OPINION: Coming out is the gift that keeps on giving
Nadia Huq on why she bloody loves coming out
There are many things in life I’m afraid of: public speaking, spiders, the thought of giving birth, when small children get together and plot, Jordan’s huge, unyielding breasts. But there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that has made my blood run cold like the prospect of telling the people I love: Hey! I’m gay.
In the bitter years before coming clean, I had endless rampaging headaches and heartaches, worrying myself sick with what people might say. I developed a genuine fear of women – "femaphobia", as I’ve affectionately termed it, or the fear of inadvertently looking at a woman in a sexual way and grossing her out.
If a woman walked into the pub or a meeting in a short skirt or low-cut top I’d start hyperventilating. Where the hell do I look? The face was a safe zone. So, I’d fix her with an intense, creepy, unending stare to ensure I didn’t look anywhere but there. Ha! I didn’t look at her legs once! I’d think triumphantly, whilst she quietly reached down and dialled "999".
After I came out and started dating women who didn’t mind in the slightest if I looked at their legs, and, in fact, rather enjoyed it, my femaphobia swiftly disappeared. But when coming out to new people, especially family, I still get that same thwack of fear in my gut. What will they say? Am I now persona non grata at the Christmas lunch? Whilst living life as an out and proud woman makes me gloriously happy, the actual process of coming out has always been a grim, clenched-teeth affair.
Recently I went on a date with someone that was newly exploring her sexuality. She asked how I define myself and I told her that, despite having had serious, long-term relationships with men in the past, I consider myself to be a full on, old school lesbian. Retrogay, if you will.
I could have told friends and family that I was bi, parcelling out the truth into manageable nuggets and drip-feeding it to them until one day – hey, whaddya know? I haven’t dated a man in a decade! – but I’m done with sugar-coating my feelings. These babies are honest and raw and no way in hell is anyone putting them in a corner anymore.
My date replied that she’d always told people she was bi but “actually, I guess… yeah I’m only into girls to be honest. I’ve never told anyone that before. It really helps talking about it actually, so thank you.” It was so wonderful to know that by simply being honest about my own feelings, I’d helped her to be a little bit more honest about hers. And it got me thinking – maybe I’m looking at this whole issue the wrong way up?
What if, instead of seeing coming out as an ordeal, flinching and cringing and waiting for the judgment to come crashing down on me from on high, I see it for what it is: a way for me to be happy; a teeny, tiny step forward in the LGBT+ cause, and, possibly, the catalyst that could spark someone else exploring or owning their own sexuality.
So many of us are terrified of telling granny we’re gay but maybe granny’s fine. Maybe granny’s been happily whispering sweet nothings into tea lady Doris’ cinnamon buns and couldn’t give a fig who you’re rogering. Maybe she’s battling her own demons and is even more terrified than you are – of lifting the veil on her marriage and revealing the woman within.
There are so many people who aren’t yet able to come out, whose true selves are buried deep in shame, fighting for breath, and the most loving thing any of us can ever do for them is startlingly simple: tell the truth. Tell the truth about who we are and who we love. Yes, some people might not be okay with that – but how small and trite that fear seems when offset against the enormous potential for good.
There is a bigger picture here, and it’s an unfinished masterpiece that, whether knowingly or not, LGBT+ people have been rendering with bold, brave strokes ever since they started loving one another – consequences be damned.
Coming out should never be something to fear. It’s a bear hug, a high five, a thumbs up and a full on snog (with tongues) to everyone who’s on the spectrum. It is an act of public service, an act of strength, an act of courage, and an act of extraordinary kindness.
It is a gift – to everyone in our lives who can’t come out yet, to the generations past, present and future who need to know they are not alone and never have been, to those who are straight and have no idea that people they love are suffocating in the closet, and of course, always, every day, to ourselves.
I for one am determined that I will no longer be spooked, silenced or cowed by my fears of what others will say. And if I tell someone I’m gay and they have a less than awesome reaction to it, I’ve got the perfect response:
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