National Coming Out Day is an annual event every 11 October, which first started in the US back in 1988.
Coming out means sharing your sexual orientation or gender identity with other people, perhaps for the very first time – identifying as gay, lesbian, bi, trans, non-binary, or wherever you sit within the LGBTQ family.
I’ve shared my own coming out story with Gay Times readers before. I only had the confidence to come out to my closest friend at school – Fiona, as a geeky and introverted 16-year-old. It was not until I was open about my sexuality at university that I flourished into an out and proud gay man.
I spoke to two of my friends, the singer and actor Jaymi Hensley and the writer Nicolas McInerny, who have very different coming out stories. Jaymi is 29 years old, five years younger than me, whilst Nicholas is 58 years old.
Jaymi has long been a role model for the LGBTQ community. I asked Jaymi when he first came out: “Wow! That’s going back some years,” he says.
“I first came out when I was 13. I decided I was going to start telling my friends. I had met someone else in my drama group who was gay and the same age, and this absolutely reiterated what I had always known.”
Jaymi acknowledges that he was “extremely lucky with coming out!” He continued: “I have had the most incredible amount of support!
“I think the main reason for this is, I never really hid who I was from birth. I’ve always had this inner respect for my truth that I obviously couldn’t hide nor did I want to.”
Jaymi celebrated a 10th anniversary with his partner, Olly, last month: “It’s been amazing especially this year to look back on everything that’s happened in our lives and grow into men together!
“We are so excited about what is next! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years – it seems so long.”
His advice for coming out is forthright and compelling: “Do it! That is literally my advice. Regardless I believe of how difficult it may turn out or the relationships that may be lost, life is far too short to live it as someone or something you are not.
“This is your one chance at living. Anyone who doesn’t accept you is not worth your time anyway. You’ve got this and you are stronger than you know!”
Nicholas offers a more nuanced perspective and co-hosts a podcast called Rainbow Dads, where he discusses, amongst other things, the challenges of coming out in later life.
Nicholas explained: “I came out at 45. I had been married nearly 20 years and had two children. I was sent away to a boarding school in the ’70s and naturally experimented. But coming out was not an option – my life would have been hell. So I conformed.”
Nicholas faced various hurdles and his words are raw and powerful.
“Friends were wonderfully supportive – and largely unsurprised. But obviously, for my family, it was far more difficult,” he says. “I had always been honest with my wife, and we did try and accommodate my need for same-sex contact – she was brilliant. My challenge was to recognise my marriage was over.”
Following the break down of Nicholas’ marriage, he fell for his first “proper boyfriend.”
“He led me through the excitement of self-discovery, for which I am eternally grateful, but then I met my current partner, whom I married in 2014 just after it became legal.”
Nicholas’ perspective on coming out is slightly different to Jaymi’s, although equally empowering.
“I feel the world has changed so much since I was agonising over this back in the ‘70s. I don’t regret being married – far from it. Own your choices, whatever they are, I suppose is what I would advise. Oh, and remember that coming out doesn’t solve everything!”
I knew I would enjoy speaking to both Jaymi and Nicholas about coming out because they offer such contrasts.
I was telling my peers at university about my sexuality (at the age of 18) around the same time that Jaymi was coming out to his drama group. This was a few years after the turn of the millennium. By then there had been a real shift in social attitudes, which Nicholas alludes to.
I am pleased to say that visiting schools now, as a Stonewall Role Model, I do encounter more stories like Jaymi’s.
On National Coming Out Day my advice echoes Jaymi – do it! It will change your life.
However, as both Jaymi and Nicholas’s experiences emphasise, every LGBTQ person has their own coming out journey. Don’t let anyone dictate how and when and where you come out. Do it when it is right for you.
If you would like to speak to someone confidentially about coming out, ring the LGBT Foundation’s helpline: 0345 3 30 30 30.