I remember the first day I said it out loud. I was 16 years old.
A boy, standing in front of a mirror in the school toilets. A classmate had just called me a poof. Everyone had laughed. I stared at myself. “You are,” I said in a dull tone. “You're gay.” And that was it. I'd come out...but only to myself.
It would be another two years before I told another person the truth. I thought my parents would reject me. I expected to be mocked by friends and beaten up by strangers. In fact, I was instantly accepted by everyone, without question. I know, I was lucky.
Still, I believe every single gay person in the UK should come out, regardless of the reception they expect to receive. Yes it’s frightening but it’s also necessary. As long as gay men and gay women allow themselves to be forced into the wilderness by other people, there will always be prejudice against the 'community' as a whole.
Meanwhile, the ignorant remain swaddled in the pretence that their bigotry is acceptable. Future generations will continue to feel that they are something strange and shameful. Repressed homosexuals will continue to be warped and poisoned until they themselves become the very worst homophobes. Stand up and declare that you are gay. If not for yourself then for everyone else.
I know that there are some very serious reasons why many gay people feel unable to come out. Some face rejection and emotional abuse. Some even face violence. I’m not criticising those people; nor am I judging them. I’m thankful to have lived freely, without the imposition of such idiotic values. For those less fortunate, I urge them to escape from their sexual perdition. Your boundaries are a mirage. You can be free. Nobody is forced to live under the cosh of their cultures. Our country’s laws offer us all an openly gay lifestyle. So be open. Be Honest. Be happy. Be gay.
“BUT I'M NOT CERTAIN I'M GAY”
I wasn’t certain I was gay until a gorgeous girl invited me back to her flat at university and I forced us to watch a VHS of Roald Dahl's The Witches from start to finish. Anything to avoid sex. I left her flat the next morning knowing, for the first time, that I was not attracted to women.
As I crossed the road in Preston City Centre I saw a lad in sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt on the other side of the street. I doubled my speed and crossed diagonally so I could follow him up the hill. That's one of the many things that finally made me sure I was gay. I came out that morning. Ask yourself this: If you walk down a busy street, who draws your eye? Men or women?
Try flicking through a celebrity magazine. What catches your eye? Swim shorts or bikinis? Breasts or pecs? Forget what you want to find attractive, be honest with yourself. If you are gay, you are gay. It won’t change and it is not a choice. You have to accept that simple fact, otherwise you will allow others to undermine your right to be open about who you are.
“I DON’T WANT TO BE GAY?”
Irrelevant. You're gay whether you're happy with it or not.
“WHY DO THEY HAVE TO KNOW?”
There are those who say there’s no need to come out to everybody. Your sexuality is private so why should your friends, colleagues and family have to know about it? Well, they don’t have to, nobody is forcing you. You are welcome to live a lie if that’s your choice. But ask yourself this…why should you have to hide who you are? And, whether you like it or not, you do have to hide it.
There’s no use pretending otherwise. Your workmates will be listening out for clues to your sexuality and your loved ones will be watching your every move, a few perhaps waiting for reassurance that you’re ‘normal’. What is more, if you know people who are anti-gay then you should challenge their bigotry and confront them with your sexuality.
Gay people are the best antidote to homophobia. By staying in the closet, you are arguably condoning their prejudice. The more of us who stand up and be counted, the safer we are.
“BUT MY PARENTS WILL REJECT ME IF I COME OUT”
In my anecdotal experience, this is unlikely. Many people imagine that their parents will reject them for being gay. I don’t know anyone who has been permanently cast out, though of course it can happen. I do know people who have been ordered never to mention their sexuality again. I know people who were told to move out of home. I know people who were given books on their ‘illness’.
Make no mistake, all of them were victims of abuse. And yet, not one of them regrets coming out and, what’s more most of the parents in question are now comfortable with the situation. Your parents can make sense of your sexuality in whichever way they choose. At least you can say to yourself that you have been honest with them and to yourself.
If your parents take the extraordinarily self-defeating and cruel measure of cutting you from their lives, then (and I say this while giving you a hug) they are ignorant, twisted, nasty idiots who don't deserve to know you in the first place. They are best forgotten. We are ready to love you in their place. I know it's easy for me to write these things.
The idea of losing your parents is such a frightening one. But such an absurdly blinkered response is nothing less than terrible emotional cruelty and you are worth better than that. Gay people must stop pandering to the bigoted. You are gay. That is the fact. They have to accept it. There is no choice.
