My Coming Out
The CUSU LGBT+ committee President’s story
I knew I was gay when I was eleven. Or at least I was painfully scared that I might be. I was terrified that it might ruin my relationship with my family, that I might never find happiness, or that I might generally be ostracised.
Quite a few of the people I was growing up among were religious (and not necessarily of the tolerant kind) and I heard a lot of homophobia at school— even if I rarely remember it being couched in religious terms. Being gay didn’t seem like a viable ‘option’, and even entertaining it made me think there was something ‘wrong’ with me. And yet, at the same time, I think I always knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that things would be alright in the end. Looking back, around nine years (which feels more like a lifetime) later, so much has changed—and things are, mostly, ‘alright’.
At first, finding myself attracted to a man was terrifying. It’s one of the clearest memories I have; I remember exactly where I was, who it was, and that it was summer. The sun is oddly bright in the memory. It would be impossible to exaggerate the clarity or energy with which the words ‘Maybe I’m gay’ entered my 11-year-old mind; the same with the words ‘No, I can’t be’ immediately afterwards.
The instinctive denial continued: it would be another five years before I came out. I had to come out to myself, properly and utterly, before I could consider coming out to anybody else. But even if I could, me being gay still wasn’t something I wanted everybody to know about. I even dated a woman for a (very short) while during that time. If I’m being honest, I don’t really remember much of what happened during those years; I have a terrible memory for this sort of thing.
Of course, there are some things I do remember, things I’m not sure I can forget — many of which would probably be better off forgotten. But, equally, they are also things that have made me who I am today; they are my childhood. Perhaps they have contributed to my struggles with anxiety and depressive periods — being in the closet told me to hide my emotions, and that I deserved them — but I think they have also contributed to my commitment to my work (as an escape from the world) and my analytical eye too. On the one hand, they may have contributed to my tendency to analyse every situation as if it were a Greek tragedy — but on the other, that’s just what an English student needs.
For some reason, I felt like I had to tell my mum first, that she had that ‘right’. Of course, she didn’t have a ‘right’ to know first, or even to know at all. We have no duty to come out, and, if we decide to, it should be on our own terms. Coming out is often portrayed as a process which allows you to be ‘true to yourself', but if you aren’t ready, or don’t want to, then it wouldn’t be being true to yourself. And there are hundreds of reasons why you might not want to come out or can’t. But I did it, in the end. I won’t say my mum’s reaction was perfect, but it wasn’t terrible either, and now she’s undoubtedly supportive. We’ve been through a lot together and, in retrospect, I’m glad I told her first.
Now everybody at home knows (apart from a couple of relatives, who don’t need to but might anyway), and I’ve been lucky not to have suffered much for it. My first relationship was a low point, as was being forcibly outed in Sixth Form as a result. But since then the times I’ve been shouted at in the street, or had slurs or insults directed at me, cloaked in a more inoffensive tone, have been few — and, luckily, the abuse has never gotten worse than that. Even at the end of Sixth Form I still struggled to find the confidence to express my identity; to say the words, ‘I’m gay’, even though everybody knew. Coming out isn’t a single process, it doesn’t really have an end. One of the main anxieties of Freshers’ Week for me was keeping my promise to myself that I would be out to everybody at university, and I managed it, but it wasn’t easy.
Now I have become so comfortable in my identity, at least when not at home, that sometimes it would almost be easy to forget I ever struggled at all. Of course, not everybody feels this way, and sometimes I don’t feel this way either. When I say I forget, I can only forget so much; I can only forget most of the time.
But, of course, some people don’t forget at all. Coming out is funny like that: we call it one thing, ‘coming out’ – we go through it, we ‘come out’ – but our experiences are never the same. Many people wouldn't say they were grateful for their years in the closet; those currently in it almost certainly not. But then again, thinking about it, I’m not sure grateful is quite what I mean either. Looking back, I don’t really think of those years as either good or bad; they simply show me where I’ve come from, where I’ve been, and, perhaps, where I might be going. They tell me who I am.
I can’t say coming out is always a good thing—but, for me, I think it was. It hasn’t fixed everything, but it’s taught me to hope. I knew things would be alright in the end; it’s already ‘alright’, and it certainly isn’t the end.
If you are questioning your sexuality or gender, going through the process of coming out, or struggling with being ‘out’, and would like some support, you are always welcome to contact CUSU LGBT+. You can find our contact details on our website and our Facebook page, and be sure to join our public and secret Facebook groups.