Even in primary school, when you’d think kids would be a little less conditioned to notice people who were different, I was bullied.
Playing with girls at breaktime got me the most unwanted attention. One moment I was in an imaginary castle and the next, a football would land on my head.
Growing up gay was hard.
If I didn’t at least try to act like a ‘normal’ boy in the outside world, I’d be verbally and mentally abused.
That’s why spending time with my family at home has always been a source of safety for me – this is no more true than at Christmas.
The holidays meant that I could just relax and be myself, which is something I’ve carried into adulthood.
As a kid, when I was off school for weeks for Christmas, I could swap homophobic slurs from my peers with tonnes of films – my (still) absolute favourite thing to do.
On Christmas Eve, I’d get myself into a right state.
I’d dance around my bedroom manically, then either get up before my parents had even munched on Santa’s mince pie or leap onto their bed at some godforsaken hour in the morning, screeching like a Jurassic Park-attired banshee.
It was the comfort that I desperately loved – and craved, like being wrapped in a huge blanket that blocked out the outside world. During those precious weeks, we existed in an impenetrable fortress surrounded by crunchy, crystalline snow.
Sometimes we’d go to my grandparents’ – who live in North Yorkshire – for a few days, which was an event in itself. I loved going to their house.
It was huge and had these bright red carpets and a turret that stood in their bedroom. It felt like I was in that magical castle again, minus the abuse that ruined my imaginary one.
I wasn’t allowed to go in there, but where else was I going to find a pair of stilettos?
I’d somehow struggle downstairs in them – they were far too big – and just play by myself, quite content to live in a made-up world full of wonderful creatures.
My family didn’t even bat an eyelid when I made my entrance wearing red stilettos – they were so used to me going off, doing my own thing and being a bit eccentric.
Most of the time at home with my parents, our neighbours came round to get drunk and dance around to Meatloaf.
The music was too loud and our other neighbour complained but I loved every minute of it. It’s what Christmas should be about – the kind of glorious chaos that cements itself into your consciousness forever.
Christmas as a kid meant more to me because I’m gay, I think. Growing up was – as it is for many LGBTQ+ people – difficult.
We start to feel different at a very young age because we perhaps don’t act or feel the way we’re told we should. ‘Why do you speak like a girl?’ or ‘She’s such a tomboy but she’ll grow out of it’, are some classic examples.
Luckily, at home, I was free to play with Barbies and put a dressing gown cord round my head, pretending it was long hair.
Christmas equalled safety – a chance to depart from reality, if only for a short while.
But for many other LGBTQ+ people, Christmas can be difficult.
Around 82% of people who took part in a Pink News poll in 2018 said they feel they have to hide who they are, with others preferring to be around chosen families – close friends.
I’m incredibly privileged to have felt safe and able to be my authentic self around my family not only as a child, but now.
Even when I moved to London at 20 for university, I would still go back home for Christmas, alternating between my parents’ separate homes after they divorced, soon after I left.
Spending the day with my mum involved a takeaway from the city’s best Indian restaurant, board games and copious amounts of alcohol.
A particular highlight from the years post my parents split was mixing Jack Daniels and Disaronno with Coke. Doubles of course. Actually, make that triples.
My mum didn’t want to deal with cooking a big Christmas dinner and I couldn’t have agreed more. We enjoyed having extra time to drink and get merry.
I never talked explicitly with my mum about being gay or guys I was dating but I always knew I was accepted for me.
If I wore something that was slightly unorthodox, nothing would be said – I don’t think it even crossed her mind. I was her son, not her gay son.
When I met my husband, Jay in London 11 years ago, he would join me at my parents’ houses.
Just like I did when I returned home alone as an adult, nothing was ever made about my sexuality and the fact that this time, I had a partner that was a man.
I was just their child who was in a happy relationship.
This year, we’ll be hosting my mum, her partner and a couple of their friends and plan to make it as lovely and OTT as possible.
What I’m most looking forward to is making new memories and recapturing the magic and warmth I felt as a kid. Sure, the way you feel about Christmas as a child is wildly different to when you’re in your mid-30s, with so many bills to stress you out, but we’ll sure as hell try.
We’ll do secret Santa in the morning (a motivation to save money), down some Bucks Fizz, then have a big vegan dinner my husband is preparing. Arguments over some board games will likely ensue later on and the drink measures will, of course, be triples.
Feeling safe and grounded is really important to me.
When you’re reminded semi-regularly that being LGBTQ+ automatically puts you in danger, particularly with recent brutal attacks on our community, it’s necessary to focus on the good things – like the magic of Christmas.
I have wonderful memories from childhood Christmases – something I’m so grateful for because I know a lot of LGBTQ+ people don’t have them, but I want to make new memories, too.
Jay and I hope to have kids in the near(ish) future, which for us, will make Christmas as near perfect as it can be. We’ll make the run-up and the day as magical and imaginative as possible and hopefully take them to their great-grandparents where I’ll track down a pair of stilettos.
Then we’ll dance around to Meatloaf’s greatest hits, with some Celine Dion thrown in until the neighbours complain. Let the glorious chaos continue.
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