Tuesday 23 April 2024

To Be a Friend


Summer 1985


“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Lynne said and wrapped her arms around me in a hug.

We were sat together in my parents’ kitchen, while my parents were in the living room, watching television.

Lynne and I were members of the Young People’s Fellowship (YPF), which was the young people’s group at our Evangelical Anglian church. We were also friends. I really admired her singing voice, which was one of those voice’s that could claim the attention of a whole room with its purity and clarity. She admired my writing, which was strange and humbling. She was one of the handful of people then who encouraged me to write, which was so eye-opening to me.

Lynne was and is beautiful but her beauty is more than skin deep and stays in the memory long after meeting her. She radiates a confident sexuality which is so attractive to others, and yet she is so oblivious to it herself. In the YPF, there were so many young men who were attracted to her, some even claimed to be in love with her, and yet Lynne barely saw this. I, though, was fascinated. These young men projected so much onto her, one even claiming that God had sent her to be his wife, but none of them seemed interested in Lynne as a person, none of them looked further than Lynne’s attractiveness. To me, she was a wonderful friend with an amazing intellect and a warm personality.

That summer Lynne was eighteen, preparing to go to university that autumn, I was nineteen and struggling to deal with my sexuality, and failing, believing that the only choice I had was celibacy because I was an Evangelical Christian. I had also started my first job and had fallen into a hopeless, unrequited and very secret love for a male colleague.

I can’t remember why she called on me but that’s the least important part of the evening. For some reason Lynne asked to see one of the poems I’d written, one about loneliness. So I showed it to her, in the notepad I used to write my poems in. My poems were very teenage poems. They were high on emotional content and low on style and format. I simply copied the styles of poets I liked, not understanding the form or style and struggling with rhyming couplets. My poems were much more of a way to explore and vent my emotional life, to try and make sense of my emotions and the things I was living through.

Lynne read that poem, nodding to herself, and, to my horror, turned over the page and started reading the next poem. After she finished that one, she read the next and the next one. She must have read a dozen of those poems. To my horror, she read poems were I expressed my struggles with my sexuality and my unrequited love (crush?), poems that talked about my love for him. I didn’t use the gender neutral “you” because I never intended anyone to read them. But Lynne was reading them (!!). I couldn’t just snatch the note pad out of her hand, so I just sat there and watched her read them. Though the expression that graced her face wasn’t disgust, it was realisation.

After she’d finished reading, she put the notepad down on the kitchen table, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” and gave me a big hug. Then we talked.

I tried to explain to her my therapy that it was the “act” of homosexuality, not the desire, that was the sin, and if I could remain “pure” then God would be “happy” with me. I was still in the thrall of the True Freedom Trust. I must have sounded crazy but Lynne didn’t act negatively, but she did ask me an important question. She asked me what I really wanted. Quietly I answered, I wanted a boyfriend. I didn’t know what form that relationship could take, especially with my believes then, but I wanted a relationship, someone to love. She was the first person I admitted to that I wanted to love someone, to love another man, and she didn’t condemn me for it, she simply accepted it.

Her acceptance meant so much to me and was so eye opening. There were people who didn’t hate and condemn me just for being gay, and maybe wanting to love another man wasn’t so wrong. Her acceptance wasn’t a light bulb moment, I didn’t suddenly realise it was okay to be gay, but it stayed in the back of my mind, it held out the hope that I could be accepted.

All these years later, I am still in contact with Lynne, though we live at almost opposite ends of the country. She is one of the few people I remained in contact from that time. So many people, back then, who called me their friend, quickly dropped me when they found out that I’m gay, not Lynne. Many, many years later, Lynne sang at my wedding. She sang a marvellous version of O Tell Me the Truth About Love by WH Auden. Her beautiful and clear voice filled the registry office, being the perfect ending to our marriage ceremony. She was one of the four people I dedicated my first book to, she was one of the people who encouragement kept me writing.

There are some people, through their simple acts of kindness and love, that leave a deep impact upon our lives, Lynne was one of those people for me.




Postscript: In the previous essays in this series I’ve used pseudonyms for the people mentioned. This essay is different because I’ve used Lynne’s real name, with her permission. I want this essay to stand as a tribute to this wonderful person.



Find the next story in this series here