Ben | 21 | Cardiff, Wales | Student
I’m not going to put a disclaimer here. I know a few people do, but I think the acceptance I got coming out is nothing to disclaim. A lot of people really struggle, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been accepted for who I am almost instantaneously, but I hope that eventually it will always be this easy. A lot of people say this, and that is because it is true. I remember being five in the playground, and just feeling different; somehow not alike.
"You have no perception of it as gay,
I told someone first when I was fourteen. My best friend Simon. We were absolutely inseparable and I had reached a stage where I had finally pinpointed what it was that felt different about me. I fancied boys. I was sure about that. I knew it in myself and I had reached a stage where it hurt too much not to share it with someone else, to have it out there. I was terrified. There was a field near where we lived. We’d go there often and just wander about, chatting away about absolutely everything. There was no-one there and we could say whatever we liked. I resolved to tell him on one of these walks and we wandered for what felt like ages just chatting about the same old banal stuff that we always did. I said I had something to tell him. I couldn’t. I left him sitting in the corner and went walking around the field on my own, trying to psyche myself up. I couldn’t. I asked if we could go now, and we wandered back up the path. It came to a parting of the ways and I realised I needed to do it. We said goodbye, and hugged. Then I whispered it in his ear:
There was an enormous pause where we just looked at each other. Then I burst into tears. All the pent up frustration and the deep, dark, different secret that I had been keeping to myself all this time poured out of me. He was fine, I knew he would be. He hugged me and we went back into the field, and wandered about for hours. We talked it all through and I told him things that I’d only ever told myself. He promised to keep my secret, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else. We went our separate ways and I walked home with a smile on my face that I couldn’t do anything about.
Over the course of the next three years I came out to a close circle of about ten people. People that I thought deserved to know, and people I knew I could trust. These were the people I could really be myself around, and I began to live a double life of sorts. I expressed myself in private and repressed myself in public. Around sixteen I made a conscious decision not to disguise my sexuality. I wouldn’t admit it, but I wasn’t going to bother chasing women, or trying to get myself a beard. In all honesty, I just couldn’t be bothered, and the thought of hiding behind a woman and keeping someone else in the dark didn’t make sense now that I’d told people. It was difficult, and for a long time school was about balancing between not seeming all that interested in girls but not admitting that I was gay. I was always terrified about what the wider school community would think. I liked being someone who was liked, and I got on with most people extremely well.
"I worried that being gay would become something that defined me at school, and that people wouldn’t bother to talk to me once they knew that I liked boys."
Coming out to everyone at school was something that I didn’t really have a choice about, in the end. I was at an eighteenth birthday party and ended up having an encounter outside with one of the boys in my year. I then went home, and he went inside and told everyone what had happened. I came into school on Monday and could tell instantly that everyone knew. The knowing glance. The smirk when you walk past someone. It was horrific and I was suddenly filled with a sense of dread. I remember thinking, ‘Here we go, nowhere to hide this time...’
The shocking thing was that no-one seemed to care. The vast majority didn’t mention it at all. Suddenly, that was it, I was out. I still hung out with all the boys I had before, we still took the piss out of everything and everyone, including myself. Until this point I had been using my sense of humour to defend myself, and now I found myself being able to use it to embrace who I was and laugh with people, rather than fear I was being laughed at. People became quite protective of me, and it was nice to see so many of my friends look at my homosexuality as something that was completely irrelevant to my personality, in my head, this wasn’t what I had thought would happen. Things are always worse in your head. I was incredibly fortunate that everyone in my year was mature and open minded enough to quickly put down any nasty jibes that ventured in my direction. Being gay is always a divisive issue, and I was uncomfortable with the idea that there were people talking about me when I wasn’t in the room, but looking back now, I realise that you cannot and should not try to keep everyone on your side; there will always be people that you need to oppose.
I live in a very conservative, very white, part of the south-east in the UK. A lot of people where I am from are xenophobic without even realising that they are doing it. My Mum’s friend once told her that she ‘doesn’t mind gay people’ but didn’t want it rammed down her throat on shows like ‘Eastenders’. Attitudes like this don’t change fast, and I have to deal with them on a day to day basis, but I will always be trying to do my own small part to change them and re-educate the perspective that gays are somehow dangerous or predatory, but then, some people just want a reason to fear something that is different. Some will never quite understand, which is tough to take, but then you realise that these people are a dying breed, and in a time not far from now, they’ll be gone altogether.
Telling my parents was different. My parents are extremely open-minded and I had always known that they would be fine with whoever I wanted to be, which is probably why I put off telling them for so long.
"I knew they knew (I think parents always know, somehow, some just choose not
to believe it) and I think they knew I knew they knew. It had become a game."
I had to tell them properly at some point, I just didn’t know when and how. At eighteen, my Mum and I decided to tour the UK, and visit a few of the unis that I wanted to apply for in one weekend. I had a difficult relationship with my Mother throughout my teens, and I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why. I think perhaps it was because there was still a part of me that I was holding back from her, my reaction was just to be difficult and evasive, and I knew this upset her, but I felt unable to do anything about it. I spend the entire weekend being horrible to my Mother, really vile. We got to our last stop, Cardiff, late in the night and when I woke up the next morning, she was in tears. She said she felt ill and was going to go home, and I could follow on that night, but I knew that she wanted to go home because of me. It hurt me so much to see how I had made my Mum feel and I knew why I was being so nasty, so I just told her. She said she knew, of course, and then proceeded to ask me all the questions she’d had in her head for a good few years. She’d precede every single one with ‘okay, last question, I promise’. I feigned indifference, but in truth it was so nice to see her take an interest, and be able to tell her about a part of my life that I’d kept under wraps from her for so long. She asked if she could tell Dad; I said she could. I was all ‘I’m gay’-ed out.
When we got home I went up to my room and waited. I was nervous, even though I think I knew everything would be fine. My Dad eventually came up to my room, and asked if we could have a chat. He proceeded to tell me that when my Mum was in the early stages of her pregnancy in the womb, they had gone for a scan that had told them I didn’t have a heartbeat. My Dad said that when they went home that night he had prayed, and meant it. My Dad is not a religious man. The next time they went to the doctors, there I was. He told me that whatever, and whoever I was, they loved me unconditionally.
This is the single most touching thing that anyone has ever told me.
When my Grandma died a few years ago, I believed that she had died never knowing that I was gay, but my Dad told me recently that once when he was there she asked him if I had a girlfriend yet. He informed her that actually, I was gay. Her reply?
‘Oh. Does he have a boyfriend then?’
Moments like that make me thankful for the family that I have, they have made my coming out immeasurably easier and more comfortable. No-one can ever have it plain sailing and there are still moments when I struggle to cope with living as a gay man, but the conclusion I have been able to reach over the past few years is that I would never change the fact I am gay. Maybe things would have been easier if I were straight, but I can’t imagine choosing any other life for myself. The people that I meet today like me for who I am, who knows what it would be like if I were someone different? It doesn’t happen like this for everyone, but I hope that my story can inspire more people to be honest with themselves and take control of their own lives.
Follow Ben on Twitter - @benatterbury