Smalltown Girl

Posted: June 5, 2010 in Identity
Tags: , ,

‘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…

  1. mangofantasy says:

    Wow, I can so relate to this. I also yearned to be Jewish for a while!

  2. I am fascinated to know why Jewish? Were you into Matzos? Skull caps? Martyrdom?

  3. Burst Pistil says:

    I wanted to be Jewish too! Seriously, I used to tell anyone that would listen about my fictitious bar mitzvah.

  4. OK I need someone to explain this to me. I know Charlotte wanted to be Jewish on SATC but that is because she was shagging a Jewish man. I think I can relate but I’d like to hear it from you Jew wishers. I have admitted why I wanted to be gay in AIDS ridden Erasure blighted gay land 1980s. whats your excuse?

  5. Burst Pistil says:

    I think it was the sense of community, the rituals, the food; it was like a mysterious club and was very appealing to a bored suburban teen. To me it represented New York, glamour, suffering, community etc. I also loved the Jazz singer, i think that’s what started it all.

  6. Ah yes. That makes sense. Oy vey!

  7. mangofantasy says:

    For me it was exactly as you describe re being gay – my perceptions of Jewishness (entirely obtained from books) resonated powerfully with my sense of alienation and loneliness. And also perhaps more personally with my growing ambiguous sense of being different. I wasn’t clear how I was different, but gay and Jewish were both appealing labels.

  8. That makes sense too. Thanks mango… I did love the diary of Anne Frank. But when you look back on being young, the romanticisation of suffering seems a little bit odd doesn’t it? I think this is called growing up!

  9. mangofantasy says:

    Indeed, it was very much part of the darkness of adolescence… I got to know some real Jewish people and that idea soon dissipated! Wanting to be gay stayed with me however, and I’m sure it was one of the forces leading into my adult sense of being bisexual.
    (hmm, I’ve always had a slightly weird hero-worship for Peter Mandelson … and it’s suddenly obvious why!)

  10. Ok Peter Mandelson… that is totally weird! He is not even a gorgeous Gay he is just fey. and nerdy…;)

  11. well we all like a bit of evil now and again…. don’t we?

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