Tuesday, 21 December 2010


LATELY GAY founder, Stephen McKenna, is a London-based journalist and photographer and the subject of our Feature Interview. Here he takes your questions on why he's created LG and the personal journey that's led him to this point.

So, Stephen, just who is LG aimed at?

It's aimed mainly, though not exclusively, at middle-age guys, most likely
married, who are only now in the process of coming out.

Is this a recognisable group?

Numerically, it's not huge, but, as a group 'in need' It's definitely significant. We're talking about men at a major crossroads in their life with very little access to any moral or practical support.

What are the specific issues that LG folk face.

Where do I begin? It's a moment of enormous conflict in a man's life. On the one hand he's reaching a point of sexual liberation, on the other, that most likely means the end of a long marriage. Then there's the process of re-adjusting to a whole new culture and, in time, the minefield of seeking new relationships. On that side of things it can be like going through your adolescence all over again.

It's not like you can pick up your 'Welcome to Planet Gay' newcomers pack and expect a red-carpet welcome in the gay bars and clubs up and down the land. Far from it.

Also, being a demographic mis-beat ie. over forty, the gay scene may seem at pains to deny your existence at all. Look at any gay magazine and it's crammed with D&G adverts, 'fab new abs' lifestyle features and a dazzling parade of 20-30 metrosexuals - and Amy Winerack, or whoever! How easily can 53 year-old Colin of Cirencester, father of four, relate to that world? But isn't he as entitled to turn up to Dorothy's 'Kansas Ceilidh' as anyone else?!

How will the Lately Gay site help?

It will be a wholly accessible community forum - a place to which lately gay guys can come and tell their story and share their experiences (anonymously if they want to) and not feel exposed to any judgement. They'll have had plenty of that already.

The vital thing is for men in this situation to discover they are far from alone. I know that when I left my marriage and came out at the age of 40 I really had no one to turn. You don't find many handy drop-in centres on Straight Street and I couldn't tell you how often I was pouring my heart out to the office cleaner or strangers at a bus stop. Anyone that would listen.

So, the intention is very much that LG, participation allowing, will be there 24/7 with an online supply of virtual tea-and-sympathy.

Describe a typical Lately Guy user.

He's a victim of what I call 'the gay delay' - got married early, possibly aware that he had gay tendencies but unsure, so he's got hitched, had kids and been busy raising a family. Now, twenty or thirty years down the line, the kids have left home or gone off to Uni and, his job as a parent is done. He can't help but look to the future.

After repressing his sexuality for the best part of two decades, and with the very high visibility that there now is for gay culture, from advertising to soap story lines - long buried urges are asserting themselves and, day to day, he's struggling to keep it together.

As helpless as an MP adrift on Clapham Common, the wheels are starting to come off the trolley and our guy is headed for an absolute tragedy. He'll undergo a rebirth of sorts but ultimately it will mean the death of his marriage.
That's who we're talking about. God help him - and her!

Indeed, so just where does the partner fit into all of this?

With enormous difficulty. Metaphorically speaking, she's 'indoors' one evening enjoying the lovely home she's made for her family when Hubby walks in and starts setting about the place with a sledgehammer.

Not a nice picture, is it? But, that's not far off the reality of it.

Marriages falter and break apart all the time but, for a woman, when it comes to a husband confessing that he's gay, it's a shocking betrayal and she will struggle to understand how someone she loves is apparently hellbent on destroying her life.

And it gets worse. If he'd come home and told her he was having an affair with Rachel in Credit Control, then, at the least, she'd have some chance of getting her man back. She'd be able to put up a fight, but not in this teleplay. However you write it, ultimately he's telling her women don't turn him on, and how devastating a verdict is that?

Is there a place for her on latelygay.com?

Definitely. One of the main threads on the site will be 'My Story' where users can tell their story, but parallel to this will be a thread called 'The Other Half: the wife's tale'.

A man coming out as lately gay doesn't always spell the end of the marriage though?

No. A marriage isn't instantly doomed and some couples do stay together. It's down to the personalities, I suppose.

What personally has motivated you to set up Lately Gay?

Therapy as much as anything else. It's nearly six years since I came out and the end of my marriage, and at this stage I've realised there all sorts of issues that I've shoved to the back of the drawer and not dealt with.

It's very easy to run away, isn't it? So, creating LG is helping to me work through some of those issues and pass on my experience to others going through the same turmoil.

When do you turn the corner?

