Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Coming out - then and now...

I have just been interviewed for a student documentary film on coming out - it was incredibly heartening to hear how much easier coming out can be for this generation than it was for mine - how their families and friends simply accepted that being gay is 'normal', and cared only that they would find love and be happy.

It was different for my generation. When I was born, being gay had only just been decriminalised - and coming out was to accept a shameful and shocking secret. Homosexuality was still even considered an illness by some psychiatrists. There were few gay role models - and those that did exist were asexual, camp or filled with self-pity.

Worse - it was the start of the AIDs crisis in the 80's, and AIDS was seen as both the 'gay disease' and a punishment from God.

In that background, coming out was an extremely traumatic experience: you genuinely faced ridicule and abuse, or being disowned by your family. When i did finally come out, my Mum cried and my Father refused to accept it, angrily saying: "no son of mine is a woofter!" - When i finally met my partner, he was not even allowed into the house - and my Father refused to visit us at our flat if he was home...

i don't blame him - it's just that he had no point of reference: he did not know any gay people, and in the absence of positive models, was left fearing what he did not understand. It took a while, but he was finally won over when he realised that i was not going to turn into some kind of freak or monster - and that i was basically the same person as i had always been - just now a lot happier... (he later made the biggest compliment i could imagine: when he compared my 20 year relationship to his own marriage - ironically aware that of all my 'normal' siblings, our was the only one that had lasted and was still as deeply loving and committed as it had ever been).

i'm not complaining about the past - but you know, my Father grew up - and amazingly, society did too!

Through my life i have seen first hand the fight for gay people to be treated as equals - i've seen us move from a shameful sub-culture to an accepted part of a richly diverse culture - i've seen gay identity move from the stereotypes of 'Larry Gayson' to the 1st televised gay kiss on 'Eastenders' - to where even everyday adverts contain gay couples alongside their straight peers.

Hell, i've even seen us become so 'normal' that our legal right to partnership has become enshrined in UK and European law - and the right for anyone to expect equal access to goods and services regardless of gender, race *or* sexuality defended through the courts! (regardless that the Daily Mail may think it heralds the End of Days...!)

And talking to those students this morning - it was clear that all that hard work was worth it: the visibility that we fought for and struggled with has 'normalised' being gay to the point where being gay is just not seen as any kind of 'big deal' - any more than being a woman, or black, or a vegetarian would be (at least here in the UK, and for this rising generation). And it means they just get on with their lives - and their loves. And to me, that is just wonderful!

The next generation has come a long way, baby - and do you know - it gives me real hope for all of our futures!


  1. I really do think you nailed a lot of circumstances that make it quite different for young men and women coming out today versus what you and I went through 30 years ago.

    The funny thing is, I'm not sure there's any less angst, bible-thumping, or door-slamming than there was back then. Maybe so.

    What I do know is there is a huge community of people, a vast array of resources, and a general willingness of the population at large to accept, to support, and to love.

    Every person who comes out today, tomorrow, or the next day owes a debt of gratitude to those who have come out before him. We haven't made it perfect, but we've made it better. And 10 years from now? It will be better. And 20 years from now. Even better. Ever perfect? Ask the African Americans. 150 years later? Not even close.

  2. I came out at 28 in 1984 (quick arithmetic, I'm 54). AIDS was scary and mysterious. I'm not even sure that it had that name back then. I told my parents a few days before Christmas but had arranged with a gay friend (I had three then) to stay with him if Mom and Dad three me out. They did not and while it was hardest on Mom, we had a happy, normal holiday visit.

    They too evolved from their misconceptions and that took days, months and years. It's helped that I've been with my husband for 25 years (longer than my once-divorced sister). Dad's totally comfortable, but Mom still worries what friends and neighbors will think (not helped by her homophobic Lutheran pastor, or the convicted girl-molesting pastor before him). But she's glad to have us both visit.

    There's a little timeline for you then, snapshots of coming out, what, ten years apart?

  3. I myself am very much in the back of the closet, which is why i love the idea of being a mans best friend in full rubber is such a perfect way to be able to express my love for a true leather master.


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