I came out on the 11th of June 2015. On Instagram.
Maybe not the platform I’d choose today, but I stand by it.
It was a long time coming. I came out to a few friends the year before, in Year 10, when I was 14. Strangely I don’t actually remember who I told first, or what the conversation was like. It’s funny how I’ve forgotten the first time. Still, I continued to open up to my friends over the next few months, and I even told my brother of my own volition. He was pretty cool about it to be honest – very progressive for an 11 year old.
Then I was outed to my parents – by an iPad.
The way it happened makes me cringe intensely to this day, and I’m so annoyed that I didn’t get to have my lifetime movie moment. It all started with a website called Gaybook. Yeah, that’s right, I was outed by a bloody pun. Gaybook was a website for gay tweens who wanted to talk to others like themselves. Looking back, it was most definitely unsafe, but c’est la vie.
Anyway, Gaybook sent me an email. Which, thanks to the power of Apple, appeared as a notification on my iPad, which was at that time at my dad’s house. Long story short, he called my mum, and I had an intensely uncomfortable conversation with her in the kitchen just before we left for a caravan holiday with my stepdad and brothers. She told me she loved me, and not to shave my armpits. I still don’t know why that was a concern, but all I can say is too late mum, I started when I was 12.
I don’t remember much of the caravan holiday other than that I was convinced my dad was going to send me to church at best or disown me at worst when I got back. I don’t know why we didn’t just call him, actually – I guess he wanted to reassure me in person? Either way, when I did get back from the holiday, he was actually rather lovely. His main concern was that I was going to get beat up – a valid concern for a scrawny gayboy at a northern Catholic secondary school.
They needn’t have worried, really. By the time I actually came out to the world, things had gotten a bit better. Apart from never speaking to a friend again after they called me a f*g in an argument, I hadn’t faced any major issues beyond the casual homophobia of teenage boys. So, when I did decide to come out on my school leaver’s day (yes, I was and still am an attention whore) I was terrified, but hopeful.
Posting that stupid rainbow and caption alone in my bedroom was the best thing I’ve ever done.
The response I got was amazing – I had never received so much love from my friends, family and total strangers. I’m not saying it was all easy – I’ve faced my share of discrimination and harassment – but the second I started living my life freely, I started actually living.
5 Years Later
Now, five years later, what’s changed? Well, I’m better at doing eyeshadow, I have a vodka pink lemonade addiction, and I love Carly Rae Jepsen a bit too much, but I’m still single. In fact, I’ve never actually been in an official gay relationship, to this day. That’s probably down to a couple of things: lack of opportunity, small town life, and my terrible personality come to mind. But strange as it sounds, the whole ‘dating men’ thing was never actually the goal of coming out.
Yes, I’m still single, but I’m living my life the way I want to, in a way I didn’t feel like I could five years ago. Maybe (hopefully) in the next five years I’ll find someone to love, but either way I’ll be living my life the way I want, on my terms. That’s the power of coming out. That’s why It Gets Better.
It’s not just me. The world has gotten better in the past five years. Since I came out in 2015, the legal situation across the world has continued to improve.
Same sex marriage has been achieved in the United States, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Colombia, Austria, Taiwan, Bermuda, Malta, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Finland and Luxembourg.
Civil Unions are now possible in Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Estonia, San Marino, and Monaco.
Same sex adoption was legalised in Austria, Ireland, and Portugal.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Mozambique, Seychelles, Nauru, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, India, Angola, and Botswana.
Politically, the world is an incredibly different place. Much of the debate in western countries around the LGBT community has moved on from marriage equality to new issues, such as those faced by the transgender community. So much has improved in the past five years, but there is still so much work to do.
Culturally, I sometimes don’t recognise the world I was so afraid of as a closeted teenager. Being gay in the UK, for a partially-privately-educated (on a scholarship!) white boy like me, is almost a non-issue. I mean, it’s not, but it’s not the all-consuming life-destroying secret it seemed like it would be when I was twelve. We’ve got Drag Race on Netflix, straight girls love Carly Rae Jepsen too, and Eurovision is still a thing. The gays are alright, or at least a lot better off than we used to be.
It’s not all rainbows. Things have gotten worse in some places, and we can’t ignore that. Some countries have newly criminalised homosexuality, such as Brunei, Gabon, and Chad. In many countries across the world, it is still impossible for LGBT people to live openly and freely. We have to continue working internationally to push for change, to rescue these people from oppressive legislation. We have to continue to change hearts and minds across the world.
This has never been truer for two of the most marginalised groups in the LGBT community: trans people, and queer people of colour. I want to take a moment to use my platform and position of privilege to shine a small light on the even greater difficulties faced by these communities.
Trans people continue to face immense levels of discrimination and ignorance, and they need and deserve our help as allies. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know enough about trans issues, and I can’t claim to speak for the trans community. What I do know is that trans youth are incredibly more likely to be bullied, self harm, or attempt suicide than any other group. Whether you ‘understand it’ or not, trans people are people, and they deserve our respect and compassion. If you take anything from this article, I hope it will be the desire to go away and educate yourself about the difficulties faced by the trans community, in the UK and internationally. The Gender Reform Act and the debate surrounding it is a good place to start.
Similarly, but with their own unique problems, LGBT people of colour, especially in the black community, are under attack today. This month many are dedicating Pride to the BlackLivesMatter movement. Again, I’m the first to say that I need to learn more about this issue. I’m not always the best, most progressive person, and I don’t think anyone should expect anyone else to be perfectly informed on everything. What I do know is that violence against the black community, especially in America, is out of control, and that violence is even greater against queer black people. As a community which has faced and continues to face its own share of discrimination, debate and protest, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with the black community. Again, I urge you to take some time to learn more about this issue.
In times like these, when so much is going wrong in the world, it’s easy to feel desperately overwhelmed. We always have to look back to realise how far we’ve come, both as individuals and as a society. I know where I was five years ago, and I know where the world is now. I don’t know where either of us will be in another five years, but I have hope that we will be better. Because it does get better.