YOU’RE GAY! NOW WHAT?
“FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE AND BE THAT PERSON. THAT’S WHAT YOUR SOUL WAS PUT ON THIS EARTH TO BE. FIND THAT TRUTH, LIVE THAT TRUTH, AND EVERYTHING ELSE WILL COME.” – Ellen DeGeneres (American Comedian)
After a long battle with internalized homophobia, I was finally free to embark on a journey of self-acceptance, love and growth as a gay man. Based on conversations with other gay men of various ages, I’m very confident that those are the sentiments of many members of the LGBT+ community. For the longest time, I feared rejection from family and friends. I first thought about how my coming out would affect them more than me. Last on my list of priorities was accepting myself. At age 13 I realised that my sexual orientation was very different from that of my male friends and I didn’t want to accept that I was perfectly ‘normal’. From the start of high school through to my last year of tertiary education I fully understood that I was gay, but found it tough “accepting my sexuality” and I was far from being proud of who I AM. Despite both Darren and I being gay, Darren had a very different coming out experience;
Darren knew from about the age of 5 that he was different and although he didn’t understand at the time what made him different, he instinctively knew that he should keep his “differentness” a secret. Darren was so desperate to fit in with what everyone expected him to be that he almost lost himself in the process if that makes any sense. So for the next quarter-century, Darren carried his guilt, shame and self-loathing around like a massive flashing luminous pink neon sign that said “FAG” and flashed on and off above his head as he navigated his way through puberty, high school, conscription, traumatic straight sex with girlfriends until finally, liberation and freedom in his mid-twenties, which was when he finally accepted himself as his own personal saviour.
Typically once you accept that you’re gay and have some level of pride in who you are, you’re well on the road to coming out and, eventually, to have a successful relationship. Unfortunately, “typically” isn’t how it always works. There are a lot of people that have difficulty in accepting their sexual orientation, either for personal reasons known to themselves or societal discomfort or pressure to remain deep in the closet their whole lives. Many in the LGBT+ community know from experience that accepting one’s sexuality will lead to you becoming a happier, more open person as you begin to live a more authentically you. However, deciding to come out the closet at times comes at a risk, hence why it is a decision you as an individual needs to make only when you’re ready for the world to know and not one that should be forced upon you.
Today with so much media available on the subject of homosexuality, it makes it easier for heterosexual friends and family to read up and understand your sexuality, but not so long ago it wasn’t as easy. When talking with heterosexual friends or family members, it’s sometimes tough to help them understand this because they have no frame of reference or appreciation for your experience.
“I DIDN’T REALIZE HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALLY KNEW, AND I WAS AFRAID THAT SOMEONE WOULD TELL OR LEAK SOMETHING OUT ABOUT ME. I WANT TO OWN M TRUTH… NO ONE ELSE SHOULD TELL MY STORY BUT ME!” – MICHAEL SAM (American Football Player)
Additionally, I’m quite sure that you’ve heard or read how some believe that as a member of the LGBT+ community you “CHOOSE” to be GAY! What a load of hogwash! I recall how when I finally accepted that I am gay, an already “OUT” friend looked me in the eye and told me to be very sure it’s a life that I wanted to live, i.e. as an openly gay person as it wasn’t an easy one. How can it be a choice? Would you purposely elect to live a life of hardship, torment and rejection by family, friends and/or society? How does that even make logical sense? Do you choose the colour of the eyes you were born with? No, your eyes are simply a part of who you are and not something you can change, I know you can add colour contacts or tattoo them now but you know what I mean.
The reality for many in the LGBTI+ community is that you will definitely not be accepted by everyone as there are people that have difficulty accepting anyone that is “different” whether it’s because of their race, sex, sexuality, religion…think of something that sets you apart and it may just be an issue for someone. It’s for this reason that many stay in the closet for as long as possible. I really don’t understand why some feel the need to force people out the closet? Who likes being harassed or made to feel insignificant because of their sexuality? If you do find yourself as the one being bullied or judged because of your sexuality remember that there’s nothing wrong with you, the problem is the other person’s ignorance and intolerance. Choose to move on and not be around abusive individuals, but more importantly don’t internalize it, talk to someone you trust or a therapist who is able to support you in identifying a solution. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy and find ourselves criticising or bullying ourself. Don’t! Reach out to a friend or family member you trust or better seek the support of a professional therapist to help you work through all the emotions.
