I have decided to write a special blog post this weekend about my experience of what it means to be a gay man in 2015. I have chosen this weekend because it is Pride in London and it is the day after the historic announcement in America where sameness marriage is now legal in all States. This weekend marks a milestone in LGBT History and I wanted to pay tribute to it in some way and that is what this post is about.
In the UK attitudes to homosexuality have changed very quickly in 50 years. It is was only decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967 and as recent as 1981(the year I was born) for Scotland and 1982 for Northern Ireland. It is scary and almost unthinkable that me openly gay not that long ago would have meant I was breaking the law for just being myself. Now in 2015 societies attitudes have changed and to many it is not a problem. This change in attitude has meant that it is easier for people to ‘come out’ and we can now marry and have children although there are still restrictions that we face such as around giving blood. I am proud to live in a country where I am allowed to be myself and for others to be happy with that.
Growing up in the 1980’s in the UK the Government and the media gave out messages that it is was wrong to be gay. The AIDS health campaign of the 80’s went a long way to enforce this homophobia in society. It was of course totally misleading and most people know this now but then people didn’t and let fear take control. As a child I didn’t know anything about being gay. I led a sheltered life and it was probably not until secondary school where I realised I probably was gay. It would take another 20 years to finally ‘come out’ but better late than never. If society had been different and it was talked about at home and school I probably would have come out sooner but I won’t really know for sure if this is true or not.
Regular readers of this blog will know I have talked about my ‘coming out’ experience a number of times and at the risk of boring you again I will not talk too much about it now. What I will say is that although people talk a lot about ‘coming out’ for the first time they don’t really talk about how you feel when you talk about it 6 months later or a year or two later. You think you just have to do it once and thats it but you don’t. Overtime you meet new people and you come out each time. You never stop. Some people say why is it still a big deal to come out and my answer is that society is still has some way to go to see total equality. If you are straight you never have to come out as straight. From birth it is given that you straight are unless you say otherwise. Also coming out still has risks. Nobody wants to be rejected but it still happens where families disown a son or daughter because of their sexuality so when you decide to come out you have to have a back up plan incase this happens. It is worth the risk though as your mental wellbeing improves. Before coming out I was a mess mentally. Hiding the real me was making me ill. I had pushed it to the back of my mind too many times and it got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. We still hear too many stories where I young person is struggling with their sexuality and take their own life. I was lucky I didn’t get to that point but I can see how easy it would be for someone to get that low. My advice is don’t let it push you to that stage. Talk to someone, ask for help. You are not the first person to feel this way. Coming out is tough but I promise it is the best decision you will make in your life and this is because you can for the first time start living as the real you.
This week in an interview Tom Daley talks about how he still finds it strange to say he has a boyfriend or that he is gay. Some people seem to be surprised by this but there is a lot of truth in this. Unfortunately I can’t talk about how it feels to say ‘my boyfriend’ but I hope to one day. I do however know what he means by saying he finds it is strange to say he is gay. That first years after ‘coming out’ I was still nervous about telling some people or mentioning it. I would almost mouth it silently like in a Les Dawson sketch. I soon realised how silly this was and I am more than confident to talk about it. It is not just the person who is gay that may find it awkward to talk about it. Friends, family members and work colleagues at first didn’t know how to talk about it. Some did but others I could tell didn’t know how approach the subject with me. It wasn’t because they had a problem it was just they did’t know what to offend me. With family I noticed this as I stopped being asked if I was seeing anyone. Part of me was relieved about this but then it did upset me a bit as well. It was only after a great conversation with one of my cousins did I realise that the family wanted to talk about it but didn’t know how approach the subject. Since then we have talked about it and things are good. My friends are also ok now talking about it and this is great. Work is a bit different and took some time. I am lucky to work somewhere which is a safe environment and I have not experienced any homophobia personally. At first I found it tough to talk about it at work because I didn’t know how some people would be. Joining the staff network helped with this as it gave me a lot of confidence. When I decided to mention the network in my annual review a number of years for the first time I hesitated and retyped it many times. I then realised I had to stop being foolish and I put it in. It was a good decision as it helped me have a discussion about it with my line manager and that meant I felt happier at work. I hope I am a role model at work and that if anyone wanted to talk about it or they or someone the knew was struggling with their sexuality they would feel free to talk to me.
At the start of this blog post I mentioned that it is Pride weekend in London. I wish I was there and experiencing it all but sadly not. Maybe one year soon I will go and experience it. Some people though think that because society has changed there is no need for Pride events. I can see what they mean but I do disagree. For me Pride is about the LGBT community celebrating it’s history as well as highlighting areas that need more acceptance. Pride events happen all over the country in most towns and cities so next time you see one advertised go along and waive that rainbow flag. This year I attended Durham Pride. It was the second year of the event and my second Pride. This year it had it’s first Pride parade and I felt privileged to take part in it. The atmosphere was amazing and that was not only down to those taking part in the parade but to everyone watching who was waving, taking photo’s, smiling, dancing etc. It was a special day and that is why Pride matters.
Looking at my Facebook feed today I have seen so many friends use the Pride Rainbow filter on their profile picture. It makes me happy to see that and means a great deal. This weekend is a historic weekend for the LGBT community and I am sure it won’t be the last and that is why I am proud to say I am a gay man.