I don’t know where you are right now, or when you’re reading this. But wherever you are in the world, I welcome you to the Dungeness community. We’re happy to have you.
The first person I ever told I was gay, was my friend Eve. She was in my year at school. We were crossing the road near Charing Cross station and as I said the words I’m gay I could feel myself collapsing. Eve held me up and got me to the other side of the road. Suddenly everything felt different. Like all my life until that point had been blurry, and now everything was sharp and in focus.
I would love the next sentence to be: “and I never looked back.” But that would be a lie. I didn’t believe in God and yet I lost count of the times I prayed for me not to be gay. I was bullied for being gay before I came out and I was bullied for it after. But in that moment, in Eve’s arms, I was safe.
Looking back now, I realise that for much of my life I believed I was disgusting. It’s what I was told. People said it in a variety of ways. Sometimes through violence, other times more subtly. But I took it as gospel truth.
The first time I was beaten up for being gay, I was 18. A group of boys who looked much younger than me attacked me on a train. They had an iron rod and knuckle-dusters. The resounding memory I have is screaming at passengers for help. But people just stood and watched. Now I understand that they must have been scared too, but it took me a long time to forgive them. I was able to forgive my attackers far quicker than I could the bystanders.
I needed hospital treatment, but I didn’t go. I was too humiliated that kids who were younger than me had beaten me up. But more than that, I was too ashamed to tell people that they were screaming the word faggot in my face as they attacked. It never even occurred to me to tell the police. Back then I had no faith in them whatsoever to protect queer people.
But it wasn’t just this violence that brought about my self-disgust. It was the government. It occurred to me that every law passed against LGBT+ people, including Section 28, came from a place of disgust. And I absorbed it like a sponge. If you had squeezed me I would have drenched the floor with shame.
I am telling you this because despite some friends and family who were supportive, I felt alone.
And I want you to know that you are not alone. If you are reading this book, you are not alone.
Imagine each copy of this play is like a beacon on top of a lighthouse. It sends out a signal, into the night, and connects you with everyone else who has ever read or performed this play. They could be sat right next to you; they could be in a country far away. You are not alone.
When I was at school I self harmed. And although eventually I stopped cutting my legs with scissors, in my early twenties I starting self harming in different ways. At the time I thought I was having fun – but the endless nights of partying, substance misuse, my fear of intimacy, were all just a way to achieve the same goals of numbing the pain and hiding from the truth: somewhere along the line I had learned to hate myself.
I thought I was ugly. And the most natural, biological feeling – for me, being attracted to another man - filled me with shame. But if you had told me that I’d have told you to piss off.
We talk so much about learning to love ourselves it has almost become cliché.
But the fact of the matter is many LGBT+ people have been deeply wounded.
To heal our wounds is to let go of shame.
To turn your back on shame is to make a commitment to yourself.
It’s a life long commitment. And we need to be clear that the problem doesn’t lie with you. It lies with others.
For a long time I thought falling in love would heal me. I’d meet a man and he would love me and all my shame would melt away. I did meet men. And they did love me. And I loved them. But I still hated myself.
The big change came when I decided to stop asking other people to heal my wounds. I had to heal them myself. And the first step, for me, was when I stopped denying myself my own love and respect. All the love I wanted from other people, I decided to give to myself.
Little by little, I began to like myself more. I began to unlearn all the bad stuff I’d been told about myself. And slowly I stepped out from the shadows of shame, and walked in the sun.
I definitely still have some steps to take on this journey of self-love.
But when I think back to where I started, it’s a journey I’m glad to be on.
And wherever you are on your journey, no matter what your starting point was, I want you to know that you are wonderful and brilliant. If you’re in a place where people don’t accept you, or you don’t accept yourself right now, please know that there are people out there who will love you unconditionally.
But any steps you can take - even small ones - to giving yourself that unconditional love, are steps worth taking.
You’ll never look back.