Another day of Tom Daley headlines made me think about my own experiences. So I started writing tonight and after a few hours of debate I decided I'd just bite the bullet and post it here... Phew!
It’s been four and a half years since I sent an email telling my parents I was gay.
Almost as long as I spent knowing who I was and trying desperately to hide it, to stop anyone from getting to know the real me.
Having been bullied for quite a number of years, the realisation that I would have this extra label to try and cope with was not easy. Did it help trying to hide it? Of course not. I know that now…. As a scared and lonely 16 year old it was something else to fear. Looking back I was called “gay boy”, “faggot” etc etc quite a lot in secondary school. I’d ask myself if they knew something I didn’t or was it just because I was happier in the library and could sit and chat my favourite English teacher for hours; perhaps “gay” was the only word they knew to throw out as an insult?
Either way, once I’d realised who I was came a very difficult few years of not being sure what do next. I’m very envious of people who can look back on their teenage years and proclaim them to have been the “best years of their life”. From a failed suicide attempt at 15 I found myself lost for several years. I cut myself off from everyone I knew - no really, literally every single person - and studied at home. Without my parents and siblings I wouldn’t have survived that period. They got me through it, they encouraged me to focus on getting through that dark period and focusing on the one thing I hadn’t let anyone take me from - the ambition to live in London and do a job I loved.
So there I was, the fat, shy, nerdy one who had attempted suicide (If I ever hear the words ‘cry for help’ again….) and was now home schooled. It wasn’t exactly going well. And then there was the gay thing. Counselling never helped me. I guess the fact I was hiding this ‘secret’ wasn’t great, but it got to the point where I felt it was too late to bring up. Was it the root cause of my ‘issues’? I didn’t want to accept that and I certainly wasn’t going to hand it over as a ‘reason’. The thought of it terrified me. And so it stayed bottled up.
To avoid this becoming a novel I’ll skip forward to March 2009. I moved to London to do my NCTJ course. I moved into my aunts for the first month, during which I celebrated my 19th birthday. Mum came over for the weekend as we had the house to ourselves. In between flat hunting I somehow reached the conclusion that this was when I needed to tell her. She deserved to know. I genuinely couldn’t have been blessed with two more amazing parents and keeping this secret was quite frankly insulting to them. So I was going to do it on the Sunday evening. I’ll never forget an evening going so fast. Next thing I know Brokeback Mountain is on. So what did I do? Panicked and went to bed. Incredible.
And so my moment was gone. I then had the worst week ever. I remember locking myself away and not leaving the house. I was so distraught at my own failure. Then at 3am on the Friday night I spontaneously wrote everything I wanted to say in an email and before I could stop myself, hit send. It was done. It all felt very surreal - I recall being quite bemused at how calm I felt climbing into bed knowing that the email would be read quite early the next morning.
The next part couldn’t have gone any better - it was quite incredible. Coming out had been this terrifying nightmare which I had built up to be something much worse in my head. Instead my only emotion now was total guilt for having done it via email. I had done my family a disservice by hiding it from them and only telling them via a bloody email. I’ll regret that forever - they deserved so much more from me than that.
I’ve digressed a little now, but that’s the basics. Watching Tom Daley’s video this week brought it all back to me. Seeing how Tom bravely spoke about his feelings knowing he was telling the world that he was in love really hit me hard. I’m almost jealous that I didn’t have that video to watch as a scared 19-year-old. Seeing people complain that someone coming out should’t be news brings up such conflicting emotions for me. Of course it shouldn’t in a perfect world. We love who we love, why should it need to be explained or justified in a YouTube video?
Alas we do not live in that perfect world. However, we are lucky to live in a time when there is more acceptance, more love and understanding - but there is still a long way to go. People are still persecuted and bullied for who they love. Some are not as fortunate as I am and can find themselves without the support of a loving family. In the world I live in, I most certainly want that to remain news. If Tom Daley coming out being national news provides encouragement to one other scared person - from teenager to sportsperson - then he has done an incredible thing for which he deserves all the praise and support he has received.
Being gay is something I still struggle with. Just last week I told myself that I was not ‘a very good gay’ and immediately spent the rest of the day feeling shit. It’s quite pathetic, I know.
I spent so long trying to hide this part of me that it can still be quite difficult to remember that I don’t have to do that anymore for anyone. That’s probably a whole other blog post tough to be honest. I’m not sure what writing this actually achieves, but I felt the need to just express some thoughts. I felt such admiration for Tom yesterday that I didn’t really want to tweet about - it felt strange to declare how proud I was of someone I don’t know personally, but I genuinely did. If i, like Tom will be, could in any way be a person of support for anyone going through that quiet struggle, I would feel like all those awful experiences had been worthwhile.