Elisabeth | 46 | Nottinghamshire, England | Occupational Therapist
I’ve never written my coming out story down like this before so I guess it’s long overdue. When I was growing up, it never crossed my mind that I might be gay. Looking back now I can see the signs were there, but at the time I thought of myself as a regular teenager. Growing up I had a serious crush on my elder sister’s friend, Micky (who strangely enough ended up being gay) but at the time I was a bit of a man eater. At boarding school I used to sneak into my friend Julia’s bed and we would just lie together stroking each other’s arms.
"There was nothing sexual in it because we were just kids, but now it seems to take on a different significance."
As a teenager I was into boys and when I was 17 I met this guy called Gerard at the local technical college and started my first serious relationship. At the time I thought I was in love with him, but something always seemed to be missing. I felt suffocated by him and when I went off to university I finished the relationship. My parents helped me move down to London and into the halls of residence. While my parents were still saying their goodbyes a girl popped her head into the room and said hello.
"Her name was Jo and from that moment my whole life seemed to shift its axis."
Jo and I became firm friends and within the first few days she told me she was gay. I was 19 and I had never knowingly met a gay woman. Initially I was intrigued and found myself seeking her out at every opportunity. The more I saw her the more I wanted to see her. She was like a drug to me. When Jo walked into a room it lit up. Gradually I started to question how I felt about her. It began to dawn on me that my feelings were far from platonic. At last I confessed how I was feeling. I think I shocked Jo at the time as she saw me as her straight friend. Jo had a girlfriend back at home although the relationship was pretty rocky. I started my personal campaign to win her over and eventually it paid off. The first time I slept with Jo it was the scariest and yet the most mind blowing experience. It switched something on inside me and that was it, I was totally hooked.
We went out with each other for three years although we had a few breaks in between. I don’t think Jo was totally convinced I was gay. She kept thinking I was going to go back to men. During our brief breaks I went out on the gay scene and met other women. I think I was trying to be sure that I really did fancy women and it wasn’t just Jo. At this time I went through a bit of an identity crisis.
"I thought that if I was gay then I needed to look a certain way so I cut all my hair off and tried to butch up. That was when I began to develop an incredible fear that my parents would find out."
I was petrified and ended up getting one of my gay male friends to pretend to be my boyfriend. It was ridiculous really. Anyway the fear began to take over and also a strong urge to have children. Back in the late 80s the idea that I might be able to be in a gay relationship and still have children seemed unlikely. It was a combination of these two things that eventually led to Jo and I splitting up for good. I then went head long into a mission to recreate myself. I ditched all my old friends and found new friends - ones who didn’t know about my relationship. I started dating men again. I was living near the army barracks in Hounslow at the time and so I started a relationship with a soldier. Very quickly he asked me to marry him. This seemed to be the answer to my prayers at the time.
"My parents would have their straight daughter and I could have the children I longed for. It was a no-brainer. We were friends and I thought that would be enough. We got married in 1993."
On my wedding day I remember crying because I knew I didn’t love Doug but I went through with the marriage anyway. We stayed together for seven long and mostly unhappy years.
All through my marriage I thought about Jo and I used to imagine I was with her when I was in bed with Doug. I think I put her on a pedestal. I was resigned to the fact that I had loved her and lost her and that being married to a man would be OK as long as we had friendship. It wasn’t too bad in the first few years as he was often away, but when he left the army I realised that I was living a lie. I still didn’t think of going back to the gay world, just of not being married to Doug. Around this time a gay couple moved into the house next door. Sean became a great friend and over time I confided in him about my previous life.
By now Doug and I had got divorced but he was still living in the house with me. We had three children and I thought we could just live as friends. How wrong I was. Sean started taking me out on the gay scene and as soon as I was there I knew I couldn’t go back. It was like a light was switched on. I felt young again and excited. I dated a few women but nothing serious happened. Then one night we were at our local gay bar, where I was now working part-time while my ex-husband looked after the kids. It was my night off and Sean and I were having a drink when in walked the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was with a couple of friends. I couldn’t work out if she was with either of them, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Sean went bounding up to her and started to chat to her and her friends. He called me over and to cut a long story short we hit it off. That was on the 27th August 2001. The relationship quickly progressed and within three weeks I knew I was totally head over heels in love with her. I’d never felt this way about anyone before, not even Jo. I decided the time had come to tell the children. They were 7, 5 and 3 at the time. I always remember the conversation.
"They just seemed to accept that mummy was in love with a woman.
The eldest turned round and said, “Oh my God, my mummy is gay, how cool is that”.
Telling my parents was a whole different experience. I decided to talk to my sister. She was the only family member who had ever known about me and Jo. She was really cool about it and said she would speak to Mum and Dad. I was in an absolute state when they found out. My mum was crying down the phone and my dad refused to speak to me for ages. My mum kept on going on about how I was a liar and asking how I could do this to her. Eventually they agreed to see me but my dad made it clear he never wanted to meet Sarah. He said he didn’t want to meet her because he didn’t want to like her. Sarah moved in on the 15th February 2002 and over time my parents began to soften. I went to visit with Sarah and the children but we were never allowed to stay. Then one day my mum said, “Why don’t you stay, I’ll have a word with your father”.
"Dad ended up getting on really well with Sarah and before he died in 2004 he called her to see him and told her that he saw her as his daughter-in-law."
That meant so much. We’ve now been together for almost 12 years and I couldn’t be happier. My only regret is that it took me so long to realise that I couldn’t run away from who I am. Coincidentally our eldest daughter has recently come out as gay at the age of 19. Thankfully her coming out story was a lot more straightforward. It went something like this:
“Hi mum, I’ve got something to tell you…I think I’m gay and I’ve met this great girl.”
Me – “Oh that’s wonderful sweetheart, I’m really happy for you”.
What a shame that everyone’s coming out story can’t be like that.
You can follow Elisabeth on Twitter - @lillybet45