Author Archives: tomsbrain

Bird Uncaged

How do you know if you’ve broken a rib – and, if you have, does it even benefit you to know that? I don’t think I’ve broken my rib, but I did feel something pop when I was leaning over the side of my bed to pick my laptop up off the floor. This is the second time in a month, and both times have involved a bed (although 90 percent of my life revolves around beds, so there’s nothing special there). If I have broken it, this would be karma for making light of my mum breaking her foot back in August! Trust me to break my rib the moment I reach the intersection of inspiration and motivation and finally decide to be productive and write something.

I started blogging in 2002, and before that I kept a diary from age 8. I’ve always had this need to indulge myself and produce writing, but I haven’t been writing a lot lately – in fact, you could say, I haven’t written anything in ten years. That’s not true, I have written the odd song or blog post, but the majority of my writing has been in those sporadic things called tweets that we’ve become all too familiar with. Ironic, that in sharing more writing than I’ve ever posted before, because of its short form nature, it had zapped me of my desire and passion to write. And I said to myself I wasn’t going to make this big song and dance about it, and preach that I’m better than everyone else, or that I feel less stressed, because it actually has been more stressful, not having this familiar, narcissistic habit to fall back on. This outlet of well-meaning but disingenuous validation and intimacy I would turn to as a means of boosting or stabilising my mood. For what once was a genuine interaction had turned into doing it for the sake of keeping up with everyone else. It wasn’t a decision I even made of my own accord, but I used it as a means to cut the cord. And by acting on that rib-not-breaking impulse of picking up my laptop to write when the urge strikes me, instead of when boredom consumes me, here I am saying I do feel better sharing my words like this once again.

20 Years Ago…

20 Years Ago

When I was born, my parents didn’t know there was anything different about me. And it took a long time for them to get any answers. It was by chance that a trainee doctor happened upon my mum in a hospital waiting room (as she had been for the past 18 months, back and forth, trying to get a diagnosis, being side-eyed for having a baby with bumps and bruises and scars), and fresh in his mind from studying, he knew instantly what condition I had. Congenital Erythropoietic Porphyria. Sounds scary. And the doctors didn’t make it sound any less terrifying. They told my parents I had a life expectancy of 10 years. Keep me away from bright lights, never take me outside, separate me from my sister and any other children, and enjoy the time you have.

Thankfully, my mum took none of their advice and fought for me to have the most normal life I could. 18 months later, I had my first blood transfusion. It was a steep, uphill battle, but by the time I was 5-years-old, my mum had found a good relationship with doctors, and I was being seen regularly by Dr. Norfolk and Dr. Holland. Still, the diagnosis of a short life plagued my mum’s thoughts, and any long term solution for treating the porphyria was put off. It wasn’t until I was around 9-years-old that my mum and doctors started having discussions about giving me a Bone Marrow Transplant. It took a further five years for this to actually happen.

Carpe Diem

On the 16th March, 1999, I went into hospital and didn’t see the outside for nearly three months. I had to have chemotherapy, and my sister donated her bone marrow to try and cure me of my condition. I very nearly almost died. There was a point when my family were brought aside and told to make the most of the time I had left. My sister told my friends at school, and she remembers hugging them and crying. Of course, I don’t remember any of this. The parts I do remember are all jumbled up and out of order. One moment that really sticks out in my memory is when Jill Dando was murdered and there was round-the-clock coverage on the news. Basically, TV had become my best friend. My stepdad would record lots of home footage of my sisters and dog so that I could see what was going on at home. But I found it too difficult to watch. I was separated from my family, and my friends. The nurses in the BMTU became my friends. Angie is still someone I remember fondly to this day. She would create word puzzles for me, and we would play the numbers game from Countdown. This was obviously when I was getting better, but in actual fact I wasn’t getting better. Turns out, the bone marrow transplant had failed. In my diary, I wrote that I didn’t mind, that I liked having something special about me, and that’s still the truth to this day. watch now…

Thomas Mac, meet Andi Mack!

So, tonight something big is happening. Life changing. World altering. And you won’t see it on the news, or read about in the paper. Tonight, a kids channel in the UK is airing a coming out storyline about a 13-year-old gay boy (Andi Mack, 5pm, Disney Channel).

I can’t even imagine how differently my life could have gone if there were similarly aged teens on kids TV for me growing up. Let me paint you a picture: at 13, the most high profile gay was Stephen Gately from Boyzone – who’d been forced out of the closet by those so-called papers I referenced earlier. He was 23 – the age I was when I came out. Maybe if The Disney Channel, or CBBC, or Nickelodeon had chosen to feature storylines with gay characters, I could have seen some positive representation and felt supported in those formative years. And let’s talk about Nickelodeon for a moment, even as late as 2010, they weren’t just blind to LGBT characters, they were actively erasing them from their existing programmes. Thanks to my… overenthusiastic devotion to the life and career of Amanda Bynes, I knew front-to-back all the storylines from her primetime network sitcom, What I Like About You. And when it aired over here in the UK on Nickelodeon, any and all references to even just the word Gay were censored for broadcast on the kids channel. To say I was a little perturbed was an understatement. The censorship got so bad towards the later seasons that I started a letter writing campaign for another channel to broadcast What I Like About You, and through sheer coincidence or due to my efforts, Nickelodeon never actually aired the fourth season – which, as it just so happened, featured Amanda’s character’s dad coming out as gay and marrying his partner. Imagine how differently even just those few years between leaving high school and entering the adult world could have been, if a kids channel in the UK had chosen to acknowledge LGBT people exist!

