Recently I got the opportunity to interview this year’s Mr Gay Scotland and contestant in Mr Gay Europe.
Hello Steven, Thanks for doing this interview with me. First of all could you tell me a little about yourself?
It’s a pleasure. Thanks so much for asking me.
I always find this question a bit tricky as I don’t like to be defined by my day job but I guess it’s all part of who I am. I’m a 39-year-old “gymming, singing lawyer” (that’s how my boyfriend describes me to his friends) from St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. I now live and work in the huge melting pot that is London – a city that I adore.
I like to think of myself as a smiley, friendly and motivating person who likes to help people (whether at work, through fitness or somewhere else in life). I love challenging and pushing myself, trying new things and living life to the max. I’m a weird mix as I can be a total show-off at times (I love performing, presenting, singing and acting) but I’m equally happy plodding away on my own. I’ve always been excited by change and sometimes in life I think you need to press the big red button and just mix everything up. Life’s about grabbing opportunities that come your way and the adventures on which they can take you – like being part of Mr Gay Europe!
To clarify I don’t normally sing when I’m at work; for my day job, I’m a media and marketing lawyer for a well-known fashion company. For years, I always felt like I had to apologise for being a lawyer and this comes from worrying too much about what other people think. However, now I’m 39, I’m more comfortable in my skin and I’m proud that I’m a successful lawyer and for the skills that being a lawyer gives me.
I have a real passion for fitness and am a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach. I once tipped the scales at over 120kg so I’ve been on my own crazy fitness journey. If I can help other people improve their lives through fitness and nutrition then that’s a positive thing.
Finally, I also sing and campaign for LGBT+ rights with the London Gay Men’s Chorus, the biggest all male choir in Europe. Joining the LGMC back in 2010 changed my life. Not only do I get the chance to perform at incredibly inspiring venues and events but more importantly I’m part of a wonderful community of hundreds of gay men of all ages, backgrounds and shapes and sizes, each with their own story to tell. So often in parts of the gay community we limit ourselves and friendship circles to people who look and behave like us which I think breeds a level of prejudice which means we don’t always treat each other with kindness. Being part of the LGMC really opens your mind to the different backgrounds, values and opinions of the membership (and boy, there are a lot of opinions).
Tell me about where you grew up and how it was coming out.
St Andrews is a beautiful and historic town on the North Sea with around 17,000 people. It’s a strange but wonderful bubble of a place and not like anywhere else in Scotland as it is incredibly international and cosmopolitan as it has the oldest university in Scotland, is the home of golf and was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland. It was also next to RAF Leuchars which is now an army base. Saying that, it’s also a small town and everyone knows each other’s business.
I feel incredibly lucky and proud to have grown up there. Mum and dad moved there with my brother from west Fife just before I was born so I’m a true St Andrean. My folks still live there and I love going home to see them and to spend time there.
I went to the local state schools which offered me and my older brother pretty good opportunities (mum taught at my primary school), and I did pretty well academically which has no doubt helped me get to where I am today. It’s funny, I was always determined to get away from the small town to a big city although now I’m getting to age where I’d love to go back.
As for coming out, that’s a bit more complicated. We come out all the time to people and I don’t think we stop. I think this is something some straight people don’t realise or understand.
First, I had to come out to myself. I knew from a very young age that I was different. I had the biggest crush on He-Man and Jason Connery in Robin of Sherwood. I also remember being desperate to be friends with a guy a few years above me in primary school. I must have been just six or seven at the time. I remember vividly wanting to be best friends with all of them or for them to me my brother or cousin – as these were the only male-male relationships I knew to exist at the time. I didn’t know that men could be together or that gay people existed. I was so confused about it all, but once I realised that there were gay people, it all fell into place. However, this was the mid-late 80s and that came with huge dollops of shame, fear and prejudice as it was the peak of the AIDS crisis. I remember people making anti-gay jokes when Freddy Mercury died and I also remember when a neighbour was arrested for cottaging in a local public toilet which was surrounded by whispers and derision.