“IT FELT LIKE IT WAS MY DIRTY LITTLE SECRET LIKE I HAD CHAINS AROUND ME AND I COULDN’T SAY ANYTHING AND I COULDN’T BE WHO I WANTED TO BE. I FELT SO ALONE AND TRAPPED IN WHO I WAS… FOR PEOPLE TO BE SO SUPPORTIVE ABOUT IT, IT HAS BEEN AMAZING.” – TOM DALEY (British Diver)
Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy. We struggle to accept our sexuality. That’s OK! That being said, don’t just wallow in misery. Get some HELP! Speak to someone you trust. A friend or family member, if you don’t feel comfortable do that, then contact an LGBT+ support centre or helpline where you can remain anonymous. Don’t feel pressurized to “Come Out” just because you may be gay. It’s totally fine to stay in the closet for as long as you want. There’s no reason whatsoever to put yourself in a box with a label to make someone else happy or allow themselves to feel better about themselves at your expense.
You need to accept your own sexual orientation and feel comfortable and confident with who you are so that others can fully accept you. You being gay is just another facet of who you are, just as being creative, optimistic, or having brown eyes is. Choose to live your life authentically and happily. It’s YOUR life, so choose to be happy.
There are many, many gay people in all sorts of communities, and there are support groups for you waiting to hear from you. Find a group or a friend or a family member who you feel comfortable with or other gay people and talk with them. By establishing a new network of supportive and encouraging people around you, life around your sexuality will get easier.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY GROUP
To contact a counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday,
Call: 011 234 4837 / Fax number: 011 234 8182
For a suicidal Emergency contact us on 0800 567 567
24hr Helpline 0800 456 789
Unfortunately, not everyone is accepting, so don’t go sharing your sexuality with the world especially if you believe that you’re putting yourself in line to be harmed. If you believe you coming out will harm you physically or emotionally and it’s more than you can handle don’t come out! What is important is that you accept who you are first. Some people may figure it out, and you will need to decide whether to stay in that situation or move on to a place that is more accepting. I didn’t come out to my parents until I was sure I could support myself financially. The fear of being disowned and left to my own means when I wasn’t in a position to do so overwhelmed me. If you find yourself in a similar situation, be wise and wait until you’re more independent and actually ready to let the world know that you’re OK with your sexuality. Although South Africa is pretty liberal, coming out here isn’t necessarily easy and in some communities, it can come at a cost. Black LGBT+ individuals appear most likely to be victims of physical violence, white individuals appear most likely to be verbally insulted, and Indian/Asian individuals appear most likely to experience violence or physical abuse from a family member.
” OF COURSE I DRESS WELL, I DIDN’T SPEND ALL THAT TIME IN THE CLOSET FOR NOTHING.” – UNKNOWN
Today parents are more accepting of their children’s sexuality. Embrace it as there’s nothing like having support from your loved ones as you begin your own journey of sexual exploration and acceptance. Coming out of the closet is a bold and brave step in accepting your sexual orientation, it doesn’t change who you essentially are at the core as you begin to be authentically you. Don’t feel the need to adapt or change things so that others are comfortable around you. It’s not your fault if other people can’t accept your sexuality. People need to accept and respect you for who you are and not who they hope you are around them.
“I AM TIRED OF HIDING AND I AM TIRED OF LYING BY OMISSION… I SUFFERED FOR YEARS BECAUSE I WAS SCARED TO BE OUT. I’M HERE TODAY BECAUSE I AM GAY.” – ELLEN PAGE (Actress)
In parting, remember coming out is an individual thing. If you’re not ready, don’t let anyone force you. If you decide to come out but remain conflicted, reach out and ask for help. Loneliness doesn’t discriminate, and it’s a known reality within the LGBT+ community. Accept you’re different. Many young LGBTQ+ individuals hide their authentic selves from friends and family as they deal with their sexuality long before coming out. It can be an incredibly isolating experience and one that can be hard to get rid of. Madonna once sang, “I found myself in crowded rooms, feeling so alone,” is a sentiment many LGBT+ people can relate to.