Tag Archives: coming out

Why “we all knew!” is the worst thing to say when somebody comes out

Read: How not to react when somebody comes out

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:

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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?  Continue reading Why “we all knew!” is the worst thing to say when somebody comes out

National Coming Out Day: How not to react

It’s National Coming Out Day! Closet doors up and down the country are being wrenched off their hinges and brand-new LGBTs are taking their tentative steps on the Yellow Brick Road.

If they’re lucky, it all goes well, but let’s make no bones about this: coming out is hella difficult whether you’re doing it at 15 or 50 and you – yes, you – owe it to these brand new members of “the club” to make it as easy as you can.

So to help me help you help them, here are some of the worst things we hear when we come out, and why. (Don’t worry; I tell you what you should say later on.)

1. “Sorry ladies/boys! They’re gay!”
This is a popular one in the media when someone comes out as gay and is therefore immediately unavailable to the opposite sex. Never mind that it reduces the person to little more than an object of fantasy and devalues their own personal journey and makes it about their usefulness to others, eh?

Here’s a hard truth for anyone straight who finds themselves suddenly out of range of a newly gay celebrity – they probably wouldn’t have shagged you anyway. Continue reading National Coming Out Day: How not to react

Sam Stanley’s coming out is a victory for us all

Another sporting star came out at the weekend. How good it feels to say that almost mundanely, like I’m reading out cricket scores or recounting a chicken-pox outbreak at the local nursery.

The fact is, of course, that Rugby Union star Sam Stanley’s decision to come out in an interview with the Sunday Times is anything but mundane. Coming as it did just a fortnight after the coming out of another rugby player Keegan Hirst, you could be forgiven for thinking this was no big deal, but if anything, Sam’s decision to tear up his Narnia passport is even more compelling.

It’s clear that, like Keegan, England Sevens player Stanley has been trying to come to terms with his sexuality for years. Hirst married and had a child while he wrestled with his glittery demons, while Stanley went for a different kind of repression – he had a gay relationship, but never told anyone about it. Even though, in a way, it was in plain sight.

His big reveal may have come this weekend, but Stanley has been carefully peeling off the layers for all to see for some time, via his Instagram. While it’s not exactly a surprise that nobody noticed – social media is, after all, about looking back at your own posts and interacting with only a few others, no matter what people might tell you – Sam’s relationship made barely a ripple until he himself decided it was time to come clean and put it in black and white. Continue reading Sam Stanley’s coming out is a victory for us all

Coming out isn’t a one-off event – you’ll do it day after day for ever

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!
But yeah.
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.

National Coming Out Day is all yours – make it count

It’s National Coming Out Day, the day when the collective force of a zillion closet doors being thrust open is enough to knock you off your feet.

Coming out is a milestone that every gay person feels obliged to pass – it’s the ritual that all of us have to go through on the ridiculously long path to being ‘the real you’.

The main issue I had with coming out is that I really didn’t want to – I was convinced my sexuality wasn’t anyone’s business but my own.

I was a late starter, getting to the grand old age of 24 before I was ready to admit to even myself that I was actually gay, and so to announce my sexuality felt unnatural and odd.

It was such a small part of who I was, I told myself. It didn’t define me at all; it was no more relevant to my life than the colour of my hair or my eyes, right?

These are the ridiculous things you say in your head when you’re on the cusp of changing everything for ever. You don’t realise how relevant it is to your life until you don’t have to keep it a secret any more.

Coming out to friends was interesting. Some had badgered me about it for years, only to be met by strenuous denials. I almost didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of being right all along, and dreaded the conspiratorial “I knew it!” I didn’t want to be a bright, shiny gay bauble for people to marvel over.

Something you should be prepared for when coming out is not just a bad reaction from parents or relatives, but that you may even find friends’ positive reactions distasteful. I found horrifying the idea that my newfound self-acceptance could become the most interesting and important thing about me.

Don’t make this mistake: be pleased that people are happy for you. “Oh we always knew” might leave a nasty taste in your mouth (not for the first time ho ho ho) but remember they are just trying to make you feel comfortable. Don’t resent them for it.

