I was pretty sure that I found comfort in breasts.
Like many of my peers, I'd always been fascinated by
tits, but lately I couldn't help peeking at pecs. And
what made all of this so much worse was the fact I couldn't
tell anyone a thing. I couldn't express my confusions
- or discuss my feelings - with a soul, because of one
silly little word, which is so easy to say but so difficult
to live with: fear. Being scared stiff. Petrified. What
will they say? How will they react? Will they push me
away, reject me for good? I had a quiet sob on the lavatory
thinking about this. It's so difficult to describe a
fear that takes hold of you completely and stops you
from doing anything, from being remotely proactive.
That's probably the real reason I spend so much time
on the loo. I can tell myself my problems, because I
feel safe telling myself. Only myself will listen without
judging. Or so I thought back in June, anyway. That's
the incredible power of this paralyzing type of fear.
Since the first few weeks of the first term at uni
last September I'd noticed this bloke who sat opposite
me in the lecture hall. He was about six feet tall,
slim, with short dark brown hair, and stunning brown
eyes. His clothes were always smart and casual, erring
on the side of trendy, and I knew from seeing him with
other students that he was a polite and funny guy. I
caught his eye at our second lecture together and just
couldn't stop catching it. I really couldn't put my
finger on why I kept staring, because he certainly didn't
look as though he was as transfixed by me as I was by
him. I never imagined him naked or anything. I was
just spellbound by him. He seemed...what's the word...different.
It felt a bit like the connection I made with a kid
at primary school called Danny Delaney. Without any
words, it was clear we had something big in common,
and I just knew from the get-go he'd be joined to me
in intimacy and mutual benevolence. I knew he'd be my
It took me the whole academic year to pluck up the
courage to say hello to him, but hello I eventually
said one overcast day on the college campus green. Having
just finished our final exam, all the history students
had spilled out on to the lawn to lie back and enjoy
the sun for an hour or so before heading into the pub
for a serious drinking session. The fact that there
was no sun didn't dampen our spirits, because the exams
were over and it was time to have some fun. We assembled
under what had become known as "our tree." It's amazing
how quickly you get familiar at uni - we'd been there
less than a year and already a great oak was our tree
and would always be ours. I noticed "the guy" was sitting
by himself just across the lawn. I left my little gang
of new friends to join him, gripped by a form of self-confidence
I only experience very rarely and very briefly.
"All right, mate?" I said. I always used this as a
greeting to blokes. I wanted to say, "Hello, how are
you?" but I wasn't sure if he'd turn round and shout
"You a poof or something? You CHATTING ME UP?" and then
start spitting at me.
"All right?" was his non-descript reply. He looked at
"Bitch of an exam, didn't you think?" I actually thought
it was OK, but saying that wouldn't have moved the conversation
along at all, and by now the realisation of the ludicrous
confidence of my attempts finally hit me and I began
sweating and worrying terribly. I checked my zip was
done up. It was.
"Yeah, bit tricky. Mind you, not as bad as the Elizabethan
"God yeah. That was a real bitch."
I realised I was overdoing it on the word bitch.
If this guy was like me, if he was also confused, unstraight,
multisexual, whatever, I was doing a terrible job of
letting him know I was in the same boat. At the moment
I was on the same tanker, HMS Teenager, struggling
through choppy waters, but most definitely not in the
"I'm Toby," he said.
Toby. I liked it instantly. Two syllables, an "eee"
sound which instantly lends a cute factor, and yet still
a pretty strong and male name. Nice.
"Sam Smith," I replied.
Why the fuck did I tell him my full name? I could feel
a warm redness coming to my cheeks. He smiled at me.
I enjoyed him smiling at me, and like a lot of things
in my life at that time, I really couldn't decide why.
He invited me to sit down, and we embarked upon a round
of small talk. He was from Maidstone in Kent, but hoped
to stay in his Surbiton student house over the summer,
working part-time at the small local factory, where
he hoped to be given the thrilling task of packing biscuits.
I explained I had always lived in the area, but in a
few different places. I told him I went to the local
schools and mentioned my local friends.
Then we started talking about our parents.
"My dad walked out on my mum when I was seven," I said,
quite bluntly. I don't know where my frankness came
from that afternoon. But it was something to do with
Toby's calming presence, his aura. None of my uni friends
knew about my mum being on her own, and I'd got to know
them quite well over the year. Yet suddenly, having
only just met this bloke, I was telling him all about
myself and my family. It's hard to describe why I did
it - it just felt so right, so natural. So I carried
"He ran off with a younger woman. I've hardly seen
him since, maybe once a year. My mum's a star though.