I’m not sure how, but I managed (I think) not to be too affected by it and just got on with things – school, my friends and my hobbies – one of which was the local youth theatre groups. A cliché I know, but I loved performing and being cast as Joseph in my Primary 7 school show, sparked that passion.
By the time I was 13, I was pretty certain I was gay and it was somehow confirmed by the taunts of classroom and playground bullies who would call me “poof” and “gay boy”. Of course, the teachers did nothing (they couldn’t thanks to section 28) but one even asked some of the other kids if I was gay on a bus back from some school trip. Bizarre.
I ended up falling for a guy in my year at secondary school. I wasn’t out and the thought of that was pretty scary and I thought I’d have to keep it a secret forever. But he was the first person I told. Well, I say told but he actually found out as I had written about it in my diary (I know…) which he opened and read on my 14th birthday of all days. I was petrified about his reaction and worried he might tell my parents who were downstairs at the time. But he was amazing – so emotionally intelligent for a 14-year-old and (I think anyway) he kept it to himself and we remained friends. We drifted apart as friends do but he was always very supportive through school and when we ended up at the same university. So that wasn’t a horrific experience and was pretty positive in hindsight.
That was 1992, and that summer I did a lot of growing up. I was asked by Maggie Kinloch, the Artistic Director of the Byre Theatre in St Andrews to be in On Golden Pond as part of the Byre’s summer rep season – my first professional acting job! It was there that I met the wonderful Steven Wren who played my dad. It was the first time I’d spent any time with gay people – and they were normal (whatever that means), intelligent, lovely, talented, compassionate people – fantastic role models. Steven was reading Tales of the City which I of course then read. We would chat loads in the Green Room (not about me being gay – I was never that explicit) but in those weeks, I just knew that everything would be ok and I would simply need to bide my time. People didn’t/couldn’t really come out at school back then so I would wait until university. Steven reminded me recently that I asked him on our last day how you know if you’re gay. He told me that if I had to ask the question then I already knew the answer. He was so right.
I didn’t come out to the wider world until university – and of course, it had to come with a side serving of drama. I knew I was gay, but as a typical (horny?) teenager and young adult, I found myself experimenting but with girls – so I had a few (short-lived) relationships with girls. I’m not sure why – some part of me probably gave in to the pressures of the hetero-normative society in which we live, but also part of me liked the fact that I was getting attention from these girls and they were more accessible than gay guys at the time. I didn’t really know any gay guys. Shallow I know.
But in my second year of law at Edinburgh University I came out properly to my closest girl friends and I knew things had to change and I ended up joining the “Friends of Dorothy” gay support and friendship group at my Law School which tutors, lecturers and students could attend. To cut a long story short I ended up dating one of the tutors and this triggered me telling my parents and coming out (dramatically) to my friends at university. My university friends and flatmates were brilliant. Just brilliant.
Coming out to my parents was hard though, I’m not going to deny it, although I do remember them telling me that they still loved me and that was all I really needed to hear. I think we all struggled with it for a number of years – it was an unknown for them and they didn’t really know any gay people and they had lived through the AIDS crisis and the fear and disdain pedalled by a homophobic media. I think they were just worried about the kind of future I would have. Would I have to live a secret life? Would my friends reject me? I was determined to show them that I would make a success of my life and that I would be accepted and that times were changing. I could feel it, for example, France had just introduced civil partnerships.
Bizarrely though we ended up not discussing it for years. I love my parents very much and they are so supportive of everything I do, and I think it was just easier for our relationship to not have to deal with it. I do regret hiding so much from them – so much fear and misunderstanding comes from people keeping secrets and not being open, so it was toxic for my previous relationship as both me and my ex hid our four-year relationship from both our parents. How could my parents speak to me about it if I was keeping major secrets from them?
