Duncan 6 Years Old

The town of Whitstable is on the North Kent Coast, England.  It is primarily known for the flat native oysters that grow prolifically in the shallow estuary waters close to the shingle beaches.  The British film star Peter Cushing, famous for Hammer Horror films, lived there with his wife Helen.  Once, getting off a bus, my mother accidentally knocked him off the bicycle he rode around the town.  Years later I bought Peter Cushing’s beachside house.

When I was a little boy I sang in the choir at St Alphage Anglican Church.  My mother told me that she thought that I would make a good vicar.  Not because I was particularly pious but she knew how much I loved dressing up in my cassock and ruff.  Sometimes I would steal it out of the church and wear it around the house-much to the consternation of my family.  I loved singing carols, hymns and psalms.  I particularly loved singing psalms.  The low growl the organ made when we sang those difficult psalms.  I loved evensong when the church was candle lit and half empty.   I loved singing at weddings because we got paid.

During the day the organist worked in Tattessals the butchers.  She wore floral dresses and flat black plastic slippers.  She looked funny in the mortarboard the ladies wore in the church.   She always smiled.  I think she may be still alive.  That’s what my hometown is like.  We knew each and every one.  The men who worked the harbour, the women who worked in the supermarket and the schools.  The antique shops on Harbour St. attracted unusual and eccentric men and women trawling for treasures driving expensive and exotic cars.  That’s where I met my first, fabulous gay men.

In the early morning I worked a paper round.  Waking at 5 in all weathers to walk the streets delivering papers.  I loved the smell of newsprint in the newsagent, the smell of burning paraffin.

Inquisitive little boy that I was I wanted to be involved in everything.  I explored the graveyards, the football pitches, the cricket ground.  I walked the golf course; I explored the beach huts and knew every inch of the beach from Seasalter to Swalecliff.  I joined any club/organization that would have me: the drama club, the Anglican choir, and the barley cup drinking Mormons, the silent Quakers, and the theatrical Catholics.  I knew every shop and every shopkeeper.  I wanted to know about furniture and the names of flowers and trees.  I would wait on the quay for the fishing boats to dock and watch the men sort the fish for Billingsgate market.  If a particular house looked interesting I would knock on the door and ask to be let inside.   I was rarely turned away.  The only building I couldn’t get into was the Masonic temple.

I was there when the oysters landed, mixed with hundreds of orange starfish.  I was there when the vicar blessed the catch.  When the yawls raced on the Swale with their great umber sails, when the sea flooded the town, when the bonfires burned on November 5th I was always there.

In fact, I would do anything I could NOT to be at home.  You know why.  All of you.

I am no stranger to organized religion and village life.  For the longest time I really thought that I might want to sign up and wear the cassock and the mitre and preach the gospels until..until I realized that whilst my church tolerated a boy gay they didn’t want anything to do with a man gay.  In fact, apart from the drama club and the Quakers, none of the clubs/churches were very happy to include me or men like me.  You see, I made no secret of my gayness.  Never. EVER.

Recently I got to thinking about why that would be so.  Why didn’t they want shameless gays in their churches?  I thought about a thousand years of Christianity.  I can’t imagine that some gays weren’t then exactly like we are now: a bunch of cynical iconoclasts.  I mean, a couple of queens squealing in the back of a medieval church kind of destroys the control the clergy expect to exert over it’s congregation.   Do you know what I mean?  Certainly where I come from the gays can’t keep their mouths shut-they have opinions about everything.  It wasn’t always so bad for gays in the community-we weren’t always burned at the stake.  Not until Queen Victoria and the new Puritanism.  Just look at our rich tranny history.  Check out Fanny and Stella a couple of fabulous 17th century drag queen who trolled up Burlington Arcade in their bustles and feathered hats.  They were always in court but always got away with it.  Can you imagine those boys in Westminster Abbey being FIERCE with the ushers?

This is my problem with gay marriage and organized religion.  We are better than that!  We know it’s a corrupt institution.   Don’t we?  When did we start straying away from our own rich culture?  The language and locations of our gay lives?  When did we stop being so brave?  Brave enough to defend what we have rather than assume that what they have is better?

Why are we fighting for marriage in a church?  You know, I’d be happy just to be protected.   That I can walk on the street where I live holding my lovers hand.  Call me old fashioned but all this gay marriage stuff is just nonsense.

As much as I believe in God, I want to do it my way and the Bishops and the Deacons knew that.  The funny thing is-most of them were gay but they weren’t like ‘us’.  They knew we weren’t the kind of folk (us vulgar gay boys) who were going to buckle down and not raise the occasional plucked eye brow at the badly written sermon, make inappropriate, ribald remarks about the cute new pastor.  We just couldn’t be controlled because that’s the way we are.  Our culture, up until now, has been about innuendo and barbed truths.  You see, darling, my relationship with God was forged through adversity.  I needed God in my life because he gave me solace, fortitude and hope.  My relationship with God means that I am never alone.

When I was drinking I would listen to torch songs and pray that he would come, that’s the kind of God I have-one who listens to Judy and Barbra.

I’m just trying to understand who I am in relation to the church.  There’s an imagined homo history that we have to explore-read between the lines.  I don’t think the church (a thousand years ago) gave two hoots about what men did in bed but was terribly threatened by our candour, fearlessness and what made us the ‘other’.  I’m not talking about those men who are silenced by fear I’m talking about those of us who live out and proud..  The two tribes of gay: the trannies and the down low.

Duncan Ivan and Christopher 1982

“At Marlborough Street Court, when the assistant gaoler Scott called out “Ernest Cole,” a person looking like a well-dressed woman stepped into the dock and gravely faced Mr. Denman, the presiding magistrate. No one would have imagined that the prisoner, who was attired in a black fur-trimmed winter mantle, large black feathered hat and veil, and carried a muff and neat hang-bag was a man. It was alleged that the prisoner was a suspected person loitering in Oxford-street presumably for the purpose of committing a felony. Detective Gittens, D Division, deposed that, while in company with Detective Dyer, he saw the prisoner in Oxford-street on Monday evening. The prisoner was behaving like a disorderly female. He went up to the prisoner, and told him that he believed him to be a man. The prisoner endeavoured to escape by jumping on to an omnibus.”

The Times, January 2, 1901