Ian and Ian
Updated: Oct 5
Ian Bodenham and Ian Johns are like two peas in a pod. The roots of their lives are deeply intertwined by not only sharing the same first name but having a passion for all things vintage. They found love in 1984 during the height of the hedonistic gay club scene in London. During their 36 year relationship together, they love, live and work together and this is their story of finding love in the 80s.
Ian Johns (Ian J) was already ‘out’ as a gay man amongst his friends and family, he was comfortable in his own skin and sexuality. He was young, good looking and at the age of 27, he was ready for love. One night he headed out to a nightclub called The Bell in London and spotted someone, he just couldn’t forget.
“I was going to a club called The Bell which was in Kings Cross and I noticed this young man and I was trying to get his attention but was having no luck. I saw him again at a club called Heaven and I tried to attract his attention and he ignored me. Then, about a week later and by absolute coincidence, I got on the tube at Tottenham Court Road during rush hour and there he was, sitting opposite me. I was trying to catch his eye but he looked everywhere and at everyone else except at me! And, I thought he really doesn’t like me. The following week I was back at Heaven and I thought, I’m really going to go for it tonight and if nothing happens, then I'll know he’s not interested. That night, Ian responded, we talked, we clicked and we’ve been together ever since”.
Ian Bodenham (Ian B) “I was very shy and also terrible at that cruising game as it's known on the gay scene. I remember the train incident - I didn’t know how to handle the attention, especially in a public place. I wasn't playing hard to get, I just didn't know how to respond to him. When we met properly, we clicked instantly. Luckily Ian had the patience and persistence to pursue me. He was very charismatic and confident and I found that very attractive. We’re both different kinds of people, but we compliment each other. I'm quite introspective and he's outgoing but we have shared interests particularly of music, film and all things vintage".
"On the first date he was very late and I nearly left. I remember, I was getting chatted up by a Russian ballet dancer at the Black Cap. I was about to leave but he (Ian B) came rushing in!".
Ian B was a bit younger (21) and wasn't thinking long term yet. "I was very much living in the moment. One day turned into another, a week turned into a month and six months turned into a year. I adored him from the moment I saw him but it took me a little while longer to think actually he could be the one. Heterosexual couples possibly think quite early on about getting married and having children. In the 80s there were no role models or templates for gay couples in long-term relationships, because they were quite transient.
I also had internalised homophobia and that meant feeling less worthy and a constant feeling of being judged. My family didn’t know I was gay until 10 years into our relationship. The delay in me telling them was more to do with my own perception of their reaction. When I formally told them that I was gay and living with my partner, it was initially difficult and caused some distance but fortunately, the reception of our families was ultimately loving and understanding".
HIV/AIDS and Section 28
The 1980s was a turbulent time for the queer communities in Britain and finding a partner wasn't so easy, Ian J explained “When we met, we became aware of a strange new illness and it was affecting gay men. It was being called the gay cancer, G.R.I.D (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) before it was called AIDS. At the time, the safe sex advice being given to gay men was basically don't have sex with Americans and don't have sex with anyone who's been to America. Then it became don't have sex with anyone who looked physically ill. Unfortunately, by this time a lot of gay men were already infected by HIV/AIDS in London. It was like playing a game of Russian roulette because it was before gay men were advised to use condoms. It was an underground world. It was also at a time when lesbians and gay men, became politicised because of the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who introduced Section 28. It was the strongest attack on the queer community for 100 years, since Section 11 of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act which made all homosexual acts of 'gross indecency' illegal.
The impact of Section 28 meant that people who were queer had internalised shame and guilt and so relationships were often conducted in secret. It also meant that a lot of young men could not get the valuable information they needed to protect themselves when engaging in sexual activity and a lot of them got infected with HIV. We lost an enormous amount of friends in that period up until 1996".
How do you keep the love alive while working together?
"We give each other space, especially since we live and work together. If I'm preparing stock downstairs, Ian is upstairs in the shop and serving customers. Sometimes we feel irritable and bicker but we're both quite easygoing.
We’re very compatible, there's an element of work, persistence and patience, but really its luck. We like each other's company will make each other laugh, we’re best friends".
We got married!
When we decided to get married, it was mainly for practical reasons. We were planning a simple registered wedding with one witness. But then, my sister and mother encouraged a proper wedding and celebration. When I was reading my wedding vows it was actually very emotional, getting married to the person you love and having your closest family and friends witness your love for each other was special.
How do you resolve any issues / disagreements?
We give each other time and space, that’s important. If you've behaved badly or they have, you have to digest it, see if you can address whatever's going wrong. Maybe, accept that you're wrong and apologise. Which is not the easiest thing to do sometimes but just have respect for each other really. The very things that you love about someone can become irritating and it depends on how you deal with that, hopefully they just disappear and they become the wallpaper of life.
What is love?
Ian J knew he'd met the man he wanted to spent the rest of his life with almost immediately. “After meeting Ian that night, I came home the next morning and started playing a song called 'Today I met the boy I’m going marry' by Darlene Love again and again. Never imaging that one-day we would actually get married because there was no equality for marriage back then. I knew straight away that I wanted to spend my life with him. Sometimes they say you meet someone and you just know.
Ian B "Love starts as infatuation with someone qualities, looks and voice and everything. Then it mellows and becomes deeper. It's more touching to you than it is like setting you on fire. It’s the things they say or the way they look at a moment that makes you smile and they are just being themselves".
Two people coming together can make a different whole. We are the Ian's and we complete one Ian.