I met Peter in my first year of university. He was clever, generous, warm and thoughtful and our common passion for history made us close friends. He worked hard and got a first in classics, which made me sick with envy. He was a troubled soul, however, and despite his clarity in academic thinking he couldn’t always understand his own personal difficulties. He spoke a lot to me about his interest in boys instead of girls. He clearly needed to come out at university and express his sexuality. The problem was that he was from a conservative Christian background that encouraged him to repress how he felt and not embrace it in an honest and healthy way. Over the next couple of years Peter seemed to find it continually harder to reconcile his sexuality with what he had been brought up to believe. I saw the severe depression it was causing. I continued to talk to him regularly and would encourage him to come out more openly. He was only ever able to tell people that he had a close emotional dependency on about his sexuality. He never found a way of embracing his true sentiments and not hiding them in everyday life.
In 2003, a couple of months after his first attempted overdose Peter took his own life.
I would’ve wanted Peter to have read the following positive experiences. They might have given him the strength he needed to be happy within himself and not to have cared about what other people wanted him to be.
Emily Mcdonald, 29, actress.
At school, I’d always had crushes on boys and girls. I didn’t ever really think much about it. I think it wasn’t really until I met a girl that I wanted to have a full-on proper relationship with, rather than just a fling, that it occurred to me that was the route I was going down.
With my parents it was very much fine.
I come from a very relaxed, liberal, very eccentric family. They were never fazed by it at all, really. I think I just slipped into conversation that I’d met this girl, and then shortly after I moved in with her, so it just came out that way, rather than any big announcement. In that sense that meant coming out, but it wasn’t because I’d suddenly had this dawning that I was only ever going to be with women – it was because I was in love with a woman and I wanted people to know about that.
Julius Scott, 22, drama student.
There was no way I was ever going to come out at school. I just thought “I value my life too much”.
In college, I made a really, really close friend called Kate, and she was the first person I ever told. We were talking and she was saying “please, please, please tell me you fancy someone” and I went “well, there is kind of a reason why I don’t fancy people” and she whispered to me “is it because you’re G-A-Y?” She spelled it out! That’s when I burst out crying. It was the first time I’d ever cried about it.
That was very liberating telling her, but also nerve wracking because I thought “there’s no going back now”. I took a while to adjust to it, but it was more adjusting to the fact that people knew rather than adjusting to being gay. I never hated myself or hated what being gay was, I never wanted to be straight, I just wanted it to be easier in the world to be gay.
Julia Hackel, 23, fashion assistant.
It’s kind of unfortunate… Just before I split up with my first proper girlfriend, I was going to take her home to meet my parents. I hadn’t come out to them at that point and it would have been the way I would have liked to have done it, in a natural way, introducing someone to my parents that I was really proud of. Especially as my mum is kind of conservative, it would have been nice to say ‘Ok, I’m gay, but look at the girl I have!! She’s pretty, intelligent and polite’.
As it was, my mum asked me when we were alone in the car. She said ‘You don’t like boys much, do you?’
Considering this was my ‘coming out’, my mum’s reaction was quite weird. She was more concerned that it was because she hadn’t been feminine enough as a mother and told me that she had even rung the gay and lesbian switchboard to ask if it had anything to do with the way she had brought me up. I said I didn’t think there was any particular reason!
Sander Lak, 23, fashion student.
I never really wanted to say the words. In fact I hate the words “I’M GAY”, I don’t know why, I think I’m just being stubborn.
If you’re straight you don’t have to turn around and say “Ok, I’m straight”.
I don’t want to have to explain it. I don’t really tell people unless it comes up in conversation. Like when I was having dinner with my family, my sister asked about the hickey I had on my neck and asked who had given it to me, and I said a boy’s name. And that’s how my parents found out I was into boys. They are very relaxed people so they were like “Oh, ok… can you pass the salt please”.
Stevie Westgarth, 25, stylist.
My ex-girlfriend was the first person I told; after we split up she had become my best friend.
When I told her, she was really happy, and said she’d always wanted a gay best friend.
We were in a bar and we spent the next hour going through all the boys we knew and who we fancied. Even if you know the people you are telling are going to be fine with it, it still feels like quite a big thing – but it never really is. Most people were actually quite excited by it. My sisters are fine about it now. One of them cried – it was a shock for her – but she wasn’t crying because she thought it was a bad thing. It made her so sad to think that I had had to keep it a secret for the whole of my life. I hadn’t expected her to think of it in that way. It was nice, really
Charlie Campbel, 27, photographer.
I was prepared for the worst when I told my mom. She just wept. Well, actually, the very first time I told her she was so shocked we didn’t speak about it for another four years. It was horrible, I felt very let down and I wanted her to accept me. I brought it up again when I had someone very significant in my life and that’s when she wept; she completely broke down. It was completely alien to her. But it was never going to be something that she got used to overnight and it has taken time.
She wept I think because she was disappointed,
she was grieving for the things she wanted for me: marriage and babies. She didn’t understand how I could be attracted to someone of the same sex. But it has gotten so much better – I think she just needed time to get used to it, and she has, which has made me so much happier.
David Perez, 24, buying assistant.
I came out when I first went to university. I remember in my first week, a friend of mine asked me one evening whether I was gay or not, and I was a bit like “Yeah, I think so, but I’m not really quite sure”. And then a couple of days later I met a guy, and then I was sure. I told everybody in the space of about a week, all my friends, although to the majority of people it was like “I’ve got something to tell you…” “Oh, you’re gay.” I thought, “You’re ruining my moment of drama here!”
And then the same thing happened with my mum, she said “I’ve known for years.”
I think deep down I knew she knew, but acknowledging that someone knows and telling them are two different things.
With thanks to Saeed Taji Farouky and Kieran Mahon.