Two years ago, I had just lost my first grad job. Working for Mansion Casino as an editor, my head of editorial, James, had made it very clear he hated me from early on.
After being set impossible tasks I was constantly bullied by him.
I was alone and friendless in a place which I didn’t understand, and which didn’t understand me.
I think James could sense that I was a gay guy, perhaps. As an entirely primitive creature, it seemed to rankle him and his delicate macho sensibilities.
So he made sure I was terminated within mere months of starting. Frightened and alone, hundreds of miles from my family back in Britain, I had a lot of time sitting in my apartment to think. I needed something to keep the terror and self-loathing at bay.
While pulling in freelance work, I began watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer again. I loved it as a kid, and I guess I wanted something familiar to cling to. To take me away from what my situation was at the time. Buffy, as an archetype of the strong outsider, had always had a special place with me.
Yet watching it again, at the same time I was developing my first strong attraction to Mr. Will, the man I had fallen for while in London, I couldn’t help but feel more attuned to Willow.
This was the first time I had seen the later episodes, where Willow comes out and develops a relationship with another woman, Tara.
Watching their story unfold I began, for the first time, to see gay relationships as something more than just a shameful secret. I saw the potential for something lasting and beautiful. There was a gentle sincerity in Willow and Tara’s relationship. The fact that it was written and scripted in almost exactly the same way as if they were a straight couple was something striking – there was no drawing attention to the fact that it was a ‘gay’ pairing; it just was. It wasn’t just a secret liaison fuelled by rough lust, but a protective, happy and fulfilling love.
In short, it was given the same screen and character respect as any of the other relationships.
This was the first time in my life I had seen a gay couple portrayed as something positive on screen. Not as a joke or as a character shoved into a sitcom in some awful stereotype as the “token queer”.
Growing up, I had only heard it named, both by my parents and school peers, as something disgusting. That is somehow made you “wrong” or “evil”. I was even told in school by people that, if they found out I really was gay, they would kill me.
It can all seem so ridiculous looking back on such things, but in the closed-off permitters of a boarding school, life narrows to one tiny world. The rules, both official and unofficial, become your life. You obey and live by them.
So for years if a man even touched me intimately, I would begin shaking. It was uncontrollable, like a fever. I would feel cold and couldn’t stop shivering.
So as I tried to piece together my life plan in my little apartment, I lost myself in the story of Willow and Tara. As someone who had always held a fascination with mysticism and ancient culture, who had always loved learning and the creative arts, the story sang to me on so many levels.
It allowed me to begin discussing my feelings slowly with a friend. Like the characters in Buffy, I could do so without applying baggage-loaded words like “gay”.
I was a very long way from being comfortable with myself, but it was the first initial steps.
As humans our entire culture is built on storytelling. Since our earliest days it’s how we have communicated and tried to make sense of our existence.
Seeing a character like Willow, who’s intelligence, beauty and good nature made her respected and admired by her friends, develop a same-sex relationship made me realise that my state, my ‘situation’ if you will, was not something to try and ignore. I didn’t have to shut it away and hide who I was. I didn’t have to be frightened of exploring my sexuality or wanting a relationship with another man, because I realised they could be as pure and loving as straight ones.
I’m in a much happier place now. I live in London, have a great job and a wonderful circle of friends. And there’s a man in my life I care for very much. None of these things would have been possible without coming to terms with who I truly am as a person.
I never had a grand ‘coming out’ of the closet.
But when I turned to a saga started in childhood for comfort, I found myself being led out of it by the gentle hand of Willow Rosenberg.