Well, don't let me exaggerate the difficulties. I'm in a very settled place these days but it does take a long time to work through the guilt you inevitably feel: the 'what ifs' and the 'if only's'.

Does that mean you regret your marriage?

Not for a moment. I had the happiest of marriages and for the most part it worked very well, but then there was that part of it that was wrong and, in time, that came to count against us.

That's my experience and I'm sure that most LG guys will say something very similar, but at the same time they're here now and with our help they can look forward to a new and exciting future.

And speaking of futures, how does it look for 'lately gay.com'?

It's early days yet but I am very keen that LG will quickly find its place. To get the hits it has to look attractive and as much as possible I want it to read and look like a good magazine. Too many websites offer scrolls of unbroken text and yet it takes just a little bit of imagination to lay out the stall brightly and in an uncluttered way.

I'm also keen that there'll be an atmosphere of fun and celebration in the mix. Yes, LG types are going through a very tough time but its very important to reassure them that things do get better and once again the sun breaks through the clouds. MC/LG


LG founder, Stephen McKenna, writes:  September marked the 8th anniversary of my separation from my wife and the beginning of my life as a fully fledged gay man. Here, in no particular order are some reflections on my progress in that time.

BFs: Lots of occasional partners during that time but only one long relationship which lasted almost a year. I contemplate often on the reasons for my not having dovetailed with someone by now on a more fixed basis. There have been time issues as I try to fulfil the demands of a day job with an evening/weekend vocational career as a photographer, but if I’m honest, have I also got commitment issues?

SOCIAL SCENE: Most of my social life is played out in the gay arena which is very nice. I belong to a gay choir (The Pink Singers), a gay photographer’s group (GNP) and my friends and the bars I frequent are all gay. It’s not as if I’m afraid I might catch anything in a straight venue (!), but I just enjoy the commonality of the gay community.

WORK ENVIRONMENT: I work in a telecoms company which has some seventy employees and as far I know, I is ‘the only gay in the village’! Despite my minority holding I have always been completely open about my sexuality. Fortunately, this is London in 2010 and my sexuality is not an issue, which is exactly at it should be. I am also protected now from workplace discrimination by UK law.

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A location shot from last year with
Brazilian model, Thiago, close to
St.Paul's Cathedral
A NEW CAREER:  My first career was as a producer making all kind of different shows but that ended at the same time as my marriage due to redundancy.  I guess I had the notion that as I was beginning a new chapter in my personal life, it was time to try a new career strand.  Vocationally I've managed it having established myself as an accomplished semi-pro photographer. 

Also, I have been practising my journalism through websites like this.  My themes are predominantly gay and when I look at my portfolio I feel thrilled at the way in which I've grown since coming out as a gay man.  There was always a creative lion in me but before I only got to roar in silence.  Not any more. GRRRRRR!!!

MY LIFE THEN / MY LIFE NOW: As I say elsewhere on this site, I never regretted my marriage, though I still ponder from time to time the entry points I missed as I was growing up. I am very lucky that I can still call my ex-wife my best friend but there was no doubt that I had to take us both through the pain barrier to get to where I was meant to be. Yes, it was an enormous relief to come out as gay, but just doing that was no fix-all moment and in the last eight years there have often been rough patches of turbulence. I didn’t anticipate, for example, how much residual guilt there would be and how long it would last. Mainly it would run in the background, as it were, but still it would be there.

But why should I complain. My eldest brother has an ex-wife who continues to make his life a living hell, and he’s not even been married to her for ten years!

IN CLOSING: When I was about 32 (I’m nearly 48 now) I went to a career counseller. I felt hugely dead-ended in my work life and I had become very depressed. The counsellor was a very impressive lady called Rosemary Arthy. Very charismatic but also an excellent listener who helped me come out of myself. Anyway, at one point, I took a moment to go to the bathroom, and while there I saw a terrific butterfly just resting on a bar of soap on the sink. When I returned I mentioned it to her and after a moment’s pondering, I said, ‘That’s it, that’s it. That’s what I want to be. I want to be a big, beautiful butterfly. Not the sad little grub I have become.’

I didn’t know it at the time but it wasn’t just my work life I was talking about, it was the bigger picture too. But guess what? It took time but eventually I got to be that butterfly!

Better late than never.
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Looking back - A reminder of the rough times:
This was me in September 2002 and the first
week in my new flat as I surveyed the mess all around me. 
As you can see, I'm hardly the happiest of bunnies.