Misc

Exploding out of the Closet

Ben Nunney - Jan 2010I don’t usually put personal stuff on my blog, but I have a feeling that this year there are going to be a few posts like this. My blog has always been mostly an aide memoire for me but at the same time I realise that if it helps anyone then all the better. While writing this has been a useful exercise for me, I hope more than anything that it helps others.

Yesterday a good friend of mine, Ben Nunney, posted on his blog and article entitled “Luck, Love and Dinner”. While I did post a brief reply to the blog post at the time I felt that a longer response was in order.

Ben ended his post with “I’ve talked to a lot of people … who have only recently begun to accept themselves for who they are, or who have only just started to realize that the days aren’t looking as dark as they did for Britten, Wilde and Turing.”

As someone who hid in the closet until the age of 35 I am guessing I’m one of the people he was talking about in that final paragraph. So, let me tell you my coming out story and how I got to being 35 and only just coming out.

Coming Out

Sebastien Lambla - May 2009

In March 2009 I was in London for a conference and a friend invited me along to the pub one evening and brought a couple of other friends with him. It was there that I met Seb for the first time. He was just very open about himself and his sexuality. I’d never met anyone like that before. It was Seb’s openness that allowed me to start breaking down the mental barriers in my head and I began the acceptance process.

It was mid-May that I realised I’d finally begun to accept myself. Then sometime around late late July I realised that I had stopped snacking and as a result I had begun to lose weight. I’ve always eaten comfort foods when stressed and it became obvious that hiding from myself had been causing a lot of stress.

In August I was once again in London for a conference and I met Phil (another gay friend) and Seb again. It was at that point that I decided that I should tell them and ask for advice. Unfortunately, I didn’t really find an opportune moment that weekend.

In September I was down in Manchester for a mini-conference. In the pub after the conference I asked Seb if he could spare some time to talk to me in private that evening. So, it was at about 2AM after returning to the hotel that I finally took my first steps out of the closet.

From my point of view I felt incredibly stupid. All that I had read on the internet prior to that talked about people coming out in their teens or early twenties. So it seemed to me that I was very slow. Seb was able to put me at my ease by letting me know of people he knew that had come out much later in their life than I had.

I also sought advice on what to do next. I had taken the first steps but I didn’t really know what to do next. I didn’t want to hide any more, that much I knew.

I put together a list of the people I was closest to, the people I wanted to tell personally rather than have them find out second hand. Over the following two weeks I contacted all of them. Each conversation started with me kind of stumbling around trying to find the right set of words to use. I was anxious in case I found out any of my friends were less than tolerant and this might be the conversation that could end that friendship.

I have to say that as I got through the list and I received positive reactions from my friends it gave me a new confidence that I’d never felt before. It wasn’t just tolerance, it was acceptance. I now feel closer to all those friends. At the same time, it also made me feel silly that I hadn’t done this long before.

Within about 10 days I’d personally told all my closest friends. All that was left was my parents.

I had in fact made one attempt to tell them but bottled it at the last minute. The following weekend I made a second attempt, but as I stumbled around trying to get the conversation going I bottled it again so I simply went home again. However, on the way out of my parents house I asked if I could speak to my mum sometime in the next few days.

So one evening after work I drove round to my parents house and spoke with just my mum. I figured it would be easier with just one person. Naturally, I was extremely anxious. As usual, I stumbled around a little before simply blurting out “I’m gay!”

At that point there was a pause as I looked at my mum’s blank expression for any signs of which way the conversation was about to turn. For me it seemed like an eternity. In fact I can’t have been any more than about a second or so. She then cheered up and responded “Oh, thank goodness for that. I thought something was wrong!”

How did I get here?

So, now you know the details of my coming out let me go back and tell you how I got to being 34 by the time I finally accepted my sexuality and 35 by the time I finally exited the closet.

Back when I was at school and I had the first inclining that I was attracted to men I obviously wasn’t sure what to do. I felt that there was no one to speak to. While I was trying to figure out if this was a permanent feeling or just a phase another kid in my class was outed.

Stonewall - FITIt wasn’t pleasant. And quite frankly I didn’t want to go through that so I hid. I buried my feelings as deeply as I could. Effectively I hid from myself. From that point, every time I heard a homophobic comment it just got piled in on top burying those feelings even deeper.

