The Day I Felt No Longer Alone As A Gay Teen


I remember when I first heard the song, Smalltown Boy, by Bronski Beat.

If memory serves me, it was a sunny day with clear skies and I was driving my car, a 1980 Ford Granada with red vinyl seats. The kind of seats that would burn your skin if the car had been sitting out in the sun, windows closed, when you first sat down in shorts and a tank top.

The song came on the radio, my favourite station, CFNY 102.1 in Toronto. It was early 1984.

The video makes my heart sing as much as it brings me to tears.

The song started slowly, with a “plinking”, gentle keyboard intro.

Besides thinking about sex, when you’re 18, music is at least half of your world. Any new song on your favourite station catches your attention. Those first few seconds are the “make or break” moment: will this be the next hit song?

16 seconds in, I hear a high-pitched male voice that makes the hairs stand up on my arms.

“To your soul
To your soul
Cry, cry, cry”

The 80s drum kit picks up, making me want to dance, while Jimmy Somerville croons with heartfelt emotion about something painful, but what?

Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat Vinyl

I listened to his words.

There was no mistaking what he was singing about.

Someone was singing my story.

My words, my feelings, my fears, my life un-voiced, and as yet un-spoken.

He was speaking my truth!

“And as hard as they would try
They’d hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them
Just to your soul
No, you never cried to them
Just to your soul”

The hairs stood up on my arms, again. I got shivers and goosebumps.

Everything stopped.

I had to pull over in my car to stop and listen.

For the first time in my life another person acknowledged who I was.

In song, no less. On the FUCKING airwaves even!

And never once was the word gay even mentioned.

I’d never voiced my truth

I’d never heard someone speak, let alone sing, with such heartfelt emotion, about his experience of being gay, in a way that made me feel there was hope.

I don’t remember where I was at the moment. Probably close to home, in Mississauga. But instead of going home I drove 30 minutes away to downtown Toronto, to the Record Peddler — my go-to record store for all things New Wave and imports.

I was sure I would die if they didn’t have the record in stock. Hell, I was 18, and if there was anything I needed more than someone to tell me it was okay to be gay, I NEEDED that record!

They had it.

At that time the cost of vinyl imports was my biggest expense as a teenager, besides gas for my car, costing probably about two hours of work at a local grocery store — $6.98 Canadian in 1984 dollars.

Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat Price

When I got home I must have played it over and over, with my headphones on, keeping my new found hope out of earshot from my family.

Here are the lyrics to Smalltown Boy

You leave in the morning
With everything you own
In a little black case
Alone on a platform
The wind and the rain
On a sad and lonely face

Mother will never understand
Why you had to leave
But the answers you seek
Will never be found at home
The love that you need
Will never be found at home

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Pushed around and kicked around
Always a lonely boy
You were the one
That they’d talk about around town
As they put you down

And as hard as they would try
They’d hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them
Just to your soul
No, you never cried to them
Just to your soul

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

Cry, boy, cry…

By Darren Stehle

Darren is a leadership coach in Toronto, Canada who helps his clients to connect and embrace their uniqueness and freely create the life they want. He writes and podcasts regularly about Queer Leadership.