I left it 28 years to come out to my family.
That might sound late, but I’d wager that it’s possibly about average, accounting for those of us who come out early, and the silently significant bulk who tragically never do.
If I hadn’t started writing for an LGBT+ website, I might not even have done it then. But the work came as a welcome prod in the right direction, at a point when I was teetering on the edge – although, admittedly, relishing in being passive about getting the task done was becoming my forte.
Like other queer people I’ve spoken to, I found the most helpful thing for actually getting the coming out process over with was having a reason to go for it. So I took my new job as a sign, and sent my parents an email explaining my part in the LGBT+ community. (The idea of coming out by email may sound funny, but actually, more queer people come out ‘at a distance’ than you’d think – it avoids having to sit through it, and allows everyone involved space too.)
“Thank goodness you told us!” came the responses that gushed into my inbox. I was overjoyed and relieved and felt incredibly lucky – not only to be born into an accepting country but an accepting and loving family too.
“then it struck me. I actually have to go and see these people and live my new out life... perform my sexuality, in some way or another, as if to confirm that it exists.”
That’s that, then, I thought. And then it struck me. I actually have to go and see these people and live my new out life, LIVE! To perform my sexuality, in some way or another, as if to confirm that it exists.
But it’s not that easy. Being queer means, for many of us, dealing with some pretty hefty mental health challenges – not least shame over our sexuality, built-in and perhaps even inherent to our sexual preferences being different to the majority of people.
If you’re lucky, these things can be overcome. But it’s important to understand that just because a queer person has come out, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to discuss their private lives in public. Regardless of how accepting families are – and mine are very – I cannot overstate how much of a difference there is for me between the supposedly straightforward act of coming out and the way more performative act of living that self in front of people; of interacting with people about my personal life; of ‘spilling the beans’.
That’s because shame and stigma transcend the simple act of ‘coming out’. Twenty-eight years of not discussing sexual preferences transcends the simple act of ‘coming out’. Insecurities and a lack of confidence about discussing such things so openly transcend ‘coming out’.
On the flip side (and this is a topic I’m still grappling with) the whole premise of coming out is bizarre anyway. It’s almost inappropriately personal, and something our straight allies unfairly never need to do. Perhaps the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ applies. When you have a significant other, you take them to events and show them off to family. At that point, there’s something more obvious to say than “I like men and I’m a man”.
“Coming out goes deeper than just uttering those few words.”
I’m very close with my family and have a great time with them – but now I can actually enjoy the process of socialising with family now, no longer agonising over when someone will ask me about a girlfriend.
Despite seeming ‘glass half-empty’, I don’t regret coming out. I align with the joyous, progressive idea that being queer is a superpower that enables me to empathise with other marginalised groups, and understand their difficulties and perspectives.
The last and most important thing to understand is that queer people don’t necessarily come out because they’re ready to talk about their personal life. Sometimes people are forced out, or they come out for practical reasons. It’s important we always respect that and wait for them to talk first. It may take months, it might take years, or it may never happen – but so long as we work on strengthening those relationships in other ways, openness about sex and dating can be replaced by openness about something else. Something, frankly, far more interesting.
Being queer is brilliant and fun and I am so glad that I am. But it’s worth taking a little more time to consider the ramifications of coming out if you’re considering it, because it goes deeper than just uttering those few words: not every queer person will have the same apprehension about talking about their personal life when out but, if this is you, it’s worth planning the big day extra carefully.
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