by Andrew Henderson
Last year Brig did a feature every day of February for LGBT+ month. It was incredibly moving to read everyone’s story, and to see seemingly everyone rallying around behind this one issue was fantastic. I would even say it was inspiring. At least, all of those people inspired me to write this article. It is because of them that I’m proud to put my name to this article, add myself to the list of contributors, and say that I’m bisexual.
Having said that, I actually did write a piece last year. But I did it anonymously. And to me it felt like there was more of a disconnect between my piece and others that were so emotional. While other people were baring their souls for the world to see, looking back it feels like I was still hiding. And I mean, I was. I was still hiding myself from some of the most important people in my life.
Last year, I hadn’t come out to my family. That was really the key thing that was holding me back – the thought of one of them seeing something on Facebook and finding out before I told them was terrifying. I needed to be the one to tell them.
It’s not like it was massively impacting my life though. When I was at uni, the people I spent my time with knew, and they were all fine with it. In fact, I couldn’t really have asked for more from my friends. Nobody treated me any differently, even if a few of them had totally different reactions when I told them the news. Some squealed with excitement, some reassured me that everything would be fine, some were worried about me having bottled it up for ages, and others just shrugged it off as though I had just told them that this magical thing I was sitting on was called a chair.
They were all great in their own way. Because what they all meant in the long run was that I wasn’t going to be falling out with anyone over it, and my friends would still be my friends.
But there’s a different pressure when you come out to your family. At least, there was with me when I did. And really there was no reason to be nervous – my mum has been telling me for years that she would be fine with it if I was gay (not that I think she suspected I wasn’t heterosexual), and at one point my brother was the only straight guy in his flat while he was at uni. And yet thoughts of being disowned ran through my head, visions of being thrown out of the house.
That was, I think, what made it quite a lengthy process of working up the courage to tell them. It’s not even that I didn’t want to, but I was scared that they might not react the way I thought they would. Plus, how do you even go about bringing something like that up in the first place? There really isn’t any way to do it other than out of the blue.
But as it turned out, I was lucky. They all reacted just like I thought they would – my brother was fine with it, my mum got a little emotional and told me it was all ok, and my dad… well, he openly said he didn’t really understand it, but he wasn’t turning against me by any means. As I say, I had expected about as much from him, so it was a win in my book.
But here’s something that I haven’t seen really get talked about in relation to the “coming out” process – it’s not just a case of clicking your fingers and everything’s immediately hunky-dory. It really is a process. All those fears, the nerves and adrenaline, they don’t immediately become excitement. Relief? Sure, but that’s not always enough to be jumping around in celebration. Just as it can take weeks, months or years to build up to that moment of revelation, it can take a little while to come back down from it too. More often than not I’ve found it’s a couple of days before I really feel settled again.
But I’ve been lucky. I know there will be loads of people out there who have had a negative experience, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be accepted by everyone I’ve told. I’m not sure I can put into words how much that has meant to me.
And some of those people even said to me afterwards that they weren’t surprised when I told them. Not that I think they had necessarily guessed, or assumed I was anything other than straight. The impression I got from them was that they just didn’t assume either way – if I had showed up one day with a girlfriend without having said anything, they would have thought nothing of it. And if I had showed up one day with a boyfriend without having said anything, I don’t think they would have batted an eyelid at that either.
And I think that’s a generational sign of progress. I was talking to an old teacher of mine about 18 months ago, and she didn’t even know what LGBT+ stood for. That’s not to say she would have taken any issue, but I think that it’s an encouraging sign of progress that my generation, from my own experience at least, not only seem to be aware that these things exist but are widely accepting of them – and don’t immediately assume anything.
Because that’s where all the stress over the “coming out” moment roots back to at the end of the day: that assumption of heteronormativity until told otherwise. I think in an ideal world, we will get to the stage where nobody would have to come out and everybody would be accepted as they are.
But that’s equally as unlikely to happen any time soon as it is idealistic. I actually wonder if a shorter term, intermediate stage would be for everyone to “come out” – whether straight, bi, gay, trans or anything else. If we get to a stage where heterosexuality isn’t assumed for everyone, and nothing is, wouldn’t it be a big moment to announce your identity either way?
I quite like that idea. To me it’s a way of taking some of the pressure of the revelation off those who struggle with it, because it would become a normalised part of society. Last year Brig’s own Stuart Graham called the idea of “coming out” “a wall between people and them living freely as who they are”. I understand that train of thought. But if “coming out” is the wall, I think it can also be the wrecking ball that starts to knock that wall down.
And where do I go from here? Well, since I told my family about my sexual preference I properly feel like I am “out”. There was always going to be that cloud over my freedom until I did it. But I got through it with limited scarring, and I can fully embrace it now. To everyone I confided in who was so great with me, you are a big part of what gave me the confidence to write this, because you were all awesome. To them, I only have two words left to say: