It’s National Coming Out Day coming up.
It’s got me thinking about all the LGBTI youngsters out there grappling with their sexualities, wondering whether to take the plunge on Tuesday 11 October.
It’s also got me thinking about my own story, and how every person’s experience of coming out is as unique as our fingerprints.
I don’t believe my story’s more interesting than the next person’s. But people are often taken aback by how young I was at the start (14). So if sharing it helps even one person around that age, it’s worth it.
I’ll start with the most dramatic chapter of the tale, that occurred when I was 15.
The second person I ever told I was gay was one of my best friends at the time. I made the admission next to a babbling brook deep in the forest we grew up in – very Dawson’s Creek. She was very supportive, and it was a sweet moment that I won’t forget.
Things turned sour six months later, however, when she dared me to kiss her boyfriend to ‘check’ I was gay.
We may or may not have kissed a few more times later than evening without her supervision.
The next thing I knew, I’d been frozen out by my group of friends and rumors about the kiss were spreading around the school.
I embraced them, and the rest is history. (We all made friends again in the end, and I don’t think any of us hold any grudges!)
But the most positive part of my story is the start – which occurred on Pancake Day 2001.
I’d been struggling with my sexuality for the previous few years. A lot of mentally placing it in a box and urging it to drift away.
It led to some bad behaviour at school, and my poor, sweet, mild-mannered history teacher Miss Lewis – who was probably much younger than I am now – bore the brunt of it.
She could see I was in pain, and over the course of a few painfully intense, heavy lunchtime chats, drew my secret out of me.
I look back now and cringe/smile at the tears; the words “I’m gay!’ followed by ‘But I might be bi!’ The feeling of euphoria when I walked out the classroom.
What I learned about myself that day was worth its weight in gold. Her words, ‘It’s not what you are, but who you are that counts,’ were so powerful that they resonate even now.
Her response was so galvanising that by the age of 16, I was out to almost everybody, dating guys and having sex. It was the happiest time of my life.
The statistic that LGBT youth are four times as likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts breaks my heart. It underlines why Coming Out Day is so important.
Whether you’re 14 or 40, if you’re closeted, the prospect of coming out will be daunting. It’s not my place to tell you how or when to do it.
But what I can say with absolute certainty, is that my life didn’t really begin until I came out.
What’s more, telling that teacher first was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I could’ve told a friend first. But as I would learn, my friends were just as complicated and unpredictable as me. I could’ve told a relative, but that would’ve been a disaster.
As scared as I was, I knew my teacher’s reaction would be kind, because it emanated from her. And I also intrinsically knew I could trust her.
So my top piece of advice if your sexuality is a secret to everyone but yourself: chose the first person you tell wisely. Their reaction might just be the most empowering gift you ever receive.