Welsh Boys Too – John Sam Jones

WBT(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The author has worked in education, as a chaplain in hospitals and prisons and as a sexual health worker and is currently employed as the Schools Advisor for Personal and Social Education in Denbighshire.  He lives with his civil partner in a farmhouse in the Rhinog mountains

After ten years in the States, the author was horrified about the homophobia that still pervaded Welsh society in 1993 so he wanted to suggest some of the ways that individuals overcame such prejudice.

On 1996, he worked in with a group of gay and lesbian teenagers at the West Rhyl Young People’s Project and realised that despite many gay characters in soaps that seem to have played a role in fostering greater understanding and tolerance, life as a gay or lesbian teenager in rural north Wales was as awful as it was when he had been a gay teenager in rural north Wales at the beginning of the 1970s. The politics of Section 28 and the government’s unwillingness to define a sex education curriculum that is statutory left gay and lesbian teenagers amongst the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and left teachers uncertain of what they could say to the gay or lesbian young person who seeks their counsel. Little is done to develop the self-esteem of gay and lesbian teenagers in school settings. Still to this day little is done to address homophobic bullying in schools.

This collection of short stories is essentially a tale of two identities – Welsh-speaking and gay. It encompasses a wide range of classic gay themes including the gay holocaust, coupledom, relationships with a straight family, coming out/denial, bullying, cottaging, the age of consent, rent-boys, Clause 28, gay weddings, Christian homophobia, and a dash of camp, all set in the Welsh-speaking North, in just over ninety pages!

Llŷr Jones, M.Th., Gethin’s Calvinist father in ‘The Wonder at Seal Cave’, would remind his congregation ‘that stories give shape to lives and that without stories we cannot understand ourselves’. That’s what this collection does too – providing Welsh gay men, especially the young, with stories through which they might better understand themselves. Gethin is agonisingly trapped between his own self-knowledge and a minister father and psychologist mother who would stifle his sexual orientation. However, during a family visit to Bardsey Gethin has an important initiating encounter with a German boy, the tale ends lamely when the troubled boy is advised by a sympathetic teacher to telephone a gay help-line.  Gethin starts to make sense of his burgeoning sexuality by seeing the film Beautiful Thing, set in a London council estate, whilst he was in Liverpool. Where in Wales could Gethin have heard a similar Welsh story?

In The Birds Don’t Sing, the narrator visits Poland along with his partner Griff, and relates their frolics together. Then Griff goes off cruising while our narrator meets an older women, a Polish refugee and mother of a gay son, together, with the thought of pink triangles in mind, they visit the sight of Auschwitz.

WBT 2The ‘gay community’ as such does not feature largely in them. There are references to the brotherhood of the Pink Triangle, pink politics and the Gay Outdoor Club, but the gay characters live mostly as couples in a heterosexual world without contact with other gay men. This surely is the reality for many gay men in Wales, but not the only lifestyle.

‘Sharks on the Bedroom Floor’ charts a weekend in the lives of gay partners and their hosting of a young nephew and niece. In this tale, Jones uses a multiple viewpoint.

In the five-page “But Names Will Never Hurt Me,” he gives us everything necessary to understand why the 17-year-old protagonist, who has already made his affectional choices, decides that “Rent boy . . . didn’t sound so bad.”

In nine unhurried pages, “The Magenta Silk Thread” reveals exactly why a 77-year-old war widow is attending her best friend’s son’s wedding and taking the train rather than getting a lift to it.

 The bleak circumstances of furtive sex are presented here in some detail. One story ends thus: ‘As you shower that sunny August morning of your seventeenth birthday, you think about all the hurtful names you’ve ever been called. There’d been effing queer; there’d been turd-driver and arse-bandit. Rent-boy, though, didn’t sound so bad.’

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1 Comment »

  1. […] He discovers cottaging in his teens. Many of is encounters have also been described in his novels: Welsh Boys Too, Fishboys of Vernazza  and  With Angels and Furies […]

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