Here is Mark's Coming Out Story
I was born in the late 60’s, so my burgeoning awareness of my sexuality came amongst the shouting and noise of the 1980’s. This was the time after the miners strikes, Margaret Thatcher’s government, The Falklands conflict (still not a war apparently), clause 28 and the Aids crisis.
These huge landmarks sort of passed me by due to the pressure of my own inner voice and strange feelings. I was in the Cadets, which was only just beginning to accept girls as members. I lived in my parent’s pub in very right-wing South-East London and people were also asking me if I had a girlfriend yet? Nope, not really. I lied, mainly to myself, I think. Haven’t found a girl that I liked yet. I’m waiting for the right one to come along or how about I’m too busy enjoying myself for girls?
That was a load of bullshit of course, I just didn’t know it at the time. I just thought there was something wrong with me. I was about thirteen and just didn’t have a clue or an interest about the opposite sex. I think I knew in the back of my head somewhere that there was something different about me. Growing up in the places I had most of the men I had met were noisy, ignorant, and rude. Sort of like the London Royle family but with none of the class.
As time went on, I did figure out that I didn’t fancy girls. My first experience of being turned on was leafing through the bullworker instruction manual and getting turned on by the pictures of the big blonde, hairy guy demonstrating the moves. Then the Aids reared its head and I felt I had to hide these feelings; I developed my first crush on one of my fellow cadets. Senior to me by a few years, I couldn’t talk to him without stuttering or for fear of having to explain wet spots on my uniform.
I got older and still in hiding to myself I started to find my libido getting hard to control but still had no outlet. I’d sneak looks at the gay mags in the shops and the bodybuilding magazines, confused as to why they got me like they did. I hated myself for it. As I got to my late teens, I couldn’t lose these thoughts and feelings. I realised that they were part of me. What would my family say? My friends? I ran away to London. I lived in London, so it wasn’t very far. Looking back now I really didn’t think that through, did I?
Fast forward 6 months. I’d been working as a barman in a nightclub in central London and was walking to work when I heard footsteps behind me. My mum grabbed me on the shoulder and as I turned her, and my dad just stared. I was in shock; I didn’t know what to say. So, I made up a story of feeling trapped and said I just lost it one day and left. We talked about it in a pub for hours. They said they wanted me to come home. So, I did. My secret shame still buried deep inside. Or that’s how I saw it.
The next few years came and went with me discovering the telephone chat lines and spending a fortune on them. I had two experiences with them. One was with who, looking back was a nice enough guy who had a boot fetish. The other, not so nice who left me hurt, confused and in denial about what had happened on the one night we had met and gone back to his place. That story is for another time, I think.
These two guys left me torn. Boot guy awakened something in me. Was a sexual awakening, I guess? It showed that two guys can enjoy themselves together. He also introduced me to poppers. I didn’t drink, smoke, or take drugs so that was interesting to say the least. The other guy taught me that people can be selfish, cruel and abusive even if they are gay. I swore that second guy would not be me. I was in denial for many years about what happened that night.
So, I was about 22years old and had, what I thought was a great group of friends. Three of us had taken a flat together and were part of a larger social circle. I was still in the closet but, I was getting to the point where I really wanted to say who I was. That changed when one of my so-called friends broke into my room looking for porn and found two things. My diary and a magazine. The magazine was called Him and the diary pretty much said everything else.
Over the next few weeks, I began to sense a change in the atmosphere when we went out. Snide comments like “Big boys in boots,” or, “He wouldn’t fancy her unless she had a beard. One of my friends took me aside and told me what had happened and that everyone knew. None of them, except him had liked it and they were just waiting for a time they could really take it out on me.
I lost it, I moved out of the flat the next day and moved back to my parents. They wanted to know what had happened, but I wouldn’t say. I could feel these feelings all bubbling inside I knew something was going to blow. My mum had developed cancer, my sister was pregnant, my brother getting into all sorts of trouble with drugs and alcohol and my dad was drinking the profits of his business. How could I lay this on top of everything? Admit my secret shame?
I don’t know why I chose to go again but I did. I had moved to the coast to try and sort my head out. The friend who had told me what happened with the diary was the only one who didn’t care I was gay. Looking back, I think he was too.
When I’d moved to the coast, I couldn’t get my head right. Everything was spinning out of control because I had no-one to talk through things with. I had the one loyal friend. After everything that had happened, I had a break down I cut all ties with my family and friend. I vanished to try and start a new life somewhere I could be myself.
I ended up in Manchester working in a gay pub there. It was there I met and fell for a lovely guy from Sheffield. We ended up together for several years. I eventually told him about everything that had happened. I struggled with the guilt of abandoning my family and had to get back to them. I wrote a letter to my mum telling her I was okay, that I was sorry for disappearing and that I was gay. It took weeks for me to post the letter.
Some time later I got a letter, I knew it was from her. My hands were shaking as I opened it. When I read what she’d written I started crying. I didn’t stop for several hours. I won’t give you the details here, but the main message was that she’d always known and was waiting for me to be ready to admit it to myself and then be able to tell her. She said it didn’t matter and apologised for never realising what I had been going through.
I eventually went back to visit, and things were different now I had been able to admit being gay to them and to myself. I was able to work through the guilt of running away and the guilt and shame I had felt. I had become happy with the person I was and that it was good to be proud of that. It took time to rebuild my family relationships and many, years later their support is there.
I did things I wasn’t proud of because of my breakdown but now, being the person, I have become I feel that they have made me who I am today and don’t think I regret the changes even if I do regret the hurt and upset, I caused too.
Today, I am proud of who I am and love the people around me and myself too. I have plenty of baggage still but who doesn’t? As a member of the Bear community, I work to make anyone who joins us welcome and in the broader community as well. We spend so much time on guilt and introspection that we forget many others have been through their own journeys and hardships. We need to work together to continue to support younger LGBTQ+ people and let them no that they’re not alone.