Part 2: Ancestral Voices

Chapter 9. Caernarfon – Llandygái 2001

“Elfed, thinking of ministers,” said Huw at last. “John’s lover became a minister. So did John’s son. What do we really know about Owen? Why did he walk out on his family so abruptly? And his chapel? Was there some scandal? Maybe I’ve got a nasty suspicious mind, but you see what I’m getting at?”

I gazed at him. 

“Yes, I do see. But how on earth do we find out if there was a scandal, and what it was? It’s the sort of thing they’d hush up. Like the Catholics are doing these days.”

“Best thing’s to ask Rhiannon for advice.”

When the office reopened, we did, without spelling out our suspicions.

“Tricky,” she said. “We do have the North Wales Methodist council records, but they can’t be looked at until they’re a hundred years old. Confidentiality. But I suppose the newspapers might have carried something. What was the date again, and where?”

Tad had said Owen left a year or two after Emrys was born. “1917 or 18, we think. At Carmel.”

“Ah! You’re in luck, then! There was a local historian who made an index of all references to Carmel that he’d found in the press down to 1920. He gave us a copy. Have a look in that.”

Blessings on people who made life easier for others. There were no references to Carmel chapel or its minister in 1917, but two in early 1918, both in Y Drysorfa, the Calvinistic Methodist journal. We looked them up. One was a letter complaining about the movement’s lack of judgement in choosing its ministers. It cited two instances of their failings: a shocking case of consuming spirituous liquors in Ynys Môn and, with even less detail, ‘the recent shameful betrayal at Carmel.’ The other reference was to the induction of a new minister there. The first sermon he preached, reportedly attended by every adherent from miles around, was a powerful one on the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

We drew our own conclusions. There was plenty more we could have done at the Archives on the earlier ramifications of the family, but we wanted to think about the more recent past, and went home to do it. When Tad got back we told him our findings. The tale of John and Rowland interested and excited him, and he admired as best he could the muddy photocopy of the portrait.

“Poor lads. It must have been far more difficult for them, then, than it is for the likes of you, now. The very idea of gay partnerships just didn’t exist. Look at Oscar Wilde, forty years later, the most famous gay of the century. He was upper middle class, and married — he had to be, to seem respectable. And he found his pleasures outside marriage. Not, as usual, from young women, but from working-class boys. A gay partnership just wasn’t on, even for him. Seems to me that John and Rowland were pioneers, in their way.”

The tale of Owen made him very thoughtful.

Back in the living room after an unusually silent tea, he asked us to write down a simple list of the males in the family, their basic dates as far as we knew them, and their marital status. This was the result:








? - ?


1842- ?

1880- ?





married 1839

married 1878

married 1915

married 1949

married 1984


“Right. Now, what do we know about these men? Not simple facts like these dates” — he tapped the paper — “but about their … nature? Iawn, they all married, except you, Elfed. But what else?

“We don’t have much on Griffith yet, but he had it off with his wife in gaol just before he was sent to the hulks. There’s nothing to suggest he was gay.” He found a red pen and wrote ‘Straight’ against Griffith.

“Daniel married young, in an age when it was normal to marry young. His wife was pregnant well before the wedding. He seems to have been an extrovert, probably none too faithful. I think we can take it he was straight.” He labelled Daniel ‘Straight.’

“John we know was gay. He married at 36, which was late for those days.” A red ‘Gay’ went down against John.

“Owen also married late, at 35, and was involved in what may well have been a gay scandal, though we can’t be sure. To be on the safe side, let’s give him ‘Gay?’ with a question mark.

“Emrys also married late, at 33. This will be news to you, but he was gay too. Not long before she died, my Mam told me that after his death she found letters to him from a young man which made that quite clear. So ‘Gay’ for Emrys. I rather suspect it was social pressure to conform which pushed John and Owen and Emrys into marriage, but we’ll never know that for sure either.

“Now, Maelor.”

The last minute or two had already given me and Huw more than an inkling of what was coming next. We found each other’s hands, but we could not dream of interrupting Tad.

“Boys, have you ever wondered why I’ve been so ready to accept your orientation? Do you think it’s because I’m simply a broad-minded, tolerant, decent kind of chap? Well,” he laughed dryly, “I hope I am. But there’s more to it than that.” He turned back to the paper.

“Maelor also married late, at 34. Yes, you’ve guessed it.” He wrote ‘Gay’ against his own name. “Now that you two are set up together, I was going to tell you soon anyway. Your researches have just precipitated things.

