“My mum sobbed for a life that would not be lived…”
“It took me until I was 21 to do the deed. I’d spent years whipping myself into a frenzy of discontent, believing once I came out my world would end; my family would be too embarrassed, angry, or unsupportive to continue relations with me, my friends would drop me like a stone, I would be coerced into leading a life on the margins of society.
I wish I’d done it another way but one night, drunk with a friend, I texted my mum to say I was gay. There is something about the dissociation that encumbers technological communication that made it easier that way. The response was ‘Phone me’, and with apprehension manifesting itself in shaking fingers, I dialled. Hearing my mum’s voice, confused, enquiring, full of emotion, I broke further and we sobbed together on the phone.
My mum sobbed for a life that would not be lived. She says it was a kind of grief, not that I was gay, but that my life would be harder, and she wanted it to be easy. The joy was to come later – a joy at the rebirth of me, a lifting of the darkness that followed me around like a personal rain cloud. There was relief to be gained too, from the slow yet persistent realisation that I was the same person I always was.
We decided to tell my dad together. This was the hard part. My dad is a traditional, conservative man, born and raised in Jamaica, and frankly, he’d not done much throughout the years to intimate he’d be OK with a gay son. My heart was in my mouth.
‘I already know,’ said my dad, and then, ‘Yuh me son and me love yuh same way. Me just want yuh fi be happy.’ I broke again.
I learned from my father that prejudice has many forms. My own belief that he would disown me because he was Jamaican was prejudiced. If your parents and you have a good, loving relationship, coming out will not change it.”
“You can’t be gay; you’re black…”
“I came out as bisexual 20 years ago. Only recently have other lesbian and gay people believed me. I’ve been told there’s no such thing as bisexuals. I came out to my trade union rep, as I wanted to go to an LGBT conference. He said, ‘You can’t be gay; you’re black.’ I was too scared of him to say I was bisexual. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.”
“I needed that familial acknowledgment and recognition of me…”
“I’m bisexual. The realisation of this came from the deep soul-searching journey that only going to university a moderate distance away from a strict home could offer. Fears of what my family would think stunted any exploration of this newfound awareness where dates would be awkwardly and abruptly ended or where I clicked ‘Attending’ for the Facebook events of the elusive LGBTQ student nights but never ended up going. With the metallic stab of graduation, the university bubble burst. I’d slowly started ticking ‘bisexual’ instead of ‘heterosexual’ on nosey Equal Opportunity forms. But the scary thought in the back of my mind still remained: would the people who had known me all my life understand?
Because of a large age gap between my sister and I, she’s always been the melting pot mix of Sister, Great Friend, as well as Cool Mom. It was an easy decision to make: I wanted to tell her first. But this proved easier decided than done. Near enough every Christmas in my late teens and early twenties, I would spend the merry season with my sister and brother-in-law. Every Christmas Eve evening, we’d go out to the pub for a “post-match analysis” of the year gone by, accompanied with drinks and pub snacks. Fuelled by lowered inhibitions, there would be a moment every year where I would be on the verge of blurting out this all-consuming secret. As I was about to tell her, the moment passed because I’d fought myself into keeping quiet.
This went on until Christmas 2014. I was three months into a relationship with a guy. But I still needed that familial acknowledgment and recognition of me. I decided: Fuck it, it’s happening. I don’t remember much of what I said to her, standing in her kitchen as the kettle boiled. Full sentences failed me but I bumbled on to finally saying what I’d needed to say. I’d been worried about her being disgusted by me now or even ashamed of me. I hadn’t realised until then that I’d been building a wall over so many years in anticipation of any negative response. So I was stunned when she said, ‘You’re my sister. And if anyone tells you that I have an issue with this, they’re wrong. And you’re hearing that directly from me.’ That gave me the confidence to accept myself.”
“My dad had no qualms with making ignorant comments…”
“Like most straight men who grew up in the ’60s/’70s (especially Jamaican men), my dad had no qualms with making ignorant comments about gay guys when I was growing up. Because of that, I wasn’t open with my parents until I was 19.
I came out during the summer between my first and second years of uni. To be honest I’d expected the worst from my dad, and had my best friend sat in her car ready to whisk me away when I was inevitably disowned. But as soon as he was faced with his own son being gay, his views changed.
There were of course a couple of weeks of weirdness: awkward conversations, long silences at dinner, overly intrusive questions. What struck me most was my dad’s fear of me being targeted by both homophobes and racists – and sadly this has been the case.
But I left for uni a couple of weeks later with my dad being my biggest supporter, and we’re exceptionally close now. I think in my dad’s case there was a bit of a battle between taught ignorance and his instinct to love me – and luckily instinct won out.
The thing is, parents – especially fathers – need to make their homes a welcoming and loving place for LGBT people long before their kids come out. Yes both my parents were great, but I didn’t know they were going to be great. If I had, I wouldn’t have wasted all that energy trying to keep the closet door shut.”
