21 Mar 2014

'I'm gay': One woman's coming out story

9:10 am on 21 March 2014

The mind’s ability to diminish past pain is remarkable. Without it, I suspect far fewer people would be up for having tattoos or giving birth. It’s something I think about every time I feel nauseously ill.

An amazing thing happened when I came out as gay. I’d been feeling nauseous for weeks, had barely eaten (I write a food blog and have a cookbook, so this was off-brand) and was more miserable than I could possibly comprehend.

Coming out meant having to break up with my best friend, boyfriend since 2005 and fiancé with whom I was planning a grand wedding in June. It meant losing the map to the path my life was on. It was a heart-crackingly difficult thing to do and a terrifying responsibility. It is also the truth.

Laura Vincent

Laura Vincent: "Trust yourself, trust your instincts" Photo: Diego Opatowski/wireless.co.nz

And I stopped feeling nauseous as soon as I said it. A gratitude-inducing state of not-nausea. It has been one hell of a time, but there is at least that.

I am incredibly fortunate that my coming out story has been relatively easy, though I was apprehensive about sharing it here. If I'd been a much younger person who was scared of their parents rejecting them, of potential bullying at school, of not having the autonomy and means to support myself, I might get angry reading this.

Thankfully, my own parents are getting there.

I’m still a bit of a rookie at being gay, but I feel the weight and power of everyone who has gone before. (I watched Ellen Page coming out to a huge crowd the day before I did and the words “I’m gay” felt more possible than ever.) There’s no one way to come out and there’s no real way of knowing how your life is going to change after. This is just my story.*

I had actually already come out before, in 2012, as pansexual. (If you can’t be bothered googling it, for me it means having the potential to be attracted to anyone regardless of how they identify their gender.)

It was certainly a lot easier back then than this time, as nothing much changed. It has been an important lesson for me to figure out that it’s OK to evolve past a particular label, but it’s also OK for one label to be the only one for you.

While it would’ve been easier if I’d figured all this out when I was two years old, I still don’t regret for one second the journey I took. Saying “I can’t marry you, I’m gay” was appallingly difficult to do while looking into my fiancé’s eyes, but I’m so happy I got to have that time with him. Happy years (shot through with some “holy shit I think I’m gay” turmoil) of living with and growing up with and hanging out with and loving my very best friend. Nothing will change that. He was so kind and gracious and cool about me being gay, despite the intense sadness and shock. Even though I have been super brave, so has he, and I’m very grateful for that.

“When did this start, how did you know, are you really sure you’re gay, is this just wedding stress?"

Calling myself pansexual worked for me for a long time. Until it just…didn’t...quite. People have asked me “when did this start, how did you know, are you really sure you’re gay, is this just wedding stress”? It’s amazing how much people think your innate and inexplicable attraction to another person is their business.

I don’t know. I think of it as a drop of blue food colouring in a bowl of water. At first it’s simply liquid plunging into liquid, a tiny puncture barely perceptible. Then the blue drop spirals and merges with the water around it, and slowly, surely…the entire bowl of water is blue. Can’t undo it, can’t remove it, can’t quite work out when it was and wasn’t blue. Was it when I was obsessed with drawing pictures of beautiful women as a child? Dreaming of the fairy-tale wedding but not actually wanting a man in the picture, just the beautiful dress and pretty bridesmaids? Volunteering at Out in the Square in uni and thought “gosh, I hope people assume I’m a lesbian”, without really knowing why that voice was there? Suddenly needing to mainline The L Word? Who knows. If you asked me right now “why are you gay” all I can really say is “HAVE YOU LOOKED AT ANY WOMEN LATELY” and maybe that’s more logical than anything else I can offer.

Dividing up so many accumulated possessions was rough (don’t get me started on our record collection) but dealing with our various half-bottles of alcohol was too much. What if we just had a party, one last party together, so all our friends could drink us dry and we'd have a happy memory to tack on to this tumultuous time. Instead of drifting away awkwardly from each other and our beloved flat, we could celebrate the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. Not for everyone, I know. It was an oddly wonderful party though, filled with kindness and love and strange cocktails. And some damn poignant bitter-sweetness. As I say, partying is such sweet sorrow.

Telling someone whose life is going to change because you’re gay is ferociously hard, but with every second that passes afterwards you’re getting stronger

I guess if there’s any wisdom I can impart to you from what I’ve learned, it’s the following: it’s OK to know, and it’s OK to not know. Trust yourself, trust your instincts. Telling someone whose life is going to change because you’re gay is ferociously hard, but with every second that passes afterwards you’re getting stronger and healing and getting closer to being yourself. I can’t express how cool it is to just wake up and think “I’m gay! And everyone knows it! Tra la la! If they don’t like it then they’re a homophobic dick! Oh man I hope people aren’t homophobic dicks to me ... wait, this train of thought got a bit negative. Yay gay!”

I know not everyone’s story is going to involve a supportive ex, a group of generous, protective friends, and a Creed-lunging-on-a-clifftop-with-arms-wide-open, ‘here I am world’ story. So know this. If you’re scared of coming out because you don’t think you’ll have anyone, well, there’s me. I have nothing but love and good thoughts and supportive thumbs-up for any person out there. While imagining some dingus in Wellington giving you a thumbs-up is not necessarily that practical for many people’s situations, maybe just knowing that at least one person thinks you’re great and brave and doing the right thing can help. It really helped me. And now my new chapter begins.

* Note - I’m going to try to stop doing this after everything I write; this defensive “you’re OK, I’m OK, everyone’s perspective and story is valid” nervous reassurance, because it’s taking up my word count. But it’s also not something that any of us hear enough. Imagine it’s a watermark faintly showing through this entire story behind every word.