Just who was the young, arrogant and confused man to whom Stephen Fry recently felt compelled to write a long and heartfelt letter? Himself, 35 years ago.
Oh, lord love you, Stephen. How I admire your arrogance and rage and misery. How pure and righteous they are and how passionately storm-drenched was your adolescence. How filled with true feeling, fury, despair, joy, anxiety, shame, pride and above all, supremely above all, how overpowered it was by love. My eyes fill with tears just to think of you. Of me. Tears splash on to my keyboard now. I am perhaps happier now than I have ever been and yet I cannot but recognise that I would trade all that I am to be you, the eternally unhappy, nervous, wild, wondering and despairing 16-year-old Stephen: angry, angst-ridden and awkward but alive. Because you know how to feel, and knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel. Deadness of soul is the only unpardonable crime, and if there is one thing happiness can do it is mask deadness of soul.
I finally know now, as I easily knew then, that the most important thing is love. It doesn't matter in the slightest whether that love is for someone of your own sex or not. Gay issues are important and I shall come to them in a moment, but they shrivel like a salted snail when compared to the towering question of love. Gay people sometimes believe (to this very day, would you credit it, young Stephen?) that the preponderance of obstacles and terrors they encounter in their lives and relationships is intimately connected with the fact of their being gay. As it happens at least 90% of their problems are to do with love and love alone: the lack of it, the denial of it, the inequality of it, the missed reciprocity in it, the horrors and heartaches of it. Love cold, love hot, love fresh, love stale, love scorned, love missed, love denied, love betrayed ... the great joke of sexuality is that these problems bedevil straight people just as much as gay. The 10% of extra suffering and complexity that uniquely confronts the gay person is certainly not incidental or trifling, but it must be understood that love comes first. This is tough for straight people to work out.
Straight people are encouraged by culture and society to believe that their sexual impulses are the norm, and therefore when their affairs of the heart and loins go wrong (as they certainly will), when they are flummoxed, distraught and defeated by love, they are forced to believe that it must be their fault. We gay people at least have the advantage of being brought up to expect the world of love to be imponderably and unmanageably difficult, for we are perverted freaks and sick aberrations of nature. They - poor normal lambs - naturally find it harder to understand why, in Lysander's words, "the course of true love never did run smooth".
You would little believe that I can say to you now across the gap of 35 years that we are the blessed ones. The people of Britain are happy (or not) because of Tolpuddle Martyrs, Chartists, infantry regiments, any number of ancestors who made the world more comfortable for them. And we, gay people, are happy now (or not) in large part thanks to Stonewall rioters, Harvey Milk, Dennis Lemon, Gay News, Ian McKellen, Edwina Currie (true) et al, and the battered bodies of bullied, beaten and abused gay men and women who stood up to be counted and refused to apologise for the way they were. It has given us something we never thought to have: pride. For a thousand years, shame was our lot and now, turning on a sixpence, we have arrived at pride - without even, it seems, an intervening period of well-it's-OK-I-suppose-wouldn't-have-chosen-it-but-there-you-go. Who'da thought it?
But don't kid yourself. For millions of teenagers around Britain and everywhere else, it is still 1973. Taunts, beatings and punishment await gay people the world over in playgrounds and execution grounds (the distance between which is measured by nothing more than political constitutions and human will). Yes, you will grow to be a very, very, very, very lucky man who is able to express his nature out loud without fear of hatred or reprisal from any except the most deluded, demented and sad. But that is a small battle won. A whole theatre of war remains. This theatre of war is bigger than the simple issue of being gay, just as the question of love swamps the question of mere sexuality. For alongside sexual politics the entire achievement of the enlightenment (which led inter alia to gay liberation) is under threat like never before. The cruel, hypocritical and loveless hand of religion and absolutism has fallen on the world once more.
So my message from the future is twofold. Fear not, young Stephen, your life will unfold in richer, more accepted and happier ways than you ever dared hope. But be wary, for the most basic tenets of rationalism, openness and freedom that nourish you now and seem so unassailable are about to be harried and besieged by malevolent, mad and medieval minds.
You poor dear, dear thing. Look at you weltering in your misery. The extraordinary truth is that you want to stay there. Unlike so many of the young, you do not yearn for adulthood, pubs and car keys. You want to stay where you are, in the Republic of Pubescence, where feeling has primacy and pain is beautiful. And you know what ... ?
I think you are right.
Source: Stephen Fry's letter to himself: Dearest absurd child
Official website: The New Adventures of Mr Stephen Fry
Wikipedia: Stephen Fry