Interview: Darren

Name: Darren

Location: Manchester

Age: 48

At what age did you first realise that you were gay?

This isn’t as simple an answer as it seems. I never had any other thoughts than I was heterosexual my whole life as far back as I can remember. I always had girlfriends at school and female partners after that. I started to query my sexuality around the age of 33 when my existing world, at that time, was imploding following my divorce. I left my wife and family for another woman so there was no indication at that point. I started to cross dress around the age of 34. I progressed to transvestitism proper around the age of 35. That carried on for about 5-6 years. During that time I also had bisexual encounters, some with an existing female partner. It wasn’t until about the age of 41 that I believed myself to be gay. Some could argue I am bisexual, but I have only had sex with men since I was 41 so I always categorise myself as gay now. I don’t particularly like labels, but it is difficult to work with this question without them!

Have your family and friends always been supportive?

My sister has always been gay, but I was the last to know! It even took my parents telling me for me to realise! But it was far more common for women to share flats without anything else being suggested so it never occurred to me. As a result the subject had already been broached within our family. Because of my mental health at the time, having had to leave my children, it became common knowledge to my immediate family that I was cross dressing, fully by that time, although I never dressed in front of them. They knew, but never mentioned it at all that I recall. Even my sister was not particularly accepting and I thought she would understand the most. I suppose it was difficult to understand when I had been married with four children. All I really remember hearing was “those poor kids” and “I wish you could pull yourself together!” The last phrase I have always hated and it is probably the worst thing you can say to anyone with a mental illness, although I tried to write the matter off to my parents being from a different generation where you didn’t discuss such things. When I accepted and classified myself as gay my sister was again the least accepting, contrary to what I had expected. My parents, who by this point were separated, listened but didn’t comment at all. They go on about how nice one or other of my past female partners had been, although they had never expressed their feelings or preferences at the time I was seeing these women! My sister was again pre-occupied with my children. They had grown up knowing that their Aunt preferred women, so it was not an area they were completely unfamiliar with, even if it was now in relation to their Dad. I have never directly told the children myself. I haven’t seen them since before I came out as gay for a whole host of reasons I won’t go into here. All I will say is that they were being used as pawns in attempts to get back at me by their mother. I wasn’t prepared for that to happen so the best thing for them in the long term was not to see me. It wasn’t an easy decision I can tell you, but I had to put them first. I thought I was putting them first. Because of some of the hurtful things I have discovered that my sister has done in my past, I presume she has told them about my sexuality. I don’t know for certain either way though.

When I have told old school friends about being gay they haven’t batted an eyelid to be honest. I think they were a little shocked as they knew I had been married and had children. Thankfully, I never got the comment, “how could you not know, we knew for years!” One friend, who had been my Best Man when I got married, said, “[he] wasn’t into that sort of thing”, and I said that I was telling him that I was gay, not that I had bad taste by trying to hit on him! Again, he is someone who doesn’t mention it, but we are still friends in a different sort of way now to what had previously been the case. I sometimes find myself being who I was when he knew me before in what I now call “another life”, more out of making things easier for him than me. I don’t hide who I am, but I don’t ram it down people’s throats either. I don’t act or sound very much different to how I did before, which is terribly annoying for some people. Everyone expects you to be a screaming Queen, camp as a row of tents and swish while you walk. I am still a masculine figure and many people find that hard to process. I seem to have chosen friends who are similar to that too, but it hasn’t been a conscious decision. Quite a few of my friends have been married before and some have also had children as well.

All my close friends are either gay or have gay friends so it isn’t a problem at all now. I find that I have collected a completely different group of friends to what I had before, but part of that has been the result of moving homes and areas too. In the same way Manchester has a Gay Village I think many gay people feel happier amongst other gay people. It can be less hassle in some ways and you are not watching what you say or what you do the whole time. I now find it slightly weird going into non-gay venues and have to check myself. It’s odd really to think I did it all the time in the past without a second thought!

How has your past shaped who you are today?

