Thomas Leeming talks to Cardiff students about their coming out experiences
Every year on the 11th October, National Coming Out Day takes place. Founded in America in 1988, the day is a peaceful celebration and a recognition of everyone who has told the world that they are LGBT+. It is observed in many countries across the world, with marches, rallies and information stalls providing help and advice.
Coming out can be a difficult process for some; others seem to have no problem. Most people, however, experience a range of emotions. “The prospect of coming out scared and frustrated me” one student, Rachel, says to me. “My sister didn’t have to announce her heterosexuality, nor did any of my straight school friends – why should things be different for me?” Similarly to Rachel, I felt annoyed at the fact I had to come out, but I also wonder now if this was simply a cover to how I was really feeling on the inside: scared and alone. I knew that telling someone meant I wouldn’t need to hide any more; I could be free and be true to who I really was. Rachel continues, “the thought of lying to people sickened me, and I felt my parents deserved my honesty.”
Yet, being open in a mostly heterosexual world can make you feel a bit like an outsider. To fit in, you need approval from others. Indeed, I was worried about how people would react. Another student, Erin, who is bisexual, remembers: “My friends refused to take it seriously, as did certain, more liberal members of my family.” When you are young, it can often be seen as something you’ll grow out of or still need to figure out. “I was known as “undecided” and it was something that was often giggled about. I never admitted how much that hurt me.”
Fortunately, Erin’s mother was a lot more accepting. “There was no moment when I actually came out and announced that I was bisexual; it was more of a gradual integration into my life. The closest I ever came to a coming out was when I told my mother that I was finding girls attractive.” Erin laughs, “Her reaction surprised me: ‘Well, as long as you figure out some way of giving me grandchildren, then I really don’t mind who you’re with.’ I have always been so grateful that she was willing to be so accepting so quickly. I know that I am lucky.”
My parents have also been very accepting of the fact I’m gay. At first, they found it a little difficult, especially coming from traditional Christian backgrounds, but eventually it has become normal for all of us. Parents bring you up not thinking you’ll turn out to be anything other than straight. “She was in shock”, Rachel recalls telling her parents over dinner. “My Dad ate his noodles. I cried, she cried, we hugged, we cried some more and eventually laughed.”
For those individuals who come out as ‘+’, it can be, perhaps, somewhat harder than being L, G, B or T, as it is less prominent in society. One student, Laura, explains, “The acronym LGBT, while widely used, doesn’t cover everyone – other orientations include pansexual, asexual, genderqueer and androgyne.” The term can also be used to refer to straight people who help to raise awareness and support those who are non-heterosexual; Laura is straight and is a part of the LGBT+ society. “The Cardiff LGBT+ Association welcomes friends and allies from the straight world and they too can feel represented by the ‘+’.”
Coming out as whatever sexual orientation can be harder depending upon who it is you tell. Erin’s mother and friends are all supportive of her, however she still has yet to tell her grandparents. “I am, at present, caught in that eternal struggle between keeping it a secret in order to keep their love and wanting so desperately for them to know who I am.” Erin is an active member of the LGBT+ Society, having helped out on various campaigns: “There is so much I have achieved this year which I am proud of and, yet, I cannot share it with them.” I empathise with Erin completely as my grandparents don’t know either. I would like them to know, but they would be sad and upset; they come from a different era where being gay wasn’t the way you lived your life.
But, this is the way I live my life because this is the way I was born. Of course, coming out is optional and can be done at any age, but eventually, even if just for your own peace of mind, it becomes necessary. “I realised that coming out was my only option”, explains Rachel. To come out can be daunting, but ultimately liberating. Erin concludes, “If there’s one thing I have learned over the past few years, the only way to be happy is to be true to yourself.”