For a while I played down my homosexuality, not allowing myself to celebrate it. It was no big deal. Next question. I realise now that coming out doesn’t mean an end to the awkwardness – revealing all is just the first step to accepting who you are.

Once I was out to friends, the inevitable next step was to tell my parents. They’re divorced, so I did this separately – in very different ways.

I told my father when I was drunk and in a terrible mood, my secret bursting out of me during a heated debate. Oh, and it was also his birthday. I know, I know. What a model son.

I spat it out angrily, but his reaction was far from furious; after momentary shock, he was understanding, gracious and happy I had confided in him. Despite this, I continued to do it all wrong, saying once again it was no big deal and that I didn’t want to talk about it, when all my dad wanted to do was be supportive. It takes a really long time to be comfortable in your own skin, but open up if you can.

Coming out can be an utterly selfish act – as you deal with your own emotions, you forget that the people you tell have feelings too. Learn from me: don’t come out in anger.

I told my mother soon after, one breakfast just after Christmas, after remarking that in the upcoming Absolutely Fabulous special, Edina would find out her son was gay.

I found myself blurting out: “What would you do if I were gay, Mum?”

My mother did not look up from the pan of boiling eggs she was hovering over.

“Why? Are you?”

“Um, yes.”

There followed a brief discussion about the gay men Mum had known when she was younger – sadly, all drug addicts and emotional wrecks, so not the best poster boys for my cause – and once she’d had a think about it, she too was supportive, just like my dad.

My mother admitted she’d idly wondered if I was gay, so wasn’t entirely shocked, but as I hadn’t said anything, she didn’t want to risk upsetting me by asking outright.

One of my mum’s friends when I was growing up was a militant lesbian who was obsessed with outing me when I was about 13, before I’d ever even imagined a man’s body pressed against mine. I’m sure she meant well, but those who try to out others before they ready only serve to push them so far back in, branches of trees of Narnia scratch them.

Coming out can help set others’ minds at rest. My parents were, of course, concerned, but it was my responsibility to show them they had nothing to worry about. Now my sexuality is the thing I wanted it to be all along, just another part of my life. I was lucky. Not everyone is.

Did I need to come out to finally be at peace with myself? I think so. Coming out is difficult for many reasons; the fear of people’s reactions; the conflict with religious beliefs; the knowledge that there is still a huge amount of intolerance and hate out there to name just a few.

What coming out does do for you as a gay person is allows you to be at peace with yourself. The turmoil doesn’t vanish, but the internal struggles you’ve had for as long as you can remember can suddenly become less painful. Your friends’ and family’s reaction may surprise you – in a good way.

And if you’re not gay, if someone you know stares intently at you today and clears their throat, there’s a good chance they’re about to tell you they’re gay – or they have a peanut stuck in their throat and are unable to speak, silently willing you to decode their desperate glaring. Before you put on your best understanding face, check their airways just in case.

I’d encourage anybody who finds themselves as a coming-out confidante to react calmly, positively and maybe save the celebratory air punches and that you “knew it all along” for later. Be prepared to fight their corner, as not everyone is going to react as well as you. Make sure the voice of acceptance shouts the loudest.

So why the big fuss about National Coming Out Day, when you can make the big announcement any day of the year? Well, if you do it today, you know you won’t be doing it alone. Most of us need motivation for a lot of things.

You may tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day, but they’re just like any other day, full of trivial things to help you put it off until later.

But if it’s not the right time for you to take the plunge, don’t. Coming out should be a personal thing; you’re doing it for you, not them.

But when you’re ready, do come on out – the water’s lovely.

To find out where it all began, read The Hogmanay Kiss.

Earlier versions of this post have appeared elsewhere.

National Coming Out Day: Is today the day for you?

It is National Coming Out Day*, the day when the collective force of a zillion closet doors being thrust open is enough to knock you off your feet. If someone stares intently at you and clears their throat, or puts their latte to one side with the biggest case of ‘serious-face’ you’ve ever seen, there’s a good chance they’re about to tell you they’re gay – or they have a peanut stuck in their throat and are unable to speak, silently willing you to decode their desperate stare. Before you put on your best understanding face, check their airways just in case.

