A moment that changed me: I was vilified as a gay teenager – but Mariah Carey saved me

I was 12 when it happened. Dad was parking the car and we were getting ready for a torturous hour of food shopping. Suddenly, over the radio, I heard a voice that today is one of the most recognisable in the world, but at the time it was new to me: a whispery, breathy voice that floated and fluttered over a slinky, laid-back track. It was Mariah Carey and the song was Honey. I instantly fell in love. What a voice!

The next weekend I rushed to HMV and bought the cassette tapes of two Carey albums, Butterfly and Daydream. This was when album covers would unfold into tiny books of song lyrics and photographs. I spent hours poring over Carey’s lyrics and listening to her in my room or on the bus. Her songs felt like an escape, a place of refuge. They took me away from the horror that I was experiencing. Because I was struggling. Really struggling.

I was in my first year at a boys’ secondary school and things were awful. I grew up in the shadow of section 28, a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools. Those heinous laws ensured that kids believed being gay was something to be ashamed of, and the boys at school had decided that I was definitely gay. Perhaps it was because I was a bit quieter and gentler than the other students, or perhaps it was something about my voice. Someone even told me I must be gay because I had long eyelashes.

Everything about me was “gay” and therefore wrong. So I was ignored, pushed, shoved, spat at and vilified. Lots of the other boys would sit in class whispering my name in a drawn-out, effeminate manner: “Iaaannnnnnnnn.”


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