Coming out at 19 years old, for me, was a daunting and actually a longer experience than you would expect. I consider my coming out as not just the moment I told my family and friends but also the moment I was able to be honest with myself.
I started to realise I was different when I was about 14. I was in high school and got a funny feeling whenever I saw the boy whose locker was next to mine. In hindsight, he wasn’t the first boy I felt like that for – I had really liked my best friend for about two years before that – but this was the first time that I noticed something that couldn’t be dismissed as friendship. For the next 5 years I continued to have these funny feelings about different boys; I paid extra attention in English class when we got to watch Wil Wheaton in Stand By Me, I would relish any opportunity to be close to my male schoolmates and I enjoyed hanging out with my university friends that much more when a certain guy also sat with us.
Even though all of these situations were clearly teenage crushes, I never thought of them like that. At that time, I didn’t think that a boy should have a crush on another boy, I went to catholic school and knew that this was not what was expected of me, so in my mind it was just not possible that these feelings were crushes. Although I wouldn’t admit to myself that I was having ‘gay feelings’, I knew what they were, I would sneakily watch Queer as Folk with the volume really low and fantasise about boys in my year level. I struggled with these feelings by myself, I remember being scared that someone would find out that I was different and I remember crying myself to sleep asking God to make me normal when I wake up.
When I was almost 19, I found myself watching a movie with a friend, he leant over and kissed me and I kissed him back. I felt an immediate wave of relief, I wasn’t trying to bury or hide this side of me, I was in a situation where I was able to let it out, I was able to be myself. The next few days were spent allowing myself to think about being gay, about saying it out loud to myself. Yes, I thought about the fact that I would probably need to tell other people, but my focus was on the fact that I wasn’t hiding from myself anymore. I could kiss my friend – who became my first boyfriend – and I didn’t feel that secret shame that I’d held onto for years for having feelings towards another boy.
The few months after that were spent telling my friends and my family. At times, I was scared to do it and I sometimes let that fear get the better of me and wouldn’t do it in person – I told my mum over text as a part of my happy new year message. But the fear didn’t last very long, coming out quickly became unimportant in my life, I didn’t worry about what others thought of me, if they didn’t like me as a gay man then they didn’t like me at all. I stopped worrying about whether should I mention my boyfriend in front of people or should I tip toe around the question of who I was dating. Being concerned about people ‘knowing’ came second to the fact I was actually enjoying my life, that I was finally being true to myself.
Publicly coming out for me was a minor step, being accepted by the people in my life was nowhere near as liberating as accepting myself. My family and friends never knew my struggles, never knew the torment I put myself through, coming out to myself felt so much more important than coming out to them. Nowadays, I probably classify as ‘out and proud’ but in reality, I’m just being myself, I no longer feel the need to hide who I am from the world, and I don’t feel shame for something that makes me me.