No one tells you in the Gay Handbook Of Life that coming out can simultaneously be liberating and suffocating, devastating and exhilarating, confusing and crystal clear.
Not to mention drawn-out.
As a late bloomer (I didn’t get a full grasp on my sexuality until my early 20s) there were so many factors I hadn’t considered post-coming out.
I didn’t feel different. I didn’t instantly become rich and successful like the very few gay couples I saw on the screen. I didn’t meet the love of my life and live happily ever after. I didn’t even meet the love of my life on a mountain and spend decades entangled in an excruciating yet passionate dead-end relationship. Not that I wanted that, to be clear.
No, the only difference was that it gifted me with more than 20kgs of carry-on baggage that I’m still, eight years later, trying to unpack.
As an early-90s kid, I grew up around a lot of casual, and very real, homophobia. Open disdain when gay couples featured on shows or movies; the ‘F’ bomb being used to belittle and demean; open conversations about gay people being lesser-than – the list is exhaustive.
So coming out was a mixed bag, which was fortunately made easier with the help of my sister and brother.
Shortly after coming out to myself, I bailed overseas for two years to work through it, self-medicate and participate in extremely self-destructive behaviour. I hadn’t told my friends nor family before I left, so for the first two years of my gay life, I was able to live exactly how I wanted in a sea of strangers and it was a time of depression-riddled happiness. That makes sense, I swear.
It was overseas at 4am on a Sunday, or a Thursday(?) morning when I called my sister and blurted out that I was gay. I always knew I was going to tell my sister first, as we were often able to talk about things that I didn’t feel comfortable telling the rest of my family. She also knew I secretly unwrapped her Moulin Rouge DVD to watch late at night, so I assumed she had an inkling before I did.
Her reaction was exactly what I was desperately hoping for. Without skipping a beat, she threw her full support behind me and we discussed a game plan for when I came back home. As if predicting I was worried about telling Mum and Dad, she said, unprovoked, ‘We’ll figure Mum and Dad out when you’re back’. I felt relief.
Once I returned home from my mission to exist without thinking, everything escalated rapidly. I’d come out to my friends just before I returned to minimal shock and a world of support, but I still had the hurdle of my remaining family members.
As is the rational, mature way of handling things, I ended up getting drunk, arguing with the boy I was seeing about why he wouldn’t tell his friends about us, and storming into Mum and Dad’s room at 1am to loudly announce my sexuality because, as I had told the boy during the teary argument, ‘It’s not that big of a deal! I’ll do it right now!’
My Mum had actually asked me if I was gay a few weeks earlier, so this late-night drive-by was purely for Dad. Without getting into it too much, it took him a hot second to come around.
This is when both of my siblings rallied behind me.
In hindsight, leaving my brother in the dark for longer than my sister was perhaps the stupidest decision I’ve made. I severely underestimated his character, thinking he was still the same person he was in high school. My brother ended up finding out through an ill-advised Facebook post I made essentially coming out and chastising anyone who didn’t immediately embrace it. I shudder now when I think about it.
My brother messaged me essentially saying, ‘I honestly could not give two shits if you’re gay, but finding out this way sucked.’ Despite initially getting defensive, I agree with him – that would’ve been heartbreaking. I assume this because of his reaction after finding out and his constant support since then, which I never gave him enough credit for. Nothing changed between any of us, and my brother has been a massive supporter ever since.
Despite the unexpected support, it wouldn’t be until years later, a few hundred dollars worth of therapy sessions and a break from self-medicating before I realised how much internalised hatred I’d been harbouring.
I found it so conflicting. After all, once I had met someone who I liked enough to come to terms with my own sexuality. It was as simple as thinking, ‘Ah yes, this is right, alright me, we’re gay.’
How can you hate a part of yourself so deeply, if you were so quick to come to terms with it?
Short but definitely not simple answer, your surroundings. What you grow up hearing, seeing and being complicit to can linger long after you think you’ve got a grip on your own sexuality.
I let friends and family use the ‘F’ word for far longer than I care to admit because I didn’t want to feel like I was that person. I wanted to be the cool gay, the gay that wasn’t in your face with (very rational) rebukes. Even after coming out. And with all of that support, part of me was still seeking approval from my family because on some level, I was still ashamed that I had placed this “burden” on my family. An utterly ridiculous notion.
I can only imagine how much further that downward spiral would’ve taken me if I hadn’t had that sibling support.
Fellow LGBTQIA+ folks always say they’re lucky they had such a supportive family or friendship group when coming out, which is true. We are lucky. But this isn’t a situation where anyone should have to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
Coming out to your family and friends should never be a roll of the dice. It should be an automatic and immediate embrace of who you are, and it shouldn’t be the norm to fear the worst.
I’m incredibly grateful to both my siblings and my parents for accepting who I am, but I wish members of the LGBTQIA+ community didn’t have to be thankful to everyone around us simply for ‘letting’ us exist.
That should be the default.Image: Getty Images / Kharisma Aditya Nugraha / Eyeem