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The hardest part of ‘coming out’ wasn’t talking to my parents (who had guessed a long time ago), my friends (who had also figured it out based on a series of what I considered incredibly subtle clues), or even an unsurprisingly indifferent family cat who just stared at me blankly and then went back to sleep.
No, the hardest part of ‘coming out’ was admitting to myself that I was gay.
For this reason, I lived in fear of my own emotions and instincts, often to the detriment of my mental health and wellbeing. I talk a lot about this with the younger generation and they can’t always understand how difficult it was for me.
It has to be remembered that, when I was at the age where I was beginning to understand my body and sexuality, the AIDS crisis was at its height and very few positive role models were available on mainstream media.
Only stereotypes were given visibility on TV, and characters on film were often the comedy queen, the tragic victim or the sexless best friend. Stories about real people were very rare. Unless you had contact with someone in your personal life, then there were only a handful of options for teenagers looking to find their own path.
Being gay was to be different, to be laughed about, to be strange. In hindsight, I probably had a lot of support available, but I was too shy and introverted to seek it out. So I hid.
However, the biggest hurdle was just admitting it to myself that I liked other men. I would whisper it to myself and feel ashamed. I’d go quiet if anyone asked me about my personal life and they soon understood it wasn’t a topic I was comfortable with. People did ask me whether I was gay but I vehemently denied it. I still find it difficult to say and type, as if by doing so means I’m branded and can never hide, a modern version of the scarlet letter.
What pushed me towards confronting this was a crippling loneliness that I knew was never going to get any better. In the end, the only person who could solve my problem was me.
I made small steps and then went with some friends to Manchester Pride. I took a deep breath, spent half an hour taking bad selfies and then posted a picture on Facebook. And then hid.
When I looked at my feed a few hours later, I cried at how much love and support was there for me. There wasn’t any judgment, just happiness that I was finally at peace with a part of my life I’d kept hidden away.
Now I look at TV and film and see a wealth of positivity for the gay community. Clubs are open to all and Pride is an all inclusive celebration. The appropriation may not always be handled well, or it may be for commercial gain, but at least it’s out and open.
The most important thing is that people can now tell their stories with pride and understanding. We learn best from others, knowing that we’re not alone, knowing that someone has thought the same thoughts. We’re all individuals, but sometimes we share far more experiences than we realise.
So, on this next phase of my journey, I look back and feel sad at the time I wasted, but also glad I have new friends and family who I’m proud to be close to. I sometimes call ‘coming out’ the best and worst decision I ever made. But I’m glad I did it and wouldn’t go back.
I understand more about the struggles that faced the generation before me, when bigotry was endemic and the law punished ‘deviants’. We’ve come so far in such a short space of time, and I know that I’ve benefited in a small way from that change. Perhaps soon, ‘coming out’ will just be an archaic term that society no longer feels is necessary. I hope it will be.