Without sounding too morbid or pessimistic, I always knew that my coming out wouldn’t go well. I remember binging coming out stories on YouTube at 14 and thinking “It’s never going to be like that for me.” I just knew it wouldn’t. I’m happy for all my LGBT+ friends and all the people on the internet who had such a positive coming out experience, but they’re not all like that. Not everyone comes out to their parents and receives “Oh sweetheart we’ve known for years, you don’t we don’t care” In response. I don’t mean to sound bitter about it, I’d love for everyone’s experience to be like that but it’s not, and people need to know that even if it all goes to hell and coming out is a horrible experience, that it won’t always be like that, that things will get better.
To give you some context, I’m an only child and my mam and dad are a bit older than the average parents (I’m 21 and my dad is 66, so). They’ve always pushed me and expected the best from me, nothing less than A’s and A*’s, good extracurricular activities, nice friends, and of course going to Uni to do a ‘good degree’ (my mam has some very controversial opinions when it comes to what constitutes a ‘good’ degree.) I understand that it’s just because they want me to have the best opportunities in life, but I’ve always been afraid of disappointing them, and I knew that that’s what me coming out would do.
My ‘coming out story’, as is often the case, is a long and complicated one. It’s probably taken me about 7 years to finally come out all in all, and that’s fine. There’s no time limit on coming out, it can be as sudden or as slow as you need it to be.
I realised that I was something other than ‘heterosexual’ when I was 14, a few weeks before I started year 10. By this point, I had already had people make a few jokes about me being a ‘lesbian’ and at the time I didn’t understand why. I was pretty quiet and shy, and it’s not that I didn’t talk about boys very much, I just didn’t talk about liking anyone very much in general. Either way somehow people had clocked on that I wasn’t ‘straight’, whether they had guessed or they were just making assumptions I don’t know, but they decided to make their opinions about it quite known.
I won’t go into too many details, but I was bullied for a couple of years by different groups of people, shoved into a few walls, shouted at in the hallway, nasty comments on Facebook. I took me to the day before I started year 11 to tell my best friend, It was 1am and we were messaging on Skype and I just decided to throw caution to the wind and tell her that, whilst I didn’t have a label figured out yet, I was interested in girls. Not to be dramatic but waiting for her reply nearly killed me. She was quite religious and Russian Orthodox has some quite strict views against homosexuality, I wasn’t ready to lose my best friend over something I couldn’t change. Eventually she messaged me back “Jess, I love you so much I don’t even care”, but I was still so nervous that I made her tell our other best friend as I didn’t think I could do it again. I woke up to a text that morning that said “Do we have any lessons today or is it just Personal tutor time? P.S Steph that you’re gay. That’s cool”. For the first time I actually felt like I could have a life being “out”, sure I was only out to two people but It meant I had two people who I could actually relax around, I no longer felt like I was living in this bubble by myself. It probably didn’t seem like a big deal to them at the time, but I don’t think they’ll ever understand how grateful I am to them for reacting how they did. It sounds dramatic and a bit cheesy but without them I don’t think I’d be who I am today, they made me feel like it was okay to be something that everyone else was telling me wasn’t.
I ended up telling another friend too, feeling that I was on a bit of a roll, and whilst I was there I dropped the name of the girl I liked who I happened to be friends with. Massive mistake. She told everyone and started making fun of me on a weekly basis, following me out of school to call me a “dyke”, laughing at me in the middle of class, I even got a few Facebook essays telling me to “get hit by a truck” or “kill myself”. Of course all of it was hurtful, and humiliating, and often at times quite degrading, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever and so that’s what I tried to focus on.
It didn’t last forever. Sixth form came and by this time everyone was much more mature, the girl who was bullying me left and I felt more confident in myself, despite the fact I hadn’t really come out to anyone else since. Eventually I met someone and we started a relationship, something I decided I needed to be truthful to the rest of my friends about. I was bricking it. One of my friends could tell something was up for weeks, one night having had enough she dragged me to the bathroom at a party to ask me what was the matter. The conversation went something like “I’m seeing someone”, “…and?” … “well it’s a girl”, “…and?” and that was it. I eventually told more of my friends and let’s just say they were less than surprised, I guess there’s only so many times you can say you’re ‘just going out with a friend’ before people catch on.