This is a tough question! I was always adamant I wouldn’t be like my parents and would be better with my children. I like to think I was, but then leaving them most certainly undid all of that. I didn’t want them to witness problems between their mother and me like I had to witness as a child, so I suppose I also saved them from that. I was always planning and living for tomorrow when I was married and on the other side of the tracks. I never lived in the here and now very much. I rarely took many risks because of the responsibilities I had and I was always worried too much about what others thought. When I felt that my life couldn’t become any messier than it already was, I stopped worrying so much. I also think I had a slightly self-destructive nature at this point, so trying anything and everything wasn’t as daunting or scary as it would or at times should have been! Being what others wanted me to be in the past made me want to rebel slightly and it just seemed the right time to explore and find out who I really was. I like to think I am roughly the same person I used to be, with the same morals and standards, etc. I am far more adventurous now than I ever was, less a prisoner of convention.

This part never goes down well in the Gay Community, but I believe that my sexuality changed following Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) that I had for my Depression. The key changes in my perceived sexuality occurred in the months or years after sessions of this treatment. The more I had the more it seems to have changed my sexuality. I don’t agree that ECT can make you straight at all. In my case I think if you scramble things up enough you will change who people are, but there is no formula that equates to set states or conditions. Maybe my brain was re-wired to be wired the way gay people are at birth? It is totally random in that respect though, like when you throw a pile of sticks there can be infinitesimal permutations or combinations. When the music stopped that was just where I ended up!

I think this as I had a very ordinary upbringing. I never fancied boys or was in the slightest bit interested in them other than as friends. All my what I call ”life-gay” friends, tell stories about peeks in the showers at school and encounters in their youth. I always had girlfriends at school and afterwards. I was very sexually aware, if not active for my age and fascinated by the subject when I was younger. If you wanted porn at school, you came to see me in the Boys loo at break time!

Do you think that the world has become more accepting and welcoming to gay people in modern times or do you feel that there is still a long way to go?

I know politicians and the media like to say that the world is more accepting and welcoming to gay people, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Gay people, based upon heterosexual criteria, have become more accepting to the world in certain geographical locations. It is still a crime in far too many countries and in some punishable by death! Gay people are still being bullied and beaten just because of who they are. Recent examples have been the situation in Russia surrounding the Winter Olympics, imprisonment and hangings in African countries and murders and assaults in the US and here in the UK too.

On television today it seems that being gay is almost a prerequisite to hosting chat shows. I do get frustrated when acceptable “gay icons” are the screaming, outrageously camp ones, agreed as acceptable by heterosexual standards as they are perceived as non-threatening and fun and every house should have one. This whole stereotypical view of gay people is perfectly acceptable, but to use a phrase from Vince’s mum (Karen Black) in Queer As Folk, “Don’t mention the arse thing. People tend not to like the arse thing”.

Until we are not having to gloss over anything and gay people are no longer being bullied, beaten or killed for who they are then my answer will always be no to this question. Yes things here in the UK are considerably “better”, but still not ideal.
Have you ever experienced discrimination in your life because of your sexuality?
As a late starter I always felt that a lot of the hard work surrounding this subject had been done for me by those activists of the past. Because I am not someone who walks down the street and it is immediately obvious that I am gay I didn’t experience any discrimination for some time. Being into the gay fetish scene this changed things somewhat. At times when I have been dressed differently I have encountered discrimination. After getting over the initial shock, as I had no inbuilt defence to this having not had to deal with it before, I was quite glad it had happened so I could understand others and felt a greater sense of belonging to the Gay Community as a whole. I encountered more when I used to cross dress, receiving the usual “freak” comments. As a Transvestite I am also sad to say that I received a lot of discrimination from the gay community itself. This was also true when I was bisexual. I felt they thought I either couldn’t make up my mind or I wanted to have my cake and eat it! I have experienced far more discrimination regarding my HIV status an equal amount coming from the Gay Community as well as general society, including the medical profession. As the question is regarding sexuality I won’t elaborate, but if I didn’t really get a huge amount of discrimination for my sexuality this area has made up for it!

Tell us about your experience with transvestism/transgenderism? Have you ever experienced any discrimination because of your transvestism/transgenderism?

