A Teenage Dream and an Inspiring Reality
Yesterday I met a group of seventeen year olds who made me incredibly proud of young people.
This weekend I ventured home to Jersey for the first time in six months. It was my mum’s birthday on Thursday so I came back for that and then spent the following few days catching up with friends and doing some planning my upcoming USA trip, which by the way is looking incredible, but that’s for another time.
On Saturday afternoon my travel-buddy Steph and I headed to a park near her house to lounge in the sun and go through some maps and travel books. It was to be a productive day, or at least it was until some people she knew passed by and stopped for a chat which lasted, oh, about 4 hours. It amazes me how, with help or without, I manage to procrastinate from things I actually want to do. We got plenty of planning done that evening though, and like I said we’ve got some good stuff in the pipeline for our month away.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about here. Instead I wanted to tell you about the people who stopped to chat to us. There were three of them, all about 17 and in their AS level revision period (I sense I wasn’t the only one procrastinating). Two of these guys I’d not met before. The other was Monty. Real name Montague (I know, brilliant right?), Monty’s going out with Christian, my ex of about 3 years ago and who I’m still friends with. I’ve met Monty a fair few times and he’s a lovely guy but I’ve never really had a full conversation with him, and I’ve almost never spoken to him without Christian and a load of our other friends being there. I knew he was fairly mature and confident in himself – he’s 17, Christian’s 26 (I know, this also is a story for another time) and the rest of my lot that Monty hangs around with are all at least 21 so he has to be fairly mature to keep up – but speaking to him and his friends that afternoon fascinated me. Here were three guys, 17 and in school, revising for exams, living perfectly normal teenage lives, and all three of them were gay, out, and from what I could see fairly happy about the whole thing.
I know this shouldn’t surprise me, and knowing Monty a bit already I don’t think surprise is the right word… I think “impress” fits better. So it shouldn’t “impress” me, it should sound very normal for teenagers to be gay and out and happy, it should be something that can pass without comment, a topic that needn’t be broached because it’s so within-the-ordinary that it’s not even a topic at all. But it does impress me, and hugely so, because there’s no WAY that I, at 17, could have been that self-assured.
I do think these guys have a slight advantage in terms of environment; I didn’t know anyone else in my school who was also gay, in any year group, and I know that there are a fair few openly gay teenagers on the island so these guys probably weren’t as alone as I was, or at least as I felt I was. But if we’re considering environments then let’s not forget that these guys are also living in Jersey – a place that is still largely conservative; which doesn’t yet have anything equating to civil partnerships; which only lowered the homosexual age of consent to 16 in 2007 (a change that was made in the UK in 2000) and which only decriminalized homosexuality in 1990 (as opposed to 1967 in the UK).
So despite Jersey being a thoroughly lovely place to live – which this weekend reminded me of in spades – it’s not somewhere I’d ever considered particularly gay friendly. And yet, here these guys are – totally normal; unashamedly gay.
They weren’t in-your-face gay either – you can kind of tell that Monty is, and one of his friends was the same, but not once did the conversation turn to “what it’s like to be gay” or “when did you know you were gay”, or any of those conversations that I became used to having with people at university when I first came out. I’ve no doubt that these guys have those same conversations with other people, but that afternoon we didn’t talk about “being gay”. Instead the five of us enjoyed an entire afternoon’s discourse on subjects ranging from holidays to pop music and from exams to TV shows. All normal conversations, all had by gay people (and Steph, fag-hag that she will forever be), and all, to me, utterly fascinating because of the lack of focus on The Gay Thing. It was so refreshing, and in a way made me really proud of these guys – two of whom I’d never met before – to see them living their lives so fearlessly.
And it wasn’t just these three gay teenagers. Given Jersey’s conservatism and its track record with gay issues, the fact that these kids and others like them can grow up here and be this comfortable with themselves is a credit not just to them, but to their friends, their teachers and parents and really to everyone they’ve grown up around.
As I said, I wasn’t someone who had that kind of confidence or self-assurance when I was 17, so I hope you understand why it’s struck me in the way that it has. My seventeen-year-old-self would have given anything to have guys like this at my school to look up to and to take inspiration from. Hell, I’m five years older than them and I’m they’re still inspiring me! So I hope that this will also be true for any of their younger schoolmates who maybe haven’t found things that easy so far and who might need someone to look up to and show them that It Gets Better. Or maybe to see that it doesn’t even need to get bad in the first place, if you don’t let it. Just a thought…