Thursday, 18 August 2016

Coming Out(?)

Coming Out.

For as long as your parents have told you they love you, society has told you it hates you – you’re not quite right; you look like a regular human, but you’re not really deserving of the same rights, perks or privileges, or the same easy life granted to your straight friends and family. Instead, you go through school carrying your school bag, PE bag, art folder, and what seems like something you'll never tell anyone...

When the word gay appears in an English text, you pray no one looks your way, that no one’s going to pass comment or make a joke. Every jib, joke and verbal salvo avoided is a personal victory. You watch as the effeminate guys, and the boys whose voice has taken a little longer to break, get called faggot or queer – you say nothing. You know they’re not gay, they’re just unfortunate to be late bloomers, have little interest in football, or have a naturally higher-pitched voice. Either way it doesn’t matter, the attention isn’t focused on you. The changing room after P.E. is a minefield, get in, get out, don’t make eye-contact, don’t let your gaze linger on anything, foot, towel or football boot, it doesn’t matter. If you aren’t facing the wall, boring holes, they’ll know. Accidental eye-contact? You’ve just outed yourself. They’ll know there’s a faggot in the changing room; letters will be sent home to parents, you’ll have to get changed somewhere else, for their own safety of course.

You navigate your way through the day, mostly with ease, until you need to take a particular corridor or stairwell, and at a time you’d rather not. You missed any bother on your own lunch period, but now you need the toilet and you’re stuck in a geography classroom at the back of the school, and unlike the girls, you’ve gotta go alone – that’s when you get the names, and the smugness – don’t bother coming this way, we’ve got our backs firmly to the wall, so mince on. It’s unpleasant, you think to yourself, but at least it’s not physical, And at least you’re alone – there are too many red faces when you’re with friends, they're flush with embarrassment, you're scarlet with shame.

Despite the odd name calling, you hide it well enough, you think. You’ve had girlfriends for the early part of secondary school, but you only hold hands and kiss, and go to the cinema, and debate buying one of them a ring from the Argos catalogue. Eventually that stops as you come to realise you can’t keep stringing girls along, it’s not fair, and to be honest, you just can’t be bothered. You know eventually it’s going to have to come out.

You dance around the issue for a while- until you build up the courage to tell your friends. I’ve got something to tell you – and they reply, as they wave invisible placards - “Are you gay? We support you.”. They laugh and smile and they say it like they’re joking, but you know they mean it – they already know. (They’ve probably known a lot longer than you give them credit for – but they’re your friends, and they’ve let you come round in your own time.)

It’s out, and suddenly you feel lighter, it's a different sort of smile, a happiness that you can’t feign. And for what it's worth, it's one that belongs only to us. You don't get to smile with that sort of relief if you're straight.  You’ve made the first steps towards coming out and the world still turns. Gradually you tell your other friends, of course some try and make it about themselves, “He went out with me/It’s my fault/I turned him gay” but none have a problem with it – in fact, quite the opposite. You’re the hottest new accessory, thanks for Will & Grace. You’re the gay best friend, and bonus points for being the socially acceptable Will. (Also great, because being offended when someone says you’re more like Jack...who needs that?)

It becomes something of an open secret at school, until one night you meet your first ever real-life, fellow gay. This isn’t chat over Faceparty, or email, or MSN, this is real, in-the-flesh, friend-of-a-friend gay. Of course you kiss - you’re gay, he’s gay, it’s taken you 16 years to meet one, who knows when the next one will come along. For the first time you feel what it’s like to have teenage stubble rub against your face and bring to your face the red flush of excitement and rawness of stubble rash. This of course all happens outside, behind a wall, near school, on an Irish autumn night – which is very much like a harsh English winter’s night; it’s dark, and it’s very windy, and you’re both wearing awful denim jackets that provide no insulation at all. But you can feel the heat of a guy’s torso against your own for the very first time.

While it’s taken you 16 years to get your first real kiss, you can only savour the intimacy for an evening, because the next day in school, everyone will know. How? Who told them? Was it not only friends there that night? Well, the genie’s out of the closet now and suddenly what used to be your favourite thing in the world – suddenly becomes the worst. The history teacher wheels the tiny 24” CRT TV to the front of the room and makes a hasty retreat to the staff room for a fag of his own. Suddenly, something that never happens in fourth period history - there’s an engaged and inquisitive class, unfortunately the topic this week is Contemporary Homosexual History, very contemporary in fact.
You try to avoid the questions, pretend you haven’t heard them, but the colour of your face tells everyone you have. Your eyes dart around the room, looking for an ally. There are none. You don’t know how to respond until suddenly from across the room, like late the entry of the USA into WWII, someone comes to your aid. It’s the girl who sits beside you in Spanish class, o-fucking-le, indeed. And she’s right, it’s none of their fucking business, and so what if you did kiss a boy? I wasn’t doing anyone any harm. And why are you so interested anyway? Are you jealous? At least I was getting some. Now turn round and shut the fuck up before she makes you. The class goes wild, there is laughter, there are cheers, but most importantly, there is relief.  

Gradually you come to realise the whole world isn’t against you, it just looks and feels that. You have friends that support you, classmates who defend you, and parents of friends who accept you.

You slowly start to come around to the idea of telling your own parents, you painstakingly start to build up the courage, to find a way to bring it up in conversation, but you’re ambushed! They ask you – well, your mum does, dad doesn’t want to know the answer, or rather, he doesn’t want it confirmed.

And so you tell her, you tell your mother. And you know what? You were right all those years ago, and still continue to be right today. They’re your parents, and they love you unconditionally. That’s not to say coming out didn’t have awkward conversations or hurtful, ignorant comments, you may not have been allowed to work with children (!!) but at least you weren’t disowned.

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