“I got my bags, walked around the corner, and cried for about an hour on the street…”
“One weekend when I was about 17, I lied to my strict Christian African parents that I was at a church function for the weekend when I had actually got a train to Heaven in London with my best friend at the time. Somehow, details of clubs, venues, and names of who I had been spending my time with had been produced to my mother unbeknown to me and when I returned home, I found my bags packed by the front door and my mother in tears of rage.
She screamed at me, ‘Are you gay?’, and I thought to myself, End it now and admit it, or suffer more years of secrecy. I shouted back in fear, ‘Yes, Mum, I am – and what are you going to do about it?’ At that, my father came flying down the stairs, shouting at me in Shona (my original language) in words I’d rather not repeat. I started crying profusely because it had just dawned on me that that was the first time I had said those words out loud and this was the situation I was presented with. My father screamed at me that no child of his could be gay and that I had a demon in me that needed casting out. My mother, however, was no longer angry; she was now weeping as though she had just been told I had died. She simply touched my shoulder and told me to get out. ‘Get out and go to those friends you have now that can accept what you’ve become, because I cannot.’
I pleaded and cried with them to no avail until I got to the point of anger where I thought, Fuck this, I’m going. I got my bags, walked around the corner, and cried for about an hour on the street until it started to get dark and I realised I had to go somewhere. I ended up staying with my then best friend for about nine months. My family did not talk to me in this time at all.
I randomly got a phone call to come home nine months later from my mother. It wasn’t easy, but I did. It took a few more months for things to smoothen out and my family to accept I was even in the house, but fast-forward nearly 10 years later, and I now openly talk to my parents about my life and relationships. It was the hardest time of my life in all honesty and I’ll never forget not knowing who had decided to out me in such a fashion. It was later revealed to me that my best friend at the time, who took me in when my parents had kicked me out, had been the same person who had delivered the blow – who had made the call and informed them of everything. The irony.”
“I didn’t like what I was being labelled as…”
“This isn’t tough and it isn’t shocking. My mother is Jamaican and my father is white British. I first realised I was gay in my second year of university, when I used to stare at one of the girls who used to come into my netball training all the time. I told my best friend, who was fine with it, but then I hastily cornered the girl in the club a few weeks later and made out with her. Everyone at my uni was talking about it for the next week, which made me back away from what I did because I didn’t like what I was being labelled as and these new feelings were slightly overwhelming me.
I finally accepted that I was gay about seven months later when I got my first girlfriend. I kept her a secret from my family, until five months into the relationship, she ended it. I broke down in front of my dad, who gave me the ‘There’s plenty more fish in the sea’ talk. It’s been three and a half years since I came out and I’ve only just told my mum and my family, who I thought would not understand, but thankfully they just want me to be happy.”
“Don’t bring shame to the family…”
“So my coming-out story was a little different, because the rest of the world, strangers, almost knew about me long before the people I care about did.
I was out late, going to my first gay club at an arguably old age of 17 (most people I know start young) – telling my family I worked in a night club near uni.
As far as I was aware, they were none the wiser, and never really questioned the legitimacy of my claims.
But the time finally came where I thought, I want them to know…so one by one I told my siblings…who both responded ‘finally…’ – with a sigh of relief.
Then came my mother; she was the tough one. She had once asked me about it before, around the age of 15. Awkwardly enough she asked ‘how many girls have you had sex with in this house’ – I presume that was her attempt at the sex talk (my dad was never around). I made up a number and got on with my life. Several years later, before taking a trip to another city for the weekend, I left her a letter telling her everything… to which she responded: ‘Don’t bring shame to the family by sleeping around and catching something nasty.’”
‘I felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in my own home…”
“I came out between the ages of 22 and 24. I always said to myself that I wouldn’t come out until I was dating, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to date men until I was 21. The very first person I told was my best friend, Aleisha; she was quite shocked but she was extremely supportive and gave me amazing advice. I found it especially difficult to share with my circle of friends because they were all straight males; I went to a Catholic all-boys school in east London. Aleisha told someone who told someone that was in my year at school. He told one of my friends, who didn’t believe it and asked to meet me to talk about it. I met up with him and had to come out to all of my friends individually in a five-day period, which was the most stressful and liberating experience of my life.
I told my nan and my sister and they were fine, but wary of my mum; she worries about what people think more than the average person. My mum took it horrifically. She pretended she was fine with it, but the way she treated me after showed otherwise. For the first time in my life I felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in the home I had lived in since I was 2 years old, and because of that I chose to move out. I took out a payday loan to afford the first month’s rent and deposit and I lived with friends in the hope that she would realise what she could lose. That didn’t work. I wrote her a five-page letter, which she read and chose not to respond to, so I decided to block her number and cut all contact with her.
