‘You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case. Alone on a platform the wind and the rain on a sad, lonely face’.
I was 14 when Bronski Beat’s Age of Consent was released. I hadn’t kissed any pretty girls at that stage, but maybe one or two pretty boys. My sexual experience was zero. I loved that album with a passion that many teenagers reserve for Manchester United, or Tanya from next-door-but-one, or The World Won’t Listen. Adolescent fandom is nothing new.
But, looking back down the tunnel of time, I do think it is a bit weird that I, as a middle class, Birmingham girl who was ostensibly heading towards a life of heterosexual ‘normality’, was so transfixed by the music of a Scottish gay trio, who sang about gay alienation, homophobia and camp in a lyrical yet high energy fashion. What the fuck did they do or say that I could relate to?
Everything it turns out. I drew the inverted pink triangle from the album cover on my satchel (in black marker pen). I bought the songbook of the album and bashed out the melody to Smalltown Boy on the piano, in between practising scales and Bach Preludes. I learned about the actual age of consent, and how it wasn’t the same for gay men and straight people (and how it didn’t even exist for lesbians). I thought about Glasgow and Jimmy Somerville’s potato head.
The loneliness of growing up is universal, and we all find ways of making it less painful. Music was a great solace to me, as was politics. The Age of Consent was the first time those two things overtly joined hands, right under my nose, to the delight and excitement of my political, teenage heart.
The thing is it kind of made me want to be gay. I wanted to have a pink triangle to represent me, and my alienation and loneliness. I had been standing alone on station platforms ever since my parents broke up when I was six, and I had to travel the country to visit my Dad. Preston, Euston, Crewe, Birmingham New St. I used to pretend to nosey passengers I was visiting my Gran. I think I earned a symbol to aspire to, at least.
I know this is ridiculous. Wanting to be gay in the 1980s was a bit like wanting to be a leper. The AIDS adverts with their big stone letters and the associate links with heroin users kind of put me off, anyway. Years later when I had a partner who was ‘gay’ in many ways, hearing stories of being beaten up in the playground and wandering the streets alone ruined the romance of it too. ‘Pushed around and kicked around always the lonely boy’… I think I had it easy in comparison.
I didn’t get the guts to go and see Jimmy Somerville till the Communards came along. By then I had had actual boyfriends, I’d ditched the satchel with the triangle. I’d got into Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. I straightened out my act. Maybe I ‘sold out’ early. Maybe Jimmy got a bit too safe too quickly for my taste. But I still love him and what he meant to me.
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away…