It's National Coming Out Day today. I'm rather lucky that I got the dreadful deed out the way back in 2002, just around the time that pic below was taken. I like to think in the photo there with Tom you can see how happy and liberated I felt.
I actually came out in the car with my mum while driving through grey old Coventry of all places. So, it's distant past for me now. But, the anticipation was so stressful that I was quite poorly for months before, I lost loads of weight, didn't eat properly and smoked like a chimney. I consider myself very lucky now, but at the time I would have swapped places with literally anybody to avoid talking about my sexuality.
The trouble is, kids in 2018 are still going through the exact same trauma. Many LGBTQ children feel ashamed and scared and don't know who to talk to.
If you do one thing today, have a chat with your kids about boys and girls and how it's absolutely fine and totally normal if they're lucky enough to fancy boys, or girls, or both. For instance, we often start chats with our boys "When you're old like me, with a boyfriend or girlfriend or a pet dog or whatever..." - it's as easy as that.
Believe me, just a few tiny gestures now will make coming out SO much easier when they're older.
My coming out story
Ten years ago, long before I knew what a blog was (or wrote anything down, so please excuse my lack of finesse and long paragraphs) I penned my coming out story to share with my favourite radio show, Neil & Debbie on Gaydio - they read it out on air. I haven't returned to it until today and it brought a tear to my eye. Here's my coming out story.
Growing up in Warwick in the 90s, a small British town, being gay was unacceptable. Teenagers would shout and swear at gay people in the street and the local gay pub (which looked lovely) was a point of ridicule.
Not a fantastic example to set for a 12 year old gay boy (that’s me!).
I lived in a tiny village five miles from Warwick – the village was my sanctuary. My family were inclusive and friendly and I had a lovely group of friends there with whom sexuality wasn’t relevant and we all hung out together throughout my childhood without any worry or bullying.
At 12 years old, I joined Aylesford School in Warwick (don’t worry – I can name and shame the school - it’s been some time). Very quickly I realised I was different to the other kids; coming from a friendly village middle school I was dropped in with rough, confident kids from the estates surrounding the school. Think the posh kid at Waterloo Road – that was me.
Starting from day one, even though I’d never said to anyone that I might like boys, kids were cruel – shouting ‘queer’ and shoving me around every day. I can only assume that they noticed I was smartly dressed and I had a soft voice. At times I was physically pushed over in the corridors and shoved against walls but mostly I was just jeered at and called names, which gradually wore me down. The teachers used to see all this happen but did nothing. One teacher in particular, Mr Gates (again I will proudly name and shame) called me a pansy in front of the class. I was mortified. Despite all this misery, I found a small group of lovely, geeky girls who worked in the school careers library. The careers library became my safe place at school – I could escape there whenever I liked and there was always a friendly face to greet me.
My sister was cool and popular around school so, at around the age of 15, one of the ‘hard’ boys (that’s a Warwick phrase…) sat with me in my new GCSE music class and to my amazement was kind to me, in quite a subtle way (I'm pretty sure he said "Alright, Beags?"). I started hanging around with him – a bit like a sad spare part to begin with but eventually I was accepted by a group of lads who previously I would never have considered even looking at.
I think the teachers and my parents were worried and assumed this was my moment of teenage rebellion! I was aware that I looked older (and trendier) than everyone else in the group, and happily used this to my advantage by offering to buy cigarettes and beer when we met up at weekends. They must have known I was different, but rather than bullying me, the homophobic jibes became just friendly banter. It was great. I also started hanging around with some nice kids from science (with a mutual enjoy of a lunchtime ciggy), a couple of whom are still my best friends today, almost 15 years on. Anyway, the bullying softened, but at least now I had a real group of friends and I felt fine.
But, I’d still not told anyone I was gay, for fear of losing my friends.
Fast forward a couple of years and it was my decision to go to University that really changed my life and became the setting of my coming out story.