She's done really well on her tod. I'm dead proud of
This felt so easy. Toby was the same age as me, and
had lived in Maidstone all his life. Coming to university
in Surrey, although it was only Surrey, marked a big
change for him. He told me his parents were "a bit old-fashioned,"
which I thought might be code for "they wouldn't approve
of my private life." He didn't get on great with his
parents - mum a part-time accountant, dad a copper.
He proceeded to show me some of his dad's favourite
police moves - armlocks, headlocks and the like. I didn't
ask him to, so why he decided to put my head in a painful
vicelike hold is beyond me, but it was a novel way of
getting to know someone. After assuring me, "it totally
immobilises you," he let go and asked if he'd been too
hard. I smirked at the innuendo, and asked if his dad
had taught him those tricks.
"Oh yeah, since I was twelve he's been showing me the
ropes. Thinks I'll become a copper too. Not a chance,
I tell him. I'm not bitter enough!"
We both laughed at the truism.
"Before my folks got divorced, my dad taught
me football tricks. I feel like I've missed out now,"
"Nah, football's much better." We both sat back down
on the grass and, at last, the sun began shining through
those heavy, sagging clouds. "Do you play now?"
"Yeah, I play striker for the local team. The Rangers."
"I keep meaning to play," he said. "But, you know,
there are arse issues."
I was totally miffed. Did he mean he kept looking at
the other players' arses too? Soul mate! Or was his
arse embarrassing in some way?
"Arse issues?" I asked tentatively.
"As in I can't be. Arsed."
"Oh." We both chuckled a bit, out of nerves more than
Sensing an awkwardness (despite feeling relaxed in
his presence, I was still inexplicably nervous too),
Toby entered into some small talk again - favourite
music stars. He surprised me by confessing to a liking
of inane, manufactured pop. I disapproved. Then he posed
what seemed like the most loaded question of our conversation:
"What do you think of boybands?"
I avoided eye contact, put my hands in my pockets,
"Not my thing, really." What was he getting at?
He chortled, and continued. "They're all the same.
They've all got a lead singer whose head is stuck up
his own arse, then a hard one who gets into trouble,
an ugly one who wants to be taken seriously, and always,
without exception, there's a gay one."
I smirked but didn't look at Toby. I knew he was shifting
the conversation in a new and honest direction, but
I was way too scared to take any kind of lead, so I
just shut up and let him do all the hard work. Only,
he wouldn't let me get away so easily.
"Don't you think?" he asked.
"I suppose. I've never really thought about it."
"There's always a gay one, but there's never a gay
pop song," he said, spoken like a true philosopher.
He had a point -- where were the pop songs about
being glad to be gay? God knows most straight male pop
stars sing enough drivel about their "babies" and looking
after their "bitches." Toby continued:
"Hardly any of them come out. They could be heroes,
but instead they just do what the music industry tells
them to do...wear stupid matching suits and sing ballads
"It can't be easy," I snapped back at my new friend.
And we exchanged a look that said everything and nothing
at the same time. In a day of inexplicable curiosities,
I wasn't entirely sure where my brief anger and surprise
came from, but I felt I had to make clear how tricky
it would be to juggle fame and private life, and how
hard it must be for a boyband celebrity to come out
in front of a global audience of millions. But I seemed
to be making a statement, saying more about me than
about boybands. And Toby sensed that immediately. I
felt uncomfortable, vulnerable even, as if I'd given
too much away, which was silly because moments earlier
I was so at ease. The vulnerability I felt turned into
a frosty tension. I seized up. He had been nothing but
charming, but I needed to leave.
After a prolonged silence, I terminated our chat with
a feeble excuse.
"I'd best be off....My mates and me....we're supposed
to be going to the pub. Nice to meet you, see you around,
"Yeah, sure," said Toby, unconvincingly. As I returned
to my friends and the reliable oak, I wondered if I'd
upset Toby, if I'd disappointed him, if he was gay or
straight, happy or unhappy. I wondered if I would ever
see him again, or if by some bizarre twist of fate he'd
leave the course never to be seen again. I wondered.
And then we went to the pub, drank several pints, shooters,
and vodka Cokes, and everything was fine again