There is something lost and broken about a small town. Not on its surface. Beneath, where the new working class flex what little muscle it has. Withered by austerity and the banking crisis, lifting their weary faces and skinny fists toward the last of the watery sunlight.
Whitstable has always attracted freaks and frauds. Crooks and drifters. Before the gang of yummy mummies arrived with their plantation shutters, gumming up local stores with giant strollers… gangsters sat in Wheelers back room making deals. Far enough from London, close enough to get home for their tea.
Life is evenly divided between Whitstable my home town and the world I created elsewhere. You know, in the newspapers and on TV. To come home is a mixed blessing. My estranged brothers and frail mother have become litigants rather than family as I sue for my part in David’s will.
Even though Whitstable is a very small town one can totally miss seeing someone for decades. Yet, with very little effort, I saw my mother on the street. She looked animated, mid conversation with other mothers, presumably after dropping my nephew Oscar Roy at school. Frances Roy, Frances Spark, Fran. I don’t know what she calls herself nowadays. I walked closer, I tapped her on the shoulder… she turned to face me. I was shocked by how badly she has aged. The face I once adored is now smeared over her large skull, her features drawn, jowls and ear lobes drooping like melting tallow.
I was momentarily pleased to see her. I felt protective once again. I wanted to reassure her things were going to work out. I thought the violent abuse we received from David would somehow bond us forever. Sadly, she has never been anything other than utterly selfish. She may have once but now she no longer wants the best for me. I am a stranger to her.
Unplanned pregnancy, shame and derision have shaped who she is today. She learned nothing from her own story. She never made amends. She was never proud or encouraging of any of her children. The older we got the less interest she showed. She had no ambition, no desire, no love.
I used to make excuses for her. I’d tell therapists, “The nuns at the mother and baby home made her life miserable.” I explained to psychologists, “Her father was cruel, her mother insensitive.” “It was a different time.” “When she looks at me I reminded her of him.” I said. And all the while, unbeknownst to her, the world was changing. She told the doctor at the hospital, when I later read the notes, she was ashamed of me being so obviously gay… a gay child. The sight of me flouncing around upset David.
They tried to shut me down. The harder they tried the harder I fought back. They tried to cure me with anti psychotic drugs. They gave an 11-year-old gay child, badly abused at home… anti psychotic drugs.
I protected her from what others might say. I melted when she cried. She used her tears to avoid the truth. Any difficult subject… she would cry. One day I told her the crying wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to cry with her anymore. She stopped crying. She didn’t do it again. My mother does not deserve my protection. Sooner or later we are all owed the truth.
I was 22, I had a show in the West End. She didn’t take the train, she didn’t see the play. She couldn’t be anything other than embarrassed, four gay men talking about our gay lives. She didn’t see me at the Edinburgh Festival, she didn’t see me. She had excuses.
The next show, The Host performed in the Oyster Company great hall, my mother came with her sister Margaret and giggled in the back row ruining it for other people. She didn’t come to the ICA or Sadler’s Wells, she didn’t come to The Hen and Chickens. I don’t think she said a word when I won my place at a prestigious film school. To this day and to the best of my knowledge she has never seen any of my films.
I’ve never written about her in this blog, explored who she is or was. I never once described her casual homophobia. I wanted to believe she was a better person than she actually is. A better person than me. But she wasn’t… she accused my boyfriends of being gold diggers, made gay slurs about AIDS and ‘disgusting gay diseases’. She failed to ask about my relationships, my work and my life. When Joe and I bought a Porsche I was excited to show her.
She looked at it and said, “You ponce.”
That is the sort of woman she is. Yet, when she was homeless I let her have one of our homes… even though she was the one who walked out on David… taking nothing. Like so many women, she left it behind. She walked out on my inheritance.
I have loyally hidden her true nature. In the film AKA I did not reveal she colluded with my abusive father. I continually let her off the hook.
When she called to tell me my brothers had been sent to prison, she blamed the police, she blamed everyone but them. My brother Martin Roy sends an abusive note to my lawyer. I do not read it. He storms into the solicitor’s office and demands to see him.
Whitstable High Street. She’s nicely dressed. I tap her on the shoulder and say hello. She looks shocked. She looked beaten. She holds onto her friend, she links arms… as if I am going to be rip her away from them. I ask if we can have coffee. She shakes her head and looks like she might cry. “I don’t want to talk to him.” The other mothers try encouraging her to have coffee with me. They advise her to talk it through but my Mother dare not do that because she has been lying so long… she knows if she accepts a coffee it is time to tell the truth.
Her friends say, “She speaks so highly of you.”
“Really?” I reply. “She scarcely speaks to me at all.”
I ask them if my mother Frances Roy mentioned to them she did not tell me my father was dying of cancer, she did not tell me he had died and then concealed his funeral from us all. She grips hold of the other woman frantic, terrified. Her brain racing for a solution. Fear. I return to the car. She runs up the street as fast as her 73-year-old legs can carry her.
