Joe | 23 | Pembrokeshire,UK | Design Engineer
Ever since I have known I was gay or perhaps thought I was, I have asked myself constantly, what is the defining moment of coming out? Is it the initial person you tell? Is it a friend or relative? Or even a parent? Or is it the first, or perhaps the last people/person you tell? For me I would say it would be the most difficult people to tell, the parents. Happily for me, telling the parents was actually relatively easy. However, this wasn’t without months of anguish and people asking; ‘have you told them yet?’
I came out to them during a series of trips to London in 2011, when I helping my dad decorate. I met a guy and we would go out to eat or to the cinema every weekend. I was never keen on helping my dad, so it came as a shock when I was especially keen to go up to London to help him, EVERY weekend. It was my sister who I told before I told my mum, who then told my dad. I asked whether she could keep a secret, of course the answer was no! So my mum came in and asked who he was - which made it a whole lot easier. There were tears and hugs of happiness and that was pretty much that. Easy.
"I’m not going to pretend that everyone has an easy time of it - as one can attest, just by looking at the other heart-wrenching stories on RUComingOut.Com."
I didn’t have it all that easy. For a few days after, my dad made some pretty homophobic comments. I still get the occasional homophobic banter in work but it’s something that I have found difficult to accept. However, I have learned to challenge it and find the right people to deal with it.
There have been a few defining moments in my growing up that made me question myself. The first being when I was talking to a boy whilst looking around a school in Northamptonshire. I had the weirdest feeling (at the time I thought it was weird) to want to kiss him. I seem to remember him being quite handsome. I felt nothing of it after. I went to a school in Dorset in the end and whilst there, I was perhaps the only guy in my year that had never had a girlfriend; never even kissed a girl.I remember late night conversations in the dormitory with my friend and telling him this.
Looking back I was only 13. What age do kids have their first kiss these days? I was, and still am, quite sheltered obviously.
"I went three years at Bryanston without ever having a girlfriend, but quite liking a few of the quieter girls. I thought at the time it was just a lack of confidence."
During 6th form I went to college back at home in Pembrokeshire to do a design craft BTEC. It was at College (and working at a local pub) that I first met other gay people. At this point I would have to admit that I was somewhat homophobic, as most of the other gay men I met were obviously gay and fitted into the camp stereotype. I felt I didn’t want to be like them and that was instantly what you became if you decided you were gay. I now despise stereotyping. I now know that obviously this isn’t the case. It was during my time at college when my friend Will, who I have known my whole life, came out at his 18th birthday party. We went to a gay club in Cardiff and I hated it (sorry Will). I hated having to lie after as well. I still wasn’t sure what this feeling was.
After college I went to university in High Wycombe. It was there where I first thought there must be something else going on as I was aching to go to the gay night ‘just to see what it was like’. In fact it was here where I came out first, just to uni friends and then sort of hastily went back in. I never did go to the gay night in High Wycombe and in my whole time at uni I didn’t have either a girlfriend or boyfriend.
After uni came the wilderness years. I went back to work at the pub in my village. A guy called Simon started working there and he was instantly popular. Everybody used to say; “Oh Joe, wait until you meet Simon”, and I wasn’t even out! But they probably knew. It was probably Simon who made me think that being gay is actually OK!
"In the autumn of 2009 I went to work for a waiting agency in London where a lot of people were gay, including the boss. I thought it was fantastic."
I worked as a wine waiter at the 2009 Stonewall Awards. What a night, looking back. However, as I still wasn’t sure about what I was feeling, I still took part in the old homophobic banter with my colleagues. Finally in 2010, whilst I was back at home and working as a labourer in a boat building yard, I had my first kiss and sexual contact; I was 20. I was going up to London to look at a university and I decided to brave Ku Bar on Lisle Street after having a few drinks with a friend. I was alone and drunk in a club and got talking to a guy and, well, you can probably guess what happened after. I don’t think my heart has ever pounded so hard. It took a few more trips like this, for about a year, along with the lies that followed, until I told my best friend Mairi.
Mairi has been my friend since primary school, my friend that I used to share lifts with to school in Dorset, my friend who I used to go and walk over to see and time it just right for lunch - my friend who is there when it matters.
She accepted me as I was and said that I was no different now than I was before I told her. She kept my secret as well. She also taught me that you know who you’re true friends are when you come out to them.
"True friends don’t care that you’re different and true friends keep it a secret until you’re ready.
From then on it was easier and I felt freer. I felt great. Although still living at home and explaining where I was going to my parents and having to lie was getting tougher and tougher. I came out gradually to more friends and the response from most people was fantastic. Sadly one or two chose not to keep in touch after I told them. I figured it was no big deal. Then came Daniel who I met in London. I don’t know whether you could call it a relationship, but I did love going out to restaurants and the cinema and when we were together I did feel happy and in love - for the first time, properly. It was with him that I came out to my parents. Since then I have been slowly coming out to more and more people. The most difficult for me has been coming out at work. I am still not out to everyone. I think this is made more difficult because my dad is a director. I feel I have enough to be dealing with by being his son at work. However, this I realise is stupid. It’s something I’m working on.
"A defining moment in the time that I have been out has been the Stonewall Talent programme. Wow. What an intense few days."
This was back in September 2012. Interestingly I had told no one else I was doing this as I wanted to keep an open mind. The programme was for the LGB leaders of tomorrow. I signed up through Twitter, not thinking for a million years that I would get on. I did! As a programme, it stripped you down and rebuilt you as a different, more confident person. Before this, I was scared to go to my college LGBT club for fear of someone I knew catching me going. Now I’m the group leader and on the college Equality and Diversity panel. I even approached the principal office to ask her to sign up to the Stonewall College Champions programme!
The Talent programme was the first time I was truly able to open up and the people there were in the same boat. Quite possibly the greatest and most diverse group of people I have met. Plus, I’m still amazed at how good my drawing of the London skyline was when we were asked to draw out our life journey and what it involved. As you can probably tell, the drawing of London is quite fitting as London is pretty much where most of it has happened. I was incredibly lucky to take part.
Crucially, the Talent programme taught me about the importance of role models, whoever they maybe, whatever they may do. Role models are people I see and have in my life now more than ever. They can be anybody, as long as they are authentic and true to themselves. It will be their examples, their stories and what they have achieved that you should draw upon in order to help you. Look up to them and know that you are not alone.
You can follow Joe on Twitter - @JoeBoe1