Believing in accessibility for all

My Coming Out Story

Ben Howley, Learning & Organisational Development Business Partner

I’m afraid there was no fancy closet in my coming out story. In fact, it was as simple as, “Mom, I’m gay.” Her response, predictably, was to smirk at me and say, “Well, it’s not my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat.” I asked her to keep it to herself, knowing she would tell everyone (with the exception of my dad), which of course she did. I guess it saved me from having the same dull conversation a thousand times over.

Coming out is often seen as some grand gesture, a great outward expression of personal freedom, complete with flags, frills, and bright colours. This is rarely the case. There also exists a perception that a person’s coming out story is marked by a single dramatic event. Again, this is rarely the case. In fact, often, coming out takes as long as it does for someone to come to terms with their sexuality – and that can take years! At least, that holds true for millennials. I’m led to believe that the generations before us had it harder.

I spent much of my adolescence not liking who I was. Gay slurs were commonplace at school, and while they were used mainly in jest and completely out of context, there was always an undertone of disgust. I became increasingly ashamed of who and what I was, and so I poured a great deal of energy in to trying to divert the course of my sexuality, and when that ultimately failed, hiding it from the outside world. I inevitably failed.

I first came out in 2005 to one of my best friends at the time. He left my house that evening and I didn’t see him again for several years. Luckily, I had another best friend, who took the news far better. We’re still friends to this day.

When I started university later that year, I committed to telling people straight away so I would no longer have to live a lie. I came out gradually, to different people, over a period of two years, with varying levels of success. I soon learnt I wasn’t the only gay in the village, and while that was comforting in many ways, I felt almost silly that I’d allowed my truth to weigh me down for so long.

Despite the progress I’d made, I still hadn’t accepted myself. I felt like a barely tolerated minority and I couldn’t shake that feeling of shame. I resigned myself to the idea that this is what it meant to live as a gay man… gay bars, gay friends, gay holidays, because no one else would want to know me.

But, in 2009, I joined Wolverhampton Homes, and in 2013, Gill Parton invited me to join the Proud To Be Me network, as it was known then. The group was committed to championing causes important to the LGBT community. I’d never met anyone so unapologetically gay. She hadn’t just made peace with her sexuality; she had wholeheartedly embraced it. What’s more, she didn’t lean on her sexuality as the core pillar of her identity. Yes, she was gay, but she was also a woman. She was a daughter. She enjoyed food and film, and a whole host of other things. She wasn’t a gay woman; she was a woman who happened to be gay. Gill valued me for who I was and what I had to contribute, gay or otherwise. In time, I came to like myself.

I still enjoy spending time with Gill – as unapologetically gay as ever!

I’m Ben: a male housing professional, a writer, a foodie, and exercise fanatic, a nature-loving enthusiast, who just so happens to be gay. The moral of my story is, we come out twice – first to ourselves, and then to everyone else. Never apologise for who you are. Live your best life and be good to one another.