Did you come out on National Coming Out Day? And how was it for you?
What people never seem to tell you about coming out is that it’s not restricted to one day – it’s a never-ending event. See those closet doors? They’re revolving. Day after day, you will find yourself – directly and indirectly – coming out to a host of people, even total strangers. The coming out never stops.
Think you have everybody covered? Relatives, friends, key people at work – check. However, you’re not out of the woods yet. We live in a world where there may be equality in law, but socially, we’ve still a long way to go.
Even a simple trip to the doctor, or a casual chat with a colleague, and having to say that dreariest, laborious word “partner”, like you’re in love with a law firm, is an act of coming out. It still feels strange on the tongue, let alone in the head, having to explain yourself.
You never know whether the news you’re gay will get you a shrug, a hug or a punch in the mouth. You wonder whether sitting next to that straight guy on the bus will make him think you fancy him, because he can tell, right? He knows you’re gay.
Will that drunk woman who caught you steal a glance at her boyfriend laugh it off or get in your face and throw a drink over you, calling you a “poof” and warning you to keep your eyes to yourself.? Welcome to the worst lottery ever.
Perhaps one day it will be no big deal and there’ll be no need for a lurching stomach or a mild stutter as you get the words out, wondering what the reaction will be. Here’s hoping. But despite all that, coming out is worth it. It really is.
I have already documented how I broke the news to my parents 14 years ago, and while I thought my work was done, about a month ago I realised there were two other people who’d remained blissfully ignorant over the years – my siblings.
I have a 17-year-old brother who I don’t see very often. He’s never really asked me about relationships or anything like that – teenagers tend to have their own stuff going on – but it niggled at me that he was in the dark.
I never had to tell my 18-year-old sister, to whom I’m very close. I suggested to Mum I should reveal all, but she said there was no need. Looking back, she was right. While it took her a few years to work it out, the fact she had her very own gay best friend at school helped her realise that I wouldn’t one day be bringing home a blushing bride.
Despite it never being explicitly said, she never questioned it, instead accepted it without so much as a shrug – how disappointing for my inner dramatist – and my sexuality has become just another drab fact of life.
She may have had her suspicions about where my ‘flatmate’ and I slept in our one-bedroom flat but she never voiced them. We have settled into our relationship as grown-ups brilliantly. In her own words: “I didn’t really notice.” Perfect.
My brother was a different proposition. How do you tell a sporty 17-year-old just discovering girls that his big brother, who for some bizarre reason he looks up to, can never really join in on the whole lady appreciation thing? How do you prepare yourself to be a disappointment?
Well, the way I did it is spend the entire weekend with him and not say anything about it, before going home and telling him in a language he would understand – on Facebook Messenger.
In the middle of a conversation about a gig I was going to – Kylie! Of course – I decided now was the time to drop the bombshell, or gayshell, if you like. I decided not to make it too emotive – the slightest hint of sentiment can send even the most sensitive of teenagers reeling and heading under the nearest Xbox. I kept it matter-of-fact:
“It’s just occurred to me that you may not be aware – my partner is a bloke. I’m gay. Hope you’re cool with that. I should’ve mentioned it before, I guess. It’s a difficult one to drop into conversation. If you need a bit of time to think that one over, I understand. I should’ve said at the weekend really. Anyway, now you know.”
So now he knew. I awaited his reply with the kind of feeling you get when you know your electricity bill is due – crippled by inevitability. I was also kind of excited. Something was about to change. Finally, some drama.
Hours dragged. Then: a tick appeared by his message. He’d seen it. I closed Facebook and went into another room and pretended to tidy up. Any distraction welcome. Finally, I scraped myself off the ceiling and opened Facebook again. And like a beam of light, his reply shone:
“I can imagine you would’ve found it very hard to put that into conversation!
As long as you’re happy bro I’m really happy for you!
I have the utmost respect for you, it must be really difficult sometimes.”
Whether it’s a blatant acceptance like my brother’s, or a marvellously unspoken one like my sister’s, never underestimate its power. And even though I have come out a thousand times to a million faces, the feeling of being accepted, that good reaction, never, ever gets old.
If you have come out to friends or family this weekend, I hope they reacted as brilliantly as my most excellent siblings.