October 11th marks National Coming Out Day (NCOD), a significant date in the ever-growing LGBT calendar of awareness events. The day does what it says on the tin, aiming to celebrate and draw attention to the experience of coming out which has become a 'rite of passage' for many (but not all) LGBT people.
Coming out as gay was probably one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life. I was frightened and it made me feel so ashamed, for being just...me. But now, I'm not scared. The word 'gay', in secondary school was used often; in the classroom, lunchtime and even within my own circle of friends. It would be used jokingly, but every time I heard the word, I just sunk lower in my seat.
I don't want to live a double life. I don't want to be involved in LGBT activism and still in the closet. I don't want to hide. So I guess, here it is, my coming out: I am Emma Healey, as it stands I am interested in women. It might stay this way - it might not. All the matters is who I am now - and that person is happy.
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".
I can't quite believe I'm saying this but next year marks my 25th anniversary as an out and proud gay man... It feels like yesterday, but a lot has happened in the last two and a half decades that has made me thankful that I'm not 19 again, despite the perception that things are now a lot easier for young gay men and women.
Coming out is probably the most awkward, fumbling thing you could ever imagine. It's like being inside a really warm closet filled with fluffy jackets, but where all the coat hooks are stabbing at you. It's something that doesn't just happen once; it has to be done on a constant basis. And despite what everyone says, taking the leap of faith is not the only option. Unfortunately, before you read any further, you need to know that there's no right and no wrong answer. All I can tell you are the things that I have learned in my 21 years of being a booted-and-sometimes-suited lesbian. My ramblings are not the definitive answer to dealing with sexuality. All I hope is that they provide a little light relief.
It took a long time for me to realise, with the help of counsellors at the Rainbow Project and Lifeline (two fantastic resources that I was able to use to save my own life) that I am loved, I am valued and I am as deserving of happiness as anyone else. But it has to start with accepting yourself first.
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.