Robert | 30 | Leeds, England | Values & Standards Manager NHS
When I started writing my story I thought back to when I was 16, as for me this was my defining coming out moment. However, having started I’ve realised that coming out never stops it’s just something you learn to do. However rather than bore about the past 15 years of my life, I’ll keep it relatively simple and start where all good stories start, a long long time ago....
When I was 18 and left home for the sparkly lights of Manchester, I was always apprehensive about sharing my coming out story. This was not because it is painful to tell or listen to but because I always felt it lacked some of the drama that other people spoke about. I know this sounds ridiculous but at the time I quite liked being theatrical and melodramatic and when I told people stories I always embellished little details to glorify the comedy or tragedy of the moment. Rather stupidly, I thought that if a story wasn’t comparable to a plot from Dallas, or in my case Emmerdale, it wouldn’t be interesting to listen to and therefore and only ever shared it when I was pushed. Thankfully after 15 years I’ve nearly grown out of my need for my life to be validated through acting out soap opera style scripts, so I’ve decided it’s about time to share my story.
"Growing up in a small Yorkshire village you might expect that coming out would be difficult for me, but actually turned out to be the opposite."
From being little, my parents always told me and my sister that if either of us decided to have a partner of the same sex then that was absolutely fine. In fact my mother used to often qualify this statement with her opinion that if parents can’t love their children for who they are, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have children. At the time I was quite oblivious to this statement, but it has stayed with me ever since.
Added to this open-minded upbringing, I also went to a rather progressive state school where being gay wasn’t seen as something 'abnormal', but instead was generally accepted. If I wanted to learn and rehearse dance sequences from films like ‘Bring it On’ in the local park then I usually got a good crowd to accompany me. Even when participating in pursuits that were seen as more 'macho', such as athletics, I knew people there who either were gay or positively supported it. My best friends I made at school are still my best friends 18 years on, and the experiences we’ve all shared together is a main part of this.
When I decided to come out at 16, despite the friendships I had made I was still a little apprehensive. This wasn’t because I was worried about the reaction but because telling people your personal and intimate thoughts is always difficult. I told my sister first as I knew that she wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I still ended up with the doing the enviable Gwyneth Paltrow. However as I suspected, my sister told me she was always there for me. After that I knew that I had to tell my parents relatively quickly as my sister had never been good at keeping secrets, but rather than wait for me to tell them, they casually told me one day, that they ‘knew’ and it really wasn’t an issue. I’ve always been grateful for this as it felt liked nothing had changed between us, everything was always the same and me being gay was simultaneous as their acceptance of me liking R&B divas.
"My realising I was gay was helped by the fact that in school there were about 10 other people of a similar age who were out. Having a group of girls and guys to go out with and explore the Leeds gay scene with in a safe and friendly environment was great."
Having such a good response to coming out really helped me when I was younger to accept who I am and be able to enjoy being gay. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but from then my acceptance of my lifestyle, helped me make certain choices, like the relationships I’ve made, the university I went to and the career I went in to. I didn’t want to go into places where I thought it might be a problem, through fear of not knowing how to deal with it or a negative response. Interestingly I haven’t lost this anxiety, but luckily I haven’t had many causes for concern.
I’ve realised that, despite my relatively straight forward experience, and having met a lot of people from the LGBT community, the process of coming out can have a huge impact on people.
Whether or not you have a good or bad experience, the journey you go through to get to that point is a challenging and emotional one. Firstly you have to realise that you are different, then you have to work out what this difference means to you, and before you tell anyone you have to accept it yourself.
The other thing I realised is that coming out doesn’t ever really stop. Even when you think it’s absolutely obvious, there’s always a moment where people don’t realise and you feel the need to tell them. Whenever you meet new people, deciding to tell, or not to tell them about who you are, is a consistent decision you have to make and though it gets easier, for me there’s always a little bit of apprehension.
I wanted to share my story to say thank you to my family and friends who supported me. I’ve not done this as often as I should have. It might have seemed not a big deal to them at the time, but it was a big deal to me and I’ll always be grateful for the support I received, it’s made me who I am today.