It was all going quite well but I still had that nagging feeling of dread in the back of my head about telling my parents. Deciding I wasn’t brave enough to tell them to their face, my master plan was to wait until I moved away for Uni and send them an email. Sorted. Que my 18th birthday, which I spent with my girlfriend, and a series of unfortunate events that ultimately lead to my mam finding out. (Unfortunately the circumstances of which are catalogued away as an embarrassing experience that is never to be revisited).
So I told her, crying, Standing the hallway of my house, that my ‘friend’ wasn’t just a friend. I can still remember the look of disappointment on her face and she didn’t really say anything. At this point I was crying my eyes out and I asked her “is dad going to hate me?”, all she could say in response was “we just won’t tell him for a while, okay?”. It all went pretty downhill after this. The very same night I had to go out for a birthday meal with my family and I don’t think my mam even looked at me once. My unaware uncle started up a conversation about how it was fashionable to be gay nowadays and my mam looked like she was about ready to stop the world and get off, she had had enough. We argued for months and barely spoke. I remember a series of arguments we had in which she said things along the lines of; “I’m so disappointed in you. I am. It’s not what I wanted for you.” “Promise me you won’t tell anyone? The family is going to hate you.” “I feel sick all the time at work. I hear how they talk about gay people and I’m ashamed to say I might have a gay daughter. I can’t help it.” “I just don’t understand what’s wrong with you. Can’t you just be normal? Can you not just try marry a man?” Of course we both cried through all of these arguments, I told her that she was hurting me by saying these things, and she told me that I was lying, that I was intentionally trying to make her feel bad. I could probably write a book on how awful these months were, so bad in fact I had planned to move out and move in with my grandma because I couldn’t stand to be around her anymore.
It took about 6 months for these arguments to stop. She wasn’t okay with it by any means, but I could see she was trying. That was 3 years ago now and finally I can honestly say in the last 4 months or so I’ve seen such a change in her, and we’re much closer again now like we used to be. I never came out to my dad, whether my mam told him or he guessed it doesn’t matter, he’s never once mentioned it or acknowledged it, once, ever. I’m strangely okay with that, he’s not a very talkative person and whilst I know he’s still anti-LGBT*, I know that he loves me and that’s enough for me. I know my parents won’t ever be going to pride or waving a rainbow flag around, but I know deep down they love me and they want me to be happy, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.
I never came out to my grandma either, she’s one of my favourite people in the world and I couldn’t stand the thought that it might disappoint her like it disappointed my parents. I just wasn’t ready to have to go through all the arguments again, but she was diagnosed with dementia in October and I decided I wanted to tell her before it got too bad. I never did. We went out for dinner last week and discussed a flat viewing I had been to earlier in the week. She’s mid eating her chicken burger when she casually says, “oh so you, Katie and Amy living together? Amy as in your partner Amy I take it? Good las, that’ll be lovely I’m happy for you.” Turns out she’s known for years and never said anything because she couldn’t give a damn. Grandmas.
Most of my family found out a while ago and, whilst I was briefly shunned by them for a year, I think they’re finally starting to come to terms with it and they seem happy for me. My girlfriend even came for Christmas at my house this year, and it was the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
I know my coming out experience isn’t the worst, but it wasn’t exactly a positive one either. I’ve been through a lot since that realisation at 14; shoved into walls, sent horrible messages, uninvited from family events, but 7 years after it all started I can finally say that I’m at a place in my life I never thought I’d reach.
My advice? It does get better. I never really fully believed that when I was growing up, the future seems a long time away when you’re stuck going through a horrible coming out experience. But it really doesn’t last forever. That’s what I would reiterate to my teenage self. You won’t be in that school forever. You won’t know those people forever. You won’t live in that house or that city forever. Eventually life moves on and things will improve. Things change. You won’t be curled up watching gay fan videos on YouTube in your room forever. (Okay, so maybe some things don’t change.)
The point is, focus on the few people in your life you can rely on. Hold onto those people because for a while they may be all you have, but they won’t always be all you have. At 14 It felt like the end of the world, but now at 21 I write this as president of the universities LGBT* society, I’m out, I’m surrounded by LGBT* friends, and I’m proud of who I am.
Need a cheesy quote to finish it off? “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright then its not the end.”