Part 2: Coming out as Gay

Coming out as gay is something that the majority of us assume is relatively easy in 2016. However, coming out in an environment when everyone is assumed to be heterosexual until told otherwise still makes it a daunting process. Here is an interview about one man’s experience coming out in the early 2000’s.

 

 

When did you first come out?

I came out when I was 15, at the end of year 10.

Who was the first person you told? And how?

I genuinely can’t remember! It wasn’t my parents, the first I can remember telling anyone was outside my maths classroom whilst waiting to go in. A boy from my year just randomly asked me if I was gay and I just said ‘yeah, I am’. I don’t think he was expecting me to answer that way and asked again if I was being serious. I said I was, and it didn’t take long for it to get round the year and the school. I was the first openly gay person at the school whilst I was there, and after I came out, another 6 people from my year also came out before the end of year 11.

What would have made it easier to tell people/tell people sooner

I can’t think of anything that would really have helped me to come out earlier. I think the barriers that were in place were more in my head than physical. So, I was at school in the early 2000s and whilst attitudes were changing (thanks Tony Blair), it wasn’t as widespread or accepted as it is now and especially in school in a former mining town, it was still daunting. I think coming out now might have been an easier process.

Did your family and friends react in the way you expected?

My family, when I eventually told them, were very supportive. It was most difficult for my brother who was a couple of years below me and everyone at school knowing made it awkward for him, and he said he found it hard. I never told my grandmother because she died before I came out, but I don’t get the impression she would have found it an issue. I didn’t lose any friends over it and in fact I’d say I made some.

What reactions have you had?

One reaction that at the time I felt was positive but on reflection is actually a little annoying was the attitude and reaction of my teachers. They were all very supportive and I got the impression that they always paid extra attention to my situation in terms of being aware of signs of bullying. But I remember being taken in to my Head of Year’s office who had obviously heard the rumours. He was supportive, but for some reason insisted I go to see the school nurse. Looking back, he was obviously concerned that I was sexually active. I wasn’t, and the conversation with the nurse was basically encouraging the use of condoms, as well as warning about exploitation by older men. I found it a little bizarre because it sort of implied gay men were more likely to exploit teenage boys, and that I was more likely to practice unsafe sex because I was having sex with men. It was obviously done with the best intentions but looking back it is probably something that wouldn’t happen now. Coming out as gay shouldn’t automatically translate to having to go and see the school nurse! Most reactions were positive, although I do remember being in the changing rooms before PE and having one of the people getting changed force his crotch in to my face, insisting that I must be loving it. I wasn’t.

Are there any stereotypes/perceptions that you would like to banish?

I think generally just the way gay men are portrayed in the media is pretty annoying. I use Sean in Coronation Street as the perfect example- the kind of gay guy that girls say they want as their best friend. They’re nearly always portrayed as flamboyant, feminine, promiscuous and nearly always larger-than-life and always happy. I think it would be better to portray a wider variety of gay men, but also remove labels from people and sex. I guess I’d like sexuality to be portrayed more of a spectrum than referred to in absolute terms.

What advice would you give someone who is yet to come out?

It’s hard to tell someone not to worry because coming out is never really easy. And it’s a little bit unfair that people who do decide they want to have sexual experiences or fall in love with someone of the same sex has to go through the extra hurdle of ‘coming out’. You don’t just come out once either, and I still find it awkward to tell people that I’m gay because it’s generally assumed that you are straight. However, doing it the first time is the hardest and it does get easier after that. I’d tell people closest to you first, because those close to you will want to hear something like this from you, and not through rumour or on Facebook. If you’re scared of telling your parents, tell another family member first who you know will be understanding and enlist them to support you in telling your parents. A teacher or someone from school is a good place to start too because they can be incredibly supportive and make things easier for if you do have problems. Your friends will not bat an eyelid in my experience and very little will change. Don’t feel you have to come out though. It’s your life and you should live it on your terms. If you do decide to, there is lots of support out there for you.

 

It’s easy to assume with the legalisation of same sex marriage in the US in 2015 that being gay is no longer stigmatised and that the majority of people are supportive. Yet over half of gay men still haven’t told anyone. Despite the progress that has been made it is evident that, as a society, we still have much further to go.