Many people who are lonely, frightened and isolated go to the Samaritans for guidance and comfort – and although they advertise themselves as a last ditch help service for suicides, they are accustomed to handling personal and social problems at all levels of intensity. Their policy of deliberately keeping their distance and not giving active advice makes them an attractive prospect for people like gays, who don’t want or need someone to moralise at them.
“If you go to the London branch and say yours a lesbian, you’ll see Chad Varah, and when you admit what your problem is, he’ll pat you on the knee and say ‘congratulations!’
“… We have special people to deal with the neuroses, depressives, the marital problems. So that just leaves me the female homosexuals and male deviants, a very nice thing lo be left with. They are the most vulnerable and gentle people you could meet.” (Chad Varah, the founder of Samaritans)
It’s true – I did get referred to Chad Varah very quickly, after twenty minutes talking to a woman Volunteer at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, where Sams started 18 years ago. The Volunteer just said reassuring things and warned me off organisations like GLF on the grounds that “they do a lot of showing off” and “They are very busy being gay and not taking it very seriously.” She hadn’t heard of CHL, or showed no reaction, anyway.
Chad Varah gives me a direct and serious smile, and takes me up to his office. I began where I’d left off with the volunteer, talking quite truthfully about an affair which was breaking up, and he immediately began to give what I felt were traditional replies – the quote above was repealed almost word for word, plus little stories about “the two hundred very genuine lesbian friends I have”, and about a couple who had sent him a card while “on their honeymoon”. I felt even none isolated by this ‘happy-ever-after’ angle, as I’d already been talking about loneliness.
He uses physical contact a lot, holding my hand in both of his, patting my knee and putting his arms round me when I’m crying. I don’t like this very much, partly because I do not want to relax and put it all on to him, and I feel this is what he wants. He also makes a lot of small suggestions relevant to points I make, and I find this worrying, as if he has assessed me and decided how to act, although we have only talked for twenty minutes. He asks whether I am a Christian, and refers a lot to ‘,the boss”. This does not sound very stupid, and he is obviously sincere, but as I do not believe, it makes me feel that, again my statements are being manly pre-judged.
I spend two hours in his study, although perhaps a third of this is spent listening while he deals with telephone calls. I do feel that I want to see him again, when he asks me to make another appointment, but I do not give my name and address, and although I am sure he is genuine, I feel no compulsion to reveal that I am ‘test-marketing’. I thought I might want to admit that I am from ‘Gay News’, but what I have said about my personal life is true, and I don’t want to alter the relationship before I’ve investigated it further.