Saying that, I now have a fantastic relationship with my parents, they love my boyfriend (I sometimes think they like him more than me!), they come and visit us, we all go on holiday together and we go home to see them at holidays.
Those were the big coming out moments. But I feel like I have to come out every day. When I’m on the tube with my boyfriend and someone looks at us funny or when I’m in the back of an Uber and the driver is asking me about my girlfriend. I’m quite glad that on my CV it mentions the LGMC as it means I come out to prospective employers from the outset. If they don’t interview me, it could be because they don’t like gay people (or I’m just not right for the job), but quite frankly I need to be able to be me wherever I work. I’m very fortunate that in all my jobs I’ve been openly gay and it’s never been an issue. Some of my friends aren’t so lucky and work in places where they aren’t and can’t be out at all because of macho cultures. And this is in London. In 2017. Being able to be authentically me is so important.
Did you face any prejudices and how did you deal with this?
I did face some prejudice when I was coming out from a few people but on the whole people were great. So much prejudice comes from people not understanding or having had exposure to those who are different to them which breeds division, fear, suspicion, hate and a whole load of negativity. As such, I feel somewhat sorry for these people as they are products of a section 28 society and all we can do is try to change their minds by being the bigger person, being kind, showing that we can be a success and be a good role model and human being to people regardless of sexuality.
I’ve only felt threatened twice (which is of course two times too many). Once when I was on the tube with my boyfriend and another passenger stared at us with so much hate and disgust for the whole journey and the other when I was at a work do, and another client of the barrister we were using would whisper in my ear how much he hated me and gays and how he wished we’d all die. I didn’t deal with that situation very well as I was a bit drunk and felt vulnerable and scared.
Where I do feel and see prejudice is often within the gay community itself and that’s one of the subjects of my campaign, “Own It”. It’s not prejudice about being gay per se, but around the wrong type of gay, the wrong body size or shape, the wrong age, the wrong skin colour or the wrong ethnicity.
For example, I was out in Newcastle recently with Mr Gay Wales and Mr Gay England and we were all wearing our Mr Gay t-shirts. A young guy of around 20 came up to me and said in a mocking tone “You’re Mr Gay Scotland? What year was that?” implying that I was too old to use the title.
Recently you were crowned Mr Gay Scotland, what made you enter this year?
Haha. Ok, first there was no crowning of Mr Gay Scotland. I don’t see it like that at all. I’m definitely not saying I am “King of the Scottish Gays” or the only Scottish person who represents LGBTQ+ people in Scotland. I wasn’t elected by my fellow gays in a nightclub (other competitions used to do that I believe) but was selected after applying and interviewing with the team at Mr Gay Europe (I have a bit of imposter syndrome as I wasn’t even first choice as the guy before me stood down!).
I think it’s important to understand what Mr Gay Europe competition is.
The goal for the Mr Gay Europe is “to package the fight and work for human and gay rights with a positive, happy and entertaining event.”
What I love about the competition is that guys from all over Europe come together to share their experiences and challenges, to work together on team projects and it’s an opportunity for us to all learn from each other and act as a support to each other. We are stronger together and can break down barriers and push the buttons that need to be pressed.
Saying that, although Mr Gay Scotland is a label given to me by the #MrGayEurope competition I believe it still comes with a responsibility to be a voice and a role model.
There are so many great people doing brilliant things at a local level in Scotland and beyond. If I can lend them my platform and voice, raise awareness or help promote their causes in any way then that’s good and positive and I’ll have made a difference – however small. But I don’t want to think small. We need to think big.
I’m just one of thousands of Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/MxGayScotlands and we are ALL and live as Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/MxGayScotland every single day of our lives. We should all stand up for who we are, what we believe in and stand up against all bullying and homophobia.
That’s why as part of my campaign I’m going to be interviewing LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life and sharing their stories. This is a platform that should be used.
In part two I will talk to Mr Gay Scotland 2017 more about Mr Gay Europe.