The most wonderful thing about other people is that each and every one we come across or read about has lived a life like no-one else. Even though we may relate to various aspects of their lives, none of us have travelled the same path as them.
And yet, discovering how these fellas navigate their way through our topsy turvey world is not only fascinating and eye-opening, it can be reassuring and inspiring. Which is why GuysLikeU – unlike so many other websites aimed at gay men – is so keen to share young men’s stories about their coming out experiences, their relationships, their struggles with mental health and so on.
Meet Steven Easton, a 31 year old hairdresser from Aberdeen who now lives in London. When we first approached him to share his story, we were struck by the amount of life events that had taken place at various stages of his short life.
During our initial conversations, Steven explained how he had endured a turbulent early life during which he struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. He also revealed how during his twenties, low self-esteem led to him to make some serious life decisions that resulted in him being diagnosed with HIV.
Now at 31, Steven says he is finally in a good place in his life, having found emotional support in a loving relationship with two Daddies, and lives every day with a more positive outlook.
In part one of our frank interview, Steven opens up about how hard it was to find the courage to come out, how his mental health suffered and what life has been like during enforced self-isolation.
So Steven, let’s go to back to the start. When did you realise you were gay?
I remember finding men attractive when I was around seven. My first crush was Grant Mitchell in EastEnders. At the time though, I think I just confused that with wanting to be Tiffany Mitchell. Not that Martine McCutcheon is a bad aspiration for any seven year old boy to have! But as I got older, being gay was something I didn’t want to accept. At school I did stuff with girls and bought issues of Nuts and Zoo and prayed that the gay would go away. I didn’t want anyone at all to know, ESPECIALLY the other boys at school.
What was life at school like?
I hadn’t really heard the word gay all that much at primary school. Before I went on to secondary I thought it was going to be like a daily production of Grease, where I would alternate between Rizzo or Kenickie. But I was instantly in for a shock! There was pushing and name-calling by the bucket load. It felt like the fun was most definitely over. Suddenly, I felt so alone so I did what I thought was the right thing to do and promptly reported all of this to my guidance teacher. However his answer was to round up two girls and two boys I was friendly with at primary school, sit us around a table and explain to us why he thought I was getting called gay. ‘Your voice is very high,’ he said. ‘You don’t play football. You are very friendly with the girls.’ To me, it sounded like he was listing a load of faults he thought I had that I would have to change and it felt like he was saying I was actually to blame for the bullies saying such awful things to me. So hearing all this from him, I found the idea of being gay something I had to avoid at all costs at school. I just wanted to be liked. There were occasional glimmers of that happy wee boy I used to be, but mostly there was frustration and tantrums.
What kind of teenager were you?
I think my desire to be just a normal teenager growing up in rural Aberdeen, overshadowed a lot of choices at first. I always took my hair very seriously – it was a sculpture of epic proportions that consumed most of my attention. It made Gareth Gates’ look low maintenance. Looking back, I definitely took a lot of my bottled emotions out on my hair.
Who was the first person you told?
By the time I came out sixteen, I had started an apprenticeship in a top salon, and I was suddenly surrounded by gay people, it was like suddenly going from black and white to technicolour. I remember being gently encouraged by people there to come out and when I did, no one was really surprised or shocked. My mum’s reaction was good too. All she said was, ‘I’m worried that you’re going to have a harder life because you’re gay’, but overall she was fine about it. However, I do remember some members of my immediate family crying for some reason but I don’t really know why. However, I was out and happy and was ready to party!!!I
A lot of young people tend to suffer from mental health issues as they deal with their sexuality. Did you?
Mental health has been part of my life from a young age. I had my first session with a psychiatrist when I was just twelve. Being the only gay boy out in the sticks was hard for me. The bullying by that point had become a daily event. I was getting egged by the boys which was the worst for me, mainly because it flattened the ‘masterpiece’ of a hairstyle I had on my head. I didn’t tell my parents half of it as I thought the less I complained about it the better chance it had of going away. But the light in me had clearly turned off and was dark enough for my parents to see that I needed to see a doctor.
Do you think it was connected to your sexuality?
At the time, and even as recently as last year, I would never have connected my mental health battles to being gay. Now my view on it has changed. I can see why feeling how I was ‘different’ or ‘bad’ may have fuelled my battles with anxiety and depression. I must say this realisation was helped by reading the book Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd – it really did help me face the bigger picture of the impact growing up gay can have.
