As well as being the day of the National Equality March, Sunday October 11th is also National Coming Out day in America, which gives lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people the opportunity to be open about their sexuality.
Coming out is a very personal process, but it often begins many months, perhaps even years, before the event itself, and even then it is often staggered as one begins to open up to an increasingly wider circle of people.
I first came out to a close friend a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday. We were stood outside the school gates waiting for her mom to come and pick her up, and I found myself telling her about feelings I had for a male classmate we both knew. She was understanding about it and let me talk. I can’t really describe how good it felt to finally tell someone.
But coming out started a long time before that, and carried on for quite a few years after.
I was six years old when I first became aware of… something. I was watching Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire with my mom. There is the famous scene where Brando stands and cries outside Stella’s apartment, calling out for her.
I should stress that I don’t remember being physically attracted to Brando, or anyone, at that age, but there was something about him that had me transfixed, and my mother remarked that I’d never been so quiet for so long before. It was a small moment, but when I look back now, that’s where I can point to as the first evidence of my emerging sexuality.
I can’t really tell you about coming out without also telling you about school, though. I loved school. There were so many things to do, to learn, to know and to experience. School was magic. School was brilliant…
But then a word swept the halls like a wildfire. That word was ‘Gay’.
“Don’t be gay.” That was the catchphrase, the absolute rule. Don’t. Be. Gay. And that was one of the better words from a vocabulary I’d quickly become familiar with as I moved into high school.
“Are you gay?” That’s what the other kids asked me, following it up with a show of a limp wrist and a laugh. “Gay boy,” I was called. Inexplicably, they seemed to know more than I did because I’d not even begun to figure out that aspect of myself. I was, however, starting to suspect…
I denied it at the time, and to distance my self from it, anything I perceived as gay had to be got rid of. That purple shirt? Thrown out. Listening to pop music? I gave the CDs to charity. It even got to the point where I considered what the manly way was to tie my shoes.
It might sound funny, and even ludicrous, now, but it was exhausting – monitoring everything I said, everything I did, it was like mental torture. My grades, my health, my relationships with my friends and my family, they all suffered.
To make matters worse, there was a guy at my school, and he’d been shaving since he was thirteen, and he was strong of build and prominent of jaw line, and I would have given anything to have him notice me. His name was Ross. He looked like a young Marlon Brando, all be it with a shaved head. And my prayers were answered, he did notice me– he and his four friends, they used to beat me up after school, or at any time, actually, when they could get me alone and we weren’t likely to be disturbed.
In a funny way though, as awful as it was – and sometimes it made me think of suicide – this frequent bullying helped me. Something snapped into place one night after a particularly nasty time of having my head hit repeatedly against the wall of the school bathroom, thus forcing me to walk home alone rather than catching the bus so that I did not run into my aggressors again; as I went along the three mile track that led close to where I lived, I started to think that I obviously wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding being gay because everyone, in spite of my efforts to the contrary, seemed to know that I was. I had a sore head that proved it, didn’t I? So it begged the question, why was I pretending?
It had fallen dark, and the night was still. Although I was alone and probably should have been afraid given what had just happened, I felt like I’d stumbled on something, although barely formed, that was quite powerful. A little grain of truth. I suddenly felt a wave of calm wash through me. I’d come out to myself, and that was the biggest hurdle for me.
Not long after, I came out to that certain school friend I mentioned earlier. And the vice-like grip that had seemed to hold me in its jaws for so long loosened a little bit more. I felt like I was finally in control of who I was. I’m pleased to say the bullying dropped away, as did my affection for Ross, who, not long after, left school and was out of my life for good.
Gradually, over the course of the next two years, I came out to more and more of my friends. Telling my dad took longer. Telling my four brothers even longer still.
There’s never really the right time to say it, and there’s simply not a good way to drop it into the conversation. And you shouldn’t. Not unless you’re absolutely sure you are ready to announce it. This might sound like I’m going against accepted advice when people say, come out, come out now! It’s the best thing you can do!
But, my opinion is that the best thing you can do is come out– when it’s right for you. And only you can know that. Make it as relaxed as possible. Don’t heap pressure on yourself. Keep it short, keep it light.
If you don’t think your parents/guardians/friends are going to be accepting of it, wait until the situation changes and you aren’t dependent on them. This is crucial. It’s your sexuality. You are in control. Don’t feel bullied or pressured by an idea that this is what you have to do.
But I can honestly say that coming out improved my relationship with my dad 100%. He finally understood me in a way he never could before. But give your parents time to adapt to the information too. This is the only other piece of advice that I think translates well to almost every coming out situation: your parents’ initial reaction might not be their true feelings.
Telling them you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a big thing for them to process because its talking about a fundamental aspect of who you are. I’d wager that most parents already knew, at least on some level, but even so it may provoke strong emotions from them.
Some will be happy that you’ve told them. Others might get angry. At first. But given time, that could pass, they’d adjust and come to accept you for all that you are. That’s not everyone’s experience, unfortunately, but I think it would be fair to say that it is an experience shared by a growing majority of LGBTs.
Below are some links to help you find out more about coming out, and even a step by step guide that I thought gave some helpful advice.
FAQ on Coming Out.
Personal Stories of Coming Out.
How To Come Out – A Step by Step Guide.
Coming Out as Lesbian or Bisexual – Stories from Across the World.
Have Your Say:
Above was my story, told here to hopefully allow other people to share theirs. Have you come out? Has a member of your family? What was it like? Was your experience completely different from mine? Or, for whatever reason, do you think that coming out is overrated or not necessary? Let me know your thoughts.