New Years Eve we sat in a small group in his sitting room. Whitstable people. An MBE, an artist, the celebrity gardener, the Michelin star chef, the academy award nominee and a couple of imported diplomats… friends of our host. He is wearing a djellaba. Black linen, a rust colored silk shawl and Saudi slippers. At midnight we toast the new year and hug. I check insta and snap chat. They are toasting in an ice palace in Reykjavik and the Sydney opera house. Sam Taylor Johnston posts random snaps of black men preparing her dinner and black men entertaining them with dancing.
The following day, New Years Day… we reconvene at Windy Corner Stores. At another table I see a man whose name I no longer remember, he has piercing blue eyes, he’s in a local band. I stare at him. He knows who I am. Like looking into the eyes of ones captor. Throughout my childhood this blue-eyed man mercilessly bullied me using gay slurs. I thought to myself, should I say something? He knows me. He knows what he did. I say nothing. I just stare.
A few days later I post this on the Overheard in Whitstable… Anything Goes, Facebook page.
Returning to Whitstable has been a positive experience. However, I’ve seen a few people around town who were openly and violently homophobic to me as I was growing up. I have never been ashamed of being gay and those who resorted to homophobia were the kind who resented ‘openly gay’ men, us who refused to be cowed by their hate. These people may now explain away their homophobia as a cultural phenomena but as with historical child abuse, historical homophobia must be answered to. Attitudes may have changed but the effects of homophobia should be acknowledged. If I see anyone in the town who was homophobic in my past I will remind them of their past cruelty. Most gay men in their 50’s either forsook marriage or children or waited until late in life. We lived through an aids epidemic. Whilst that was happening graffiti was written on the side of my house in island wall, it said: aids available here. LGBT people do not have to hide who we are and who we love. The privileged white men I have confronted so far claim they are the victim because I had the audacity to remind them of their hate. The homophobe, the racist, the misogynist is not the victim. Those who peddle hate must own it and make amends.
Of course, this note punctured Whitstable’s fragile, dark heart. I am harangued and homophobicly abused. Along side the homophobic abuse, energetic white people assure me nobody cares anymore if you are black, gay, fat… etc. As long as you keep quiet about it. If you complain… these illogicals demand you pipe down. It is still typical for white heterosexual people to shut down gay people who have the audacity to share their negative experience and challenge homophobia.
Of course, being a public figure I am used to the abuse. I have never been compliant.
I was most interested to hear from one commentator, Kris Howell. The rest: feckless female trolls, thin-lipped and spray tanned, their dyed hair in lank bangs. When I returned fire with equally vile invective they became outraged, like prodding a termites nest. The little termites ran around screaming.
For my amusement I suggested to one morbidly obese woman she may be in receipt of benefits. An excellent way to upset an oik. I found a picture of her wedding, her huge pink body wrapped up in acres of synthetic fabric. Her husband, pallid and inert. She told me she owned three cars. ‘You think I’d be on benefits with £70,000 worth of cars in front of my house.” It brought into sharp contrast just how different their world is from mine. I looked at my watch and smiled.
Kris Howell, better known as Les (ironically he also changed his name) caught my interest because once reeled in said exactly what I expected to hear. He wanted me to know he had bullied me not because I am gay… but because I am me.
He refused to differentiate between the two. As if the two could be separated.
Compliant homosexuals put up with being picked on, bullied, imprisoned and generally kicked around. They learn how to be invisible. Those of us who refuse to go quietly are branded difficult, hated for not keeping quiet. Other gay men who play the game as prescribed by straight white people are just as offended when a fellow gay rocks the boat. As the trolls railed and raged over my post the local gay hairdresser pinned his colors to their mast not realizing he had been co-opted into a seething pit of homophobes.
Les Howell refused, despite reasoned argument, to grasp that being gay had defined me, and I have good reason to be angry and better reason to fight back. How did a ten-year old me deal with being repeatedly called pooftah and bleached nigger at school? I was keenly aware of both racism and homophobia. We were taught by the vicar of St Alphage that the black boy sitting naked before Christ was a savage and would not know how to use a toilet. My uncle Norman confirmed this by pointing at black children, reminding me they were filthy savages.
Remember, even though homosexuality had been decriminalized by Woolfenden in 1965 gay men were still being arrested for consensual sex well into the 1980’s. I was born a criminal and I had every reason to be angry but that anger, as the years passed, turned me into something I would have preferred not to have been.
Yet, as Les Howell spewed his vitriol, so full of hate… like most enraged fools, he lost his grasp on reason. It was perfectly ok to remind the world of a man’s indiscretions he said, but not his triumphs. He told me he was law-abiding but balked when I reminded him both his friends Stuart and Martin Roy had been in prison for worse crimes than spending money on a credit card.
