was all done secretly and with significant risk.
It’s really sad yet eye-opening. I’m glad that things have gotten better for you, although I know that it is still difficult for gay people in many ways.
Yes, it is, especially for those who are terrified of coming out to their family and friends. Homophobia is also a problem, but society is now more accepting of gay people. Unquestionably, in the late 1970s (where these memories come from), two men living together would have been seen as very unacceptable. So you can imagine how much more fearful being found out was back then.
What a long way you had to come. A coming out may still not be easy but how much more difficult it was decades ago. Thanks for sharing your journey so openly, Hugh.
A long way, but something I look back upon and see as an incredible journey, Erika.
I agree that ‘coming out’ should be a lot easier in today’s world, given how much society now accepts being gay and bisexual as a way of life. But there are still many who fear telling the world that they are gay and hide their true selves from view. It’s such a shame it still happens, so I hope posts like these will go some way to give some comfort.
It is a big shame that still some minds are caught in old thinking pattern which never had anything to do with reality. One day, no one needs to be afraid anymore to simply be who they and live their life freely. We are getting there, and hopefully sooner than later!
I always love to read your experiences, Hugh. Life is very different for those who are of a different sexual persuasion, nowadays, but it wasn’t that long ago that everything was hidden.
I applaud you for putting it out there. No doubt, your words will help some, and open the eyes of others 💜
Thank you, Ritu,
I hope these posts will help, especially those reading who find the thought of ‘coming out’ and who live their lives as a lie. Nobody should ever be in that position, but I understand why some people won’t come out to family and friends.
We’re lucky to be living in an age where being gay is something many people now see as a way of life. However, in some parts of the world, gay and bisexual people still live in fear of their lives. One day, I hope that being gay is accepted in every country of the world.
Oh, I know. It is still so taboo in many East Asian countries…
I just found your blog and I’m so interested in reading more. My 14 year old daughter recently came out to me, and I’m so glad I was able to be trusted with her truth. Your journey paved the way for my daughter and I’m looking forward to reading more of your stories.
And yes, the fact it’s still punishable by death in some countries I unacceptable and sad.
Thank you for reading and commenting on this post, Bridgette.
I’m delighted to hear that your 14-year-old daughter has come out to you. It took me many years to come out to my family, and whilst my mother said she always knew I was gay, some family members could not accept my sexuality.
I hope my ‘True Stories’ posts will help many people who find themselves in the situation of being afraid to come out. Things are much better and perhaps more accessible in today’s world, but there is still much to be done to rid our world of all types of discrimination.
Reading posts like this help me to see what it was really like for some people. To be honest I really didn’t realize how tough it was. Thank you Hugh for helping me understand a little more. When I was younger I lived about 30 minutes from San Francisco California. The people who were gay in San Francisco always seemed so comfortable with who they were so I never really understood how hard it was then until I was much older and heard stories like yours. Once again thank you for showing me another side. Hopefully my comment makes sense 🙂
It does, and thank you for reading the post and commenting on it.
I’ve only written a few of these posts, but each time I seem to bring a world to readers who knew little or nothing about what it was like living as a gay person in the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, things have much improved over the last 50 years, but I still hear awful stories of people too frightened to come out as gay to their family and friends.
Hopefully, one day, we won’t live in a world like that.
I am so sorry you had to experience this Hugh. I grew up in the 80’s and am shocked that I was so clueless.
It was very much what life was like back then. Things were very much hidden and behind the scenes, so I’m not surprised that you didn’t know much of what was going on. I am happy that I learned from it and made myself a better person than those who discriminated against gay people back then.
This was very much still around in the 80s and 90s as I’m sure it still is for many other people even today, depending also on where you live 😞
Agreed. I’ve had several direct messages sent to me via my ‘contact Hugh’ form from people who have read this post and tell me they haven’t come out yet because it is too unsafe to do so where they live. I feel angry about the position they’re in. It’s a very sad situation that this is still happening in some parts of the world.
Yes it is really tragic. It’s awful that it all depends on where you happen to be born whether you are accepted or not. I guess it’s the same for many things in life, poverty, prosperity etc
I recently heard somebody say that where you’re born in the world is a lottery. I think they’re right.
Oh 100% and unfortunately we have no choice in the matter.
Love reading your memoirs. I am glad things have changed ( for the better) for the LGBT community. Although there are still lots that still need to change.
Thank you, Gilda. I’m glad you’re enjoying them.
Yes, still lots of work to be done, although in some countries (where it is still against the law to be gay), there is even more to do. It’s challenging to comprehend why gay people still face the death penalty in some countries. Our voices will never go silent.