I remember the day well, I was a nervous wreck but I was ready to tell my truth.
I’m a lesbian. I’m a gay woman. I’m a girl, and I like girls.
The blood rushing through my body felt thick, heavy, and as if there was not enough to go around. My palms were sweaty, I was, quite frankly, freaking out.
Coming out to my family was a big deal. These are the people closest to me, the ones who loved me the most, and while I knew I was lucky enough to have a liberal mother who has gay and lesbian friends, it was a terrifying thought.
When I told my mum, when I finally had the courage to utter those words, her reaction was… not much. She had pretty much guessed anyway, and as I said — she had LGB friends and family, she didn’t care. That’s great and all, and don’t get me wrong — I will never take for granted how lucky I am to have an extremely liberal, non-judgemental and understanding family — however, it wasn’t enough. I felt, deflated. Coming out what such a big deal in my head, it wasn’t that much wanted an argument, a debate or even a shocked reaction. I just wanted, something. I wanted my mum to be proud of me, of my coming to terms with myself and accepting who I am — aware of the judgement and hatred that would await me in the world.
Fast forward 12 years, I told my mum how I felt about her reaction, or lack thereof. She was saddened, and wished she had given me more, as she hadn’t realised how big of a thing it was for me at 16.
Now though, I’m not sure I would have liked the reaction I thought I wanted. Over the years I’ve realised that me coming out to my immediate family was only a tiny part of my coming out story — yet people put so much emphasis on it.
Let me tell you the extended version of my coming out story.
I came out to a “friend” in school, in confidence, who went and told everyone else. The bullying I was already experiencing only increased.
I came out on national television. I was met with apprehension, tears and “it’s just not right” comments, from who was effectively my co-star. I was also met with hundreds of kind comments from internet strangers, passers-by who recognised me, and radio hosts (Scott Mills is a pretty big deal in the radio world here in the UK, hearing him sing my praises at the age of 17 was amazing).
I came out to my colleagues in one of my first paid jobs, my manager went on to treat me like the outcast I felt like, going as far as telling one of my early girlfriends she couldn’t wait in the restaurant for me to finish work — while her husband stood metres away from the tills.
I came out to the (male) stranger in the gay bar who decided to hit on me. He was shocked, told me I didn’t “look like a lesbian”, and was frankly flabbergasted that I was not interested in him. He told me I hadn’t found the right man yet. He went on to hit on my friend… still in the gay bar.
I came out to all of my colleagues over the years, indirectly of course. I gradually learnt to not make a fuss. If I ever wanted a world were being gay and feeling the need to come out to the people we meet, I needed to start with my own surroundings — if I didn’t make a thing of it, hopefully they wouldn’t. I’ve been met with a reaction similar to that of my mother’s — not much of one. And that is what made me realise, that’s okay. That’s good. That makes me feel like less of a minority, and more normal.
Of course, all LGBTQ folk are normal — but we can be made to feel the opposite by the reactions of others when we come out to them, whether directly or indirectly. Learning to not give a damn about the reaction I get from slipping my girlfriend into the conversation with a new colleague is one of the greatest lessons I have learnt in my coming out journey. And one I hope that I will become the norm for LGBT people in generations to come.