Perhaps if there was something like Stonewall’s FIT campaign that might not have happened. Perhaps if many things were different I would have come to acceptance sooner. It is now all water under the bridge and there is little point dwelling on it because what is done is done and cannot be undone.

Phil Winstanley - Dec 2009

Moving On

Now, this post is entitled “Exploding out of the Closet”. And you might be forgiven for wondering why at this stage.

When I spoke to Seb on the day of my coming out, he told me that he thought I was a bit of a closed person. He always had the impression that I wasn’t very open about myself. After that conversation I dec
ided that this was something that had to change. Since I’d realised that it was something that had caused me to build up a whole heap of stress I decided that I needed to be more open, not just with others but with myself too. As I mentioned above, I already knew I didn’t want to hide any more so being more open definitely be something that would compliment that.

While I never made any grand announcement on twitter (at least, that was my intention) I just just joked with the friends that already knew. My sense of humour has always included a fair bit of innuendo [^] so I expected that people would pick up soon enough.

I also attended my first Gay Geek Dinner in November followed by a tour of some of Soho’s gay bars and clubs. While there I tweeted my experience and uploaded some photos onto Facebook and Flickr. After that, I had assumed that everyone must have realised given this volume of information. Phil even commented later that I had “exploded out of the closet” (Hence the title of the post)

Incidentally, I did eventually make that grand announcement because the innuendo confused a number of people so I had to clear that up [^]. And of course, I guess this blog post acts as a grand announcement too. So, I guess I’m now well and truly out!

If you have Spotify: I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross.

Update

I received some comments also on Twitter about this blog post in addition to the comments below. Here are the twitter comments:

12 thoughts on “Exploding out of the Closet

  1. Really great post Colin – fantastic to hear your story and so great that you were finally able to accept yourself and be the real you… you’re certainly a fantastic guy and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you no end!I used to teach at a secondary school – and so I know what you mean when people get ‘outed’ and how cruel some kids can be… and yet, even when I was teaching it was so much better than when I was at school. To have been able to tell kids that it was OK to love whoever the hell they wanted to love, and see how relieved they were, was just fantastic.Here’s to your next 35 years being nothing but fantastic – you deserve it!

  2. Glad to read your story Colin. I think acceptance spreads, and your acceptance and openness is a gift to others in the future, showing them that being gay is every bit as natural as being straight, and something to be proud of.

  3. Just reading this in my RSS reader and thought your blog had been hacked! Reading on I discovered it was a brave coming out post that blows away my belief you were just asexual, turned that way by some of your past life experiences. The blog post made me double take, gasp, smile and chuckle. Next song on your playlist should be Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive! Doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay or asexual, you’ve got to love that song.Glad you found yourself, relieving much pain and stress on the way. My very best wishes with the beginning of the rest of your life.

  4. Thanks for all the great feedback and wishes, it is really appreciated.@Ollie: I think you are right and that is one of the reasons I wrote this. If this post is of help to anyone, young or old, then it has done its job.@Phil: What do you mean? I like that photo. 🙂 @John: Indeed – And that other Gloria Gaynor song “I am what I am“.

  5. Good on you, Colin!Glad you’re happier and less stressed, and that it wasn’t a big deal for your mum. As long as she doesn’t tell your dad, you’ll be fine;-)”I also attended my first Gay Geek Dinner in November followed by a tour of some of Soho’s gay bars and clubs.”Yep, sounds like an explosion to me.In keeping with the irreverent spirit of your post, I’m going to guess that about the same number of people manage to engage romantically with a person of the contradictory gender at a Gay Geek Dinner as at any other Geek Dinner. We’re not talking Unsigned Longs here. 😀

  6. Congratulations on achieving this. I have friends who have been openly gay since 2000 but still haven’t told either of their parents.I’ll see you at the any preference Geek Dinner on Friday!

  7. Well, as you know, I’ve supported you all the time I’ve known you. Good for you, Colin, my friend…
    A big hug, PA

  8. Wow, just over two years since I originally posted this and today I’m entering a civil partnership (I’m not yet allowed to use the word marriage, the registrar has already told me off for that!) with my beloved Paul.

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