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How Gay Culture Made Me the (Hetero) Woman I Am

21/04/2016 17:31 | Updated 22 April 2016

Aged about 15 or 16, homophobia became a horrific reality for me, as I physically intervened to save my friend from a group of lads in our year who were hurling homophobic abuse and trying to beat him up.

It wasn't the first time I'd witnessed homophobia as I grew up in a small rural Fenland town. My closest gay friend (we've been mates since we were five), my friend says that he'd never have dared come out at school, with all the 'bender' this and 'shirtlifter' that which were bandied about in the playground. It was only when we went to sixth form that he told a few more people other than those closest to him.

Things were hard in the Eighties when it came to being openly gay - certainly until towards the end of the decade. Not only were kids growing up under Section 28, which banned homosexuality being 'promoted' in schools which meant it was only ever talked about in a negative way, but an air of homophobia pervaded the rest of British society, with a constant tabloid narrative derisively talking of 'poofs' and a misguided fear of the newly-reported AIDs crisis turning the climate distinctly un-gay friendly.

I was a huge music fan growing up (I still am) and even pop stars - and most celebrities in the entertainment world - were forced to live a lie for fear of public opprobrium. Freddie Mercury strutted his stuff at Live Aid in a singlet, Tom of Finland moustache and tight trousers, and still the general public didn't guess he was gay (maybe we were all in denial with that one). My then slightly homophobic Queen-fan parents would have been most put out if they'd known.

When I was sitting underneath the stairs taping the Top 40 on my dad's hi-fi on a Sunday night, recording Sad Songs or Nikita, I had no idea Elton John was gay either - after all, he'd just married Renate Blauel in 1984.

George Michael even went to the lengths of filming a veritable soft-porn video with then girlfriend Kathy Jeung for 1987's I Want Your Sex to show how het he was.

And famously, despite his flamboyantly androgynous style, Boy George even fudged questions about his sexuality by saying he'd "rather have a nice cup of tea" than sex and never confirmed whether or not he was gay for the whole decade - it was that taboo to come out of the closet.

The fact that so few gay people were openly out also meant my gaydar hadn't properly matured then - Boy George was my first pin up, followed by Morrissey and the late James Dean. Doh!

Our sanctuary - where my friend could really be himself - was a gay night at a pub in our nearest city, Peterborough. There, we could dance with abandon to Bronski Beat/The Communards, Erasure, Abba, dammnit, even Meatloaf if we fancied it (and we often did - not that Meat is gay, but by crikey, he is camp).

Yes, we were underage, but it wasn't about the drinking - it was about the freedom, the dancing, the losing yourself in the music and somehow feeling that despite however much of an outsider you felt, other people understood. The feeling that you belonged - that you weren't alone. The camaraderie of otherness.

I wasn't gay, but I felt I'd finally found somewhere I could truly be me - fashion sense, bodyshape, sexuality, whatever - where my crazy clothes and makeup barely raised an eyebrow. Where if a guy complimented on my elbow length silk gloves, brocade smoking jacking and cigarette holder (yes, I was a pretentious fashion twat), it was because someone genuinely liked my style and wasn't hitting on me. It felt like a safe space away from the leery beer boys at indie gigs.

Almost by osmosis, I became obsessed with Leigh Bowery and Divine, revelled in John Waters films and sought out everything Andy Warhol. David Bowie's output of the Seventies first appeared on my horizon. Despite being an indie girl at heart, I bought Man 2 Man Meet Man Parrish's Male Stripper, Frankie's Relax, Marilyn's Calling Your Name, Dead of Alive's You Spin Me Round as well as many gay disco anthems from the previous decade (Sylvester's You Make Me Feel remains an all-time favourite).

Because of the inequality when it came to gay rights, I became interested in politics (well, that and the miners' strike.) I even won a debate against Section 28 in our school debating society, despite a strong argument from some my schoolmates to keep it in place (I hope they're ashamed of themselves now).

Luckily, things began to change as the Eighties progressed. People like Julian Clary emerged on the entertainment scene and were very much out from the start. In 1988, Elton John happily announced that he was gay, as did Sir Ian McKellen. Nevertheless, problems of prejudice still remained. Rupert Everett came out in the late Eighties and has repeatedly maintained since that it harmed his career then - and even to this day.

Now, thankfully, so many famous LGBT folk are out, loud and proud in the entertainment world - including my friend, who heads a national charity promoting equality in and through the arts.

And me? Disco and gay anthems remain two of my great loves and are the backbone of my DJ sets (as a hobby, I bother decks at Friday I'm In Love's Massaoke club night in London, Quo Vadis private members' club and the UK's best festival, Secret Garden Party) and I adore going to my friend's gay club night Duckie - it feels like I'm at home there. I still consume anything to do with LGBT music, theatre and film (Pride was my favourite film of last year). I am still a vociferous advocate for LGBT rights and thankfully, my job allows me to give voice to many, many gay, lesbian and trans people to ensure that the fight for LGBT equality stays in the public eye.

Ultimately, gay culture not only helped me become who I am today, it enriched my worldview and my cultural capital - and it did the same for the UK and world as a whole. And, despite the challenges that LGBT people still find in areas of the entertainment industry today and in their everyday lives, we should all be thankful of the progress that's been made. And that's worth being loud and proud about now, just as it was in the Eighties.

HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud from 18 April-2 May. We're celebrating how gay culture has influenced and, in turn, been embraced by all fields of entertainment, inspiring cinema-goers, TV audiences, music-lovers and wider society with its wit, creativity and power of expression.

Through features, video and blogs, we'll be championing those brave pioneers who paved the way, exploring the broad range of gay culture in British film, TV and music and asking - what is left to be done? If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about

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