Whatever the state of the world right now, I’m just glad that right here at this moment in time my nephews will grow up with TV that not only acknowledges the presence of a wide spectrum of sexualities and genders, but actually broadcasts storylines with teenagers representing those sexualities and genders.

Gay Day Bank Holiday

“Eventually, you’ll move along, leaving me to live my life with an empty space.” I wrote these lyrics in 2008. I was gay, and had one foot in the closet – that means I’d only told one person out loud. I thought I was being so obvious at times, how could anyone not know, least of all you. I guess I was just so wrapped up in my own insecurities that I didn’t stop and take stock of the situation, and calmly tell you everything. Now, when I finally am – and finally sharing everything with the world, none of it matters.

I left school in 2004, a few weeks after I’d turned 18. I remember having a huge argument with a classmate once – couldn’t tell you how it started, or what it was truly about, but I vividly remember yelling at her that she didn’t understand – this was it for me. I wasn’t taking A Levels to get a qualification that looked good on my CV and helped me in the real world, I was taking them because school, at that point, was all I knew. “This is all I’ll ever have.” I shouted. This was the closest to a normal life that I would ever have. I walked out of the classroom to take some deep breaths outside in the fresh air to calm myself down. I’m allergic to sunlight, so that shows you how emotional I was – that I would go outside during the middle of the afternoon just to stand and breathe. I later cried in the arms of a friend. Crying because I couldn’t say the words that explained what I was going through. It had never dawned on me until that moment that it would all be over soon. Life was changing, and I didn’t know my place in the world. I was lost.

And then, I found him – my online friend. One solitary being who was so attuned to my every thought and inner feeling that, before I knew it, I’d fallen hard. I was so blind in love that I didn’t even see it until it was too late. It scared me. He was completely unattainable. Lived in a different city, born in a different decade. I had zero confidence and self assurance, but he changed me. I knew if I ever dared to dream of a moment with him, I needed to change all of that and learn how to live in the real world. A normal life, independent and capable. Before I could ever say those three words to him, I needed to first say those other three words to someone else…

25th April 2007

He said something really reassuring to me; it’s not the fact I came out that’s a big deal (hold on, we’ll get to that), but it’s the fact I managed to see my way through the, as I called it, cloudiness and realise I’m gay considerable quick.

It all started on Friday – well, it didn’t all start on Friday, but that’s when this chapter started. Me and him had, what we refer to as, “The Big Talk” last year and ever since then I’ve felt that if I were to come out to anyone it would be him.

When he visited me at hospital on Friday, I started what I’ll refer to now as “Coming Out” (clever, huh). As you’ve read, I’ve wanted to tell him since last year, and the fact that only four months later I’m now out to him shows just how accepting of myself I’ve become. So, when I saw him on Friday, I told him how I’d reconnected with my old friends from 6th Form. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when they visited. A big part of me felt that I hadn’t seen them for so long, I wasn’t even sure if we’d still click like we used to. Well, we did, but something had definitely changed – it was me. I didn’t tell them, but I certainly didn’t hide anything. When me and “J” were exchanging witty banter (like the mature twentysomethings we are), she said that the male TV presenter was more my type than hers, and I agreed. Even something like that would have been unimaginable a few months ago.

So, when I started coming out on Friday, I side-stepped telling him and decided to focus only on the friends issue. Once I’d got as far as I could without fringing upon the no-going-back territory, I told him I was coming in for three consecutive days next week and would really like a game of Scrabble and a talk during this time. He came over on Tuesday and we picked up our game of Scrabble from a few months ago. All throughout, it was on my mind. Towards the end I noticed he would have to go soon. I hadn’t even begun to hint at what I really wanted to talk to him about. I told him I couldn’t decide if we should continue playing Scrabble or have a talk instead. He told me we should talk.

I hesitated, and backed out, but earlier that day I had written a song/poem about some of my feelings. I gave it to him and told him, if he read it, it would give me an incentive to talk on Wednesday. I regretted not telling him, but to be honest, I just didn’t feel like there was enough time or privacy.

Wednesday morning came around and I woke up with a feeling that today was the day I was finally going to come out – if only the world would have realised that too, maybe I could have done it a little earlier.

I almost didn’t. I mean, technically I shouldn’t have. I was put in a shared room for my treatment and when I finally got the room to myself, I used the last of my battery power to send him a text which said “raincheck” – only he didn’t read it, and I didn’t phone my stepdad to come pick me up early. He came over and that was that – I was about to come out to him.

I started tidying up, fluffing pillows, my heartbeat got very fast! Luckily, as I’d planned, my song/poem was a good starting point. When he asked what I was trying to say communicate in the song/poem, I slowly began, “I…”

I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hands. I couldn’t hear anything; I couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t say anything. I began to flash through all the recent events in my life, summing everything up into this one defining moment. After what felt to me like 6 minutes, I pulled my hands apart, opened my eyes and finished the sentence, “…am Gay.”

And that is how I came out. We talked – boy, did we talk! My throat was so dry by the end of it. But once, as I called it, pulled out the stopper, everything came gushing out. And he, as I knew he would, was perfect. He couldn’t have been more perfect. Everything that I had never dared speak before suddenly came passing through my lips and out into the world for everyone to see. So what only one person saw, that doesn’t mean only one person ever will. It’s going to be long, and it’s going to be very hard, but it’s also going to be very interesting. He asked me if I’m happy and I told him I was… because that’s the truth.