Coming out is that milestone that every gay person feels obliged to pass – it’s the ritual that all of us have to go through on the ridiculously long path to being ‘the real you’.

The main issue I had with it as I languished in my walk-in wardrobe of denial is that I was convinced my sexuality wasn’t anyone’s business but my own. I was a late starter, notching up 24 years on Earth before I was ready to admit to myself that I was actually gay, and so to announce my sexuality felt unnatural and odd. It was such a small part of who I was, I told myself. It didn’t define me at all; it was no more relevant to my life than the colour of my hair or my eyes, right? These are the things you say in your head when you’re on the cusp of changing everything for ever.

Coming out to friends was interesting. Some had badgered me about it for years, only to be met by strenuous denials. I almost didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of being right all along, and dreaded the conspiratorial “I knew it!” I didn’t want to be a bright, shiny gay bauble for people to marvel over. I found horrifying the idea that my newfound self-acceptance could become the most interesting and important thing about me. For a while I played down my homosexuality, not allowing myself to celebrate it. It was no big deal. Next question. I realise now that coming out doesn’t mean an end to the awkwardness.

Once I was out to friends, the inevitable next step was to tell my parents. They’re divorced, so I did this separately – in very different ways. I told my father when I was drunk and in a terrible mood, my secret bursting out of me during a heated debate. I spat it out angrily, but his reaction was far from furious. After momentary shock, he was understanding, gracious and happy I had confided in him. Despite this, I continued to do it all wrong, saying once again it was no big deal and that I didn’t want to talk about it. Coming out can be an utterly selfish act – as you deal with your own emotions, you forget that the people you tell have feelings too and may want to talk through them with you. Learn from me: don’t come out in anger.

I told my mother soon after, one breakfast just after Christmas, blurting out “What would you do if I were gay, Mum?”
My mother did not look up from the pan of boiling eggs she was hovering over.
“Why? Are you?”
“Um, yes.”
There followed a brief discussion about the gay men Mum had known when she was younger – sadly, all drug addicts and emotional wrecks, so not the best poster boys for my cause – and once she’d had a think about it, she too was supportive, just like my dad.

My mother admitted she’d idly wondered if I was gay, so wasn’t entirely shocked, but as I hadn’t said anything, she didn’t want to risk upsetting me by asking outright. Coming out can help set others’ minds at rest too, clearly. My parents were, of course, concerned, but it was my responsibility to show them they had nothing to worry about. Now my sexuality is the thing I wanted it to be all along, just another part of my life. I was lucky. Not everyone is.

Did I need to come out to finally be at peace with myself? I think so. Coming out is difficult for many reasons; the fear of people’s reactions; the conflict with religious beliefs; the knowledge that there is still a huge amount of intolerance and hate out there, to name just a few. My blog, by the way, isn’t anonymous because I’m uncomfortable with being gay – far from it. I only remain incognito so that any guy I have dated, and subsequently written about, will remain unaware he has been the subject of any of my posts.

What coming out does for you as a gay person is allow you to be comfortable in your own skin. The internal struggles you’ve had for as long as you can remember can suddenly become less painful. Your friends’ and family’s reaction may surprise you – in a good way.

I’d encourage anybody who finds themselves as a coming-out confidante to react calmly, positively and maybe save the celebratory air punches and that you “knew it all along” for later, once the dust has settled. It’s great that you’re there for them, but this isn’t really about you. Not today. Be prepared to fight your gay friend’s corner, because not everyone is going to react as well as you. Make sure the voice of acceptance shouts the loudest.

So why the big fuss about National Coming Out Day, when you can make the big announcement any day of the year? At least if you do it today, you know you won’t be doing it alone. Most of us need motivation to do any number of mundane tasks, let alone this ‘life event’. You may tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day, but they’re just like any other day, full of trivial things to help you put it off until later.

But if it’s not the right time for you to take the plunge, don’t. Coming out should be a personal thing; you’re doing it for you, not them.

 

*National Coming Out Day is usually celebrated on October 12 in the UK, and October 11 everywhere else. Just to be different.