|With my "twin sister" Billy|
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Love and Acceptance
I spent last weekend with my best friend, actually my twin sister, at his hometown of Caen in Normandy. Quite aside from the warm welcome I received, from the difficulty I had remembering my French, which I hadn’t spoken in 30years, from the vast quantities of food consumed (we’ve both come back fat as pigs), what struck me most was the love, acceptance and openness shown by all those I met.
Billy did not have an easy childhood or adolescence. Thrown out of the family home at the age of 15, when he came out to his alcoholic father, who died last year, he fled to Paris, New York, Brighton and London, doing whatever he could to survive, eventually turning to drugs and alcohol himself. However, even at the height of his addiction, he had a keen instinct for survival, which led him to check himself into the Priory, taking the first steps on the road to a recovery, which continues to this day. He has been clean 9 years, though this does not stop him going out and enjoying himself at parties where those around him are drinking or taking drugs. His problem has never become anyone else’s. A few years back he was diagnosed HIV positive, which he dealt with with equal courage and fortitude. With all these problems he has also managed to own and run successful businesses. He is a remarkable person.
I tell you this because Billy is very open about the details of his life. Everyone we met in France, from his relations to his school friends knows everything about him, but it has made no difference to them. It was wonderful to see how he was welcomed with total love and acceptance by all the people we visited, and there were an awful lot of them. (I was getting quite lost as to who was who by the end of Saturday). Inevitably I suppose, I began to compare his life to mine. I had a fairly trouble free childhood, though my adolescence was harder as I tried desperately to be the person my mother wanted me to be, rather than the person I am. I knew I was gay, but I hid it from myself as well as everyone else for such a long time, that when I finally accepted I was gay, it was something of an epiphany. I came out to all my friends down here in London, then to my brother, and finally to my mother. She reacted as only she could. She still loved me of course, but that was despite the fact that I was gay, which was just another cross for her to bear. She would of course keep it to herself, as there was so much shame attached to having a gay son. To this day she has never told the rest of the family, not even her own brothers, to whom she claimed to be so close. So much for openness and acceptance. Is it any wonder my visits to my hometown became more and more infrequent. Unlike Billy, I never really felt I fitted in with anyone at school, so I have no contact with any of my childhood friends, many of whom have moved away from the area anyway. It was only when I moved to London and went to Drama College that I felt I fitted in anywhere.
The main reason for us going to France at the weekend was to attend the 40th birthday party of one of Billy’s friends, whom I had met, with his charming wife and lovely young daughter when they were here in London for New Year. The guests (at least 60 of them) ranged in age from young children to grandparents . Apart from Billy and me, there was one gay couple there. Everyone else was straight, though we fitted in so wel it really was of no consequence who was straight and who was gay. A few spoke English. Most didn’t, though I still managed to hold quite a few conversations with people. The party started at 8pm with punch and nibbles, but tables had been set for a sit down meal, which Christophe, our host had prepared himself. He had always been adamant that on his birthday he would cook for his friends. In the event, we didn’t sit down to eat till 10pm and dessert didn’t arrive till 2am! The courses were interspersed with dancing and even a flash mob, with which I joined in, having been taught the routine the previous evening. Billy’s sister had written new lyrics to a well known French song, detailing events in Christophe’s life, which she performed with her husband and another couple of close friends, and so on and so forth. Billy acquainted people with what I do for a living, explaining the difference between us. “I’m a slut and he’s a whore, because he gets paid and I give it away free”. Not really true these days. Billy’s more of a nun, which seems a terrible waste to me. But I digress. Nobody made judgements. I was welcomed with acceptance and open arms. I suppose what I am saying is that it was a joy to be accepted for who I am, rather than despite who I am, which is usually the case when I go to my hometown. When we left the party, exhausted, at 3am, it was still in full swing, children still playing, people still sitting round chatting or dancing. I had more fun than I’ve had in a gay club in London in a very long time.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could be like that? If we could all be accepted for who we are? Too often, like most minorities, we are tolerated rather than accepted, if we are tolerated at all. Why do so many people find it hard to accept other people’s differences? Difference is what makes the world go round. It should be celebrated, as indeed it was on Saturday night.