Like most fascists his argument have nothing to do with logic and what he may or may not think of me… and everything to do with who he is and the resentments he carries. Hate, like water, will find its level. It will seep into everything and rot where ever it remains.
He wanted me to know I was a liar. He said, “You were a liar before you went to prison and you’ve never learned your lesson.” I wondered what the lesson should be? And I thought, you know, lying is a particularly gay thing. I called Stephen Fry and we talked about gays and lying. The genesis of our fantastical lives. He had also gone to prison. He had stolen credit cards from other people, I had merely run up a huge bill on my own credit card. The difference? He would still have gone to prison in 2018, I would not.
Why do gay men lie? We lie to save ourselves. We lie until we come out of the closet. The longer we are in the closet the more we lie, the easier it becomes, there is no longer a taboo. The truth is negotiable.
The following day the trolls were chattering on-line like agitated chimps. Upset ’cause I had removed the thread. “Has he tagged you?” The wannabe silver back asks the girl with thin lips. He is holding up his metaphorical pool cue reminding everyone he won the argument. He won the fight. They talked cryptically about rinsing and reeling people in and unicorns. The woman in the synthetic wedding dress said she was sick of being maligned (my word not hers). A couple of them private messaged me in the hope I would re-engage.
Anything Goes’ on this Facebook site simply means: trolls and their dumb friends get to spew hate at anyone they feel they can bully and misinterpret, using xenophobia, misogyny, racism and homophobia as their weapons of choice. Their lives do not bear scrutiny. They are neither patriots nor evolved. They hide behind fake accounts because their truth is unbearable. They lie yet cannot bear anything but the truth in others, they insult but cannot stand being insulted.
They are kids in the school toilet. Writing notes and passing them around, scrawling over pictures, insulting who they believe are more vulnerable.
Dealing with the mass market can be very revealing. The British general public, like the woman in the white synthetic dress, are presently emboldened by Brexit.
The following day I had tea with Barry Green at his hotel, The Continental. His son Richard was my best friend in the 80’s. We talked about Brexit. He told me he was a keen leaver and I asked him why. I’ve always respected Barry. I want somebody I respect to convince me Brexit is good for the country. I want to be wrong about Brexit. Barry Green was the second successful business owner, Susanna Atkins at The Goods Shed in Canterbury was the first, who came out to me as a stalwart brexiteer.
Actually George Wilson, our local Scottish millionaire, was the third but we didn’t get past talking planning permission.
I am fascinated by their Brexit. How it works for them? Susanna’s family (sons and cousins) had to bring in the harvest last year because they couldn’t get anyone to work on their farm. Susanna thought it was great, she suggested we all bring in the harvest. As it was, long ago. I could not imagine the sickly woman in the synthetic wedding dress on her knees in the fields. She might have a word or two to say about that when the local aristo land owner requisitions her, dragging her screaming from her smart phone, from Celebrity Big Brother on her giant flat screen… to pick asparagus for the 1%.
Barry told me he voted Brexit… he assured me not because of immigration (he is married to an Eastern European) but because of the common agricultural and fisheries policy. Ok, I said, so who is going to write the new agricultural and fisheries policy for the UK? Barry didn’t know what sort of policy or quota we would have after Brexit because he thought we might not have one at all.
“Do you think a free-for-all out at sea will work fine for our fisherman and fish stocks?” I inquired.
Both Susanna and Barry think the country will be best served by an army of artisans, baking bread, catching fish and selling our surplus to who ever wants to buy it. They believe their small-scale business model can be translated into something the whole country will adopt, setting the country free from the rest of the world. They crave autonomy, they crave sovereignty. They resent the rules, they want to catch what ever they want when they want it and bugger the cod stocks. They know what is best for the people if only we can return to simpler, less complicated ways. Bringing in the harvest with a new peasant class and take what we want from the sea as we need it.
Profit now, conservation later. They believe in the Dunkirk spirit. They believe the English will overcome adversity. An adversity we created for ourselves… we now delight in overcoming. Meanwhile the EU are preparing a no deal Brexit while our government prepare for nothing. Hurtling toward an arbitrary date when we fall gently off the cliff.
Barry Green sat on the brown leather Chesterfield whilst we chewed over the past. I congratulated him his success. He told me I was the kind of person who could have done anything. I remind him, I’ve done more than most.
“Those houses you sold are worth £3 million pounds now.”
“But I wouldn’t have had any adventure, Barry.”
He remembered the play we performed in the Oyster Company, the summer of 1985. “The red knickers.” He chuckled. “Tatiana’s red knickers.”
“Do you remember the vase of blue Corn Flowers?”
“Yes,” he marveled.
I’m not going to explain. You had to be there.
The dogs curled up on the sofa. They ate cheese. They are still sleeping. It’s midday. They don’t have to worry about the pig and the dog we shared our time with these past few weeks in Barnes. We are going to walk in the rain. We are going to meet him, feel his soft skin under his coat. Just like the old days. Kissing in the street.