Andy | London, England | IT & Communications Officer
“I'm gay.” Wait – I should say it in full.
Meanwhile, as I frenziedly blurt out this phrase over and over, Mum and Little Sister are staring at me. Yeah. I reckon that's probably done it.
I'd just told them the thing I'd known for years. The thing I'd kept from them even once I'd told my friends, even though I'd told strangers, even though I'd been sleeping with guys for months. Telling the family was always going to be the final hurdle, and now I was taking that leap. I was finally about to find out what the hell they were going to do. My sister said, “Mum, what did I tell you at Easter?” Mum, already smiling, burst into tears, fell forward and chucked her arms around me. “I'm just so proud of you for being able to tell me.”
"Oh my days. That was it!
I knew I was gay right through my teens. I didn't admit it to myself though until I was 15 or 16, when I saw a movie with a gay character in that made me think (a.) Wow – that guy is so sexy, and (b.) He's gay. He loves it. He doesn't care. Which means I could be like that if I wanted. Literally, it was that quick. In those two hours as I watched that film, I accepted what I was and that it was OK to be like that. Telling other people is of course a scarier step. I was still at school, which was already a pretty intense environment like it is for almost all teenagers. I wasn't going to make life any harder for myself by coming out there but luckily I was going to college soon, where you didn't have to conform. You could wear what you liked, say what you liked, be Out if you liked.
My number one worry about coming out to someone else wasn't that they'd hate me or laugh at me or stop talking to me. If your friends are your friends, they'll understand that this is an important part of you. If they don't try to understand, they might not be the best choice of friend anyway. My number one worry was actually that, once I'd come out to a single person, it was out there and couldn't be un-said. If by some unlikely occurrence I later turned out to be straight, and ended up chasing girls for the rest of my life, that other person would always remember the day I told them I was gay.
"But it turns out sexuality can be so fluid and changeable –
especially during our turbulent, hormone-screwed teen years –
that if I had “gone” straight later on, that wouldn't have been a really big deal anyway."
Some people who think they're gay can suddenly find themselves horny for the opposite sex too. And it's totally common for married men with children to realise later in life that they fancy blokes, and completely switch their lifestyles. Even though I was worried about things changing in the future, I also knew I'd felt this way my whole life so far and I couldn't stay silent for another 20-odd years waiting to see if it changed. I knew which friend I thought would be most understanding, and in my first week of college announced it to her while we were chilling out in the park.
“Um, hey – so you know how you've got the hots for [lead singer] from [boyband]?”
“Well...Oh – don't worry, I don't fancy him too. But I do... fancy [other singer] from [boyband].”
It was out there. And sure enough – cuddles, and “Well dones", and “If you need to talk about it more when you get home, just phone me.”
Over the following months, I came out to one, two, a handful more close friends. Every single time, it was a relief to tell them. And with those friends, I ended up talking easily and OH GOD SO MUCH about being gay. They must have gotten so bored of me talking about it. But I'd been denying it and keeping it a secret for almost 20 years – now it was out there to the chosen few they were gonna HEAR ABOUT IT, dammit!
One day a guy from my college class came and sat next to me in the library, and whispered that he was gay and he thought I was too. I admitted to him that I was, and that I'd only told a handful of close mates. Me and him had a quiet chat about it all. At last I knew someone who was going through the same thing I'd always experienced on my own.
And that same night, the first friend I'd told in the park phoned to say everybody at college knew about me, because some gay guy in my class had told them all. After years of hesitantly moving towards being gay, in a single afternoon the little git had shoved me out from the closet to all my friends.
"The next morning I was half shitting myself, half intrigued at how they were all going to react.
We didn't know any other gay boys at college; I'd be the first."
I also didn't know whether I was going to hit the guy who'd outed me, or thank him. In the end, everyone was cool with me being one of the new gay guys in class (a couple of the lads were quiet about it at first, but soon shrugged it off), and my traitorous friend ended up introducing me to my first gay bar, one rainy Birmingham afternoon.
So I made my way through college, without coming out to my family, and at 18 moved away to university. Here, living away from home, being gay was even less of a worry. I could be an out homo without it getting back to my mum or dad or sister, 100 miles away. There were three of us with the same name in my student house, so I was just “Gay Andy” alongside “Large Andy” and “Small Andy”, to distinguish ourselves. I was sleeping with guys; I was studying gay topics during lectures and in the library. And, after about six months of living completely comfortably like that, I realised it'd be OK to tell my family.
