In itself, coming out is a great achievement, one that I bravely managed to accomplish when I was just 13. And I can proudly say I’m still reaping the rewards for muttering those two words I’d bottled up for so long - “I’m gay.”
Whilst stepping out of the closet was an overall positive experience, it certainly didn’t feel personal. It was more for the benefit of other people who were under the impression I owed them ‘the truth’.
As I said, coming out should be recognised as an achievement, particularly if you struggle with coming to grips with your sexuality, but some of the responses I received completely overlooked this:
“Yeah, I’ve known you were gay for years.”
“It’s about time you come out, finally!”
This is when I first experienced an achievement being undermined and scrutinised, just because it was linked to my sexuality.
And this followed me into the next chapter of my life. Take academia, for example, I was surrounded by congratulations when I got accepted into university. But when I started writing my dissertation on the vilification of homosexuality, I was cautious of being vocal about my area of study, despite being out as gay for seven years.
This instinct to be careful highlights how, deep down, I was already aware of how people would respond. I had subconsciously taught myself to suppress talking about anything if it was ‘gay’.
What I noticed was a reactionary pattern. For some, it was a momentary silence, an awkward nod or blank stare. For those more daring, it was an eye roll, a sigh and a discourse of “oh, something gay then.”
I was questioned why I wasn’t doing something more ‘credible’. To me, this translated to: “Why aren’t you doing something more straight?”
However, these reactions were subtle, perhaps too subtle to confront, and so I just put my annoyance to one side and carried on.
When one of my articles was published in the local paper, I was humbled by the sheer support my family, friends and colleagues showed. Although it was a small achievement, people were proud- and they weren’t afraid to be vocal about it.
So, when my application for an internship at a (queer) national magazine was accepted, I was confused why the reaction was so different.
“Is that because you’re gay?” one person asked.
The assumption that I could just walk into a placement at a huge magazine just because I was gay, not because of my journalistic ability, was frustrating.
Now, I understand that success is not determined by Facebook likes or shares. and it’s sad that we measure our achievements in such a shallow way but as a writer, engagement in your words is everything, and when I didn’t see the same response in my articles for a gay magazine than I did a local paper, I was disappointed.
“Well, I don’t read those kinds of magazines,” I was told.
Because apparently straight people can’t read articles in gay magazines.
This detachment and inability to relate to the content I was writing was the leading cause of my work being ignored. No matter how discreet, it was insidiously etched onto my achievements, as if it devalued them or spoiled it.
But being gay isn’t a devaluing trait, it does not spoil one’s character: it is an integral part of myself that sometimes makes its way into my work.
Therefore, writing about gay stuff shouldn’t devalue my work. An article is not spoiled by the ‘defect’ that is homosexuality.