The question I am a gay man in my early 30s. I have a good job, great friends and I am in good health. My only problem is that I am deeply closeted. No one in my life knows this. My friends and family, though supportive and loving, hold entrenched conservative views, including an antipathy to homosexuality. I don’t want to let them down and I can never come out to them for fear of rejection. I witnessed first-hand what rejection can do to people when a colleague came out to his conservative family. They rejected him and he sadly then took his own life.
Since my early 20s, my family have incessantly been asking me when I will get married and have children. I now no longer attend family gatherings to avoid relatives enquiring about my love life.
I have not embraced – for want of a better description – “the gay lifestyle”. I do not go clubbing, nor attend any gay-related activities, such as Pride, nor have I had one-night stands. This is partly to keep my sexuality hidden, but also because such things do not generally interest me. As such, I have become profoundly lonely. I have no one else to turn to who understands my predicament.
Philippa’s answer After I read your email I thought of those brave North Koreans who agonise over leaving their beloved families (who continue to believe in the cult of the Kim dynasty) to escape to a new life in a more liberal country. It sounds like an extreme analogy, but I make it deliberately. It must be so very hard for them – and this is hard for you.
We must all “come of age”. Whether this means standing up to our parents or any other myriad of ways we become ourselves, it requires courage and risk. There is a build-up of pressure towards coming out to a point where it becomes unbearable to not be oneself. Then the inevitable gravity causes the scales to clunk and that tipping point is reached. It sounds like that moment may be approaching for you.
Look inside yourself to make sure you are not unconsciously sharing their aversion to gay people
I’m worried that the pressure is hard for you to bear, which I feel you express in a disguised way when you talk of the suicide of your colleague. We never really know the reasons people end their lives, but it is frequently exacerbated by the build-up of an unbearable pressure from not expressing our feelings. I’m worried about your loneliness and although coming out appears to be unthinkable, you need a place to explore how you are feeling. As starting points try pinktherapy.com and lgbt.foundation/comingout. Having to choose between your family of origin or finding a new place to belong is one faced by many gay people and is part of the broad church that binds the gay community together.
So many people would advise you to reject before you are rejected, to say, to hell with them if they won’t understand and love you as you are, but if it was that simple, you would have already done it. So far you have chosen to compromise yourself rather than be yourself. I can understand – bonds are precious. A sense of kinship is invaluable. You love your family and old friends even though they may not understand that one’s sexuality is not a choice and not a crime. I imagine you share nearly all their values. Look inside yourself to make sure you are not unconsciously sharing their aversion to gay people. Thinking about your colleague, I’m wondering whether there is a possibility that the rejection by his family was not the only factor that caused this tragedy, but his rejection of himself? There is a reason that Pride is called that. Pride is the opposite of shame and for too long gay people have been persecuted and made to feel ashamed of who they are.
At the moment you feel obliged to live a secret or celibate life. If you wanted to come out, but not to your immediate circle, there would be plenty of people to welcome you. There are more choices than just a rigid conservative culture or being outrageously camp. You don’t need to go clubbing, but could join a gay sports club or a gay political or religious association. Whether you come out to your own community or not, it is important you practise becoming comfortable with being your authentic self with others to address your loneliness.
As you are withdrawing from family occasions and have never shown interest in women, your family may suspect something already. You may feel that because they have given you so much support and love throughout your life you are letting them down. It is their belief system that lets them down, not you. Were you to share with them who you are, you would not only be taking your rightful place in society but also giving them an opportunity to grow. I applaud your courage in writing to me. Allowing me to share your email will be helping others in similar situations feel less alone.
If you have been affected by issues mentioned in this column, call the Samaritans for free on 116 123, or at samaritans.org
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