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National Coming Out Day: 29 LGBT+ figures share their stories

These are their words. These are their stories.

To mark National Coming Out Day 2017, 29 LGBT+ figures from across our community share their unique and personal coming out stories.

Munroe Bergdorf, Activist, model and DJ

I didn’t really come out as a definite act. I came out to myself.

I used to DJ at a venue called Madame JoJo’s in Soho which is kind of iconic. [Laughs] I stood there and my trans friend had just left and I was like… ‘So when am I going to do this? When am I going to do it? What’s stopping me? What’s holding me back?’ I was then like, ‘It’s other people, isn’t it?, and what other people think. How am I going to see myself and what’s going to happen?’

These are questions that are never going to be answered unless I just jump and do it, so I bit the bullet. I didn’t know what was going to happen and it could all go very, very wrong, but what’s the alternative? Am I going to die a very unhappy old man or am I going to take the chance and die myself?

I decided to be myself as the unknown is so much better than certain that you’re going to be unhappy. In retrospect, you can’t lose being yourself. If the alternative is staying in the closet and being unhappy and having to live a lie and then making up more lies to cover up the lies then that’s no way live.

If you can come out, and I know not everybody can, but if you can then I would say it’s a tiny little bit of awkward and a lot of amazing!

Related: 39 influential LGBT+ figures explain what Pride means to them…

Jonathan Harvey, Writer

My mum asked me when I was 18, just after I’d left home to go to university, when I phoned home one day. She then told me she loved me. My dad then got in the car and drove to see me to check I was OK.

Kennedy Walker, Political Campaigns Coordinator

My big coming out was telling my older brother.

It was around 2:30am on a week night. I was listening to soulful music; Luther Vandross, Lauryn Hill and getting really into my emotions. I recorded a 5 minute video explaining that I wasn’t straight and what that means. Put that video on a USB stick went straight to my brother’s bedroom and gave it to him.

I went back to my room. I actually sat in my tiny walk in wardrobe, half hiding, but I knew everything would be fine when my brother walked in my room and said “C’mon brother, you’ve come out of the closet once today, you can do it again.”

Gok Wan, TV presenter, DJ, fashion guru 

It was with my sister in her flat in Hendon. I had long bobbed hair – ‘cos I was a bit of a raver – and I was wearing a tartan waistcoat that I’d bought from one of the souvenir shops on Oxford Street, I don’t know why. I told my sister and her response was completely underwhelming. She just said, “Like I didn’t know!”

Andrew Hayden-Smith, Actor

I caught the train up to Newcastle one weekend with the sole intention of telling my parents. I was 21 and living in London by this point, and starting a new life in the capital had made me a bit more confident about telling them. It took a while, but I eventually blurted it out in the kitchen to my mam. She was cool. She gave me a hug and told me she kind of already knew. Of course she did – I had Take That posters on my bedroom wall and asked for the Ab Fab box set one Christmas when I was a kid!

I don’t think my dad wanted to accept it for a while – I’m from the north after all, and I’m not sure if you’ve heard but we’re all supposed to be dead ‘ard and macho up there. Eye roll.

He came round eventually and soon he was even wanting to come for a drink in Soho with me and my mates. I consider myself very lucky to have a supportive, loving family like I do. It’s awful to think that some people don’t have that same support. If it’s your child, you should love them unconditionally. I just don’t get it.

Carrie Lyell, Editor of Diva Magazine

Coming out wasn’t something I did just once. The first time, it was my 16th birthday party and after one too many alcopops I blurted it out to a group of friends before falling asleep underneath my bed. Classy.

A few months later, I plucked up the courage to tell my mum. Pacing around the room until the carpet was almost threadbare, she put her head in her hands and sighed. She thought I was about to tell her I was pregnant and dropping out of school, so telling her I was gay after that was something of an anti-climax. That evening, she held me as I cried big fat tears of relief and told me that she would love me no matter what.

Every coming out since has been relatively smooth – with the exception of the colleague who couldn’t quite look me in the eye afterwards, or the nurse who looked disgusted when I told her I sleep with women – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a knot in my stomach still, after all these years.

Charlie Condou, Actor

I had a huge crush on a guy called Barry who went to my gym. I thought he was straight. We ended up drinking together late one night and he asked me if I was gay. It hadn’t actually crossed my mind until that point, but suddenly everything slipped into place and I told him I was. Apparently he was too; we dated for a while.

Shon Faye, Writer and comedian 

I came out 3 times – first as gay, then as queer, then as trans. Trans was the easiest as I knew it was accurate – I first had expressed the idea I was trans to a few friends (often when drunk, which I was a lot at the time) but finally decided to put up a blogpost announcing it at 3am so that I would be asleep when people read it. It was a bit cowardly but I think social media spares you the ordeal of endless conversations.

When I came out I didn’t know if I was going to transition from one side of the gender spectrum to the other or what pronouns or name I was going to use – it wasn’t the point of doing it. It was to explain to people that I had reached a crisis point. I had tried my hardest to be a gender nonconforming male and found it as suffocating as standard masculinity.

Now that I have transitioned, I still come out to people every day – when I answer the phone, on dating sites, in meetings. When you’re trans it never stops but it seems bizarre and strange I ever contemplated not doing it, given that the life I lead before was only ever a half-life, which I had medicated and bluffed my way through.

Andrew Doyle, Occupation Stand-up comedian and writer

There wasn’t a single moment as such. Most people assume I’m straight, so I have to try and send as many signals as possible to avoid confusion. I find that one of the most effective signals is to have as much sex with other men as possible. People soon work it out.

Al Porter, Comedian, entertainer and presenter

I told friends in school by the time I was 15 because I was a horny bugger and very flirtatious – I was always flirting with the rough lads in trackie bottoms. When I finally got up the nerve to tell my parents it didn’t come as a shock because I was always theatrical and used to play female characters in plays.

Ross Adams, Actor

The one that sticks out the most was telling my mam. She came down to visit me for the weekend and I’d spent ages trying to figure out how to find the words. In the end, it was a Pampers nappies ad on the telly that helped things along! It sparked a conversation about grandchildren and when I intended to find a nice girl to have a family with. With tears burning my eyes, I blurted out that wasn’t going to happen… But that I had met someone who I was very happy with and his name was Phil.

After about ten minutes, once the shock had subsided, she hugged me and told me she was just so happy that I was happy. And she’s been nothing other than supportive ever since. Once I told my mam, I found the courage to share my news with close friends in my own time – this was important to me because it felt like it was my news to share and I’d do so only when I was ready.

Sadly, I was ‘outed’ – ironically by a gay friend! – before I had the opportunity to do that. It upset me hugely at the time, but I suppose it kind of saved me a job!

 

Liam Rezende, Marketing Communications for Europe, Africa, Middle East and South West Asia (Hyatt Hotels)

I think one has countless coming out stories because the unfortunate reality is, we never only get to come out once.

The one story that’s most dear to me was when I came out to my father. Seven years ago after moving to London from Trinidad & Tobago I came out to my parents on National Coming Out Day. I sent them both the same message and waited for what felt like weeks for them to respond. Growing up I always wondered what my father would think, how he’d react and what he might say. I delayed it for years out of fear and shame and was only able to muster up the courage after I’d left home. Yet my fathers response was what any young gay son would dream to hear.

He first apologised to me for not making me feel as though I could have told him sooner, reminded me about the importance of safe sex (gay or straight), and then told me how much he loved me and how proud he was to be my Dad. His response was life changing, it felt like a cloak of shame had been lifted off of me and I was finally free and proud to be myself. But the reason this coming out story is so dear to me is because two years after I came out to my Dad he suffered a stroke and has not been able to speak or write ever since.

You see, although I’m relieved and happy that I was able to hear his words of love and support, everyday of my life I wish I had told him sooner.

Harry Clayton-Wright, Performer and entertainer.

Even though it was screamingly obvious to all involved, nobody in my family assumed or presumed. In an almost scripted northern fashion, I came out to my mum during an episode of Coronation Street when I was 13-years-old. She cried. Not because she was disappointed, but because she was worried about the difficulties I may experience going through life. She’s such a proud mother though – she’s been to more Pride parades than I have.

Barry Bryson, Event chef, caterer, general foodie

I came out aged 15 to my incredibly liberal, open minded mother who made some tea and then carried on as normal – a breeze compared sadly to so many others! I count myself very lucky for my mum Mili!

Simon Dunn, Athlete

I came out to my mother during an argument – which probably wasn’t the best idea because it didn’t really work in my favour as I was kicked out. Moving forward to today, I totally understand her reaction. My sexuality was something I had to come to terms with my entire life. My mother had minutes. Now she’s proud to have a gay son!

Austin Armacost, TV personality, model, LGBT+ campaigner

I was accidentally outed by my brother, actually. At 14 I was struggling with coming out, dealing with drug and alcohol issues, and recovering from a traumatic experience a few years earlier – so I was quite a wreck! I was coming down off of a strong drug and became very violent towards my parents. They realised there was a deeper demon I was battling than simply just teen angst.

I admitted to my parents I thought I was gay and my brother overheard. According to him, he told his best friend just for someone to “talk to” about it and how to handle it. Apparently my brother’s best friend’s little brother overheard it. He also happened to be in my year at school, so a few days later everybody was asking, whispering and gossiping.

I decided there was no point to continue not being my true self. I knew that I was gay, knew that nothing was going to change and decided it was time to start living openly. Two weeks after I came out, 11 kids in my school had come out following me. That’s when I knew that being a role model was a powerful position and I needed to use it in a positive way.

Tom Glitter McGlitterson Rasmussen, writer, columnist at Refinery29, contributing features editor at i-D, and a drag queen with DENIM

I came out when I was twelve. Where I’m from, a working class village in rural Lancashire, there were genuinely no gay people. I remember being terrified, but being sure. I came out to my dad, who said the wrong things but was supportive.

I came out to my mum a year later wearing a pink dressing gown, holding a mug that said ‘I love shoes’. I was trembling, and she didn’t take it well. Even still, I was glad to have come out as it were. Now, 14 years later, both of my parents are remarkable: we’ve had countless fights, and through that we’ve all grown to understand each other better. They still say that me coming out changed their life, opened them up to so much positive culture they never would have known if it weren’t for me and my queer friends. I’m lucky, but there was nigh on a decade of fights. But, as the GLF said, “Come out! Come out! Come out!”, it’s the only the world will change.

Of course, only do so if you’re safe. But do. Come out. Your world will explode when you do.

Daniel Brocklebank, Actor

I was 15-years-old and told my mum first, and then the rest of family in one hit; like ripping off a plaster. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. To feel free to say the words “I’m gay” out loud was one of the hardest yet most natural things in the world.

I had to come out again publicly at 18 as someone was going to out me to the press. I thought coming out twice was tough, but I realise now that you never really stop coming out. Every new person you meet or new job you start. It’s endless. It never stops. But it does get easier to say, and it does get easier to celebrate.

Tom Bosworth, Athlete, racewalker for Team GB

I was quite greedy and decided I needed three coming out moments. The first didn’t go so well. I told two of my close school friends at the time and it made me feel so happy to talk about it with someone finally, like a weight had been lifted. Then, a few weeks later, one of them told a few people and it spread like wildfire around the school. This lead to three years of bullying as I decided it was easier not to deny it. I had metal lockers pushed on top of me, my head put through a window, food thrown and pushed in my face. But it was the daily verbal threats of violence that was most terrifying. The school blamed me for the trouble, but looking back now this made me a very strong person and I feel no blame or upset towards any one.

I kept it from my parents for years. I met my fiancé Harry in 2011, who changed my life. Around that time, my athletic career started to really take off and I felt happy enough to talk about it with my parents. After a phone call – yes, I phoned them because I was so scared – my dad took the news well and was very supportive. After a period of time and a lot of awkward conversations, my mother eventually came round and now sees Harry as part of the family.

Then, in October 2015, I decided to come out publicly on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. It was well before the Olympic Games, to make sure I could focus fully on training with no distractions or concerns. The support since has been overwhelming. It’s changed my life and I’ve never been happier. I put finishing 6th at the Rio 2016 Olympics and breaking five British records down to this. LGBT+ sporting role models are not that common, so to have that title is something I take with great responsibility.

Christopher Duncan, Singer/songwriter

It wasn’t until I was in my third year at university that I openly came out. It started with me getting drunk in a gay bar in Glasgow with a bunch of good friends where I built up the courage to tell them. I then came out to my family over dinner a couple of nights later. Everyone was very accepting and encouraging, so it wasn’t as scary an experience as I thought it would be.

Seann Miley Moore, Entertainer

I was playing Angel in a small production of RENT back in Sydney when my parents came to watch. Once I strutted out on that stage in that mini Santa outfit and signature Velma Kelly bob, it was 100% certain! It was the power of the stage. Theatre truly allowed me to come to terms with my sexuality. It was roles like Angel that truly challenged me to accept and love myself; be proud and be courageous when I wasn’t honest with who I was.

Paul’s monologue from A Chorus Line truly changed my life especially. Living through these stories and characters challenged me to come to terms with who I was and born to be. The power of theatre really is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Sam Stanley, Rugby player

I didn’t have the best reaction from the first person I told, so I hid it for a further year. I came out a number of times and, as any gay person will tell you, it never really stops. I guess because of the position I found myself in as a rugby player, I was lucky enough to do it publicly to get rid of the dreaded coming out convo every bloody time you meet someone new.

Marcus Jay, The Chic Geek, Men’s style blogger

I never really had the big Diana Ross reveal. I think it involved alcohol – natch – a party in an old Scout hut with a 1950s portrait of the Queen looking down, probably with Wonderwall blaring in the background and people getting totes emosh or whatever the term was back in the 90s.

Mark Fletcher, CEO of Manchester Pride

I’ve not had a defining coming out moment… Maybe this is it? I’m a private kind of guy and I’m lucky in that I come from a close-knit family and have great, supportive friends.

Once I knew, I told the people closest to me and those who I felt needed to know. One of the funniest conversations I had was with my best mate. I’ll never forget his instant response when I told him: “You know I’m not gay, right?” To which I replied, “Yes, mate. I know you’re not gay!” Looking back, I wish I’d have grabbed his leg or something to really freak him out.

James Dreyfus, Actor

I was 16 and seeing a boy called Garry. He was also 16 and he was at my house when my mum found out, and vice versa. I think my mum was more concerned about me getting AIDS, as that was synonymous with being gay back in the early 80s.

Darren Hayes, Musician, actor, writer

My coming out was torture! I can’t sugar coat it. I was married to a woman – who’s still a dear friend of mine – and, as my sexuality emerged, I felt like I was going to ruin her life and destroy our families.

It was in 1997 and at the peak of the first Savage Garden album and my sexuality was coming through – whether I wanted it to or not! I’m grateful I had a friend at the time who literally told me, ‘You’re gay.’ I tried to deny it even to myself and this person just looked right through me and said, ‘You know, it’s OK.’ It was a long journey from that moment to finally running down the corridor of a 747 telling my band and crew, ‘I’m gay!’

There were at least two years of utter guilt, misery and ill-informed marriage counselling. Our families were incredibly supportive and understanding, and I value my ex-wife’s friendship to this day. She’s an amazing woman. She let me go, which was incredibly selfless and I’ll always thank her for that, because I probably would’ve stayed and ruined both of our lives. She’s an angel.

Mikey Walsh, Author, YouTuber, hag

I never came out, officially. My gay title was given to me by my dad, his family, my childhood bullies and the arseholes of my youth… My sexuality was confirmed many years after I ran away from home. The day my family and, pretty much, the whole gypsy community found out about my first book and shat a brick over the “disgrace” of it.

Jamie Lambert, singer in Collabro

I never really came out – I brought a guy home from uni and everyone was really chilled about it.

Nick Ede, Founder of Style for Stroke

I came out when my mother passed away from a stroke when I was 23. Before then, I’d kept lots of things secret and hadn’t really had a proper boyfriend. When I told my brother and father, they didn’t bat an eyelid and just said they were happy that I was happy.

Whatever your story, live loud and always live proud!

More information and support for National Coming Out Days can be found here

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