I came out to myself and a handful of friends when I was twenty. I came out to my parents when I was twenty five. In one sense, everything in my life has been a part of my coming out story. I have been asked by many straight friends “when did you first know you were gay” and the answer is ‘I don’t know’. It’s impossible to say. There are memories of feeling different, of being attracted to men, from a very young age. I always knew I was attracted to men. I noticed myself being attracted and not saying anything. I reasoned it away by thinking that the heterosexuality would kick in later or that everyone was different. But I knew that I couldn’t let other people know that I was attracted men because then they would wrongly think that I was gay. Even going through University I had the thoughts that I probably might maybe conceivably be a type of gay but that I really couldn’t deal with that now.
When college ended, I had no choice. I watched a sweet movie in the cinema on my own about a young English high school student coming of age, coming out and finding his strength. I cried and realised I had no choice but to stop and feel it all. I told a friend that I sometimes fancied guys. She didn’t ridicule me. I came out to a few more friends telling them the same. I moved around a lot over the next few years. I travelled. I worked different jobs. I moved country. I had to introduce myself over and over again and over the next few years I became more comfortable saying the phrase “I’m gay”.
When I was living in Kinsale at age twenty four, a lovely woman I know told me she had come out to her parents. She could do it. I could do it. I told her I would tell my parents a year later when I was the same age as she was. I moved to Edinburgh and met my partner there. Friends reminded me of my promise to myself. In the summer, I booked flights home and told my parents and siblings one by one. It went well and in true Irish-style it was never mentioned again.
I’m thirty four now so it has been fourteen years since I first came out. I have learned a lot since then. I still have to come out but I do it before the door has even been closed. I let people know I’m gay. During a recent job interview I mentioned my partner and where “he” was from. I try to tell co-workers very early on. If I meet someone socially it’s easy but meeting someone in a formal situation takes a bit of effort. I’m a member of Toastmasters and when I joined a new club, I gave my first talk on ‘coming out’ what it was and so on.
I find other people fascinating. I am a very inquisitive friend. I tell this to new friends. I will ask you lots of questions. When I meet new gay friends I am really curious about their journey towards a gay identity, in a sense, their coming out story. Coming out is the decision to love and be seen loving. I spoke to a friend recently who had ended a relationship because his partner was still closeted. It made their relationship impossible. I have had the pleasure recently of befriending several men who are recently out to family and friends but at a much later stage in life than I did. I mentioned to one man I know that I knew someone my age who was coming out. His response was “can you imagine going through that at our age”.
People choose to stay closeted about their sexual orientation for any number of to them, perfectly valid reasons. And they may be right. They might not. Who knows? I can’t make that decision for them. I know several men who are not out to their friends and family and that too puts something of a strain on our friendship. It’s an interesting thing to be asked to respect someone else’s closet when you have spent so long trying to destroy yours.
For myself, the metaphor of coming out has taken itself to new depths. What else can I come out about? What are the secrets I hold? What gifts am I not bringing to fruition? What am I afraid of sharing for fear that someone will judge me unworthy?