I’m coming out – again
From Gaelick Contributor Kristine
“So…any plans for tonight?”
I raised my eyes to the reflection of my hairdresser in the rectangular mirror which faced me. Maybe it was the post Pride March ‘out and proud’ feelings that still lingered from the previous afternoon, or the Post Pride celebration fatigue that rendered me incapable of racking my brains for one of my usual answers – some straight club/pub in Temple Bar that I had never set one inch of my Converse inside – but this time I decided to answer her question honestly. “Just a few pints in The George,” I said as casually as I could; now looking with great interest at the copy of NOW magazine which resided on my lap.
“Sounds nice and relaxing,” She replied, her bubbly tone unchanged. “I wouldn’t mind a few beers later myself. Gorgeous out isn’t it?”
And so there we have it. My first direct, in person ‘coming out’ experience to someone who was not within my immediate family or close circle of friends… and nobody died.
That particular milestone took place two years ago, and in hindsight, I don’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps a dirty look or an unconscious impulse on her behalf to pull up her low cut top? I know a ridiculous reaction not to mention a highly unlikely one in this day and age. So why was I expecting the worst? Well, I think it all stems back to the reactions that I received towards my sexuality when I was growing up. Now, before I am hailed as some amazing lesbian who knew exactly who she was at the age of 9 years of age and fought for gay rights in the sandbox, to say I was ‘outed’ rather than that I ‘came out’ of my own volition, sums up my adolescent years more truthfully.
Let’s just say the people who either guessed or whom I confided in about my sexuality didn’t exactly make me feel as if fancying girls was something to be OK with. In fact, that’s an understatement. Through dirty looks or sly comments, which were thrown my way and uttered either in the halls of my secondary school or by teammates of an all girl’s football team (half of whom I have spotted inside The George), I was made to feel ashamed. As if I were a convicted criminal or a deviant sexual predator.
Perhaps to anyone who has not received such negative feedback in regard to who they are, these comparisons may seem slightly dramatic. Yet, these feelings are a common experience that many people are made to feel and have felt upon ‘coming out’ or being ‘outed,’ as a youth. I remember in particular, one occasion where I was watching a DVD in my best friend’s bedroom. A knock came at the door. It was a girl who my best friend was also friends with, whom knew through connections of hers that I was gay or at least suspected of being so (suspected, it even has connotations of the word criminal.) I will never forget her response upon hearing that my best friend at the time had been upstairs watching a film with me. “What’s SHE doing up there?”.
Her suggestion was further fuelled by the fact that she had heard from someone that I fancied my best friend in question (which I did, how many of us haven’t had one of these harmless unrequited crushes?). Needless to say, I didn’t particularly enjoy the remainder of the film.
Now, I know her reaction was in itself ridiculous and extremely homophobic, but on top of that, like most young women who are unsure of their sexuality or frightened of it, the thought of even holding a girls hand had my stomach in knots, so I was far from attempting to jump her or something. Heck, even now, being a lot more comfortable with my sexuality and everything that goes along with it, I wouldn’t jump any friend! That’s just called having respect for other people and their space.
Believe me, I could continue to list a myriad of negative reactions that I received towards my sexuality when I was younger, but my main point in writing this article is to raise the fact that ‘coming out’ as such, never really stops. We almost feel that once we have come out to say our parents or our friends, that that is it. End of. The whole world knows who we truly are and now we never have to go through such an uncertain and scary experience again.
However, as our lives progress, we see that that is not the case. Friends come and go, even perhaps the location of the place we called home changes, and with this the whole ‘coming out’ cycle starts again. An ‘I’m a lesbian’ memo is not forwarded to every person that you will encounter and become acquainted with in the future, and why should it be many will argue. While I agree that someone’s sexuality is their own personal business, can you realistically hide your sexual orientation from even the most fair-weathered friendship with a ‘straight friend’, or even a work colleague in the long run, and why should you?
Now, at 24 years of age, having received great support within the gay community and having made a number of good friends along the way, I feel much more confident when questioned about my sexuality. However, I can’t deny, that right before my initial ‘I’m a gay’ omission, that those past feelings of dread and shame haunt me, albeit to a much lesser degree, and from speaking to other lesbians, I know that I am not the only one who sometimes feels this way.
In fact, when I told a lesbian friend of mine about this article, she too confessed to lying to her hairdresser about the venues of her nights out for the past number of years, while she also confided in me that she had not yet told a new female friend in college, to whom she had become quite close, that she was a lesbian, out of fear that the girl would distance herself from her.
So, while I feel that some people don’t share their sexuality with some ‘straight’ people that they associate with in their life due to their belief that their sexuality is nobody’s business but their own, I feel that despite the LGBT communities mantra of being ‘out and proud’, there are still many gay people who, although are ‘out and proud’ when mixing with other LGBT people, are not as confident in their orientation when spending time with people who are outside of the LGBT community, and therefore decide against divulging their sexual orientation to the aforementioned people (although it is almost seen as treason within the LGBT community to admit such a thing!)
Perhaps for those of us who still feel slightly nauseous right before we utter the words ‘I’m gay’ to a new ‘straight’ friend, thus feeling as if we are almost doing the ‘out and proud’ mentality of the LGBT community a disservice, this is just a form of Post Traumatic Stress rearing its ugly head? After all, wouldn’t it be understandable that those of us who received negative feedback during our adolescence are predisposed to being more secretive regarding our sexual orientation in the here and now? It would go some way towards explaining this fear around ‘coming out’ to new people as our lives progress. After all, in 2012 being a lesbian thankfully is not seen by the majority of people as being a bad thing (and nor should it be), so why are some of us still stuck in the past?
Then again, maybe some gay people choose not to ‘come out’ amongst certain people for fear of their own personal safety? After all, the recent homophobic attack and subsequent tragic death of Canadian gay journalist Raymond Taavel shows that despite the great progression the global LGBT community has made towards tackling homophobia, it still unfortunately exists.
However, with the help of campaigns such as STAND UP, which youth group Belong 2 have set up with the aim of creating a ‘positive understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered young people and their lives’, and the involvement of gay high profile celebrities such as Mark Feehily from the boyband Westlife, in campaigns which help to raise awareness of homophobic bullying, I think we are on the right road towards ensuring that ‘coming out’ is no longer such a daunting prospect, at any stage in our lives.
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