Originally posted in April 2012.
I think each coming out story is as unique as the individual, aside from reaching the essential understandings - we all deserve to be free, equal human beings, we all deserve to love and be loved by whomever we choose, free from judgement from ourselves and others. The fact that we even have to discuss this and be ‘accepted’ is of course one of this life’s cruel absurdities but that’s a whole other issue.
The most interesting part of a coming out story for me is the point that the decision is made and the reason behind it. My final step was inspired by a documentary, a very simple one, it was called ‘The world’s worst place to be Gay’:
It’s not the best film in the world, and it had been shown on what I thought at the time was the worst TV channel on the planet, but it was the trigger I needed. I understood that there were people in this world who were being persecuted and even killed for being gay, in this case by ‘Christians’. I had to do something about it, I knew that I could do something, I need to do something… It’s not that I hadn’t realised this before, it’s just that I hadn’t identified with it, but now as a gay man I felt their fear and pain and it was unbearable. It was a good enough reason. The thought of my parent’s potential grief was overshadowed by the need to do something for those who didn’t have the luxury of the choices I was taking so long to even make. Scott Mills set me free in a way.
As soon as I had made the decision it struck me as being incredibly warped that it had taken the plight of others to realise my own need for liberation. I had never even for a second thought that I deserved such a thing or saw it as a possibility. My struggles in this area defined me as a person, it was who I was…who would I be once fully out the closet? I looked at my reflection for some clues but couldn’t see beyond the tired eyes and puffy cheeks.
It was decided, I was really going to do this. I needed to set a date. It was October so I decided that we would have one more peaceful Christmas and that I would do it in the New year..maybe tell the brother and sister beforehand..not too beforehand though as don’t want it used as ammunition…I decided on 20th January 2012. It may well be the last year of human existence, so why the hell not?
I began to plan, I had a dream that I could find a way of dealing with my parents personal feelings and not their religious beliefs. I’d need to go back to my prison manual…Christians are obsessed with sex, the Bible isn’t so much when you actually know it. It was easy: God is love. Jesus didn’t say a word on the matter. Only anal sex is an abomination. Abomination means ‘against tradition’. Mixing fabrics is an abomination as is divorce, eating rabbits, eating river fish…the list goes on of course. The only thing that would change would be that I wouldn’t be lying to them anymore, they had always taught me to tell the truth.
The reason it was so important to attend to the religious matters so thoroughly was that my Dad was a Baptist Minister, and my Mum the devoted wife. I didn’t know how this was going to go, both my parents are also Egyptian and the mixture of blind faith and Arab passion can be quite a heady one. At best I imagined my Mum screaming, pulling her hair out and puking in my face whilst my dad prepared me for burning. I really didn’t know what to expect, I just knew how I needed to feel, I had to have compassion for them and compassion for myself. It was hard because I hated everything and everyone involved with the situation at that point.
I wouldn’t recommend anyone set a date too far ahead for these events, it nearly killed me. Time passed, very slowly, every time I saw my family and they pissed me off it was nearly spat in their faces. I knew I wanted to tell my siblings first but I also didn’t want to pressure myself, so I told myself the right moments would present themselves, which they did.
My sister has had her own struggles, severely bullied at school and then thrown out because they couldn’t deal with the situation. She struggled with my Mum as girls do, Dad spoiled her to make up for early mistakes. The usual. We were tidying her room one afternoon and she started crying to me about how hard life had been for her and that no one understood how it felt. I knew it was the right moment, I suppressed a gag and went for it.
“Life hasn’t been easy for me either you know..”
“Yes it has, look at all the places you’ve been and things you’ve done, anyway you’re stronger than me..”
“I’m Gay. I’m telling Mum and Dad on the 20th January..and I’m shitting it”
We talked for about 2 hours, she asked me if she could meet my boyfriend, I explained that he hadn’t reached my consciousness yet, she understood. Part of me felt relieved and part of me felt disgusted, it was the strangest feeling. I had set in motion a series of unstoppable events and my unconscious knew it.
My sister was taken by surprise which I didn’t expect. She told me that she had never considered it as I didn’t seem typically gay, I explained that there are just people in this world, we all act differently and it has no relation to where we stick our bits. She didn’t want to think about my bits, and I didn’t want that either. We laughed, hugged and she forgot about her problems for a little while. It felt good but I also felt naked.
