It was in the summer of 2006 that I came out to my family. It was a fairly average summer’s day. I came home from a Christian summer camp I’d been helping to lead in beautiful Bakewell, not far from where I was born, and I told my mum that I’d met someone (the exotic French boyfriend) and that I was gay. There were a few tears and the obligatory Are you sure it’s not just that you haven’t met the right girl?, and then there was acceptance. And love. I had the same from my dad (but without the tears or the question about not having met the right girl). My brother and sister were just as accepting (as I always knew they would be), and so were my aunts and uncle when I told them the following week. I was 27. And I was lucky. Very lucky.
Now, 27 is not old, in the grand scheme of things. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse all died at 27
, and are considered to have died young. At 27, you’re young enough to be included in The Times
‘ Young Rich List (not something that has ever been particularly likely for me, it must be said), and you’re still 8 years too young to be President of the United States. If all goes well, you’ve definitely not yet reached the age of more years behind than ahead
. You’re young. 27 is young. And yet, coming out at 27, I felt kind of old, as if I’d left it all a bit late. My best friend in the Sixth Form had come out to me at 17 and, after coming out myself, I went on to make lots of gay friends who’d been skipping around freely in Gayland since their teens. I kind of wished I’d been able to come out at school and I wondered what fun I’d missed out on, spending all those years in the darkest, furthest recesses of the deepest closet you could imagine. The reasons why I stayed in that closet so long are complicated and are tied up in religion and guilt, guilt and religion and I’ve gone into them before in some detail (see my It gets better
post). Suffice it to say, I didn’t really know I was gay until my mid-20s and then there was quite a lot of denial to get through. Several years’ worth. Pretty standard stuff for many gay men I should imagine.
When I did come out, almost everyone, to a tee, claimed that they had had no suspicions whatsoever and appeared to be incredibly shocked, not least my great (and still very close) friend who had come out at 17 and who prided himself on his excellent gaydar. Practically the only person who professed to have known was a lady I didn’t know that well at all and who I used to sing in a church with every now and again, and who said she’d always suspected “because you wear a ring”. Amazed that no-one else had ever picked up on this most obvious of signs, I considered what other signs people had failed to notice over the years: the fact that I had only ever had two girlfriends in my life, neither of whom I had dated for more than a week and neither of whom had ever been introduced to my family; the fact that I spent most of my primary school playtimes playing elastic with the girls, rather than football with the boys; the fact that I desperately wanted to be an actor; the fact that from an early age I knew all the words to several Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals (which I have long since forgotten, thankfully); and the fact that, at the age of 6, in the self-penned classic Houses and Homes, recently rediscovered in my parents’ loft, I wrote the following ‘story’ about my desire to live in Care Bear Land:
A classic of gay literature, I’m sure you’ll agree. Why exactly I lived in a “magic caravan” and quite why there was a time limit of only 22 nights on my relationship with Bedtime Bear, I do not know. But what I do know is that this story was probably a little different from the stories my male compatriots were writing at the time. I suspect Miss Whatever-Her-Name-Was, whose carefully printed “have” and solitary tick at the bottom of the page, are tantalisingly unrevealing, found it quite an interesting read. Maybe, just maybe, she picked up on the signs before anyone else, and 21 years before me.
It was re-reading this story, which I had long since forgotten writing, that got me thinking about coming out at 27 and whether or not it had been obvious before that that I was gay. It also reminded me how different that little 6 year old had felt from everyone around him, and how many other children feel different right now and don’t know what to do about it. The world is changing for gay people in many good ways. 2011 saw many advances in the area of gay rights around the world. But it also saw several setbacks (African countries criminalising homosexuality and legal battles around the world to ensure that marriage can only ever apply to a man and a woman, for example), and I wonder how it must feel nowadays to be gay and trapped, by family, religion or culture. Some gay boys and girls are having a very tough time. You only have to look at the statistics for the number of teens committing suicide in the States because they are gay or perceived to be gay to see how difficult life is for some at the moment. And that is heartbreaking.
I didn’t come out until I was 27. That was when I was ready. I don’t wish it had been earlier or later. It was right for me. I have an amazing family who, practically, did not bat an eyelid at the revelation. I know how lucky I was, and am. As we enter 2012, I know how unlucky some gay boys and girls are. Some have come out and are suffering horrible consequences. Some don’t see how they could ever come out in the first place. I wish they didn’t have to. I wish that it was just universally accepted that some people are born gay and some are not, and they could live their lives as they wish, without having to announce to the world how they intend to do it. But, sadly, that day is quite a way off. It will not happen in 2012. But it will get closer. Gay marriage will be introduced in some countries, and, in others, homosexuality will be decriminalised. It’s slow progress for some, I know, and it may not mean much to a young teenager who is being bullied because he or she is gay, but it’s progress all the same.
I wish I could do something directly to help every child who is struggling with their sexuality, and who feels less of a person because of who they are, but I’m not really sure what I can do. At the very least I can make a resolution (along with going to the gym, writing more and keeping in touch with faraway friends) to donate money to the It Gets Better campaign, who have made it their mission to let gay children know that life is worth living. And, as I’m doing that, I can think long and hard about how else I could be of practical help. After all, I’m the boy who wanted to live in Care Bear Land at the age of 6 – if I can’t offer advice about what it’s like to be a gay child, I don’t know who can.