Coming out isn't always easy, and it's not something that only happens once. A story of bro-dudes, folders full of filth and a distinct lack of divine retribution.
I did some freelance work in a new company recently, working in an office where I didn’t know anyone. The first friendship I struck up there was with a really hot, straight guy. A proper lad. We hit a vibe quite quickly, mostly through stupid emails and Your Mum jokes.
At the end of the first week, a few of us from the office went out for a drink and I was telling a story about an awful place I’d worked previously that ended with something like “It’s just such a relief that it’s over and I never have to do it again” he replied “I bet that what your last girlfriend said waaaaay!” and while we were all laughing I remember thinking to myself “Oh, wait, he doesn’t know I’m gay” and I drew breath to correct him and hesitated…
I was only going to be working with these people for a few weeks, it didn’t matter to them if I were gay or not, and i certainly don’t care who thinks what about me, so I decided, just for fun, not to correct him just yet.
The next few weeks really underlined to me the fact that coming out isn’t one big, dramatic moment and then it’s over forever - there can be that as part of it, but it’s never the whole thing.
Whenever we tell our coming out stories, it’s generally the story around telling our parents, because that’s the biggie. Although I cheated at that a little bit.
I was 21 and at university when I finally got around to that one. In fact, I’d just been voted chair of the Student Union LGBT Society and thought that this was probably the best time to tell them, because I could spin it as something positive - I might be gay, but at least I was *popular*.
So, being the type of grown-up, sensible role model I evidently was, I sent them a text about both those things at once. My mother, true to form, responded immediately with “Well done, son! Does that mean you get first pick?” Which was followed up almost immediately by another one saying “PS, I’ve known since you were 5. Xx”
I almost text back saying “Could you not have given me a couple of clues? You might have saved me from attempting to get a girlfriend!” but decided against it.
Actually, I should probably apologise to any girls I dated in my teens - those clumsy attempts at dating, the thoroughly awkward sex, and all of that… If I’d known, I would have saved us both the trouble.
My dad messaged me a couple of hours later, saying “Thanks for telling me”. I imagine there’d been a conversation between him and my mother before that text, but never asked. I think it was a little harder for my dad to deal with, but he managed really well.
In fact, running The Society, as he called it, gave us stuff to talk about - he had lots of tips and guidance about running meetings, organising budgets, and stuff like that, so in our own way it brought us a little closer together.
So that’s the coming out story I usually tell, but it’s not the only one I have. Coming out to parents isn’t the only time any of us have to do it, and it’s not even the most important. It’s up there, definitely, but the most important one is coming out to yourself.
Which might seem stupid, but it can be the hardest, and certainly it can take work. Think about it - when you come out, it’s never just about people you love knowing you’re gay, or bi, or Trans, it’s about them being ok with it, and supporting you regardless.
However much we tell ourselves that what people think doesn’t matter, when it’s people that close to you, there’s a need for support and unconditional love.
And so many people I know haven’t got beyond ‘Yes, I’m gay’ to ‘’and I love that part of myself”, instead saying, as a friend of mine did recently, “Yes, I’m gay, and I’m ok with that I suppose, but if I’d had the choice to be born straight, I would have.” which pretty much undermines the ‘being ok with it’ part.
I’m not saying it’s easy - I remember the first time I thought I might be gay, I was about ten, possibly younger, and I think I’d asked what ‘gay’ meant, and after my parents told me, I’d pottered off to play in the garden or annoy the hell out of my brother my brother or something and I thought to myself “Maybe I’m gay” and I remember ducking, reflexively, waiting for some sort of divine retribution or someone to somehow know what I was thinking and tell me off.
That’s about the point in life when I realised y’know, god doesn’t exist, life is meaningless and I should probably just enjoy it while I can… And I can’t help but think that so many people are still at that point in themselves - tensed, waiting for a divine punishment that’s only going to come if they inflict it upon themselves.
In fact, that self-acceptance, allowing yourself to be ok about sex and sexuality can help a lot - it can be really freeing. I came out to my friends as ‘bisexual’ when I was about 16, in an attempt to ease everyone into the idea that I might like boys too, (I coined the term ‘omnisexual’ long before it was cool - that’s how much of a hipster I am) and of course I got ton of abuse from all of the younger kids at school for it, shouts of ‘uuuuh ya freak!’ and ‘Ya poof!’ in the corridors.
But that’s when I realised that, not only did their attempt to insult me not hurt, but because it was part of myself that I knew and loved unconditionally, I could use it as armour, as a weapon. “Yeah, I am,” I’d shout back “And I really fancy you. I want to give you a big kiss RIGHT ON THE ARSE” and then they’d leg it and not give me any more trouble.
I’m not saying my coming out to myself was perfect or smooth, there were plenty of dark moments where I struggled with this,
like the time my dad found a folder full of photos of naked men on the home computer, and I managed to convince him and myself that I’d downloaded it beause I thought it was a folder of ‘Porn for guys’, not ‘porn OF guys’...
So yeah, coming out isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not even a few-times thing. It’s something we have to do, over and over, every time we meet new people, every time we hold hands with someone in the street…
But it’s important to remember that the big coming out moments aren’t always outward, and that the inner ones often require the most work, and where it’s possible we find the greatest pain and abuse; is anyone as cruel to us as we are to ourselves?
I never did come out properly to the bro-friend I had in that office. I’m hoping that the stuff he saw when he added me on Facebook was enough of a clue. He hasn’t unfriended me, at least. But I right-click-and-saved all the holiday photos of him in swimming shorts anyway, just in case.