It took three national lockdowns to accept myself as gay, but now I’m finally out
Eleven months ago, I wish I knew how little everyone would care
For the past 11 months, I’ve kept a secret. But now it’s LGBTQ+ history month, and I want to finally come clean. It’s taken me three national lockdowns and almost a year of living in a global pandemic to admit that I am gay.
I have always found the idea of “coming out” to be terrifying. Growing up and watching TV shows where a queer character would reveal their true selves to a group of friends or family, I noticed they were always met with some form of hostility. I think that’s why I have spent my entire life concealing myself – it came as a result of my intense fear of people hating or viewing me differently.
As a teenager, I’d always get drunk at parties and end up crying because I was so scared of the fact I liked girls. Growing up, the feelings I felt towards women grew stronger but so did my ability to suppress them. The past year has meant huge life events have been put on hold, from graduations, weddings or big milestone birthdays.
It’s so weird because, in my head, the world has been at standstill for the last year however I’ve had such development in my personal life – I honestly don’t think I’d be writing this if we didn’t have three national lockdowns and I wasn’t forced into confinement and made to think about my sexuality. Here’s my story, from lockdown one to lockdown three. I hope it brings you some comfort, distraction or helps even just one person to feel less alone.
‘I would whisper “I am gay” to myself before I fell asleep’
This was probably the hardest period of my life. Like thousands of other students, I had my second year cut short and moved back home from university. I spent the next few months in my family home and childhood bedroom – the space where I spent the majority of my life steering away from the truth and that part of me. Suddenly, I was a closeted teenager again and it felt awful.
It took around three weeks before I started to acknowledge any feelings I had. This was because I was forced to step away from the dating scene and also clubbing. Thankfully, this meant no more dating men, at least not for a while because I never would’ve predicted two more lockdowns would follow after. This wasn’t hard at all because all my friends had to do the same, none of us could go to clubs anymore and kiss random guys on the dance floor, the pandemic truly saved me in that respect. Because of this, I made the choice that once and for all, men were going to have to go from my dating profile. So I changed my preferences to men and women – a surprisingly liberating experience but I still had the chance to fall back on men should people ask.
Then came along Zoom quizzes. They became a weekly ritual with me and my group of girl friends, we’d do rounds on stupid stuff like who had the fittest dad or who had dated the best looking guy. I saw all the men I had dated on the screen in front of me and then it hit me: I felt no physical attraction to any single one of them. The only reason why I dated men was that I thought it would bring me closer to my friends, like I’d fit in the group better than if I dated women. Obviously, I now know that isn’t true in the slightest and I believe if all those men I dated were actually women, my friends wouldn’t care at all. I just wish I knew that then.
Lockdown restrictions started to be lifted and I found myself back in my uni house for a little bit over summer. I remember getting really, really drunk and texting a mate saying “I have something to tell you, I know you’re not going to care but I want you to know.” They were drunk and immediately replied asking me what it was and then I said “I like girls.” Immediately after, I put my phone on do not disturb and carried on drinking. I woke up to the nicest message I could have received, my friend told me they loved me no matter what and they thought I was really brave for telling them. At this point, things began to change for me.
In an attempt to crush any internalised homophobia I felt and normalise my sexuality, I found myself whispering “I am gay” to myself every night before I fell asleep. It sounds stupid now but this was a big step in the right direction for me. It was like I was in a boxing match with my internalised homophobia and every time I said those three words, it was like I landed one good punch on the part of me that hated myself. I could finally see myself for the first time and it was amazing.
The first lockdown ended and over summer I gradually came out to six or seven friends. Each time I was met with love and told how brave I was. So going back to uni felt like I could unapologetically throw myself into the gayest year of my life and really embrace the person I’d let myself become over the summer. This dream was soon shattered by the second lockdown, then I started to mourn the year I could never have.
‘I needed constant reassurance’
Like every other student in the UK, when the second lockdown hit I was once again left alone with my thoughts. A new issue submerged where I overthought everything, at one point I convinced myself that every reaction I’d received to telling people I was gay wasn’t actually real. I built it up in my head that everyone just told me what they thought I wanted to hear – I needed constant reassurance.
I decided to stay at university for the second lockdown. I thought going back to my family home would make me suppress my feelings even more. Zoom quizzes soon faded out and my friends became silent. Everyone was caught in a huge slog and we all felt incredibly underwhelmed with our university experiences so far.
Even though I began speaking to women on dating apps, it still felt like something I had to keep a secret from my extended friends and close family. This only extended the guilt.
Over the last term, I got drunk a lot and convinced myself (to the point of hysterically crying in my friend’s living room) that everything would be easier if I was straight. But I now realise this wasn’t me and I didn’t mean it. What I was really scared of was destroying everyone’s image of me. I felt I’d disappoint my parents by telling them I will never fall in love with a nice, kind man and I won’t get married to one either. I also thought my friends would find it awkward if I complimented them and they might think I fancied them. Essentially I gave myself every single excuse to not come out of the closet – I told myself it was too risky.
One day, on a particularly bad hangover, I thought I should just bite the bullet and FaceTime my sister. She answered and I told her everything I’d felt recently, including how I knew I was gay and I’d been hiding it for too long. She was surprised but more importantly, she was kind. She told me that our parents won’t care at all and anyone who does care isn’t worth having in my life anymore. It was like that constant sinking feeling had been removed from my stomach – my best friend knew, and she didn’t care. I could breathe for the first time in my life – this was when I noticed a huge turning point and I then went home for Christmas.
‘For the first time, I felt proud’
This sounds stupid but for the first time, I felt guilt for keeping this secret. For years I had felt shame but this time it was like I had this amazing secret to share and I just had to find the right time. My sister and I would speak about it in person, and that alone was so liberating. I also received loads of messages from friends asking how it was being home and checking in to see if I told my parents yet.
Shortly after Christmas, I found enough courage to tell my mum I was gay. I knew my parents wouldn’t care at all, they’d see me no differently and they’d love me all the same. But part of me was still terrified, I was petrified that those three words: “I am gay” would shatter any image my mum had of me. I didn’t want to disappoint her by being queer but also I knew I’d disappoint her more if I didn’t do what made me happy. As soon as I said it, I just felt immediate love and it was the first time I actually experienced being proud of my sexuality.
Not everyone is met with the same reactions as I’ve been lucky enough to receive from others. My biggest challenge was self-acceptance and self-love. For the first 20 years of my life, I wasn’t kind to myself and I built relationships based on what I thought people wanted to see. Now everyone close to me knows, and I am more than ready to become my true self but I also know that I am so much more than my sexuality.
If you’re reading this, I hope this helps you understand. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete stranger or if we’re friends, family or just know each other – I hope this makes some sort of difference for you. Whether that’s how you see me, how you see yourself or how you see other people. I am, for the first time, incredibly excited at the prospect of my future.