“Yes, I was gay. I had my love affairs. Until I met your Mam I thought I was purely gay. I’m not bi — I’ve never been interested in girls, in the plural. Only in one. And that, as it turned out, was a misplaced interest. I told her about me, before we married. It didn’t bother her. That wasn’t why she left. She was full of accusations, but that wasn’t one of them. You know, Elfed, marrying may have been a painful mistake, but I’m eternally glad I did. Because the result was you.”

“Oh, Nhad!” We both hugged him. “Nhad, when Mam left, why didn’t you go back to being gay?”

“I did, in thought. But not in deed. But something else before we get on to that. Why have I never told you about me? Or about Emrys? We’ve always trusted each other, Elfed. As far as I know, you’ve never hidden anything important from me. And I didn’t like hiding anything from you. But I felt I had to. Because I wanted you to develop in your own way, into your natural self, your own orientation, with the least possible influence from me. So I hid my gayness. And I kept what had to be hidden to a minimum. So no surreptitious affairs, let alone open ones. All I had to hide was my gay thoughts.”

Oh, the sacrifice. I delved in my memory, and as far back as I could remember he had displayed the same stability. Unflappable, serene, apparently content. It is all too easy to take one’s nearest and dearest for granted, at face value, without questioning. But Tad had been living behind a disguise. For fifteen years. For my sake. My heart bled for what he must have felt underneath it.

“Nhad, Nhad, now we know, that doesn’t apply any more. You’re … free again. We’ll support you. Like you support us.”

Diolch, ngwas. It’s a bit late, though. I’m well past my sell-by date.”

Dim o’r fath beth, Nhad!” Nothing of the sort!

“And though I like to think I haven’t influenced you, you’ve still turned out the same way.” He wrote ‘Gay’ against Elfed. “And now I can say outright, I’m proud of you for it. But what I’ve only come to understand these last few days is the length of the family tradition you’re keeping up.”

He drew a red line bracketing the five generations of gays.

Diawch!” said Huw. “Inherited, you’re saying, not acquired?”

“Not saying, Huw. I’m sure it’s beyond proof. But it does seem suggestive. There are scientists who claim to have found a gay gene. In one particular region of the X chromosome, if I remember rightly. The idea’s been around for ten years or so.”

Being a broad-minded man, Tad subscribed to the New Scientist which reported this sort of thing, and although much of it was above our heads we read it to try to keep abreast. I remembered seeing an article about the gay gene a few months back, without any thought that it might apply to me.

“But why hasn’t the gene disappeared? Died out? Surely gays have fewer children to pass it on to than straight people have. Or none at all.”

“That’s probably true now. But has it always been? Back in earlier times when social pressures were different? Anyway, a gene can be carried passively, without coming into play. Are straight men who carry it somehow more attractive to women? Do they have a greater interest in sex? It could be passed on that way too. But I’m only guessing.” None of us being biologists, let alone geneticists, we were hardly in a position to assess such complex matters. “Anyway, nobody claims it’s the sole cause of gayness. Only one factor. Maybe only a trigger.”

“Yes, it can hardly be more than that,” I said. “Presumably most gays don’t have gay fathers and ancestors. But in our case, I do agree it’s suggestive. But Huw, we’ve been talking all about Griffithses, and you’ve been left out in the cold. What about you and the Lestranges?”

“I’ve never heard any hint that my Dad might have been gay. He talked of several love affairs — straight ones — before he met Mum. And I’ve heard nothing to suggest my grandad or anyone higher up was gay either. Even if the gay gene runs in the Griffiths family, I don’t think it does in mine. So yes, I do feel a bit out in the cold. If you do carry a gay gene, I rather envy you for it.”

“Yes, I do envy you,” he repeated when we were in bed and had made more than usually tender love. “We’ve got our own … companionship, in the same generation. Rather like a horizontal line joining us. We can look sideways at each other. Identify with each other, I suppose you call it. But now you’re like a capital L. You can look sideways at me, and upwards to John. And identify with him. That’s what we said when we found the ffolant, didn’t we? But it’s not only with John. It’s with Owen and Emrys and Tad as well. You’re lucky. I can only look sideways.”

“True. But what matters isn’t just identification, is it? It’s love. Sideways-love. Partner-love. We’re both lucky there. Upwards-love is different. It’s the way I love Tad, the way you love him too. And iawn, I identify with John and Owen and Emrys. But I never knew them. It isn’t love for them, of any sort. It’s just fellow-feeling. And gratitude, that they shaped the way I am. If they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be gay. And if I wasn’t gay, I wouldn’t have you.”