I often find myself thinking about life and the world that we live in and wondering why the hell people have to come out as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). Heterosexual people never come out as straight, so why must we make an announcement?
The truth is that we don't have to. Our sexuality doesn't need to be announced, and in an ideal world we should be able to date a person of the same sex and introduce them to others without needing to have come out previously. Of course, it doesn't work like that; the world hasn't reached that stage of enlightenment yet. We can dream and hope for a brighter tomorrow, though.
Coming out is generally a huge rite of passage for LGB people, but it's also a milestone that is so difficult to reach. Worrying about whether you'll be accepted is the main concern. Fear of being rejected by family or friends can be overwhelming. On that basis I can see why some people choose not to come out.
Thinking back to the time when I was coming to terms with my own sexuality and thinking about coming out to people, I still shudder as I remember the thoughts I had and the emotions I felt. It was a difficult period in my life.
The first time I revealed my sexuality to someone, I was about 14 or 15 years old. I was with my best friend and felt that I needed to get it off my chest. I thought that if he was my true friend, he would accept it. When I told him that I am gay, I was greeted with a moment of silence. I began to feel scared that I had said the wrong thing. After the silence my friend said he was OK with me being gay, but he still fancied women. That moment still makes me laugh all these years later. I have maintained my friendship with him, and we are still close today.
After that I came out to a few more of my friends before getting to a point where I had to stop. This was because I could see big problems on the horizon. If enough people found out that I was gay, then it would only be a matter of time before my family did, and that would be a disaster.
My family did discover my sexuality eventually. I came out to my dad in an argument, in soap-opera fashion. He then told the rest of my family. Although that went on to become a dark period in my life, it also left me free and able to come out to everyone else. So that's exactly what I did. I came out to every single person I knew. Wherever I was and whomever I saw, I'd proudly proclaim my gayness. There was always some kind of reaction, and I began to enjoy getting that reaction. There were screams of joy and people congratulating me. Some people didn't believe me, and others said they love me even more than they did already. Then one night I was out at a club and saw one of my friends. I sashayed up to her and, after a quick catch-up, told her that I am gay. She responded, "And?" and we then danced the night away.
It was a response that shocked me at the time. I had been getting big reactions from people, and I loved it. To suddenly come across someone who didn't give a damn about my sexuality was insulting to me at the time. However, now that I'm older and a bit more mature, I have a great appreciation for that moment and my friend's reaction. It was exactly the kind of reaction that people should get when they come out. My friend wasn't bothered about my sexuality. As far as she was concerned, it wasn't something that defined me in the way that my personality, heart and soul did. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone were so liberal in their thinking?
Fast-forward to the age of 28, and I don't really see the point in proclaiming my sexuality to people. It's not something I do anymore. If people ask me whether I am gay, then I am truthful and say that I am, but I don't believe that there is a need for me to announce it. Perhaps the fact that I write about my life and being gay, and the fact that I run a charity for LGBTQ people, means that it is fairly obvious to people that I am gay, but in general I no longer bring it up.
I know that there will be people who read this and think it's of the utmost importance that all LGB people stand tall and announce their sexuality. I also know that there will be others who will agree with my way of thinking. Whatever your school of thought, the most important thing to remember is that if you do decide to come out, it must be on your own terms. Don't come out because you think it's the thing to do or the expected thing. If you don't feel ready or able to come out, then don't do it. Take your time to find out who you are and accept yourself first.
My coming-out process would be quite different now that I have the benefit of wisdom, experience and hindsight. I wouldn't say that I regret the choices I made, because I try not to have any regrets, but I would certainly do things a bit differently.
If you're unsure about whether coming out is going to be right for you, or if you're not clear about how to do it, there are some great resources and advice out there aimed at inspiring and giving hope. Check out pushprojects.moonfruit.com and rucomingout.com for some sound advice.