Coming out is hard at any age. But disclosing your sexuality while you’re still at school, and more than likely also under your parents’ roof, adds an extra layer of risk. What if nobody will sit with you in class? What if the other kids start to bully you? What if you get kicked out of your home? While sitting on a “secret” as big as the fact you’re starting to question your sexuality is undoubtedly painful, the alternatives can be much worse – and sometimes there’s no way of guessing the consequences of coming out without just biting the bullet and doing it.
“I don’t even think I ‘decided’ to come out,” says Jude, 18. “It sort of came out all on its own when I was 16 and my mother started grilling me about why I never brought home any boyfriends. I’d had a hard day and I just snapped and told her I preferred girls. She never brought it up again, and now I’m away at uni I just live my life as I wish and call her with the edited highlights. As long as I’m getting good grades I think she’s willing to brush it under the carpet. Kind of sad, but better than getting an aggressive response.” Jude was planning to tell her father, but never got chance as he died shortly after she began university. “I do kind of hope my mother told him before he went, but I’m scared to ask.”
Kind lesbian couple
Benjamin found himself relying on the kindness (and, sadly, the abuse) of strangers when, in 1981 – the first year of the AIDS crisis – he was thrown out of his home at the age of 14 after a neighbour told his parents she’d seen him kissing another teenage boy. Both boys fled to London and lived with a series of older men. “As a settled, out gay man of 55, in a long-term partnership,” he tells OutNewsGlobal, “I try not to dwell on how different things were for me back then, although of course I’ll never forget. I was lucky in that I ended up being taken in by a very kind lesbian couple who essentially unofficially adopted me and helped me to apply to college and make a life for myself. My then-boyfriend wasn’t as lucky, and the last I heard of him – some 35 years ago – he was still hustling on the streets. It makes me so sad to hear that, although things have improved tremendously, there are still young kids whose lives are ruined because of something they can’t change.”
Over on amBi, a Facebook group for bisexuals, 48-year-old Tom also reminisces about his past*. “I turned 48 a few weeks ago,” he writes. “My first queer experience was 37 years ago. I’ve been in therapy for a while, in part to deal with the self-hate and loathing that came from growing up at a time when admitting you were anything but straight could get you beaten to death. I’m certainly happier (and out) now, but I can’t help but imagine what life in an accepting society would have been like.” Tom goes on to express how grateful he is that online resources such as amBi exist. “In you, all of you, I see what that accepting society will be like. The outpouring of love and support I see here on a daily basis is one of the most hopeful things in my life. For your kindness, your honest attempts at understanding and compassion… thank you, from the absolute depths of my soul that, here at least, I don’t have to hide.”
Dating boys and girls
Katy, 20, faced an extra challenge as a trans, bisexual woman. “I told my parents when I was about 13. To my amazement, they were really cool about it, although concerned that I might get picked on at school if I decided to start presenting as female and dating both boys and girls! I followed their advice and kept everything pretty quiet in public until I was about 16, but in the interim just knowing they had my back was a real comfort.” Katy still regrets that she was unable to come out when she wanted to, and resents the levels of discrimination that still exist. “Every day there seems to be another ‘shock horror’ story about a young celeb coming out in some way against cis-centric gender norms. It’s bad enough when your only audience is a small group of friends, family, colleagues… Imagine how it is when the whole world is watching.”
Rachel Williams is Training and Education Manager at The Proud Trust, a support group for young LGBT+ people in Manchester and Cheshire. “We run general LGBT+ youth groups along with identity-based youth groups, such as trans specific youth groups and specific work with LGBT+ young People of Colour,” they tell OutNewsGlobal. “Alongside this we offer other 1-2-1 support services for LGBT+ young people. We continue to run our collaborative sector networks, now back in national space thanks to the advent of the internet! Our LGBT+ education and training work has seen significant growth in recent years, and we offer a series of resources, interventions, training courses and programmes for schools and other organisations that work with young people, with a view to becoming more inclusive, including our flagship Rainbow Flag Award. Our training and education work is kept fresh by being designed around what LGBT+ young people tell us is happening in their lives, through our youth groups.”
How does Williams feel about the level of progress we are seeing in terms of young LGBT+ people feeling confident to come out? “Good and appropriate inclusion is not something that is fixed, it is changing all the time, and the range of possible human experiences is vast. In relation to schools, we’ve seen a huge improvement in the ability of lesbian, gay and bisexual students in feeling safe to be their authentic selves in many settings,” they respond. “It is true that people are coming out at younger ages than they might have in the past. This is not a bad thing! It will be due to better education, better access to information and increased visibility, and therefore young people having the language to describe their experiences and having more of an idea as to how the people around them might react if they came out. The period of time between recognising that you are LGBT+ and coming out, is probably the most damaging time, and if we can reduce that to no time at all, we have cracked it.”
It’s easy to feel a spark of envy when you’re a little older and you see younger people able to come out relatively peacefully. As a 38-year-old who came out at 14, I experienced ostracisation from my peers, physical violence in the school hallways, and a sympathetic confusion/shock from my parents. To make matters worse, I was at school in Kent at the time, where they had retained a version of Section 28. This meant that I was more or less unable to seek help from teachers, although I will never forget the few teachers who did take the time to listen to my troubles. Years later, I wish I could go back and take that 14-year-old in my arms and say “Hey, it’s going to be OK – and one day, one day, maybe nobody else will have to go through anything like this again.”
*Quoted with permission.
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