COMING OUT: I FELT LIKE IT WAS SO DIFFERENT TO WHAT I KNEW
James knew he was gay since he was small. He's had the usual ups and downs, but this Belfast lad is about to achieve his life-long dream of jetting off with British Airways...
When did you first realise you were gay?
I always knew I was gay. Ever since I was very young I knew I was a little bit different. I didn’t play with Action Men, but my mum was a childminder so I would play with the dolls of any of the little girls she minded. I grew up surrounded by a lot of girls and women, but my best friend who lived next door was a boy.
Tell me about your coming out experience?
I came out to my close friend Stephanie when I was 17. I was on my lunch break with her in school. It felt like I had reached the stage where I needed to tell someone, and I trusted her with my life. It took me a very long time to say “I’m gay,” whenever I talked about it to people I always said “I liked boys,” I never said “I’m gay.”
How did they react when you told them?
I came out to my close friend first of all. I guess she already knew. I came out to the rest of my friends a month later, then my mum about a half a year later. It was the biggest weight of my chest. I was so relieved. I was really emotional, but I wasn’t as emotional as I thought I would be because I guessed she already knew. I was so much happier after coming out. I was like a totally different person. Coming out made me the person I am now. It took a while but I am so much more confident. I’m really glad I did it.
Was coming out a big deal for you or did it feel natural?
It was definitely a big deal. I had a girlfriend when I was very, very young. We kissed, and I did fancy her, but it never felt right. There was a boy in my year who I really fancied when I came out; he was gorgeous, really tall, and really nice arms. He was so sexy, and he had the best smile. That summer we flirted with each other non stop, but it was just banter.
Did you find it difficult to accept you were gay?
Yeah, I did. I felt like it was so different to what I knew. No one else was gay but me and I was scared of their reaction. I knew my friends would be supportive, but I found it really hard to tell my best friend Stephen because we were so close, even though he is straight. Coming out to him was the biggest relief of all. He knew as well so he acted as normal. His family became my second family after that.
How did your family react when they learned you were gay?
I thought my mum would have been fine, and she was, but I knew it would be harder with my dad because we were so close. I love him, and we do get on, and he is really comfortable being around gay people, but I didn’t feel like I could tell him. It’s so much different when it’s personal for you. Mum said she knew I was gay, but she didn’t want to show it. But for dad it was a real shock. It was a really tough couple of months, especially since mum felt stuck in the middle between me and Dad. I didn’t stay in my house a lot, I stayed with my fiends, and I didn’t really socialise with my immediate family during that time. But I was about to start a new job after leaving school and I wanted to be me.
Has anyone’s opinion of you changed since you came out?
No, I honestly feel like my family and friends love me more for being who I truly am than for living in secret. They wouldn’t have wanted me to be in the closet, and I was so miserable right up until I came out.
Did you ever feel the need to seek professional help?
I didn’t feel like I had very much gay support, but since coming out I’ve made so many gay friends that have helped me in so many ways.
Where do you live? How accepting are people there of LGBT people?
I live in North Belfast. I have never once encounteered homophobia in the streets. I’m always really affectionate when I’m on a date. I don’t mind holding hands and kissing in public, and no one has ever said anything to me. But you have to be sensible about these things. I feel comfortable enough being gay in Belfast because....