“I’VE BEEN TOLD NOT TO TELL DAD”
One of the most common things I hear from friends who are in the process of coming out is: 'I've told Mum but they say I shouldn't tell Dad'. I can't tell you how angry that makes me. How DARE they tell you who to come out to? This is not helpful, supportive advice this is control and I'm deeply suspicious of it. Perhaps sometimes your relative is genuinely worried for your welfare.
I think it's more likely they are wet-minded and selfish and more concerned with keeping the family waters calm than allowing you to be happy. You are no longer a child and they have no right to keep you in limbo. They need to be told that your coming out has nothing to do with them. It is not their choice, it is yours.
You will come out because you are gay and if anyone has a problem with it, they can shove it. We must not pander to the small-minded and the prejudiced. We protect them from reality as though they have a right to be deluded and cruel. They do not. You have a right to come out and if your family won't stand behind you then shame on them - but you're going to do it anyway.
“MY RELIGION SAYS I SHOULDN'T BE GAY...”
If you trust religion over and above your own heart, then more fool you. If it is someone else's religion holding you back then don't allow their belief to supersede your reality. They have a right to choose religion. You have a right to be who you are.
“NONE OF MY FRIENDS ARE GAY”
That's what I thought, until I came out and suddenly my best mate followed my lead. If all of your friends truly are straight then they'll accept you for who you are. I have met a number of gay men who have predominantly straight friends. They went from being the slightly lame, weird lad who never had sex to the funny, token gay mascot of the group. It's not ideal but straight guys are weird like that. They're into mascots. I'd rather be gay Andy than frigid Andy or virgin Andy. They'll all be trying to get off with you within the week anyway. If your mates do reject you for being gay then you need new mates, and you'll find them soon enough once you're comfortable with who you are.
“I WANT TO BE NORMAL”
You’re not normal. Normal is what most people are. Most people are straight. You’re gay. That makes you abnormal. Seriously, who wants to be normal anyway? I don’t. Embrace it.
“I WANT A FAMILY”
Well you might be able to have a family as a gay couple, if it's right. Or perhaps you won't. The best parents are those who have taken the time to be happy with themselves before they start a family. You can never achieve that from within the closet. You might want a wife and kids. What you don't want is to live a lie.
You don't want a photograph of your torso on Grindr with the word 'discrete' written across your stomach. What you don't want is to trade in your happiness and contentment – your life – in exchange for an empty, box ticking exercise of house-hunting, procreation, conformity and quiet evenings in with someone you selfishly plan to use as an unwitting mask for your sexuality. Somewhere out there is a gay person who can make you very happy…and a straight person you might just ruin.
“I HAVE CHILDREN AND A WIFE”
If you are reading this as a man or woman with a family, living a straight life, then I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you didn't feel able to come out when you were younger. I can’t imagine how tough that must be. I hope you have not been too unhappy. I hope you appreciate your beautiful children and I hope you know that it is not too late. You must come out. Your children will be fine with it, as long as you are.
Children don't care about such things, only adults do. If your kids are teenagers, they'll get over it. Any lingering hostility will be a reflection of your failings, not your sexuality. Your husband or wife might be very angry with you or they might be relieved. Perhaps they know or suspect the truth. They deserve to be with someone truly attracted to them.
You might love them but that isn't the same. Affection matters but we are animals and sexual attraction is important. You know that from the pornography you secretly watch on your work laptop or the fantasies you have about the temp in your office. People won't hate you for the lies you've been telling for so long...they'll respect you for the truth you've finally confronted.
“I’LL BE LONELY”
It’s easier to be part of the so-called gay ‘scene’ if you’re young but, that being said, there are lots of ways to engage with other gay people. The gay world has matured now. You can go to clubs and bars or you can go on gay walking holidays. You can meet other gay people through dating apps but...you know that already, right? I know it might seem impossible to remove yourself so completely from what you know.
“IT’S JUST EASIER TO LEAVE THINGS AS THEY ARE”
The problem with the status quo, is that it's forever changing, whether you like it or not. Yes, change can be daunting, but everyday life shifts in a million ways, even when you're standing still. The longer you leave things the more you are left behind. The more you take the easy option, the harder it becomes.
“I JUST...DON'T KNOW IF I'LL BE HAPPY”
Your world won't shrink and fade when you come out, it will grow and illuminate, I promise. Yes, it won’t be perfect and there might be pain and uncertainty at first – perhaps even a little loneliness - but you can never truly be happy, for as long as you are having to hide and deny who you are.
Be open. Be Honest. Be happy. Be gay.