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My Time of Change: Coming out at the age of 16

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One fateful night in 2013, shortly before starting college, I sat down and had a talk with someone really important to me.

Throughout my childhood and young adult life I had conditioned myself to avoid, suppress and ignore even the mere concept of my sexuality - but that night I decided I had enough of my own anti-gay propaganda and that I had to at least make an attempt to be honest.

Once I came to terms with it and gave myself my own blessing, I was free to have this conversation with the people closest to me.

So, what was so special about that night? Did my brain just flip the gay switch or was coming out a long-term process, a culmination of experiences and ideas that got me to the point in my life where I could just look into my mirror and be happy with who I was?

I’ve never thought of my coming out story as particularly brave or worthy of praise - but a coming out story should mean something regardless of how tough it is. Coming out stories collectively are greater than the sum of their parts because they mean something to all of us.

I could use any number of Disney songs to describe what this felt like, so perhaps the entire Disney corporation is to thank for my coming out, since all their songs are so gay: Part of Your World, Let it Go, I See the Light. Let’s go with “How Far I'll go”: I am Moana, the sea is homosexuality and it was really only a matter of time before I took my raft and sailed amongst the gays to save my village, against my father's wishes (Love you Dad).

What shocked me is that all the giant gay flags were somehow lost on most of my friends. I watched Pretty Little Liars religiously. So when I messaged my then (and current) three best friends and told them I elicited sweet, thoughtful, and weird reactions. One was super happy about it, the other thought it was all part of a ploy to get with more girls by pretending I was gay and the third was like "oh... actually so am I, I think?" (And yes, she’s totally queer.)

Coming out can be a means of emancipation, but being visible also makes you a target - it's opening a vulnerable part of you for the world to see and depending on your environment and the stage of your life this can have wildly different consequences.There’s never any reassurance it will turn out the way you want it to, which is why I avoided it. You think procrastinating a few hours to escape revision is bad, wait until you put off being gay for two and a half decades (which is not even that much, really).

The reality is that some kids weren't dealt the same hand I was, being a white and cis-gendered male with a family that loves and supports me. LGBT kids make up 24% of the homeless youth in the UK. Some are often abused, ostracised, or simply ignored and forced to stay invisible.

I never really experienced the whole coming out in high school cliche. I came back to school and nothing had really changed. Adolescence had been stressful enough, and I finally didn’t have to worry about every little thing I said or did that could indicate I was gay. Instead, I just let my self be. I am a little annoyed I had more relationships as a straight-pretending teen than I have as an adult gay male - but you can’t have it all, can you?

I am eternally grateful that I wasn’t subjected to bullying in the form of slurs or physical violence, but I still could never quite get over the backhanded comments about how we should only tolerate gays and lesbians as long as they don't get in our way by showing public affection, appearing in the media, or pretty much existing.

Some completely miss the point and think coming out is "not even necessary anymore” - but as long as there's a society that treats one sexuality as natural it will always drive you to step out of the shadows of gender stereotypes and heteronormative rules.

What does natural mean, anyway? To me natural means existing in the world and if I exist, I am as natural as any and I will continue to have to clear the error when someone assumes I’m not based on my mannerisms or my outward appearance.

My coming out was a positive experience, and as I grew up and went to university, coming out to new people became an optimised and fully choreographed ritual I could do with my eyes shut. My most meaningful conversation was one I had with my two favourite girl cousins, with whom I grew up, went to school and spent all my holidays. It was a particularly impactful moment because I just didn’t see it coming, and even after I said the words everything stayed exactly the same between us.

My third cousin (I’m Greek, I have lots of them ok?) didn’t get a proper coming out from me, despite us having been close like brothers - so I’ll dedicate this essay to him: you’re my favourite too, maybe even more so than all the others; don’t be jealous and thank you for being the supportive, smart, and funny young man you are.

Ever since then I’ve taken a specific approach when trying to tackle tasks that seem mountainous: I make my voice heard before fear can swallow it and I go from there, straight into the unknown ready for anything - even if it all falls apart.

If I could choose to change who I am would I rather live a simpler heterosexual life, or would I rather be faced with people who would rather see me dead than get married or adopt a child? The truth is I've spent so much time and energy on self improvement, on looking after my mental health and on working on my confidence in my own skin that I wouldn't ever want to throw all that away.

Even if you're not gay, I suggest you practice being more honest and learn how to appreciate your own company. Just as long as you don't have to ask why you don’t get an annual straight Pride.

I couldn’t possibly ever regret making this choice, and I can proudly say it was because of my own hard work and most importantly because of thousands of others who had the courage to do it even when they were being prosecuted. I came out to celebrate myself, but also all those other faces in the sea, those who came out before me, those who plan on doing it soon, those who felt estranged and lonely because they did, and all those who grew stronger in the face of adversity. They all deserve the same amount of love.

I implore people to listen more and spend less time doubting, belittling, or erasing such celebrations and that also applies to the LGBT community itself (and shout out to the bi community - you ain't gotta pick a side).

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