Back in 2013, I wrote a note about coming out, themed around National Coming Out Day, and remains only one of a handful of articles I've written about LGBT 'stuff'. And every year, I remind myself about why coming out still matters and how I can't wait for it to truly be a choice of how, when and whether you do. But over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded more than ever about why coming out is still really difficult. And I don’t just mean for the first time, or the ‘big’ coming out to your family, but the coming out in the street, or at work, or at the gym, every day.
Coming out still matters
This year, I've changed jobs, got a boyfriend again, gone back to the gym for the first time in ages and generally not spent every living hour in my own room. But each of these decisions and circumstances have been made so much more difficult by being gay. Now, this isn't a sob story and the trolls on Twitter will tell you to get a life, for sure. Or to man up, let it go and see there are people worse than you in countries where it's not okay to be gay. As well as the other comments about how much progress Britain has made and nobody gives a shit.
But in reality, when it was World Mental Health Day yesterday, followed by Coming Out Day today – talking about how much more we have to do, doesn't mean erasing the progress we've made. Because so many times this year I’ve wanted to just go home and cry and not go outside again. (I say wanted to, and I mean either and both because I couldn’t go home or because of my ridiculous ability as an adult human not to be able to cry).
Our LGBT community can sometimes feel pretty lonely – particularly in London. But I know there’s a few other gays around where I live, because I see them holding hands and I wonder – do they have the same apprehension just walking out the door that I have every day? Do they get worried about what bars they go to? Is this what people normally think about when they walk down the street?
For a growing amount of people it is. It really is.
For us gays – yeap, we can get married, have children and we can legally walk down the street hand in hand, arm in arm - but are we ‘liberated’? No.
Those Bratavio guys on #XFactor, are ‘disgusting’.
If you just happen to dress a ‘bit too gay’ or risque then, oh no, you’re not allowed.
Hell, if you’re trans you have it 1000 times worse.
If you’re wearing a headscarf or Burka I can imagine you get the same side-eye and stares – the same shouts and comments.
The Jew this year who fears wearing a Kippah to a Labour Party meeting might mean getting screamed at about Israel, or worse, shot in a foreign capital.
This year I think the flareup of intolerance we are seeing around Britain and the world is scary as hell. It’s everywhere – online, offline, on your street and on the next.
The guys who shouted ‘batty boy’ at me literally 50m from my house.
My mates or the people we all know on social media who got beaten up for daring to go to a gay club.
You try to ignore them, but the Facebook messages that call you a ‘fucking gay boy freak’.
The person who compared me to a pedophile on Twitter for daring to criticise Jeremy Corbyn.
Someone felt it was okay, and alright, to shout ‘you’re disgusting’ at me and my boyfriend as we just walked in to Tesco to buy some food on a Saturday evening at around 5pm. And it’s all the other stuff that comes with it too. The fear that the extra-long stare might just turn into a punch, the nervousness about reaching out and holding his hand, the worry of having your public details online so that someone might come find you and make their threat a reality. Where you go on holiday, who you go with, what you might do, the kind of bars you might drink at.
It’s all of that.
So maybe we should stop saying that coming out doesn’t matter. Because I feel like I’ve come out more in the last few months than I ever have in my life. Bloody hell, if only coming out was one day a year – that would be bliss! This year, have a think. How many times do you come out on a weekly, daily, monthly, yearly basis? It’s bloody loads. So please, let’s stop pretending it “doesn’t matter” – cos it really does.
As I say every coming out day –
Don’t force people to live in or out of the closet.
Don’t define other people’s sexuality or experiences.
Don’t make decisions for others about their life and their sexuality just because you think they are ‘keeping a secret’ –
And don’t say it doesn’t matter just because for you it may now seem a distant memory.
Think of those moments when you’re really afraid – you won’t tell anyone, you won’t let it show, you’ll pretend its not happening but when you want to say the words ‘my boyfriend’ but ‘my partner’ comes out instead. Or when you think about how you’re walking, not to look ‘too gay’ and ‘give it away’, or when you hold back from laughing because you might be ‘over the top’.
Those are the moments when coming out is really damn hard and coming out proper is the most exhilarating thing once it’s over, but then the reality will hit. It’s time we stopped sugar coating it and were there for each other more when it matters. It’s okay to say it’s not always easy being gay – but it does get better, and it will – but only if we all stick together and challenge intolerance where ever we see it so coming out can be empowering rather than a relief.