People ask me what it was like coming out, but I think it’s a bit more complicated. We come out all the time to people and I don’t think we stop. I think this is something some straight people don’t realise or understand.
First, I had to come out to myself. I knew from a very young age that I was different. I had the biggest crush on He-Man and Jason Connery in Robin of Sherwood. I also remember being desperate to be friends with a guy a few years above me in primary school. I must have been just six or seven at the time. I remember vividly wanting to be best friends with all of them or for them to me my brother or cousin – as these were the only male-male relationships I knew to exist at the time. I didn’t know that men could be together or that gay people existed. I was so confused about it all, but once I realised that there were gay people, it all fell into place. However, this was the mid-late 80s and that came with huge dollops of shame, fear and prejudice as it was the peak of the AIDS crisis. I remember people making anti-gay jokes when Freddy Mercury died and I also remember when a neighbour was arrested for cottaging in a local public toilet which was surrounded by whispers and derision.
I’m not sure how, but I managed (I think) not to be too affected by it and just got on with things – school, my friends and my hobbies – one of which was the local youth theatre groups. A cliché I know, but I loved performing and being cast as Joseph in my Primary 7 school show, sparked that passion.
By the time I was 13, I was pretty certain I was gay and it was somehow confirmed by the taunts of classroom and playground bullies who would call me “poof” and “gay boy”. Of course, the teachers did nothing (they couldn’t thanks to section 28) but one even asked some of the other kids if I was gay on a bus back from some school trip. Bizarre.
I ended up falling for a guy in my year at secondary school. I wasn’t out and the thought of that was pretty scary and I thought I’d have to keep it a secret forever. But he was the first person I told. Well, I say told but he actually found out as I had written about it in my diary (I know…) which he opened and read on my 14th birthday of all days. I was petrified about his reaction and worried he might tell my parents who were downstairs at the time. But he was amazing – so emotionally intelligent for a 14-year-old and (I think anyway) he kept it to himself and we remained friends. We drifted apart as friends do but he was always very supportive through school and when we ended up at the same university. So that wasn’t a horrific experience and was pretty positive in hindsight.
That was 1992, and that summer I did a lot of growing up. I was asked by Maggie Kinloch, the Artistic Director of the Byre Theatre in St Andrews to be in On Golden Pond as part of the Byre’s summer rep season – my first professional acting job! It was there that I met the wonderful Steven Wren who played my dad. It was the first time I’d spent any time with gay people – and they were normal (whatever that means), intelligent, lovely, talented, compassionate people – fantastic role models. Steven was reading Tales of the City which I of course then read. We would chat loads in the Green Room (not about me being gay – I was never that explicit) but in those weeks, I just knew that everything would be ok and I would simply need to bide my time. People didn’t/couldn’t really come out at school back then so I would wait until university. Steven reminded me recently that I asked him on our last day how you know if you’re gay. He told me that if I had to ask the question then I already knew the answer. He was so right.
I didn’t come out to the wider world until university – and of course, it had to come with a side serving of drama. I knew I was gay, but as a typical (horny?) teenager and young adult, I found myself experimenting but with girls – so I had a few (short-lived) relationships with girls. I’m not sure why – some part of me probably gave in to the pressures of the hetero-normative society in which we live, but also part of me liked the fact that I was getting attention from these girls and they were more accessible than gay guys at the time. I didn’t really know any gay guys. Shallow I know.
But in my second year of law at Edinburgh University I came out properly to my closest girl friends and I knew things had to change and I ended up joining the “Friends of Dorothy” gay support and friendship group at my Law School which tutors, lecturers and students could attend. To cut a long story short I ended up dating one of the tutors and this triggered me telling my parents and coming out (dramatically) to my friends at university. My university friends and flatmates were brilliant. Just brilliant.
Coming out to my parents was hard, I’m not going to deny it, although I do remember them telling me that they still loved me and that was all I really needed to hear. I think we all struggled with it for a number of years – it was an unknown for them and they didn’t really know any gay people and they had lived through the AIDS crisis and the fear and disdain pedalled by a homophobic media. I think they were just worried about the kind of future I would have. Would I have to live a secret life? Would my friends reject me? I was determined to show them that I would make a success of my life and that I would be accepted and that times were changing. I could feel it, for example, France had just introduced civil partnerships.
Bizarrely though we ended up not discussing it for years. I love my parents very much and they are so supportive of everything I do, and I think it was just easier for our relationship to not have to deal with it. I do regret hiding so much from them – so much fear and misunderstanding comes from people keeping secrets and not being open, so it was toxic for my previous relationship as both me and my ex hid our four-year relationship from both our parents. How could my parents speak to me about it if I was keeping major secrets from them?
Saying that, I now have a fantastic and wonderful relationship with my parents, they love my boyfriend (I sometimes think they like him more than me!), they come and visit us, we all go on holiday together and we go home to see them at holidays.
Those were the big coming out moments. But I feel like I have to come out every day. When I’m on the tube with my boyfriend and someone looks at us funny or when I’m in the back of an Uber and the driver is asking me about my girlfriend. I’m quite glad that on my CV it mentions the LGMC as it means I come out to prospective employers from the outset. If they don’t interview me, it could be because they don’t like gay people (or I’m just not right for the job), but quite frankly I need to be able to be me wherever I work. I’m very fortunate that in all my jobs I’ve been openly gay and it’s never been an issue. Some of my friends aren’t so lucky and work in places where they aren’t and can’t be out at all because of macho cultures. And this is in London. In 2017.
Being able to be authentically me is so important.