I say my family – I meant Mum, Little Sister and Step-Dad. Real Dad was still totally out of the question; a blokey bloke who shot shotguns and built brakes for Land Rovers, who'd often suggested I “get down the gym to bulk up a bit”, asked me why I had to “exaggerate everything, for God's sake” (read: camp things up) and was always asking if I'd met a girl yet.
"No, I wasn't coming out to Dad for a good while. I never even started thinking about how the hell
I would do it, because it was so completely off the radar of happening. It was literally unthinkable."
One day, in my second year at uni, I was sitting in my student house doing something or other. I was probably skipping a lecture, because the excitement and responsibility of the previous year had given way to a blasé attitude to attendance and studying. The house phone rang; I answered it, and it was Dad. I can't remember how he sounded, but I'll never forget what he said: “You need to come home, so we can talk about your predicament.”
Oh my god, I thought. How does he know I've not been going to lectures? As he spoke more – “Your sister told your step-sister, and she's told your step-mum, who's told me...” – I suddenly realised he wasn't talking about me skipping class. It was pretty much confirmed when he said...
“I don't understand it and I won't accept it,
but you're still my son and I love you."
He burst into tears for only the second time in my living memory. Yeah he didn't care I'd missed lectures. Now considering I'd always anticipated Dad finding out I was gay would be the Ultimate Coming Out Experience, I don't remember much else from that phone conversation. To be fair, he probably got off the phone pretty sharpish after he started blubbing. What I do remember was a massive feeling of (probably quite selfish) relief, in that various members of my family had leaked the news to him and I would never have to tell him myself. I'd only have to go home and face the music, which was slightly easier than sitting him down and coming out to him. Like with Mum – and my friends before that – Dad was reasonably calm about the whole thing. He clearly didn't like it, and it wasn't something to be talked about. When I went home, he told me there were “ground rules” that he would be laying down.
One, I was never to tell Grandad. Two, I was never to tell Aunt, in case she told Grandad. Three, I wasn't to “turn camp”. (Was he kidding? I'd never been exactly butch! I'd always been a bit of an obvious whoopsie, it was clear to anyone who met me.) Four, I had to be careful when I was sleeping with people, for the obvious health reasons. And Five, I wasn't going to be allowed to bring a partner home to stay overnight – Dad just didn't want to know about that side of it, at all. The weirdest thing was that, after a weekend of me wondering when and where we were going to have The Big Conversation, he suddenly stopped me as we were heading into Allied Carpets with Step-Mum on the Sunday and covered it all in about sixty seconds. Again – a lot easier than I'd always expected it would be. There. It was all out in the open. Wow.
So that's how I came out – gradually, over a long while, sometimes when I was ready to and other times when I didn't expect to. I'm lucky, I haven't had anyone react outrageously when I've told them. Nobody's been violent or explicitly said “I don't want to know you.” Of course, there are people who might react badly to someone coming out – but then you can either try and explain to them that you're not a bad person by being gay, and it really shouldn't affect them, or you can simply leave them behind. Easy.
"Dad kind of came around to it in the end, by the way. He's said to me he doesn't want to think about the physical, sexual side of me being gay – but who wants to think about their family getting up to that in any sort of way?"
I'm sure he'd love to have a son who'd marry a girl and carry on the family name, but that's not going to happen and I think he's come to terms with that. Step-Mum's been a big help because she's got no problem with bringing the gay thing up in front of him, and we've even started joking about it occasionally. Dad even met my ex-boyfriend and told him he was welcome in their house any time. (That was my turn to blub.) My single biggest worry when I was thinking about the future just isn't a worry any more.
I'm 31 now, and still exploring what I like and what I don't like. And it's great, because I can do that exploring with the confident, comfortable base of being an out gay person, totally unafraid of being “found out”. Worrying about if you're going to enjoy this club, or that sexual activity, or the date you've got coming up on Thursday night, is small potatoes compared with worrying about what people will do or think if you take that step and come out. If you take that step, you'll find things after that will get easier. Most people won't have any problem with it; a lot of people will be proud of you for unashamedly being who you are. Then you can stop worrying about what they think and start thinking about those fun things.