In the last four years, I’ve probably come out to at least 20 odd people. Some of them are friends, others are familymeanwhile a large proportion are just people in passing who I’ve only met once or twice. But the fact remains, as queer people, the act of coming out isn’t a one time thing.
Sure, we all remember the first time we came out to someone close to us, and it’ll always remain a special moment, but it’s the first in a very long line of special moments that we have in our lives.
I first came out to someonea long-time university friendin 2014. The very next day, I visited my mum and came out to her. It would be over a year until I’d come out to my sisters, and some years after that until I’d come out to my dad and stepmom. In total, it’s taken me four years to tell everyone in my immediate family that I’m gay and there’s a multitude of reasons for this. I wasn’t ready, my relationship with each family member is different and a lot needs to be considered beforehand, and also I just got tired of editing myself around people.
To those outside of the community, there’s a misconception that when we come out, the closet we hid in for however long is gone foreverand for some people that is true and that’s great. But in my case, because I staggered my coming out across my family, it meant the closet was still very much a part of my life. While I could talk candidly to my mum about boys I’m dating and really be myself around her, I’d run back in the closet when I was around my sisters and dad because as far as they were concerned I was straight.
I’d modulate my voice so it wasn’t too high, check the way I walked and made sure my mannerisms didn’t arouse any suspicion. Doing this is enough to make anyone exhausted and even quite sad because you still feel like you’re putting on a performance for people and even worse than that, you’re still hiding your true authentic self even after you’ve stepped outside the closet and know things are definitely greener on the other side.
Beyond family, there’s the process of coming out to your colleagues at work, the new people you meet at social events or parties and even passersby in the street who you’ll never see again. In the past, I’ve been very careful of who I come out to in a workplace environment and at one job I wore my queerness on my sleeve like a badge of honour thinking it was a safe, mature working space, only for the CEO of the company to make homophobic jokes at my expense.
Outside of work, I had to come out to my favourite barista at my local Starbucks because she kept asking me why I didn’t have a girlfriend. Another time I inadvertently came out to my hairdresser after he asked me where I was heading to that evening and I named three of the biggest gay clubs in London.
Other times I’ve come out without even saying it. It can be by the way I walk or that I’m holding a boy’s hand in public and talking loudly about the most recent episode of Drag Race that lets people around me know that I’m gay, or at least part of the LGBTQ community in some capacity. And this will continue to happen for the rest of my life because unfortunately to a lot of people everyone’s default sexuality is straight until told otherwise.
Of course the act of coming out is hugely different in these cases, but the same feelings of dread and apprehension still rear their ugly head because you never know how people are going to react. Are they going to yell "Faggot!" at you from across the street and tell you that you’re disgusting or are they not even bat an eyelid?
There have been times when I’ve come out to old friends of mine and assumed they’d be fine with it only to notice them pull away and ultimately fade out of my life, so there’s still a chance that not everyone will be accepting of you and that little voice in the back of your head telling you to think twice about who you come out to can get annoying.
Last week I returned to those familiar feelings of fear, dread and panic when I decided to finally come out to my dad and stepmom. Out of everyone in my immediate family they were always going to be the hardest people to tell and it’s why they’re the last ones to know. I toyed with the idea of telling them I’m gay for years, but they’re Pakistani and Muslim and very devoted to their religion and culture so you can understand my hesitation.
I wrote them a letter as talking face to face has never been easy with them. The letter explained everything about how I felt, why I hardly visit anymore and that I was fine if they didn’t want to have a relationship with me after this. And instantly I felt the same way I felt four years ago when I first came out to my mum. It’s funny because despite there being a four year gap between my first ever coming and and my most recent one, I had the same dry mouth and butterflies in the pit of my stomach wondering what they’d say.
Fortunately, I was completely wrong about how they’d react and they even surprised me by assuring me nothing has changed and that they accept and love me. But it just goes to show that coming out is still a fucking big deal no matter how many times you do it, especially with the ones you care about most, because my first instinct was to expect the absolute worst and stress myself out in the process.
It’s only now that I feel like I can truly be myself around all my family and they get to see who I really am. And in a weird way there’s no longer a risk of me heading back into the closet anymore. It feels good to say my closet is finally closed.
That said, I doubt we’ll ever get to a stage where we as a community won’t feel the need to come out in some capacity. Perhaps it’s because the act of coming out is such an integral part of the LGBTQ+ experience that to not have ‘a coming story’ would seem somewhat bizarre and inauthentic. I think back to first dates with guys and one of the easiest things we could talk about is our own coming out stories. For better or for worse, they’re an experience we all share and can relate to.
There is never going to be a time when a queer person won’t have to explain to a straight person that they’re not like exactly them. The most we can hope for when decide to start living out truth is that they accept and respect us and if they don’t then that’s their problem, not ours.