Coming out: living my truth
Growing up, Gus knew he was gay, but when his mum discovered he had a boyfriend, he had to come out before he was ready.
Now 24 and an outreach officer for marginalised communities in London, Gus talks us through the difficulty in finding acceptance from close friends, family and even himself, and some of the challenges that face the black LGBTQ+ community.
How old were you when you came out?
I was 18 when my mum discovered I had my first boyfriend, so I was kind of forced ‘out’, which isn’t how I would have liked it to go down. I wasn’t ready and hadn’t planned exactly what I’d like to say to her. Things were rocky and our relationship was on and off for three years, due to a general lack of understanding.
Slowly she learnt this has nothing to do with her. My sexuality is not something that has been shaped – I was born gay. The last two years have been more comfortable. I love my mum and she supports me. People sometimes have to find their own way around to acceptance.
How do you think things have changed/are changing for young people coming out now?
There is definitely more acceptance now, more visibility of gay, bi and trans people across the board, but it is still very difficult on the individual level. Now with LGBTQ+ existence taught at school and better media representation, things seem easier, because you are more aware that there are people like you are out there – you’re not alone!
More young people now have the confidence to step out and come out. I’ve met 16-17-year-olds who are more publicly confident than I am in my own sexuality now, which is great progress and something I am happy to see.
Do you feel that being a young black man has affected your experience in the LGBTQ+ community?
Massively. LGBTQ+ culture can treat some members as an after-thought. There are fewer events, organisations and activities that are specifically targeted towards gay black men, and a lot of the clubs have either been shut down or are placed in very small venues. There are a limited amount of options available out there for gay black men in London to socialise with each other, aside from a couple of clubs and Black Pride, which is an annual event.
The lack of media representation of diversity within the LGBTQ+ community - be it ethnic diversity, culture or religion - can lead to feelings of loneliness among the members that aren't represented.
Why do you feel LGBTQ+ Pride month is important to you?
I feel that it is the one month of the year that the voices of different parts of the LGBTQ+ community are truly heard. Pride month is at the centre of the overall positive changes society as a whole is trying to make. It’s nice to see everyone come together. You have your friends there but also the wider community celebrating the visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
It is a period where we can celebrate everything and everyone that is contributing to this acceptance, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and gaining the equality we deserve. The more we celebrate Pride month and the more allies that contribute to Pride month, the easier it will be to teach people from early on that being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is normal, and that they shouldn't be ashamed of who they are.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If there was any advice I would have given to my younger self, it would be to not constantly belittle yourself or think you are not good enough or strong enough to be able to be accepted and loved for who you are. The more you internalise your emotions and hide from who you are, the more you will damage yourself and the longer it will take to recover from it.
What would you say, right now, to someone wanting to come out and own their sexuality and identity?
The sad truth is not everyone is naturally going to accept your sexuality straight away and you need to be prepared for that. Come out for yourself and nobody else, because that way you will be happy you are finally living in your truth, no matter what the outcome may be.
Coming out doesn’t automatically mean the whole world has to know straight away. Sometimes just having a few people you know you can trust is good enough to start off with and whatever you decide to do from there is up to you. If you want to confide in a close friend or family member but don't know their views on homosexuality, try finding that out first. It can help you decide whether you're ready to come out to them, and how to start the conversation.
But, no matter what, do not feel ashamed of who you are.
Where to find support
You should not feel pressurised to label yourself or your sexual orientation. If you do feel you’d like to come out as gay, lesbian, bi or pan to others, and are safely able to, you can find support on how to start conversations, and further advice, at Stonewall.
It is always good to speak to someone you trust about the issues you might be facing, no matter how big or small. It can be hard talking about sexuality, relationships and mental health – everyone finds them challenging at times – so if you are experiencing difficulties, don’t feel ashamed or different, and don’t feel you have to hide away from it. You can also find help on a range of issues at Young Minds.