Clare | 30 | Stafford, England | Retail Manager
I have spent a lot of time reminiscing about my Coming Out story. When analysing and mulling things over it hit me that it has only really been within this past year that I can say I have been truly comfortable and happy with whom I am. I am a gay woman and ever since I learned to embrace this identity my life has never been better. This is my journey.
I knew that I was gay when I was 14. We just had a PE lesson in school and I saw my friend in the shower. For an entire week I couldn’t get the perfect image of her body out of my mind. I don’t think I ate anything that week nor had any sleep. All I could think about was her. Ironically it was her boobs which mesmerised me. Ironic because I am not that much interested in boobs now. This is interesting as I used to buy The Sun newspaper when I was in 6th Form (a very shameful part of my past). My mum once told me that I should stop buying it. Not because of the quality of reporting but because people would think that I buy it ‘to look at the women.’ That one comment really affected me for a while because I was petrified that was the reason why my mum thought I bought the paper; that she suspected I was gay. It was also because others may have thought that too. It was during this time that I started to walk with my head down staring at the floor because I didn’t want people to think that I was checking out the girl in front of me.
This was my biggest fear and barrier from telling people I was gay. I did not want any straight girl friend to think that I fancied them. It is still one of my main concerns when I am introduced to new people. The first thought in my head is that I hope they don’t think that I fancy them. It is actually a natural assumption to have.
If I meet or pass by a lesbian (as picked up from my gaydar vibe) I think that there is a possibility that they could be checking me out. I think these crazy things yet I know for a fact they are not true. I can tell you now that I can count the number of people that I find attractive on one hand. If I saw my female housemate naked it would make her feel very awkward but I would not think anything of it at all. And it is not that she is ugly, she’s a 6ft thin blonde who looks like a Barbie for god’s sake. It’s just that she’s not my type. Don’t be put off if you meet a lesbian and they ignore you though. We are actually quite ignorant towards each other. I am guilty of this if I hold an attraction. What can I say; I’m just not that good at talking to pretty girls. Another common assumption is that every lesbian fancies each other. Well again, we don’t.
So I saw my friend in the shower. What were these feelings? I did not know any lesbian or gay people and there weren’t really that many on the telly. I was never allowed to watch Brookside so I never knew who Beth Jordache was. There were two lesbians in Eastenders at the time. I used to watch this with my mother and I didn’t want her to notice that I acknowledged their existence and so I conveniently created a conversation or left the room when they had any screen time.
"I had never heard of KD Lang or Melissa Etheridge before I was 24.
There was no 'Out and Proud' Ellen, Shane McCutchen or
There was no 'Out and Proud' Ellen, Shane McCutchen or
I knew Sandi Toksvig as I grew up watching the kids show No 73. I didn’t know she was a lesbian though. I felt alone and ashamed.
I started to connect the dots of my life. I remembered my scrapbook of Martina Navratilova and how I ripped it apart when my mother told me that my favourite sportswoman was a lesbian. I’ll never forget that feeling of disgust and fear. It was an inane disgust that being a lesbian was a bad thing. I was eight years old and didn’t even know what one was but I knew it was wrong. Even the word sounded horrible: ‘Lesbian’. A very cold and threatening word in my young mind. I was also fearful that my mother would think that I was one too because I had this scrapbook. I loved Martina. I had played tennis ever since I was three years old and she was my hero. I even made people call me Martina. Could I have BEEN anymore of a lesbian? Well actually my love for Martina was also because she was Czechoslovakian. My mother is Czech and I have always been very proud of my Czech roots. I was a big fan of any Czech sports star. It just so happened that the biggest Czech sports star of the time happened to also be a lesbian.
The signs were there from an early age. I idolised my brother and tried to emulate him in any way possible. I had my hair cut short to look like his (shaved side burns included). I enjoyed playing football. In fact at primary school I campaigned to get a girls team started. I wanted to be a car mechanic. I loved DIY. I decorated the garage and bathroom when I was 12. I think my first love was my primary school teacher. I was devastated when she got married. In fact, I remember when she showed the video of her wedding to our class. I chose to sit and cry in the corner of the room rather than watch it. I was only 8 but I remember doing any extracurricular activity so I could spend time with her. I shaved one of my Barbie’s hair and made her into a boy. I hated make up. The majority of my friends were male. I could go on with this...
I pieced all these things together and there I had it. I was gay. I did not have many friends at the time but I thought that the ones I did have would hate me if they ever knew my secret. I also knew that there was no way I could tell my parents. I was miserable for quite some time. And then one night it hit me... nobody really needed to know. I was still quite young and slightly autistic so the relationship part never came into my consideration. I decided that I would keep it to myself. The relief of this epiphany allowed me to sit in my bedroom and say out loud to myself, ‘I am gay.’ I said this three times in fact because the first time I said it I felt so good. A wave of relief came rushing through me.
