It is 6 years to the day since I came out to my parents. Well, it will be as of 3pm. You might think it is odd that I know the exact date and time of when I cane out bit for me and probably the majority of LGBT people coming out is the moment when everything changes.
I grew up in a conservative Christian household. We regularly attended church until my father’s Parkinson’s prevented him from doing so and I was raised as a Christian, with a Christian ethos and outlook on life. I was taught that homosexuality was a sin and it was never discussed or mentioned in our house beyond what was said on TV.
I didn’t fully realise I was gay until February 2008. I always knew I was different when I was a child and never showed much interest in girls my age beyond talking to them as friends. Looking back on it now it seems obvious but back then I just thought I was weird and a bit of a loner. I think everyone knew except perhaps me and my family. The period between realising who I was and telling my family was only about three months but it was three months of hell. I knew no matter how I told them or how they found out everything was going to change for me and I knew it was going to be hard.
I underestimated just how hard it was. Being the drama queen I am I wrote a letter to my parents and promised myself that I would give it to them 7 days from then. And I did. I packed a bag and left the letter on their bedside table and got the bus into town to meet a friend who I had told a few weeks prior, not knowing what was about to happen.
I got a phone call from my mum about an hour later demanding that I come home. When I returned I knew that it was bad. My mother was crying, my brother didn’t want to speak to me and my dad couldn’t get his head around it. I knew the thing that had hurt them the most was not that I was gay, but that I hadn’t told them first and had lied about where I was going, what I was doing and the company I had been keeping. I don’t remember much about the weeks following but there was a lot of shouting, arguing and crying between myself and my mum. She couldn’t understand why I had ‘chosen’ to be gay despite me telling her otherwise. She was hurt, I was hurt and I have never felt so completely alone.
I went to the doctor, I prayed that I would change back and stop being gay. I knew I was wasting my time but the situation at home was so fragile that I was willing to lie to myself, to convince myself that I wasn’t gay to make things easier for my family. I may have come out to my family and friends but I had not yet accepted myself and the time ahead was almost impossible. There were times when I felt trapped, alone and unable to talk to anyone about how I was feeling, even my own friends and boyfriend.
It wasn’t until November 2008 that things began to turn around. At this point I had a part time retail job and after coming home from a particularly difficult shift I had a row with my parents, one of the worst. I told myself I couldn’t take it anymore and downed a handful of painkillers and anti-depressants. I called the ambulance about five minutes later as I panicked and knew I didn’t want to die. It was the first time I had actually felt alive and, if you hadn’t already guessed, I was OK but at the time I wasn’t.
A few months later I ran away from home for a number of weeks, ending up living on a sofa in a friend’s house but I returned when I knew that despite the difficulties, I needed my family in my life. They pleaded with me to speak to someone. By this stage they had realised that this wasn’t a phase and after my incident with the tablets I needed to get myself straight (pardon the pun). I got in touch with Lifeline and called their freephone number and within a few weeks I was speaking to one of their counsellors in Belfast. They then referred me on to The Rainbow Project who were able to give me the skills and confidence to pull myself out of the hole that I was in. I never paid a penny for it and they saved my life in more ways than I can say and I can never thank them enough for that.
Things began to turn around for the better soon after, my relationship with my family wasn’t perfect but it was getting better. I became involved with local politics as I had seen first hand just how damaging prejudice towards LGBT people can be. I started off in the Greens and then joined Alliance, eventually becoming the Convenor of their LGBT group and now a candidate for the upcoming local elections. This is never a path that I would have imagined myself going down but life has a funny way of working out like that and I wouldn’t change a single thing about where I am now.
In February 2011 I started to get my own qualifications on track and I trained as a youth worker myself with Belfast YMCA. I volunteered with the HIV Support Centre (now Positive Life) and The Rainbow Project as I wanted to put something back into the organisations and network of support that saved me. My relationship with my family has never been better.
I was lucky. Yes things were bad for me, but I have heard of young people in this country who have experienced worse and who have had no help. Had I not been sign posted to the organisations that were there to help I may not be writing this right now. If you are reading this and you want some advice on coming out or which organisations can help you then please get in touch, I have listed a number of them below; but I will tell you this: Be honest. With your family, with yourself. Lying to myself and my family made things worse than they had to be because I thought it would make the problems go away. It didn’t.
Talk to someone and tell them how you feel, do not bottle it up or pretend it isn’t happening. Above all else, know that you have done nothing wrong by accepting yourself and that being gay, bisexual or transgender is nothing to be ashamed of.
I am happy, that is something that I couldn’t have said six years ago today. You deserve to be happy, too.