My brain began to feel weird, like it was in a panic and angry with me. I was doing something that I thought I would never do, I had surprised myself and part of my mind was desperately fighting it.
It was now late November and it was time to tell my older brother. He had been my hero until I was 16, then something happened and he lost his appeal. I know now it was because I was unable to be myself around him and all those homophobic jokes he would tell over dinner. I went over to his one Saturday, giving myself a talk in the mirror before I left
“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to mate, you do whatever you feel, no pressure – ok?”
It helped. Good to talk to yourself. Sometimes all you have is your reflection. I spent the day there with my brother, sister-in-law and five nieces and nephews (he really took that pressure off me!), it was nice. The kids went to bed and I knew my moment had come. Every time I went to say something I nearly threw up or laughed like a maniac.
“Ok, ok..Just leave the room, go to the loo, come back in and just say it…we have to say it…”
I sometimes refer to myself as ‘we’, not in the Royal way, more in a conscious/unconscious sense. I went, I came back, time slowed down, I felt sick and finally I said in a high nervous flutter
“I have something I need to tell you both, it won’t be a surprise, but basically I’m Gay”
I looked at them as if I had just asked a question and was waiting for a reply, they stared back at me with concern and fake disbelief. They knew, of course they did, but they didn’t realise I had been so open about it with others in my life. I explained that with all their fervent religious beliefs and the fact that I was never going to tell Mum and Dad I just didn’t think it was fair to tell them. We chatted for 4 hours, it was beautiful. He gave me a big bear hug and thanked me for telling him and said he was sorry that I didn’t feel I could have told him before. I got my big brother back that day, it felt really warm and light.
He asked me if I wanted him to be there when I told my parents, I said no, but thanks – and meant it.
Christmas arrived. I missed the annual heart-to-heart that I would usually have with my Mum on Christmas morning because I couldn’t bear to lie to her or thought I might let it slip. She missed me and it made me feel sad. It was a tense Christmas, I stayed over at my parent’s house for a couple of nights, on the last night I wandered round the house while they were all sleeping shuddering at the thought of all of it collapsing because of me. I looked at all our happy faces on display, knowing the pain behind the smiles and I wanted to smash them all, it all seemed like a lie.
“Just a couple of weeks to go mate, then it will all be over for better or worse, just a couple of weeks, we can do it…”
Of course we could, I’d already waited a lifetime.
The alarm goes off and I stare at the ceiling. It’s time to make the call, now before anything else gets in the way. Breathe..don’t forget to breathe, and don’t think too much, stupid.
“Hi Mum, I need to see you and Dad today, there’s something really important I need to tell you both”
Brief silence. Gulp, inhale.
“What is it? Tell me. What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you, I’ll be there at 12. Bye Mum.”
It didn’t quite seem real, would this be the day of days? It was the 20th Jan 2012, and it had been a long time coming. Every time I thought about my parents reaction I shook, like a wet dog. Best not think too much. But what if I break her heart? I remembered a story about an Egyptian Aunt I never met who cried herself to death, or was it blind, or white hair? I didn’t want any of that for either of my parents, especially not Mum.
A week before ‘the date’ someone close to me asked me if I really had to do it. He said that, knowing the culture, it might kill my Mum and that it seemed selfish to him. It was hard at that stage to deal with the discouragement, but he did make me really consider why I was so sure about going ahead.
“It’s what’s best for me mate, for once I’m gonna do what’s best for me, if I can’t do that for myself, who will?”
We can spend the rest of our lives living a life that we never chose, to protect others from their own ignorance or we can stand proud and defiantly march out those closet doors. It didn’t matter how late in life it was happening, it was time for the lie to end.
I get up, shower, dress, trying to keep as calm as possible. It was like I was watching a film – a bleak European one, or Russian maybe. What was I going to say to them? Would I say gay? Homosexual? ‘Don’t like girls’? No idea. Shit..no socks, only the Christmas ones, is that bad luck? I used to hold auditions for my underwear before special occasions or going on holidays, each potential brief or sock would perform and I would judge; I swear I invented the whole format. Today deserved something special but all I had was Simpsons at Christmas.
