Coming out – you never stop doing it, really. First you have to come out to yourself, which can take years and is, arguably, the hardest one of all. Then, if you’re fine with what you now know, you start to tell others. It’s an ongoing process that varies wildly in delivery – it can be a huge announcement, or merely a knowing look. Sometimes, all you have to do to let people know is say which Bowie track is your favourite – there’s always a tell if you peer closely enough.
For most of us, the biggest of all coming-outs is that first one, usually to family or friends. Once you’ve dealt with what an ‘80s tabloid might call demons but we now know to be feelings, it’s time to set yourself on the path to true happiness – or so you believe – and be the person you were always meant to be.
It’s a big deal. You can’t guess the reaction – even from the people you love and trust the most. But there comes a point where you simply must come out because if you don’t, you are living a lie and, for most of us, that simply isn’t appealing. The day has to come.
Today was that day for Conservative MP and cabinet minister David Mundell. We can assume at the age of 53, he’s had plenty of time to think long and hard about whether to do this. In his statement, Mundell, who is the Scottish Secretary and has three children, talked of a “New Year, new start” and “one of the most important decisions of my life”. His statement was dignified and hopeful, with Mundell paying tribute to “the many people, young and old, who are doing this every day, uncertain of the reaction”.
The reaction to Mundell’s own coming-out was largely positive, but if there’s ointment out in the open, so must a fly crash into it. Today’s bothersome insect was the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire, who ‘congratulated’ Mundell with this gem:
Probably the worst thing you can say, apart from “I disown you”, to someone who’s just told you they’re gay is that you already knew, or “everybody knew”. Even if it is meant good-naturedly, to reassure, it still stings, because the act of coming out is revealing what you assume to be a secret – and who wants to be the one telling someone what they already know?
As a gay person coming out, we have to own that moment. It’s ours. We have wrestled with feelings, had sleepless nights and acted out this day again and again in our heads, dreaming up endless scenarios, with dozens of different endings. We’ve almost told you a thousand times, but backed out at the last minute. You, however, with your “We all knew!” have taken the script out of our hands – you are editing it, tearing out pages. But we didn’t ask you to. This is our story.
We’re not being dramatic or wanting all the attention. In most cases, we want to say our piece, then go about our business, starting out anew. Many of us will want to talk about it, tell you what it means to us, but when you jump straight in and say it was obvious to everyone anyway, you’re taking control of our feelings. You’ve immediately made this about you, not us.
Being told that your gayness – or bisexuality, or intention to transition – was an open secret makes you feel like a failure. We’ve done it all wrong. What we thought we were hiding was actually in plain sight. For many of us we’ve been trying to “pass” as straight before coming out to you. For gay men, it might mean trying not to act girly; for gay women, trying to be less butch. That we didn’t have anyone fooled, a fact you can’t wait to tell us, makes us feel small, like it was all a waste of time – a joke we weren’t let in on, until it became clear we were, in fact, the punchline.
This isn’t about getting professionally offended or being a special snowflake. We are telling you that we’re gay because we trust you; we’re sharing this special moment with you. We have fought and we have struggled and we have denied, all without saying a word, but here we are in front of you, and this is your time to shine.
Watch Mick Carter in EastEnders very skilfully – yet honestly – coax his son out of the closet.
We see this moment as life-changing, but your “We already knew!” has belittled us, embarrassed us. Instead of looking to the future, we wonder what we did ‘wrong’ in the past, how we gave it away. How long have you known? Have you been talking about it a lot? Did you tell others? Did you laugh? Did you place bets? Did you try to entice me out of the closet with your other gay friends (happened to me btw)?
“We all knew” makes our coming-out less about the journey we took to get here, and more about how you feel about it – it makes your reaction, and your perceived coolness with our situation, the most important thing.
You all knew? Great. But do you know what you’re doing? You’re strutting on to our stage, grabbing our microphone and singing, loudly and off-key, all over the first song we ever wrote.
Just for today, get back to your supporting role. You can have centre-stage back tomorrow.