This isn’t a particularly news-y post. This is one of those posts where I was just having too many FEELINGS and I had to write about them before they broke out of my chest of their own accord and left a huge wound behind them. [Reader warnings for emotions, over-sharing and mild NSFW]
This all starts with TV. Norwegian teen TV to be precise. This shouldn’t surprise you. There was a TV show called Skam that all the Gays on Twitter were talking about for the last few months and I finally got around to watching it this Christmas. Skam is a high-concept show about a group of teenagers in a real Oslo high school. It’s all amateurly subtitled into English on various illegal sites around the internet. The gimmick is that it’s released in real time and that individual scenes are posted online as they happen, be it Tuesday morning in school or Friday night at 3:00 am after a party. It also posts text conversations between characters and the characters have Instagram accounts that you can follow and that are updated in real time along with the show. It’s so gimmicky that I shouldn’t like it. But I couldn’t resist.
Each season is focused on the story of a different character and I watched the first two seasons with interest slowly over the last three weeks. On Sunday night, I watched the first episode in Season 3. And I continued watching all night and finished the whole season before dawn. The third season is the “gay” season, about Isak, his coming out and his rocky relationship with Even. A whole season of a TV show where literally the only story line is a coming out story. You might think that’s too much. It isn’t. When you’re gay you spend your whole life coming out. Every new person you meet, every new job, every new friend-of-a-friend you meet in a pub. Coming out just goes on and on and it’s amazing it’s taken till now to get a whole series of a TV show about it.
I can’t remember a show hitting me in the gut the way the third series of Skam did. I watched it all in one night, and in the following two days I re-watched it all again. And even the thought of it still makes me pause and catch my breath. My heart has literally been beating faster for three days because of it. I’ve had to move room so my crying couldn’t be heard elsewhere in the house.
Our hero Isak struggles with being gay. There are amazing scenes, with zero dialogue, of him in his bedroom, taking stupid “Are You Gay?” tests online and googling how to get aroused with a girl if you’re gay. He feels it is impossible for him to be gay, to live a gay life. As a teenager, I felt exactly the same way.
I first thought I might be gay during the World Cup of 1994. I was thirteen and I was in Irish College in the West Kerry Gaeltacht and some boys from the house I was living in made me chant “Ooh Aah Paul McGrath!” which was something we’d all chanted while watching Irish soccer matches as children. I did this enthusiastically. I’m not sure what was funny about the way I did it, but the boys called all the other boys in to see me chant. They even got the Bean an Tí (house mother) to come in and watch me and she laughed too. I’m still vaguely mystified by what was funny about the way I chanted. At one stage, when there were four or five boys there, one of the other guys leaned over and started feeling my thighs while I chanted. He then started teasing me. “Connor got hard when I rubbed his legs! He must be gay!” I have no idea what was going on in his mind, but my guess is he probably had a few gay feelings himself, though I didn’t think of this at the time. It had never even occurred to me that I might be gay and I dismissed the thought, but it came back. The boys continued calling me gay, and I still remember climbing on board a bus to go to Dingle one day and the thought coming to me “What if I am gay?” It shook me to the core.
I knew that being gay was a flaw. My mother had told us when we were kids. We asked her what “homosexual” meant when our neighbour used the word one day. She said that homosexuals were very sad people who found it hard to fall in love and get married because they weren’t attracted to the opposite sex like most people. And I was a very religious young teenager. I presumed that I would marry a woman and have babies and just suppress whatever desires I had. I was innocent. I didn’t really believe any significant number of people used contraceptives or had pre-marital sex, let alone had sex with people of their own sex. Having a relationship with another boy was just an inconceivable to me.
I understood Isak’s refusal to believe he was gay and I’d never seen it portrayed so accurately. At one stage, he downloads Grindr and is entirely horrified by it. Sex is so theoretical to gay teenagers. I guess the internet has changed this, but I remember not even being able to really imagine what it was logistically like to have sex with a man when I was a teenager. I dismissed the idea of it anyway. Not only was I religious, but I was fat. And fat people don’t have sex. I remember when I had mental health crises in my late teens and my early twenties, my mother would always ask me if I had a girlfriend and if I minded that I didn’t have a girlfriend. The question struck me as bizarre at the time. I now think she was asking if I was gay (though her shock when I eventually came out to her ten years later would contradict that), but the reason the question struck me as bizarre was because I was fat and fat boys didn’t have girlfriends. It’s little wonder I have so many issues. I was never a character in any of my sexual fantasies. I only ever fantasised about other boys having sex with each other, never with me, because I was a godless pervert with a sexless body.
Isak comes out to his friends in an adorably shy way. He takes his best friend Jonas aside and makes him guess who he fancies, rather than straight-out telling him that he’s gay. I remember when I first told some of my schoolfriends I was gay. We were in fifth year. It was Christmas of 1997 and I was sixteen going on seventeen. It was a Saturday morning and we were meant to be collecting money on the streets for charity (SHARE), but we had what we thought was important business. The previous day at school, three of us had agreed to measure our penises that night and tell each other the lengths when we met in the morning. We sat on the steps of a building on the South Mall, an insurance office or something. We smoked and told each other the lengths (you can guess whose was the shortest, because of course it was) and this led to a conversation about hardness versus softness and before long, both of my friends were confessing that they masturbated regularly and suddenly taboos were broken and it was possible to talk about anything. I told them I was gay. They were OK with it and promised not to tell anyone. We were joined by a fourth friend and I told him too. He was appalled. He asked me why I was proud to be saying this and why I wasn’t trying to change to being straight like any normal person would. He literally told me I should be ashamed. They continued their conversation about wanking and I didn’t say much for the rest of the day.
Like my mother, Isak’s mother is super-religious. She regularly texts him bible verses. He comes out to her in a text message. In one of the most emotional scenes of TV I’ve ever seen, she texts back saying “From the first second I saw you July 21st 1999 at 21:21 I have loved you and I will always love you for all eternity.” It’s a beautiful silent scene and Isak cries a single tear when he reads the message. I cried more than a single tear when I saw it. The text from Isak’s mum reminded me of one of my mother’s favourite bible verses. Back in 2002, at 4:00 am one night shortly before I was admitted to mental hospital with depression, I was sitting in the kitchen smoking, unable to sleep. My mother came downstairs and read me one of her favourite parts of the bible, from the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” A mother’s love is eternal and inescapable.
My parents are physically unable to stop loving me. That doesn’t mean that they will ever think that me having sexual relationships with men won’t deprive me of eternal life and give me a life of sin and sadness.
My family is currently having a fairly big crisis, that I can’t write about, but I’m happy I’m escaping to London. My flight is in about 12 hours.
I’m going back to a-third-of-a-job and an interview for another one. I have enough money to last me a week to ten days, on the assumption I don’t have any binges. In some ways it’s insanity to go back to London. But I can’t not go. The sex-life that London has given me has been miraculous. A gay adolescence is a bruising thing and it’s a miracle I’ve recovered, even if only in part. And I want more. I’m ready to actually have relationships.
Isak’s season of Skam ends perfectly. His relationship with his first boyfriend has been rocky. He chats with his friend Eva, and tells her that it’s not the boyfriend that’s important. What’s important is that his life is now “real”. It’s not just computer games and sitting in his bedroom any more. I’m not saying I’m going to abandon the internet. I have no intention of it, but I would like a real life, a real relationship. Too much of my life is theoretical. I’ll be 36 years old in a few weeks. It’s about time for a real life.