I leave the flat and get on the bus, I am suddenly aware that this will be the last closeted bus journey of my life, a tear comes to my eyes and I nearly lose it, it wouldn’t take much for this to turn in to a panic attack so I go back to thinking of nothing and breathing in blue. There’s the sea.
“Hello beautiful, wish me luck”
Having lived by the sea most my life she was a real presence to me, and I called her beautiful. Many tears, much laughter and even love had been expressed in front of her, so I was glad to have caught a glimpse through the filthy windows. The bus is slow and the passengers slower, there’s that smell of decay on them, gag. Seeya later suckers, I’m choosing life! Gag. The bus arrives at the top of my parents road, I get off and the panic starts to set in and I allow it this time. Heart beat races, hard to catch my breath, vision narrows.
“Maybe I’ll die now and I won’t have to do this”
It would have been a relief but also a waste I guess. With each step down the road I calm myself further until I reach the front door in a Zen-like state, which quickly turns in to anger when no one answers. What was wrong with these people? Not only had they ruined my life they also wanted to make this as difficult as possible.
I won’t lie, anger was helpful, it certainly trumped panic and fear. After 5 minutes my Dad answers, he’d been out in the garden, Mum wasn’t back from shopping yet. I could tell he was trying to distract me with things, he was clearly worried. As I look at his greying hair, tired face and kind eyes I suddenly feel nothing but care and compassion for him, the same happens with my Mum the second I see her. I felt sad and sorry for all of us, none of us had chosen this.
Mum was trying to fill my bag up with toiletries and food, maybe the last I would ever receive, at least for a while. Dad was trying to make me some food.
“Mum, Dad, get a cuppa and let’s go talk”
They do just that, solemnly but quickly. We sit and there it is suddenly, the moment that I thought would never be.
“Mum, Dad, there’s no easy way to say this but I’m Homosexual, before you react I haven’t got a boyfriend that I’m going to suddenly introduce to you and the main reason I’m telling you now is I don’t want you finding out from anyone else.”
It was done. I don’t know why I said homosexual, I guess I didn’t want them confusing an identity with a sexual preference. I braced myself for vomit and fire but none came. They sat there calmly, my Dad took his glasses off and a few tears trickled down his face, my Mum did the same. There was a strange feeling of relief in the room. I decided to carry on.
“I kept it from you as long as I could, I prayed to be healed harder than anyone has ever prayed for anything, It’s not been an easy life so far. I’ve been depressed, I’ve taken so many drugs, I tried to change and be with girls thinking it was a sickness that could be healed. I tried it all. But this is me, and I am happier now than I have ever been, all that has changed is that I am no longer lying to you, everything else is the same.”
I explained about the documentary and the plight of the gay Africans, my plans to write to all the churches and Christian organisations in the UK to challenge them to face up to what was being done in their name. I told them not to cry for me because I had cried enough for all of us. They just listened, sometimes looking at me with tears in their eyes sometimes looking at the floor.
It was time for them to speak. It turns out that the morning phone call had really scared them and they had imagined the worst. Apparently gay was nowhere near the worst thing they could imagine, it came far after cancer, aids, murder, baby…and many others. It became very clear that the tears were for me and how hard life had been for me, not for anything else. It seems that they loved me as much as their faith, I was astounded.
I told them that I didn’t mind who they did or didn’t tell, that was completely up to them, but there was one rule – they must not pray for me to be healed, that would be disrespectful.
“But you know son, God can do anything..”
“I know Mum, he could turn me in to an elephant if he wanted to, but he hasn’t”
We talked for 2 hours, they asked questions, we gently discussed what the bible says and how unclear it is, and how this is about love and life not just sex. They tried as hard as they could to understand and didn’t lay a single bit of guilt on me. That was it. They thanked me for being honest with them, we all hugged and they carried on as normal, my Mum even catching a bus back with me. But hang on! Why no shouting or anger? Why don’t they hate me? Can’t they even pretend to be a bit disgusted?? Nothing. BEAT ME! It turns out I was the one with the problem. It’s only when all the excuses are gone you see who you really are and how you feel about yourself. There was work to do.
I got off the bus, the first openly gay bus journey of my life, I laughed and cried. I became a walking cliche, it was light and free and confusing. This wasn’t the end, but it was a pretty incredible beginning.