There’s a photograph I have. It’s one of my absolute favourite photographs. It was taken in 2004, in the music room of my comprehensive school. It was the very end of the summer term, our last term before we left for college. The photo is of me and my five closest friends at the time. It’s got a bit of a low-budget sitcom look to it.
The reason why, nine years later, I think this photograph is absolutely wonderful is that, since then, all but one of the people in that picture has come out as gay. One was already out, to be fair, and about two months ago I got final confirmation on the last member of the group. The remaining member—Hannah, in the centre, is married with a child on the way. I’m pretty solid on her not joining the team.
Looking at the picture I find it genuinely stupendous. What exactly was it made all five of us pull together? School was always a complicated tangle of changing relationships full of tensions, worries, concerns and the kind of slightly deranged friendships you make as a teenager. We weren’t a perfectly close-knit group, more a string of close friendships from one to the other, meaning that at opposing ends of the chain people were probably not much more than acquaintances. But still something caused five people to group together without every once talking about something intrinsic that linked them.
When I worked as a teacher I always used to say that I could identify the pupils who would turn out to be gay. Not from any campery or obvious signs, but from a kind of sixth sense of hiddenness, an undercurrent of otherness. There would be something in an answer to a question, or in a way of talking to a pupil, sometimes just even in the way they stood in a corridor waiting for class with the hubbub of the rest of school life going on around. You could pick something out in the careful mix of ferventness and guardedness in friendships with other same-gendered pupils.
I find the sense of history’s threads pulling tight the slow reveal of futures incredibly poignant: I’ve always loved the photo, but the more I find out about the hidden stories going on behind the scenes as that camera flashed, the more power the photograph has. How much did any of us know about each other? How many things were we all thinking that not one of us knew? And yet, despite all that, a circle of friends, drawn together anyway? It’s really quite marvellous.
Alternatively, it could all be a huge, massive, glaring, coincidence.
How about you? Did you find out about friends later in life? What was it like finding out things that might have been secret back in the school days? How is it when you see the old school friend on facebook who you’ve just noticed has married his husband? Are there people out there who managed to find gay friends in school without talking about it? Or even with—clubhouse style, us-against-the-world? I’d love to hear your experiences…