Growing up I always suspected my youngest cousin to be...to be....well, to be, er...you know...”on the other bus”. “Batting for the other team”. Or as a favourite comedienne of mine says, “she licks t’other side of t’stamp”. You know who you are Julie Jepson. But you’re right, it is a stupid expression because stamps do come already sticky these days.
Fact is. There isn’t really a good euphemism for someone being a lesbian. Not that I know of. So, I’ve decided to create my own, fabulous, new saying - based on my own coming out story. Like I said, I had always suspected my cousin, Maxine was probably a lesbian. She was (and still is) a couple of years younger than me so when she came to visit she was frequently the unfortunate recipient of my expeditiously outgrown hand-me-downs. These were usually garments that my older brother had already inhabited before handing them down to me so were often worn and torn at the bum and knees; with ripped belt loops and missing buttons; scuffed trainers with odd laces, and jumpers with patches on the elbows. That was all fine though. Maxine and I both had an unusually keen fancy for boy’s clothes. And some items had been kicking around so long they were enjoying a return to fashion. It was all fine.
Until the day I finally outgrew my pink ballet cardigan. Oh the joy I felt at never having to wrap it’s pink satin ribbons around my rapidly expanding waist ever again. Oh how elated I was to see it folded amongst the beige, threadbare, flared cords and the patterned wing-collared shirts. It was a sight that bordered on consolation for the sad fact that I had also outgrown the petrol blue and white striped adidas trainers that had been pinching my toes all summer.
As I punched the air with my chubby little fist at the removal of the one remaining item of pink clothing from my wardrobe, a five year old Maxine stood immobilised; her face frozen into an expression that exclaimed “When the fuck am I ever going to have the inclination to wear that?”
See. Lesbian. I knew it.
Having detected it at such an early age the similarities in our sexuality remained unacknowledged until well into our teens. As our older cousins got engaged and married, Maxine and I either attended such family affairs solo or accompanied by a ‘friend’ in sensible shoes and a lumberjack shirt.
Once I was absolutely sure that Maxine was indeed “licking t’other side of t’stamp” (It was actually something else I caught her licking in the toilets of a gay bar under the promenade in Brighton, but we don’t talk about that) I realised that as the older cousin I had a mission to perform. It was up to me to pave the way. There was a subject that demanded broaching and I was the elder. I had to be a role model. The pioneer of the family. I had a responsibility. A duty. An accountability. It was up to me to act.
So I waited for Maxine to come out and then when the family didn’t disown her I did the same. Well, within a decade anyway.
I was folding laundry with my mum and I had decided this was the perfect moment.
“Er, I think....I think...er, I think I might be...” Oh no. I’d started. I’d got this far but there wasn’t a ‘nice’ way to say it. I couldn’t use the word lesbian in front of my mum. Or say the word ‘gay’. What could I say? How could I say it?
“You might be what, love?” mum asked as she balled a pair of socks.
“I think I might be...a bit like Maxine.”