With Worthing Pride around the corner, people from our LGBT+ community have shared their coming-out stories: including James Butler, a reporter at the Worthing Herald and Littlehampton Gazette.
I always knew I was different from the other boys at school: from fighting a girl for the Snow White outfit in the dressing up box in Reception, to wearing a tea-towel on my head to mimic the flowing golden locks of the Swan Princess (a favourite childhood film).
What other people think of me is none of my business
Recently, my parents rediscovered a Christmas list from four-year-old me in their loft. As well as asking for a present for my soon-to-be born brother, it included a Polly Pocket set and a Barbie doll; my parents bought them unquestioningly, something I do not take for granted.
That’s not to say all gay men like Barbies, or that a label like ‘gay’ makes us the same. Despite the labels, which can be difficult for people to understand (including myself sometimes) the intention is for people to voice their identity – an identity that society has in the past tried to stifle.
While my family have always supported me, I did not come out to my parents until I was 23. I was tentative with my friends too. At 18, I came out to them as bisexual, but only after a bottle of Campari on a trampoline in my friend’s back garden in Portsmouth, where I grew up. I was testing the waters – I had never felt attracted to a woman, but it seemed easier than coming out ‘fully’.
Looking back, this reluctance to tell people I was gay stemmed from my first coming out, which blew up in my face.
My first experience with another man was at school. I confided in a friend online and she betrayed my trust, screenshotted our chat, and spread it.
The first I heard of it was when someone in my year who barely knew me threw open the door to my science class and shouted ‘James Butler’s gay’ before running down the corridor to continue delivering the juicy gossip.
This was the day before my birthday. So the next day, instead of cards or ‘happy birthdays’, my presents were sideways glances and whispering, and people studying me like a new-found species.
The boy I was involved with denied the whole thing. Later, two boys who claimed to be my friend egged my house in what I can only see as a display of the kind of toxic masculinity which made me feel uncomfortable around straight men for a long time.
Now, as a 26-year-old man, it is hard to believe only ten years ago people behaved that way.
A few of the people who were the worst antagonists turned out to be gay, or to have brothers or sisters that were LGBT+, which just highlights to me the pressure society puts on our community to conform at all costs.
I can look back at this blip and realise my sexuality was not some sordid detail to be held against me. My new life motto, courtesy of drag queen RuPaul, high priestess of gay culture, is: ‘What other people think of me is none of my business’.
To read about Scott from Lancing’s experience of being transgender, click here.
The owners of the Brooksteed Alehouse were also one of the first gay couples to get married in Sussex. Click here to read about how they met.
Kai from Tarring, who is pansexual and non-binary, has also shared their life story. Click here to read more.