Matt | 23 | Essex, England | BeatBullying Development Officer
So it was summer 2005 and if I’m honest I was a mess. You see my journey out of that often comically referred to closet doesn't begin differently to many before me, and I'm sure many after. Yes, it was that pesky unrequited love. A rite of passage for many teenagers across the world, however it is all the more painful when one is struggling with their sexuality. The fact I was gay had not come as a surprise to me. I always knew I was. I find it impossible to explain, but I am sure that I knew I was gay before I was ever aware it was possible. I remember being six years old and being off school, a common occurrence for a child with the immune system of a fly. I saw an episode of the Vanessa Feltz show (for you young’uns it was like the Jeremy Kyle of its day) and one of the guests was gay. I don’t really remember what he said I just remember him looking very sad, and the word gay being written on the screen. That night I cried in the bath. I don't know why but I did. I remember my Mum asking me why I was crying. I don’t remember what I said but I do know that even at the age of six I felt like it was something I shouldn’t say. I also vividly remember seeing Boy George sing with the newly reformed Culture Club on the National Lottery. As he sang 'I just wanna be loved' I sat there confused.
"Does being gay mean I will grow up and wear make up? Is this why I like wearing my Nan’s high heels and don’t mind it when my cousin puts make up on me?"
I grew up in Dagenham, Essex. I don't remember anyone speaking about the word gay meaning homosexual, only to mean something was undesirable. The term poof was used when someone was being weak. I remember the first gay couple I was aware of, Tony and Simon from Eastenders. They kissed.
As I got older I dutifully asked for the Hollyoaks Babes calendar each Christmas. Each year I waited for my Mum to turn around and say 'Matt babes, I know you want the Hollyoaks Hunks'. You see, for years I assumed she knew. I assumed everyone did, and I just needed to confirm it. I didn't really know how to go about it. I mean I wasn’t in a boy band like Stephen Gately, so I didn't think The Sun would be interested in a front page exclusive.
As I got older I did think about approaching ITV to do 'An audience with Matt May', but as good as my miming capabilities are (no really, I'm the best pretend singer ever) I thought a one man rendition of 'I'm Coming Out' might be a little much. So the pretence continued until I met Luke. You see at that point all those feelings I had became impossible to ignore. They engrossed me completely. My heart raced, stomach churned the whole shebang. We became the best of dysfunctional friends. We would go from laughing to the point of tears to the most intense arguments; I'd save the tears that followed that until I was alone.
"We laughed more than I imagined two people ever
could and argued more than real friends ever should."
By summer 2005 I wasn’t coping very well. I was caught between believing I shouldn’t be ashamed and being terrified of being alone. As my friendship with Luke turned sour, many of my friendships with other males followed. By the time I returned to my secondary school to attend sixth form these boys became enemies, my female friends became crusaders. It's hard to explain that feeling when you walk into a room and everything goes silent. The only sound is sniggering and whispers. I was a very sad young man indeed. Posters with my photo and the words 'FAT QUEER' were posted all over the sixth form building. I will never forget the look on my friends face as she begged me not to go in while others frantically tried to collect them up to spare my pain. At sixteen I didn’t allow myself to think I was being bullied. I felt I was to blame and often punished myself with self-harm.
The scariest thing was this was happening and I hadn't told anyone I was gay. There were even a few sporadic dates with girls. I like to think we always had fun, but it was never going to work. My friends were increasingly worried. I was still self-harming. Our underage drinking had become a crutch for me. I cried begging to be 'normal'. It felt only fair that if they were offering so much I owed them honesty. I had those words ‘I am gay’ on the tip of my tongue. One by one I started telling them, gay being replaced by bisexual. I had never felt bisexual. At the time it seemed easier (as I got older I realised that of course bisexuality it not simply a stepping stone for people coming out), like it meant I was only half different. The feeling of relief is one that I am unlikely to experience again. To say those words out loud was a relief like no other. The overwhelming feeling was one of love and support.
I wish I could say I sat my Mum down, or I wrote her a letter that explained. I can't say that. As I've previously mentioned, I was in a love-hate relationship with vodka. On my friend’s 17th birthday she had a house party. This basically meant we would all get stupidly drunk. Of course my friends would be there, but so would the people I had once laughed with who now laughed at me. I was determined that I wouldn't miss out. I will not miss my friend’s birthday. I arrived early and thought a few drinks would settle my nerves. A few Southern Comforts offered me no comfort so I thought I'd see if the bottle was more help. I decided lemonade was really ruining what was blossoming between me and Mr Comfort. I uninvited him and this was now a two man party.
As people started to arrive I was already stumbling. By the time everyone had arrived I was worse. I remember falling face down in the living room. Embarrassed I decided to take an early exit. I managed somehow to make it down the concrete stairs of the flat without smashing my skull. On this summer’s night I stumbled and collapsed in the road. It was the kindness of three strangers that moved me from said road to the pavement. Two friends came to find me.
"There I was on the pavement of Dagenham. I was crying. I was hopeless, declaring that I was in love; that I wanted to be normal."
The next morning I woke up and for a brief moment managed to suppress the memory. Then it hit me. I laid in a shallow bath and cried (you’ll be aware by now that I cried a lot. I don’t see it as weakness. Judge me.) I couldn't take it back now. She hadn't known. How could she not?
"I don’t like football, I was obsessed with
‘The Bodyguard’ and the first cassette I owned was Cher."
It took a while for my Mum to be able to bring it up without me telling her to go away, in a slightly less polite way. I was convinced she would want to tell my Dad who I assumed would want to kick me out. On the night we discussed it she told me that she had told my Dad the night I told her. He came and sat in my room. I couldn't look at him. He told me it didn't matter. I cried and he cried. At that moment I almost felt guilty. How could I think that he would have kicked me out? I believe that conversation changed our relationship and allowed us to be come closer. I think I had always assumed that one day sooner or later I was going to let him down in the most tremendous way. My Mum found it hard at first. I had never expected that. I always assumed Mums said it was fine and Dads disown you. It took time before I realised she wasn't bothered if I kissed boys or girls. She was scared of what people would say to me and that my life would be unnecessarily harder than it had to be. She didn’t knowing I had already felt the brute force of bullying.
My beautiful Nan brought it up on a sunny afternoon over a glass of wine. ‘Mum said you think you might be gay.’ Yes. ‘Is it a phase? A lot of people go through phases.’ No Nan it’s not. ‘Mum’s only worried because people can be so cruel Matthew.’ I know Nan. ‘But then Stephen Fry’s gay and everyone loves him don’t they.’ Yes Nan, yes they do indeed.
"My name's Matt May. I'm 23. I have friends and family who love me. I was bullied because of my sexuality. It's been just over six years since the night I asked my Mum if she could still love me if I was an assortment of colours, species and lastly, gay. Coming out was the first step on a road of self acceptance."
If I could talk to my teenage self I would have so much to say. The thing I truly believe would help him most would be www.cybermentors.org.uk. A place where he could have found the support he so desperately needed. I now work for the organisation BeatBullying who run the CyberMentors website. I do my job because I believe that no young person should be made to feel ashamed of the person they are. I want you to know that you are not alone. If you are being bullied talk to one of our CyberMentors. Believe that you are important. Believe that you will not always feel so alone. No one deserves to be bullied for any reason.
I get up and go to work every day because I believe that if I can change the experiences of one young person it is worthwhile.
Follow Matt on Twitter - @TheeMattMay