Initially it was a stress releaser for me to pretend to be someone else and the feeling of the clothes was completely different to my “norm”. It helped that in the beginning my partner’s clothes and shoes were my size. I mostly wore underwear with stockings and shoes at first. Sometimes I would meet other men who were into the same things. Over time my urges grew and it became more important to me to complete the look and feel like and be seen as a woman. I have probably covered a lot of this ground in some of my other answers so I won’t repeat it all again here. I have experienced discrimination though. My transgender experience has covered everything from just underwear to wanting to pass fully as a woman. Because of my height and my preference for high heels this didn’t happen very often, but I don’t have much of a pronounced Adam’s apple as an easy give away!

What would you say to someone out there who is struggling with their own sexuality or coming out or who is being bullied or discriminated against because of who they are?

Above all you have to do what feels right under your circumstances. There will always be a balance to strike surrounding where you live, where you work, and your circumstances and so on. It shouldn’t be that way and in a perfect world, like Sir Ian McKellen says, it is always best to come out for the peace of your soul. A lesson I have learned from disclosing my HIV status is that once the information is out there you can’t put it back in the box. Consequently, you have to be totally sure about disclosure and be totally comfortable with that.

Has your journey affected your relationships? In what way?

My journey first impacted on my relationships when the woman I left my wife for made me choose between her and carrying on to investigate my sexuality and orientation regarding the Transvestism. Initially she had found it a novelty and while she felt in control of it, it didn’t become a problem. When she realised how often it was happening and to what extent it did become a problem. The subsequent relationship began with my partner knowing that I fully dressed and that I very occasionally met men while dressed. She thought it was wonderful at first, having a partner, a best friend and someone to shop with who rarely got bored of it! We often went to bed together in women’s night things and we went out sometimes together as women. We did occasionally have sex with me dressed, but it was mostly with me as a man. While I occasionally saw men when dressed she handled this by accepting it was something we didn’t do and so they were not taking away something that she perceived was hers. Because of the time it took me to get ready, with lots of input from her to help me, there began to be times where seeing guys for a short period it seemed a wasted effort. Slowly I met guys in just the underwear they liked. This she then saw as encroaching upon what she saw as hers, namely the male me. Towards the end I tried to have threesomes with bisexual men who could also have sex with her in an attempt to keep things together as I really loved her and I was trying desperately to keep us together. At first I thought she was happy with this. Then one time she said she didn’t like doing it and had only been doing it to please me and she got nothing from it. I did it because I thought I was getting something I couldn’t from here and she got a change from me and hopefully a bit of excitement. This revelation made me feel terrible and I would have rather her told me this at the beginning.
Again it eventually came down to a choice between her and me pursuing where I thought my sexuality journey was taking me. I felt I couldn’t lie and just forget about it all like some hobby or passing fancy. I had to be true to myself. Subsequently I also visited a Gender Transformation Clinic. The Consultant there said he hadn’t encountered someone like me before. This didn’t make me feel anything other than a freak! He was used to dealing with men who felt they were only a woman trapped in a male body. I felt that I was both in one body. It is still difficult for me to explain. After another year or so I realised that I didn’t have to present as a woman to be with a man. I think this was ingrained in me because I had come from a heterosexual background. If I liked men then surely I was a woman right?

Have you ever been in love?

Yes, several times. I was in love twice before marrying the third love. I was in love twice more after that. All of these were women. Since changing preferences of partner I have only been in love twice including my current partner. In the same way I love my children equally but differently each of these has been in a different way.

Are you married? If so, what was your wedding day like? If not would you like to get married someday?

I was married to my wife from 1990-1998. The wedding was a huge affair due to the size of our families. There were 250 people to the Day Reception and 450 to the Evening Reception. It was hugely expensive, despite me not wanting it to be, it seemed to spiral out of control, but I wanted her to have the occasion she wanted. It later transpired that our parents had gone into significant debt to facilitate it with us. I was furious and had stated I didn’t want this from the outset. Now I feel rather stupid and so naïve, but I was totally in love with who I thought she was. I believed everything she told me. There was a lot of competition because of her sisters’ weddings and also those within my relatives’ families too.
In the end she had the dress she wanted, the wedding car she wanted, bridesmaids dresses, wedding rings, church and venue, etc. We were so broke by the end of the day I only had one £20 note in my pocket and that was to pay for the large Mercedes (to fit her dress in) that took us to the hotel. We couldn’t have a honeymoon as the wedding had cost so much. I think we had a day in Scarborough a few weeks later when I had been paid again!
I have had my big wedding I guess and now feel the event is less important than result. That is easy for me to say having had it. I would much prefer a Civil Ceremony now if I got married again, but I would have to take my partner’s views into account as well. I fully understand those who want to have a same sex marriage, particularly on religious grounds. Many people highlight equal rights, but I like to celebrate the differences of my sexuality more now and there are differences. I quite liked the fact that we had Civil Ceremonies instead that better allowed us to express ourselves. I found my wedding experience very restricted. No photographs or video in the church, no this no that and you must attend 4 weeks of pre-marriage counselling!

