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In Cumbria, gay men are outnumbered by sheep

But in the homophobic 1980s, this was no joke.

By David Clancy

I went on a blind date recently. I met him on Grindr; he’s not out and didn’t want his face on the internet.  I wouldn’t normally, but I liked his chat and he wore decent trainers (yes, I really am that shallow). We met in a café off the beaten track. I was pouring two sugars into my flat white, trying to look slim. He stood by the door scanning the room. He spotted me and a look of horror crossed his face. I sucked my belly in.

We were best mates in junior school. I remembered his name fondly but couldn’t see it in his face. We lost touch aged 11, but I still knew he had a wife and kids.

I live in Cumbria – gay men are outnumbered by sheep. But in the homophobic 1980s, this was no joke. It was lonely at best and violent at worst. I sent Laddo on his way. Lots of married men date men on the down-low – he’s not alone in this. It’s just not for me.

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In 2003, I found out my boyfriend of 12 years was cheating on me with a woman. She was his best friend. I’d wave them off on holidays together. He’d say, “David, you’re so good.” Now I know he meant gullible.

We hide parts of our identity so we can conform to what others deem acceptable. We lie by omission, and are complicit in our own disappearance. Historically, LGBTQ+ people have moved to cities to come out.

We need to look to Generation Z. They take sexual fluidity for granted. They’re not interested in old labels and see everything as being up for grabs. They revel in self-expression. This weekend I have tickets to watch the town’s queer youth choir sing at the local library.  In 1986, I stole a book on gay lifestyle from this library.  I was 15, and too ashamed to take it out on loan.

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Heteroflexible is a term for someone who mostly identifies as straight, yet will have sex with someone of the same sex. This is not romantic attraction, it’s erotic response – when sexual behaviour does not align with sexual orientation.

[See also: Lessons from the wrong end of a fox hunt]

For years, we’ve been told sexuality develops early and stays consistent. This is the “born this way” argument of gay rights (and of course Lady Gaga’s 2011 single of the same name). But we’re no longer “sexual deviants” who have to justify our existence. This argument has been helpful in changing perceptions, but is now too rigid and doesn’t allow for nuance.

I think of Laddo in the coffee shop. Heavy with shame over his desires. Living a half-life, full of deceit.What we want now is self-determination. As long as we have honesty with our partners, and don’t take the piss, why not embrace the fact that life is flux?

I’ve always preferred Madonna, anyway.


David Clancy is supported by A Writing Chance, a UK-wide project from New Writing North designed to discover new writers from underrepresented backgrounds whose voices have historically not been heard in publishing and the media. You can read work by other writers in this initiative here.

A Writing Chance is co-funded by Michael Sheen and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by the New Statesman and the Daily Mirror. The project is delivered by New Writing North and literature organisations nationally, with research from Northumbria University.

This piece is published in Michael Sheen’s guest edited issue of the New Statesman, “A Dream of Britain”, on sale from 25 March.

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This article appears in the 23 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, A Dream of Britain