Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now

Column: Why I’m still afraid to come out to my friends and family

I’m 28 and in a committed, loving relationship but none of my friends or family know that – because I’ve never told them I’m gay. For all the talk of social acceptability, I still fear of losing the people I love.

Catherine W

I DECIDED TO write this piece to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on homosexuality in Ireland. I’m 28, gay, in a committed relationship but not “out” to any of my friends, work colleagues or family. I’m going to tell you about my experience on this so far, and the ongoing battle raging in my mind on whether or not to come out.

I’ve read so many articles about how times have changed, and how socially acceptable being gay is these days, but find it’s the same old fears that stop me from being open about it, and this is a side of the dialogue I don’t see anywhere, but would relate to anyone in my situation.

I grew up in the countryside and, in truth, always knew I was different – but managed to develop a facade so it wouldn’t be noticed. I’m tall, athletic, like sports and when I lived there I went out with my friends every weekend. I met girls, and for want of a better word “scored” many, but where my friends would develop a night of passion into a relationship, I always knew I couldn’t. What was stopping me was the thought that, sooner or later, she would find out I was gay, let it slip, my friends and family would find out and my life would be over (or so I thought at least).

I was too afraid to reveal my feelings

I can see now that these thoughts had roots in my childhood experiences. I remember my parents coming home from a social event in 2001/2002 where another guest, who was gay, had brought along his partner; my father’s disgust at this shook me to the core. I was about 16, and felt that somehow what I was feeling could never be acceptable to him. Over time, this and other experiences with friends made it more and more important that I never reveal these feelings.

I went through college with the same feelings, it was a large college, with a LGBT society, but I was too afraid to even take their reading material – what if someone saw me? I also kept meeting girls in college, but never for anything more than one night of drunken, meaningless sex that I felt compelled to have so my friends would see me as straight, never to be followed up by a call or text. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but the confusion and game-playing I felt I’m sure was worse than anything I ever put a girl through.

The masquerade

Six more years of this followed, and as you get older the questions start: “When are you going to settle down?”, “Have you found yourself a girlfriend yet?” These have always been answered with, “I’m still young, I’m just having fun”, an answer whose irony I can’t help but notice. Finely crafted to instil the perception that I’m a straight, happy-go-lucky 20-something, playing the field and enjoying life, masquerading the reality, that I lived in constant fear and loneliness. On the one hand unable to conform to the life they want for me, and on the other unable to accept the life that makes me happy.

I became depressed about this, but obviously couldn’t talk to anyone, and got to a point where I was very low. I remember thinking, “Oh, this is the feeling people have before they hurt themselves”, it was fleeting, and if anything roused me into action. I thought “there is no way I’m just going to feel like this forever”, and living in Dublin, with the safety of distance between me and my family and friends, I decided to put myself out there and just be gay.

It comes as naturally as breathing to me

Before long I met a great guy, and fell in love. It’s an almost unexpected love, as I’d convinced myself over the years, that I was just incapable of having a relationship, but here it is, and it comes as naturally as breathing to me, I feel like I have something I was sure I’d never have. The only problem is that it’s a relationship in isolation.

The old fears haven’t disappeared. When you don’t come out at a young age, you feel like people’s perceptions of you are so ingrained that you can’t come out. Will people stop making “gay” jokes around you, or will old friends turn, and ridicule you with them? I almost feel that either case would be as bad as the other.

Would they relive moments as having had a ‘sexual’ nature for me – like the locker room, which never had – and re-evaluate our friendship?

I fear that my mother would mourn a life foregone for me, and that’s a pain I don’t want to impose on her, I fear that my father is too much of “old Ireland” to even have a process for accepting this.

The profession I’m in is an old boys’ club, and I fear that coming out would hinder career progression; I know that discrimination law prohibits this, but, the reality is that you can still be subtly discriminated against.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article.

Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

The fear of losing long-loved friends and family

I can handle the random bigoted minority taking issue with my relationship, I don’t know them, and their opinions mean nothing to me, but for all the talk of social acceptability, it’s still the fear of losing long-loved friends and family that stops me taking the plunge and coming out. If it goes wrong, which it could, there’s no going back!

The easy counter-argument to that is of course that if they can’t accept you for who you are, they’re not your real friends. But that ignores all the nuances of those kinds of relationships; they are your safety net, your link to your past, and coming out may be the act of wilfully destroying them, which is a lot to give up.

I think the simple fact is that we are living in a generation too early for these fears to no longer be issues, the day where being gay is simply viewed as having a ‘sameness’ to being straight isn’t here yet, and it will take a type of bravery to be willingly viewed as something different to allow the next generation to experience sameness if they are gay.

Just one aspect of the person I am

I definitely agree that it’s easier for me to come out now than it might have been 20 years ago, but it’s certainly not a ‘no fear, no downside, no consequence’ issue that I can just let free, as much as I wish it were. In a way, at this point, I feel as much apprehension at the thought of necessarily coming out, to be happy, as I did unhappiness at the thought of spending my life alone being neither straight nor able to allow myself to be gay.

Whether or not I come out is not really the point to this, but rather, the fact that there are still enormous obstacles to overcome before people are in a position to come out without any fear. Acceptability may be here, and ‘equality’ is a loaded word these days – but we need to move past both of these to take the negativity out of being gay and get to a point where people can just live their lives in happiness without interference for what is, really, just one aspect of the person they are.

The author of this article wished to remain anonymous.

Column: ‘Coming out’ as gay meant that, at 54, I could finally be myself

Photo: How one man came out to his Facebook friends

About the author:

Catherine W

Read next: