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With Tom Daley’s heartfelt and personal coming out message on YouTube at the end of last year, and most recently Footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger coming out, I have heard on numerous occasions the headline quotation of this piece, or a variant of it said numerous times. People arguing in their opinion, and quite rightly, that in this day and age it doesn’t matter who you date.
A fair few commentators have asked “Why is it even news?” With this I whole heartedly agree, however, I do not agree with the notion that one day it won’t be necessary to ‘come out’ and that it won’t matter. I would argue there is a difference between coming out and the media taking a huge interest in it, and coming out to public indifference.
For coming out not to matter I would argue two things:
1) Society must stop the assumption that everyone is straight and thus requiring a need to “come out” as gay or bisexual, a difference to the societal norm.
2) Everyone should come out regardless of sexuality with the default point being never to assume anything, meaning that people can “come out” as straight as well as gay.
If we apply the veil of ignorance where no one’s sexuality is assumed, just think about it when people come to the age where they are sexualy aware of their feelings and can come out. There would be less judgment. Imagine your best friend comes to you and says “I have something to tell you, I’m straight, I’ve been seeing this girl and she makes me feel safe.” You’d be happy for him wouldn’t you? So why does this point of view change if your friend comes up to you and says “I’m gay, I’ve been seeing this guy and he makes me feel safe.”
I don’t know about you (those who have come out) but the day I came out will forever be etched in my memory. 27th April 2009 was my coming out day, not on a huge public scale, not even to my family at this point, but on this day, I came out to myself. Everyone who has come out will have a story to tell, either positive or regrettably negative. Tales of acceptance, great romance or at the other end of the scale, heartache, family rift and so on. When I meet someone new I like to find out their “coming out story” as it gives me an insight into that person. Even if they shrug it off and say “well, nothing really happened”, if you think hard about it coming out to yourself first is a pretty powerful moment.
For me, coming out ws, well, a moment of “relief” if I were to sum it up in one word. I was 19 and in my first year of university. I had a girlfriend the year before and had no love interest since then. I let myself believe the phrase that has on a few occasions been repeated back to me since coming out, the classic “Well you just haven’t met the right girl yet.” I had shrugged off any thoughts of being gay as this to me was a negative thing. The term ‘gay’ was used as an insult and was verbalised in bullying during my school days. So why would I be gay?
I had developed a ‘normal’ friendship with the guy next door whilst in student halls, and I was chatting to him one night and he said he was going home for the weekend, and only being a month or so into our first term I asked him if he was looking forward to it. He said he was a bit nervous, and so pressing further I asked why? He replied “I’m going home to tell them I’m gay.” I didn’t know quite what to say at that point but I remember a sort of what can only be described as muted joy and excitment at hearing this. Continuing the conversation I told him that I’m sure he had nothing to worry about and that on some level they probably knew anyway.
I went to bed with this going around in my head. It wouldn’t stop. I thought I was being silly. I didn’t know what I was thinking, or why I was so giddy. I can only liken it to finding out that your schoolboy crush has a crush on you as well. Why should his being gay sit on my mind so much? I guess I was hoping things went well with his parents, but this feeling of happiness was just illogical to me. This provoked a few days of self-evaluation. My mind was in constant debate with itself.
I remember working myself up into such a state, why do I feel this way, surely this is how I should feel about girls… he’s just a friend. I repeated to myself that I can’t be gay, that I just wanted to be ‘normal’. then thoughts of feeling this way before about other male friends came into my mind. Does this mean I had a crush on them also? Having shut myself in my room, I walked to the mirror with tears rolling down my face. I looked at myself and the words came out, “I’m gay, and that’s ok” and there we have it, I’d come out. The world hadn’t ended, things were still normal, I could hear my flatmates watching football and making dinner in the living room. I still had lectures to go to prepare for the next day. My emotional roller-coaster took me from distress and tears to a delirious feeling of happiness. I was able to reflect, wipe away the tears and think to myself, “so what now?”
It is this coming out that I think puts everything into perspective. The confusing thoughts, the questioning of why do I feel this way? Am I normal? Oh god what will people think? Quickly it changed. I felt I had found the answer to why I wasn’t attracted to girls. I was able to ‘label’ it. Oddly I decided to go online and see which celebrities were gay, it sort of reassured me, if they were gay and out and they had still made a success of things so why should I worry. I used to think I would have to give up on a career in politics because I was gay but just look at the ‘Pink Cabinet’ under Blair. It reassured me.
This is a life moment that straight people don’t have and maybe that’s why it is so strange to them and can be easily shrugged off as a ‘non news story’ or a “so what” moment. They don’t have this self-discovery; they don’t have the fear of rejection for being different. So forgive us when a huge public figure comes out as gay and we get a little excited about it. Forgive our interest especially when that individual has come out in sport which has the perception of homophobia and has the perception of being a ‘no gay zone’. Forgive us.
As the majority of readers will know, unless you are in the media spotlight you don’t just come out once. Firstly you come out to yourself, then there’s your friends, family and it doesn’t stop there. Whenever you start a new job for example, as I have recently, you find that you almost end up closeted again. Guys talk to me about “birds” and for those without highly tuned gaydars I have to come out again. On nights out where you run into complete strangers, sometimes I find myself telling them I’m gay.
It is never ending and that’s because in society it’s assumed that you are straight (unless you fit into the gay stereotype) it’s almost asserting yourself as you are, as opposed to the assumed you, that default setting that other people… well we all have. So though it shouldn’t matter who you date, or indeed whether you are straight, gay, bisexual or anything else, I would argue that you can’t label “coming out” as a non-event because it is a personal story and the fact that we keep having to do it. For straight people who don’t have to come out as straight, I’m sure it is a non-event, or even an odd event to them.
Surely for “coming out not to matter,” as the original quotation suggested, everyone in society should do it and then people will be indifferent to it.