After a few days my sister noticed and said if I was going to ignore my mum, I should at least have the decency to tell her. So a few days later, my sister came down to London and invited me to my nan’s house, where the four of us would talk about the situation. I said so many things I had wanted to say for years, and so did my mum, but after a lot of tears, we came to a conclusion where she finally accepted me.
Now, I have been in a committed relationship for almost two years. Being able to share this with my family is one of the best things I could ask for.”
“My sexuality in such a setting is an admittance of a crime…”
“One question I have had to deal with since my coming out is; ‘Would you ever do it again?’ To understand the concept of the question, it will be important to put my coming out into perspective. I came out in 2004 in Nigeria. Nigeria 11 years ago was one of the countries with the buggery law; a left over of the brutal era of British colonialism. Owning up to my sexuality in such a setting is an admittance of a crime; that I have either committed buggery or I will be committing buggery, which in effect means 10 years imprisonment.
I came out as I was climbing the ladder of my acting career. I was a theatre student in one of Nigeria’s leading universities, and had spent most of my life on the stage. Acting was my life, but I had no idea it could’ve been classified as my downfall. When I finished acting school, I got cast for a television soap series and that meant a bigger space, bigger audience, bigger opportunity but also something I was not aware of; a bigger threat. With fame came the preying eye of the media on my personal life. As the pressure mounted and the threat of being exposed increased, I had no choice but to own up and come out.
The implication was not just the law, but the loss of my job, of my home, of every and any relationship with my family and many of my friends. It was a very difficult time in my life. There was also the challenge my coming out posed to the collective expectation of black masculinity. I spent time answering gender sexualized questions. The beatings followed, then the assaults, the life threatening abuse and the never stopping police arrests. It was a very difficult time.
As a black gay man, owning up to my sexuality and being out with it came with a price tag and one that has discouraged many other people to follow suit. ‘Would I do it again’ is a question many black gay men have asked me. In the face of rejection, depression and loneliness, the answer might not be yes. However, when we take time to see the impact coming out has on the lives of many black LGBT people who unfortunately have limited role models in the media, then we realise that every time a famous LGBT person of colour comes out, a taboo is dead somewhere.”
“I fell in love with a wonderful person…”
“I’m not sure I ever really came out. I never needed to. I’ve always been one to stick to my guns and do what suits me. I’d be lying if I said I truly didn’t care what people think about me. I take what people think, and I use it as my own personal empowerment. I see past it, and I do what I want anyway.
I don’t exactly consider myself gay. I fell in love with a wonderful person at the beginning of the year, who happens to be a woman. I’m just lucky enough to live in a time and place where pursuing that love wasn’t an issue. Not to anyone who matters most to me anyway.
Since I was a child my mother has always been open and honest with me about my sexuality and the sexuality of others. I was always overly encouraged to be who I want and essentially, to do who I want. Life’s too short. When I told her about this girl, she got all giddy, like it was this new adventure. I guess it sort of is. My friends shrugged it off; yeah it was different, but they were over it in a matter of minutes. I remember going to bed that night feeling so smug and so lucky to be surrounded by such lovely, open-minded people, but also feeling a stroke of guilt for those people who have had to struggle with the notion of ‘coming out’.
Deep down I never thought anything would ever happen with this person and me. Yeah everyone knew but could I really see myself dating a woman? Plus after getting to know my flighty personality due to our close friendship, I think she thought I was sort of having her on. We’re seeing each other now and trust me it was worth the wait, worth the self-questioning, and worth worrying about what others might think. It may seem hard but stay true to yourself and go for what you want; it might just be worth it.”
“People only see gay OR black, not gay AND black…”
“I was 19 years old and extremely depressed contemplating a life of heterosexuality. I was a combination of educated professional, hoodlum, rapper, introvert, go-getter homosexual, and a range of other characteristics that aren’t supposed to coexist in one person. People like clear categories; they only see gay OR black, not gay AND black.
The year prior to coming out, I had decided if nothing regarding my sexuality had changed, I would come out to my family. After the year grace period (surprise: nothing changed) the time came and went and came and went several more times.
Finally I got the courage to tell my stereotypical Jamaican dad and Vincentian mother through letter. I made all the necessary preparations for a backlash: a prearranged place to stay, bags packed in car with a full tank of petrol, and the mental preparation to say goodbye to my family.
I handed the letter to my mother and scurried upstairs. She came upstairs crying and told me it was OK I was bisexual (of course I said that to soften the blow). I disappeared for the day while she told everyone else. I returned home to numerous spuds (fist bumps) from male family members, and hugs from the females. Far from the reaction I imagined.
Now, at 26, I think my parents would be pretty upset if I brought a girl home!”
Some names have been changed to protect the identities of those that did not want to be acknowledged publicly.