To Sir, With Thanks. X

Being sat at a bar with my form teacher wasn’t exactly how I had expected my first night on the Birmingham gay scene to turn out… but I could not have wanted for a better introduction.

It was a relief to finally have another gay man to confide in and even better that it was a familiar and trusted figure. Here was an opportunity to talk to someone with experience of a world I was taking my first steps into and who had no agenda other than just being there to listen and support.

Although being caught in a gay bar by Mr. G had been a shock, I myself had not been surprised that he frequented such establishments, as rumours about his sexuality had circulated around school for years. The shaved head, handlebar moustache, penchant for a leather jacket and the general ‘Village People’ vibe had always been a bit of a giveaway.

Predictably, I was not the first (or presumably the last) pupil that Mr. G had encountered on the scene during his decades of teaching. It even transpired that only a few weeks earlier a fellow classmate had come to see him in school to confess that he was gay and ask for advice.

Mr. G never revealed the identity of this mystery pupil, as he had been approached in confidence, but several years later I would discover that it had been a good friend and someone on whom I had a schoolboy crush. How different things could have been if we had both come out to each other while still at school. First kiss? Secret affair? Fuck buddy? Prom date?!

As the evening progressed, it was suggested that we move on to ‘The Nightingale’, the city’s only night club in the 1980s. Mr. G was a member of the club and offered to sign me in as his guest.

At this point in ‘The Gales’ history it was a single level venue situated near the stage door of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre. It was accessed through a heavy door set at the end of a short alleyway. You had to ring the bell, wait until a pair of eyes were revealed behind a sliding slot and then confirm that you knew what type of bar it was, before being admitted.

Once inside, I recall an entrance space with a cloakroom, a small bar and I think a gaudy fountain, but I may be mistaken about the water feature. The main room had a large dancefloor at its heart, another bar and plenty of seating. On the far side of the dancefloor was a more private dimly lit area, partitioned off from prying eyes. I remember being baffled as to why anyone would want to disappear into a dark subdivision of a busy nightclub. How naive! So much to learn… and so much fun learning.

At the end of the night, Mr. G drove me home. He dropped me off a few streets away from where I lived, so as not to arouse the suspicions of potentially insomniac parents, awaiting their son’s late-night return.

I am eternally grateful to Mr. G (not actual name) for looking after me on my first night out on the Birmingham gay scene. He was the perfect gentleman… and continues to be so to this day.

Here’s to 30 years and counting. X

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