You are in a relationship now – was finding love always the goal?
I live very happily in London with my two daddies. I met Daddy Frankie by chance when I was in Manchester. A few months later he introduced me to his husband Daddy Gary down in London. They have been together in an open relationship for 15 years and had been married five years when they met me.
So are you guys you what we might call a thruple?
In the very beginning I don’t think we knew what we were. The word we feel accurately describes us is family.
Have people judged your relationship?
I’m not entirely sure if people judge my relationship, but my guess would be yes. A younger me would probably look at a thirty year old living with a couple in their 50s and calling them Daddy and think ‘ooooh what is going on there then?!’ Luckily I’ve learnt a lot over the years. Judging others is something we all do even if it’s subconsciously, but these days I always try to ask myself ‘are you judging from a place of concern or because you see unfulfilled expression or potential in that situation you wish you could release yourself?’
Do your friends and family understand it?
I encouraged them all to ask all the questions from the very beginning and believe me they haven’t held back. This relationship pushes all of the ‘norms’ but for all the individuals involved we feel safe and loved. Miss RuPaul so eloquently pointed out ‘as gay people we get to choose our families.’ Our relationship, like any, has its obstacles and when you push boundaries I believe that obstacles will likely arise. But one thing we refuse to do is scrimp on communication. We have always talked through everything as a family and have promised to keep doing so.
The gay community is varied – some are monogamous, others prefer to keep things more fluid. How does it work for you?
Until a few years ago, I was always in monogamous relationships. Then with previous relationship, I opened things up in the later stages of being together. My Daddies and I are open. Our home and family dynamic is very important to us, but we all have sexual needs. Our rule is that we always communicate our intentions beforehand and that works for us. It all comes back to communication.
How has this Covid-19 situation changed things or impacted on work?
I am employed full time in a salon, and we are all on furlough leave until the government guidelines suggest otherwise. I’ve seen on social media that a lot of people at home have reached for the bleach and the clippers, with an array of different results. So yeah, I think I’ll be a busy boy when I’m allowed back at work.
How are you dealing with isolation?
The first few weeks were tough. Obviously, gyms closing caused a gasp from me which I think was collective throughout the gay community and beyond. And I, like all of us, rushed online to scramble together whatever home gym equipment I could afford. It made me realise how important our routines are and how they can act as a useful distraction from any discontent we may be feeling in our lives. So that was definitely an obstacle I didn’t forsee. But generally the Daddies and I have been focused on the fact that the three of us remain safe and healthy, and are doing all we can to keep it that way. Reaching out as much as possible to friends and family has kept me sane.
How do you think this situation is affecting gay guys?
I think what I’m realising is that this is going to affect everyone differently, but I bet we will all ask ourselves the same questions at some stage. ‘Am I doing enough?’, ‘Can I cope if I or someone I love contracts covid-19?’. Yes, the social restriction is hard but staying in does mean we are playing some part in reducing the risk of infections. Ultimately we want to do all we can to prevent any more illness, stop tragic loss and help the heroic workers who aren’t getting I’m sure half the rest they need, in order to help as many people as they can. I’ve had to look at this time as a gift and a lesson that we may never see again in our lifetime.
What have you learnt about yourself during this time?
I’ve learnt that it’s time to listen to my intuition again. If you want to know what the right thing to do is, listen to your gut and it will guide you. I’ve also learnt never to underestimate the healing power of good quality rest.
Do you think we will all come out of this changed people?
I think so. We’ve all had a chance to look at ourselves with fresh eyes. I can honestly begin to imagine the changes that this may have on society. Fuck, we might even start talking to each other on the tube! Actually, that might be still a bit farfetched. But seriously I think so many of the events of recent years are pointing us in the direction of one enormous metaphorical neon sign that reads “CHOOSE KINDNESS”. Let’s hope we start to pay attention.
What life advice would you give your 12 year old self about the future?
My advice to my childhood self would be…. People are going to start pointing out your differences and you’ll begin to believe they are a weakness, a defect you must crush and hide. But I believe it is in fact the opposite. Your differences are your own big pile of magic dust which, when you’re ready to, you will pick up and throw all over the place.