So there we have it. I was 14 years old I had just come out to myself. I think this is the most important act of all, the admission to yourself that you are different, and for me when I did this the world seemed to open up. It was as if I had been squinting all my life and I had finally opened up my eyes. I remember walking to school so confident and happy. It must have been noticeable to others around me too because I seemed to get more hate than normal. Ever since I started high school I was bullied in some way. I had come out to myself but it was not long before I forced myself to ‘go back in’ and repress those feelings once more. People started to call me ‘lemon’. All day every day. Being a lemon at school was not normal. I wanted to be normal. I cried every night for near enough a year. I didn’t socialise. I stayed in my room like a hermit and begged for help. I prayed. Jesus did not seem to be bothered and so I prayed to Allah. Nothing could escape me from the darkness that had engulfed my entire persona.
When I was 15 I wanted to die. My uncle died before I was born. He tried to commit suicide by jumping of the balcony of my grandparents three story house. Unfortunately for him he did not die but broke his spine making him paralysed from the neck down. He spent four years fully paralysed in a hospital bed before he lost his life so for me jumping off a building was not an option as success was not guaranteed. Hanging would be too painful and a drug overdose may just turn into drug addiction. Walking in front of a car on a motorway was not fool proof. Gun. That would do it.
"I had chosen my method of escape.
Luckily for me the escape would eventually come in a different form."
One of my annoying features is that I make reference to all things Czech. The simple reason for this is that it saved my life. In the summer of my fifteenth year I escaped to the Czech Republic for the entire summer. Being away from the bullies and the hatred I was being exposed to helped to clear my head. I was good at performing arts and I decided that my survival depended on putting on the greatest performance of my life... pretending to be normal. Pretending to be straight. And so I did. I pushed aside any feelings or interests I had and made myself and I forced myself to ‘think straight’. In the next three years I developed friendships and relationships built on lies and pretence.
I saw university as an opportunity to be myself where I would meet other gay people and start a new chapter in my life. I thought that university was a time of experimentation. There would be loads of lesbians there to unlock my suppression. But there weren’t. I knew subconsciously that I was gay but I had pushed this thought deep inside of me and it seemed perfectly natural for me to be straight. I have never had a vast amount of friends in my life and I wanted to hold on to the ones I had made at university. I was convinced that if I told them I was gay, they would distance themselves away from me. I could not confide in anybody. I was still alone. When I left university I became aware of a website called afterellen.com. It’s a website dedicated to lesbians and has a news feed about lesbians in the media. I have seen it grow from a weekly blog to a daily lesbian website. I credit the founder Sarah Warn with everything who I am today. Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet in 1997 and I watched Channel 4 host a ‘Coming Out’ weekend in celebration. I was 16 and it was a part of my history. I don’t think that I was ready at that time to embrace my sexuality however, by the time I left university I was. Afterellen introduced me to the lesbian world and to this day I still log on to this site daily. I read articles that I could relate to and was actually interested in. I read about people who were like me and I started to accept a sense of normality about it. I was introduced to films like Bound and musicians such as Melissa Etheridge. I was not alone anymore.
I started to go out in Manchester and was introduced to a whole different world. I was more of a voyeur though as I still did not dare to speak to any women. I only went to mixed gay bars. I got drunk, danced then went back to my hotel room. I did not dare to approach anyone. I would go back home and cry about my life. When I was 24 I decided to do something about it. I was ready to be me and I chose to do this in New York. Nobody knew me there and so couldn’t judge me. I had the freedom to be me. I researched the bars that I needed to go to and could feel that my life was about to change. The first lesbian bar I went to was the Henrietta Hudson. It was the most famous lesbian bar in America and I thought that this was the place where I would finally kiss a girl. But I walked in and wasn’t attracted to anyone. Not one.
I spent ten years fighting with myself over my sexuality and maybe it was for nothing. Maybe I was not gay. I drank one beer and swiftly left walking through the streets of New York more confused than ever. I needed to test this situation out again. And so I went to the second most famous lesbian bar in America, The Cubbyhole. I was not expecting much since my experience at Henrietta’s was a disappointment but as soon as I walked through the door I was home. It was there where I had my first kiss, my first rumble in the jungle and my first taste of what it feels like to be normal. The smallest bar in New York enlightened my life.
Even though I accepted being a lesbian and was comfortable within myself I was not really out and proud at work. I carved two sets of identities. The gay me who went to Manchester once a month and the old me a closeted gay. I was scared of how my colleagues would treat me. I once overheard a conversation in the canteen about how someone used to go out purposely gay bashing. “I used to do a bit of queer bashing in my time”, were his exact words. And then came along an out and proud lesbian who began to work there. She was really funny and I saw that she was treated like everybody else. She did not get beaten up and was really popular. Her ‘outness’ seemed to empower her as a person. After a drunken night at a party I told her I was gay and over the years she helped me be more open with my own sexuality. She did ‘out’ me to a few people at work after a year or so. This mortified me. I was in fear of this news reaching my parents. Shortly after I moved jobs to the smallest shop in the world and did not disclose my sexuality to anybody.
A year later I was appointed back to my home store and found that everybody knew I was gay. I was mortified with the thought of what was going to happen to me. But you know what, nobody cared less. I am treated no differently to how I was before. What was all the fuss about?
My sexuality no longer holds me back but helps me move forward. My work life is better, my social life is better and my mental state is better too. It really does get better. It just takes time and it has to be in your own time. I didn’t really tell my friends I was gay, I just let them guess and ride with it.
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