Is there a need to come out? Is it anyone’s business?

Straight people don’t go round telling you about their choice of sexual partners (unless it’s on a drunken night out, at a wife swapping event or they’re on Jeremy Kyle) so why should we?

I didn’t exactly shock anyone when I came out. I had a dolls’ house as a small child, was in a theatre group and was considered “delicate”. I don’t think anyone was actually too staggered when I finally decided to tell my friends that I was gay at the age of 15. In some ways I’m glad I had little choice. Being noticeably gay has its advantages.

Hiding the fact that I’m gay would have been pretty unconvincing. So, I didn’t. Had I grown up to be more manly and gruff who knows what would have happened? If I’d been blokish enough to utter marriage vows without the vicar choking on his dentures then I could well have ended up as a square peg in a very round hole. Lots of men have done that and lots of them still do. Just look at an online hook-up site or on Grindr. There are a lot of married men on there who are living secret gay or bisexual lives.

My ex partners (of which there have been a few) have almost all been married and were all separated or divorced and had come out when I met them. One came out in his twenties, one in his thirties and one never had. He lived a bizarre life. He had a respectable public position, an ex wife and kids and had spent several years living with an ex partner who was his “lodger”. He was also pretty messed up. He wouldn’t be seen going into a hotel room with a male partner and we had to stagger our arrivals slightly. He was nervous on the gay scene and darted furtive glances around like a frightened rabbit. He was uptight and angst ridden to the extreme. This was decidedly odd for me as being in my late thirties I’d been openly gay for over twenty years. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t flourish.

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I can understand why people don’t come out and it isn’t always a reflection on their personalities that they don’t choose to. It’s more an indictment of a society where it’s still seen as a bit less than desirable to be identified as gay. I understand why politicians, film stars and sportsmen choose to stay closeted. It’s easier in the short term but I suspect this kind of double life bears a price too. It must be stressful to live a lie.

As for my own coming out story, it’s not so dramatic. I came out in the late 1980s in a comprehensive school in central England. It wasn’t easy (in spite of it already being fairly obvious). It didn’t make things worse in terms of the bullying I already experienced, my friends didn’t reject me and the teacher’s were no different with me. I felt better for getting it out in the open though. Hiding things is hard work and I was lonely and felt left out. I needed to feel accepted for who and what I was. I also needed to join in the discussions with my female friends about which boys we fancied. One friend saw it as great opportunity and would beg me to scrutinise boys who she fancied in the changing rooms and report back. I didn’t but only for fear of being caught. I did look. I just didn’t report back.

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I came out to my parents at 17. They didn’t disown me or spout hate speeches. They weren’t especially supportive either but you can’t expect everything. It was the 1980s and things were different to some extent. I know I was lucky and not everyone’s coming out stories make unflinching reads. Some people have horrific experiences and homophobia is still loud and proud in many places, whether we like it or not.

I wouldn’t impose coming out on anyone. It’s not for everyone and I would never disagree with someone who chose not to define themselves as gay/straight or bisexual either. Personally, I don’t mind a label. It serves a purpose for me. It was the right thing for me and I’m glad I did it, even though I probably didn’t have to: my love of musical theatre and Madonna gave me away long ago.

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.

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