what being gay
means to me
written by Martin Hunter (he/him)
Having to deal with that bloody closet, that is what being gay means to me. The need to ‘come out’ and declare, one way or another, that you are different from what others expect or perceive you to be. This is something the LGBT+ community have to tackle constantly; although I note it is not uniquely ours, as I witnessed when the girlfriend of my white best mate hid their relationship from her strict Hindu parents for 3 years. However, generally speaking a cisgender straight guy can happily assume that everyone around him will happily assume that he is both a guy and attracted to women. That is standard. No need to question it… right?!
Assumption, that is what drives coming out. The need to reject the assumptions being made, and instead define what is one’s own truth. Linguistically I did wonder if ‘presumption’ was more accurate, that people presumed I was straight as there are just numerically more people who are… However, I do not think that’s the case for the most part, as I do not think many people actively weigh up the possibilities.
The assumptions started to lay upon me from an early age, and sadly growing up I did not have the wherewithal to be able to define what my truth actually was. The bottom-line was that I was a boy, therefore I liked girls. The fact that my level of interest in girls never seemed to be the same as for my mates (not to mention the fact my eyes seemed to linger when I caught sight of a guy’s butt), was not enough for me to declare that I did not, in fact, fancy girls. I mean, looking back there were plenty of indicators, not least my absolute love for Tina Turner, but hell she is a legend, so perhaps it could be explained away.
So because of the route my life took I ended up repressing my truth until my early 30s (the mental toll of this is another story). Not that I led an actively hetero life; I did not try to date girls, other than a few attempted dalliances at uni, where I was desperate to fit in. Instead, I avoided talking about my romantic life as much as possible, changing the subject of conversation or cracking a joke to cover, and lived, for all intents and purposes, an outwardly asexual life. (I hid my homo life behind closed doors, although even then I did try to pretend to myself that I was more into the ladies in the porn than the guys).
When I turned 30 I finally took charge of myself, and declared into the metaphorical mirror that if I did not start accepting my gay self, then I would have no chance for real happiness. This started a bumpy road of coming out, where for a few years I could not proactively say the words, but if someone asked me if I was gay, I would be able to say yes... eventually. I started secretly dating guys in the hope that having a partner would help me actually get the words out (a bit of moral support), but sadly love continued to elude me. So while I at least started to have a sex life, I was still relatively closeted and perpetually (and frustratingly) single.
Coming out to my mum aged 35 turned out to be the catalyst that allowed me to start actively coming out to others. I guess my subconscious was insistent on the need to be honest with the main lady in my life. Given I was 35, it may come as a surprise to learn that it was a surprise to her, but I guess she always found ways to explain away the lack of girlfriends and the Tina Turner obsessions; but importantly, and thankfully, she was supportive.
So finally I started the full process of coming out… although by this point for my close friends it really meant giving them permission to talk to me about my being gay. They all knew and in fact most were a bit disappointed that that was all my news… “so no boyfriend then?”. For those less close it was finding ways to correct assumptions being made, “yea she is hot, but check out the ass on that guy!” or “yea not really a football fan, but have you seen the latest Drag Race?” (not genuine quotes, but hopefully you get the point). There are also many times when I wondered whether it is worth correcting assumptions at all; considering for example social, religious and ‘can I be bothered’ factors, whether to correct the work colleague on the other end of a zoom call, who seeing I am (now) in my 40s asks about my wife and children (admittedly an assumption based on age, as much as being LGBT+ relevant).
I can certainly empathise with those who decide not to wait for people to assume, but instead use how they dress, how they act, and how they engage with others, to pre-emptively challenge assumptions. It can be tedious (and mentally draining) correcting others, so I imagine it can be refreshing to force a position of not really knowing instead. I think ultimately that is what we want to achieve as a society, a place where we start off not knowing (rather than assuming we do know), and through conversation discover what is real, and not to judge or be shocked by what we learn along the way.
Younger generations give me hope for this societal shift, they are moving us in the right direction on so many fronts, so hopefully future generations will no longer start out in that closet and be spared at least some of the mental anguish that this gay boy endured, not to mention that of an Indian girl who fell in love with a white boy. (Btw, her coming out story had a happy ending; her parents welcomed my bestie into their lives, and I am hopeful that Hindu weddings need a best man’s speech!)