My dear friend, Alex Hopkins, the Associate Editor of
Out There magazine and freelance writer, has very kindly agreed to write a guest article for my blog.
I asked Alex, who primarily writes about the arts, human rights and LGBT issues, to put a piece together about anything he liked... Knowing he would write something which was both fabulous as well as thought provoking and relevant.
What I didn't expect, was to be left with feelings of nostalgia. Not only feelings of relevance, but an actual personal empathy for the subject covered.
I certainly didn't expect such a direct striking arrow, hitting feelings and memories I have, for the most, stored away at the back of my mind.
Its easy for us settled gay folk, to forget exactly just how fragile our coming out period really was...
Coming Out – An Ongoing Process
Last week was International Coming Out Day – an opportunity to celebrate and support gay people coming out all over the world. Every gay person remembers the day that they came out. It is often the most important, life-changing event in their life; the time that they can proudly proclaim that they are going to live life on their terms.
Coming out is different for everyone. For some it may mean telling a friend that you are gay. More often than not it involves the deeply courageous moment that you reveal your sexuality to your parents. Media reports last week debated whether it would be acceptable to come out on facebook. The point is that there are no rules – it is a deeply personal action and everyone has the right to choose how they do it.For all gay men and women coming out is also an ongoing process. It is something you continue to do all of your life, whenever you meet a new person or start a new job. As we move forward with equality legislation and tolerance in the U.K. this should become a much easier process.
The reality, however, is rather different. If more people than ever are accepting homosexuality, there are still those who hate us. There are those who think nothing of kicking us to death in central London, attacking us in the streets, or hurling casual insults in the school playground. As long as prejudice exists we must continue to fight for our right to love the person we choose.
Older gay people have a responsibility to support gay youngsters as they try and find the strength to stand tall and proud. Teen suicides are a major issue as is the lack of consistent support for gay youths from our schools. There is much work still to be done in these areas and lethargy will be our undoing.
Yet while there is still mainstream prejudice to fight there are also major problems that we need to address within the gay community. Once a young gay person has come out they are flung into the unknown. The gay scene can be a daunting place and many young people need a helping hand to show them the way.
Many teenagers arriving in a city like London for the first time are saddled with deep seated feelings of unworthiness from childhood bullying and complex relationships with their heterosexual roots. Low self-esteem is prevalent and can lead to drug-taking, unsafe sex and a wildly hedonistic lifestyle as these young people desperately search for the validation they have always lacked.
They may have come out about their sexuality, but they now need to come to terms with it. Many are at risk of losing their way as they overcompensate for all of those years of victimisation. As they stumble around our commercial gay scene they are not sure what they are looking for. Frequently their only role models are vacuous club hostesses, DJs and porn stars.
A sense of a supportive, vibrant gay community is often lacking in urban environments and young people can feel very alone. They have frequently exchanged one outsider status for another and may take risks as they cling to some sense of belonging. It is no coincidence that HIV infection is spiralling among young gay men.
The sentiment behind the “It Gets Better Campaign” aimed at LGBT youth is a noble one and it has been touching and inspiring to see so many celebrities throw their weight behind it. If we are going to ensure that the next generation of gay people grow into well-adjusted, happy individuals, however, it is up to the ordinary gay person in the street to truly show them that life does indeed get better. The support needs to be ongoing as the teenager becomes an adult.We need to lead by example and at the moment some of thetemplates available to young gay people are very dubious. The nauseating over-sexualisation of gay culture is turning troubled, once innocent young gay men into selfish body fascists whose fragile sense of self-worth is obtained from guest entry to a superficial club and in a vial of GHB. We owe them more than this.
Given the internal issues in our gay community – the recklessness, the lack of care and the self-hatred we can see in any gay village on a Friday night - we have to ask ourselves if we can honestly tell a young gay person that life does get better for them. And if we can’t then it is time to start reassessing how we relate to one another and putting the support mechanisms in place to become the mentors that these young people truly deserve. We want a 30 year old gay man to be able to turn back and think that the day he came out was when he embarked upon an exciting new journey into a fulfilled life and not the moment that he moved from one miserable, empty space to another.
Copyright Alex Hopkins, October 2011.