Are you a father? If so, what does fatherhood mean to you? If not would you like to be a father someday?

I am a father to four children (Boy 23, Girl 20, Boy 20, and Girl 18) from my marriage in 1990. Following my divorce in 1998, my now ex-wife was extremely bitter and determined to make my life a complete misery. Between 1998 and 2005 I tried the best I could to see my children and be as involved as I could with them. I wanted to be the best parent to them I could be. I had left their mother, not them, in my mind. It was just that for them to stay there was the best option for their education and support. This was at a time when I was being hounded by the Child Support Agency, their mother and still trying to balance my career, additional work and current relationships. On top of this came my increasing uncertainty surrounding my sexuality. All this combined lead to significant Mental Health problems involving numerous self-harm and suicide attempts.
My ex-wife would continually use the children as pawns in her game of retribution and this lead to arguments between me and my current partner on the subject. I would arrive to collect the children for my weekend and there would be nobody at home. I would pick them up and then find out she hadn’t sent a change of clothes for them, which meant additional expense to purchase clothes they hardly wore before growing out of them. I would return them to her house to find she was out and I couldn’t leave them alone. This was usually when she knew I would be on my way to work and meant I had to arrive late to work, having made alternative arrangements or, if work would allow, take the time off as holiday. Ultimately, the people suffering most as a result of all of this were my children, who would be in tears. Eventually I had to make the extremely difficult decision to not allow my ex-wife to use them in this way. This meant not seeing them any more so she couldn’t play these games. This may sound like an easy way out for me. I can assure you it wasn’t and has been the cause of many more suicide attempts and periods of self-harm.
It was heart breaking for the children in the short-term, but ultimately better for them medium to long term. It has been a constant heartache for me. I left their mother as our relationship had broken down and she wasn’t the person I thought she was when we married. We didn’t split up because of any change in my sexuality at that point as I had two further serious relationships with women after her. I was adamant that I wouldn’t put my children in the situation where they would be affected by their parents constantly arguing or worse as I had been as a child.
Because of the constant unreasonable behaviour of the Child Support Agency, I was left with no money to live on at all. I was paying, quite rightly, for my children, but an exorbitant amount of my salary. I was still paying for items to do with the home that I had left behind, because the agreements were solely in my name. I was left with no funds to rent somewhere to live, to eat and everything else that comes with life. I had to use Credit Cards to survive and over time the intense pressure of this debt, coupled with a partner disappearing with money put aside for my tax bill when I was self-employed I was forced into bankruptcy. As a result of all of the external pressure they would now receive absolutely nothing! I am nothing like the parent I had hoped to be. I have had to watch from afar and via my parents. The hardest point for me was when my eldest son studied 2 miles away at Manchester University for 3 years and I never saw or heard from him once! I had to watch his graduation via a remote video link on the internet. That was a very hurtful experience. I feel I have had my life on hold for almost 10 years, not wanting to pressure them, as I have always had full access rights, and not wanting to be unavailable should they want to get in touch again. Now they are all over 18 I believe I have been hard enough on myself for what happened. Now, should they want to get in touch it will have to be on my terms and they will have to accept me for who I am now and where I am in life. I haven’t written off any contact in the future, but as time passes, it seems to be less and less likely to me. I thought this wouldn’t bother me, but the older I get the worse I feel about it all! Because of the battles of the past I am certainly not in a position to offer any help to them financially any more. I can’t pay for any weddings or other similar life events for them. I don’t even feel the girls would ask me to give them away if they married. I think they will have one of their brothers fulfil this role. This is very upsetting to me, but probably what they feel I deserve. Writing this has been very difficult but necessary to explain my answer to these questions.

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