At uni in Leicester I lived with a really fabulous group of housemates and my sister, Emily lived just a few miles away at uni in Nottingham. At this stage I’d still not ever had a boyfriend or even kissed a boy – and I’d still not told anyone about my sexuality.
At weekends I used to visit Emily. One weekend while out and about in the pubs in Nottingham a friend of hers from Warwick called Chris came along with his best friend Tom. Chris also went to my school but wasn’t one of the ‘hard’ lads who gave me any trouble.
Despite this, I assumed by the way he looked that his friend Tom could be trouble and I gave him a wide berth. Later on that night, Milly and Chris disappeared to the chippy so I was left with Tom. It turned out that he was much more lovely than I’d thought - we sat a talked about uni and fashion and mutual friends and to my astonishment he started to talk about boys! This was new for me… I’d never met anyone gay before and Tom certainly wasn’t the kind of boy who was ever shoved or shouted at in school. Our conversation went on for hours and it quickly became clear there was chemistry between us. I was so excited! This feeling of attraction was completely new and I liked it.
I gave Tom my mobile number and went back to uni with a smile on my face. Tom texted me every day and every single time I got a text my heart raced. He was flirting! I decided to pluck up the guts to ask him out. I texted him.. “Meet me at Revolution on Friday night at 7pm”. It was done! But, I’d still not told my housemates about this and they were starting to wonder why I’d suddenly become so panicky about new text messages. SO, I knocked on the door of my friend Selina in halls. She answered, and I blurted it out… “I’ve got a date… with a boy”!! She jumped around and clapped – a great reaction from the first person I’d told (in an around about way) that I was gay! That was it.. I told everyone in the flat about my news and they were all really super excited and happy for me!
Friday came and I went on my first date – it went well; again, Tom was chatty and I noticed how lovely and blue his eyes were. While walking back to my flat, we stopped and kissed. That was it… I had my first boyfriend!
So, I had a boyfriend, my housemates (and my sister) knew I was gay but I’d not told my parents, or anyone from Warwick yet. The following weekend I went to Warwick to visit my Mum and Dad. I needed to tell them my news, but the opportunity didn’t arise because Dad was working in the garage and I couldn’t get them together in the same room.
So, I decided to tell Mum while we were in the car on the way back to Leicester. We were driving through Coventry, of all places, when I took a deep breath and said.. “Mum, I’ve met a boy.” – she pulled over the car and looked at me with welling up eyes. “What do you mean?” she asked.. “Well, I met a boy who I think I love” I said. Without saying anything, she pulled back out into the road and we drove the rest of the journey in silence. A stark contrast to the reaction of my friends. When we got back to my flat, Mum hugged me and said quietly “I love you, Jamie”. So, that was okay, I thought. Later that evening, my phone rang. It was Dad. He wasn’t very happy and said that he didn’t think it would be a good idea to pigeon-hole myself (whatever that means!). Still, my housemates were really supportive and welcomed Tom into our uni-household with open arms.
With time, actually, mum and dad both came around to the idea, although clearly weren’t ecstatic about it to begin with. A couple of weeks after coming out to them, I took Tom to Warwick to meet them. I expected them to be really quiet and unwelcoming, but, to my surprise my Dad, who was faffing around in the garage invited Tom into the garage to look at his latest DIY project (I can’t remember what it was) and they got along really well. This was super! Everyone I loved now knew I was gay. Over the coming months I told friends from school and my grandparents about Tom. They were all great. I only wish I’d said something sooner.
Ten years on and I’m still with gorgeous Tom – we’ve got a house together in Leicester and a dalmatian called Meryl. Remember my 'hard' friend from school? Last weekend I went to his stag do and met absolutely zero hard feelings about my sexuality from any of his blokey friends and it still feels great to be able to be myself.
I guess my advice to young people who are worried about coming out is to wait until you’re ready and then tell the people who are closest to you. Start close, and then branch out. You might experience reject, but the people who accept you for who you are will become your real friends for life.