Once upon a time there was a little boy called Richard (or Tricky Dicky as his daddy used to call him). Richard was blonde, blue-eyed and full of energy. Richard was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, so his teachers adored him, whereas his family saw a different side. Not that Richard was rude or horrible, he was sometimes just a moody little so and so, but, then, he was only a little boy, so that was alright. From time to time.
Little Richard was a hard worker and generally did very well. His mummy helped him learn his spellings religiously every week and his daddy once spent a whole evening teaching him how to subtract using Lego when he just couldn’t get it. His was a happy life, surrounded by love and laughter.
At Infant school little Richard loved singing in the choir and enjoyed school so much that he didn’t feel even mildly embarrassed when the Nit Nurse singled him out as infected in a whole-school hair inspection. Life didn’t phase him. School was fun.
Little Richard loved going out at playtime, free milk in hand, to play with his friends. Football really wasn’t his bag so he played ‘elastic’ with the girls. Little Richard wasn’t very good at it. The girls were always so much better. But he enjoyed it. No-one said he shouldn’t do it. No-one thought it was wrong. Least of all him.
When little Richard became slightly less little and moved up to Junior school, he had “loads” of girlfriends. He wasn’t old enough for the kissing kind of girlfriend, and that was fine by him – he just liked talking and playing with them and making them laugh. He had lots of friends who were boys as well, but he seemed to be the boy with the most friends who were girls. He sometimes noticed this and wondered why, but it didn’t keep him awake at night. No-one said he shouldn’t have lots of friends who were girls. No-one thought it was wrong. Least of all him.
And then little Richard got ever so slightly less little and went to ‘big school’. He still loved singing in the choir and was one of only three boys to do so. Sometimes it felt a bit odd being up on stage with only two other boys and 60 girls, but he didn’t let that stop him. Football still wasn’t for him, so he played the violin and piano, and hung around with a group of boys who also didn’t fit in. Richard held onto his carefree, primary-school self for as long as he could, but then the name-calling began, because many children are taught by their parents to fear that which is different, and, within the space of a year, not-so-little-Richard retreated into his shell, leaving the happy-go-lucky child of former years firmly behind. Being forced to speak aloud in class became a living nightmare. Opportunities for mortifying embarrassment waited around every corner. PE lessons became hell on Earth. And people started to say that he shouldn’t spend time hanging around with girls. Some people thought it was wrong. But deep inside, far below what anybody else could see, he didn’t.
‘Big school’ finished, although it seemed to have lasted centuries, and not-so-little-Richard went to university. Now a young man, in the prime of his life, the world was his oyster. Except he couldn’t see it for the feelings of fear and doubt that clouded his mind. Seminars were like his old school classes, and everyday he would shrink into his seat, hoping beyond hope that he wouldn’t have to speak and flush burning-hot-red with embarrassment…again. There were some good days, when he felt like he was meant to be, but, most of the time, the good days were outweighed by the bad. And so young-man-Richard sought solace in one of the things that had given his childhood happiness and light: the church. The Christian Union was full of fun, enthusiastic young people and the huge, student-friendly church, with 3000 members, was modern, lively and energetic. He made friends quickly and was soon involved in Mission Weeks, prayer walks around the university campus and other such events. There were some good days, but still Richard couldn’t shake the doubts and the fear. He knew he was different, not quite like his other friends in the CU. He knew he didn’t quite fit in. Not that he didn’t try. He joined the Worship Team and played the piano and sang regularly in front of the 2000-strong congregation. He recorded an album of worship songs. He went on a mission to France to convert the unbelieving. And yet, he still didn’t fit in. And some people knew it. Nobody said anything, but a lot of people thought it was wrong. Richard didn’t know what to think anymore.
University finished and Richard became a primary-school teacher. The training was tough. He still doubted himself at every turn, but he loved his job and was good at it. In front of his classes, he was the man he was always meant to be. But outside school, the Church dominated his life. It continued to say it offered a solution to his differences, but it seemed that, however hard he tried, Richard could never pray hard enough, sing loud enough, deny his true self enough, to make that solution a reality. He grew more and more frustrated, and more and more guilty. In a bid to escape, he moved overseas and taught in an exciting school for ex-pats. He loved it, and loved the people at the church where he became Musical Director. But things were still not right. He was beginning to realise who he was meant to be. No-one said it was wrong. No-one said they knew what his difference actually was. But he knew, deep down, that the more he discovered his true identity, the more the Church who had promised so much for so many years, and to which he had devoted his entire life thus far, was turning against him.
And then, just like that, he fell in love. With another man. And, just like that, he realised who he was. He wasn’t a man with a problem. He wasn’t a failing Christian. He wasn’t a weak-willed, nervous nobody. He was the little boy who had happily played ‘elastic’ with the girls at Infant school. He was the 6 year old who had been over the moon when his daddy taught him how to subtract with Lego. He was the carefree boy who had lived life to the full. He was him.
Richard went on to tell his church who he was. Some people were OK with it, others were not. He didn’t really care. He was happy. He returned to England. The love didn’t last. The long years of self-loathing had left wounds that needed special help to heal before Richard could truly open up to someone else. Some tough times followed, but Richard got the help he needed and never lost sight of his ultimate goal: to live life as he had once done as a boy, carefree and happy, long before anyone had told him he was wrong simply for being him.
I am Richard. I am lucky to have lots of friends. Many of those friends are gay, like me. Despite what some people say, despite what some people in the Christian Church believe, there is nothing wrong with my friends and there is nothing wrong with me. It took me 27 years to realise this. I hope that for any other Little Richards out there (whatever they might be called) it doesn’t take anywhere near so long. And I promise to do all I can for the rest of my life to make sure it doesn’t.