Phil | 31 | Brisbane, Australia | Public Relations
This one time, at gay camp…
This time a decade ago, literally to the month as I pen this, I took a three month US break over my university holidays having just turned 21. Home was with my parents and amazing four sisters in Canberra, Australia. I most definitely was not out.
Growing up in a strong Christian family and having a strong faith myself at that time, it’s no departure from the truth to assert that I was so far back in closet I was actually touching Narnia.
Being in possession of all my faculties, obviously I was well aware that I had a raging clue for men. However I also rather inconveniently believed that was sinful and evil and wrong. It was a pretty rough few years, from about 17-23 (the year I came out). I mean, in almost every way it was awesome, in that I had a wonderful life, have always been naturally gregarious and easily excited and amused and I had large buckets of friends all over the place. So that was great. But simmering underneath I was trying to reconcile my homosexuality with my faith. At the time, being a conservative Christian, it did not enter my brain that the two could co-exist…God and gay…now of course I realise for thousands of people it does that just fine.
From the age of 19 I was part of an online Christian support group based in Texas, which I will jokingly refer to as youdonthavetobegay.com although this was not its actual name! It was linked to the ex-gay movement in the US; you know the drill. While I was over in the US, they were staging their annual long weekend retreat in Dallas Fort Worth, Texas. So I went! I went to gay camp! This single statement of fact will forever crack me up (that means laugh in Australia. Just to clarify)!
People have said to me since “oh it must have been so damaging!”, but while I detest what these groups teach, for me at the time it was strangely delightful! I was thrilled and encouraged to meet other guys in the same situation as me and there was a real sense of friendship and a special bond.
"And no. There was no hanky panky at gay camp…at least not that I was involved with!"
Today in 2014 I am still in touch with about ten of the group, all of whom have moved on, come out, possibly married their same sex partners, and possibly retained their Christian faith, while others have not. For the record, it’s awesome, when asked how you met someone, to be able to stare back casually and state “Oh him? We met in gay camp in Texas!” That said. Don’t go to gay camp. Bad.
Actually coming out...
If we fast forward to shortly after my 23rd birthday, it was February 2006. I’d pretty much had enough! I reached this point where I very logically sat myself down and thought the following:
“You know what Phil? You are SUCH a happy boy. So upbeat. A delight to all! You almost hug the bloody pizza delivery man for goodness sake! But this is the ONE thing that keeps DRAGGING you down. Depressing your spirits. Pushing you to breaking point. Filling you with this very foreign feeling of dread for the future. It’s so unlike you. You hate lying to those closest to you. And this whole 'I-am-just-metrosexual-and-religious-and-waiting-for-the-right-girl' line is getting THIN to say the least.”
So, I realised that I did not believe the feelings I had were evil sinful and wrong anymore and that I would progress that brainwave by telling a couple of friends and pausing to see if the world ended. Happily for humanity it did not, and so I told a few more and slowwwwwwly over an 18 month period I came out to just about everyone. And oh my dear God, it was the most fantastic, edifying, exhilarating, loving and fantastic experience ever! In fact, I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again!
I’ve got two things for you to consider, if you’re toying with the closet leap yourself. Firstly, you care a LOT more about this than anyone else does. This is important to recognise because it enables you to remove some of the blind terror associated with coming out. Essentially, it’s a huge deal for you, but it’s nothing like that for basically everyone else. And frankly, apart from close family perhaps, if anyone IS shocked and appalled about you being gay then you’ve also conducted a very handy exercise in necessary friendship culling. Two birds! One (gay) stone! #winning
Second point. Regarding those closest to you; there is a really high chance they already know. Sorry, but it’s true! Not in all cases obviously, but many. One of my own sisters turned to me and said “Ahhh…yeh. I know…” I had one friend from university who I had known for six years and she slammed her hands down on the steering wheel and squealed with delight “FINALLLYYYYY!!!!!!” And for the record I’m not a raving queen! Honest!
"I just felt so REAL and so HONEST and so LOVED and so much CLOSER to everyone I cared about."
As for Mum and Dad well that was always a situation I was always willing to give decades of grace; but they’re going ok. I’ve been with my gorgeous partner Scottie for 2.5 years now and they’ve met him a few times and are getting there slowly but steadily. We have boundless love and respect for each other, so on that basis we are able to get there. A pretty good result given the complete devastation they initially felt. As with most things, love is key.
In summary, you can do it. It’s worth it. It’s scary and wonderful. Stay true to yourself – even the difficult bits are worth it because there is nothing like being honest about who you are.
And stay away from gay camp.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilAllanOz