Never have truer words been spoken about coming out than no matter how many gay mates you have, or how much you support the LGBT community, it’s different when it’s you.Coming out to the people I love, when I finally plucked up the courage to do so, was blissfully easy after the excruciating years I’d spent trying to deny the truth to myself, to manhandle Pandora back into her miserable box.
I developed debilitating anxiety and terrible headaches. I had panic attacks on the tube, at home, at work and on the sofa. My sleep convulsed with nightmares that woke me, drenched in sweat, in the small hours. In my darkest hours, I imagined I’d always feel this way, pounding the streets of London like a wraith.
I was in a long-term relationship at the time and slowly I disappeared. I could see him confused, concerned, scratching his head and wondering where I’d gone. As I pulled back, he pulled closer, calling and messaging endlessly until I couldn’t breathe for love. Every day I’d eat and shower and wilt into bed and all the while I could feel his fear boring into the back of my head like a nail in a coffin.
Once, I tried to talk to him about how I was feeling. “It’s normal,” he said, “girls kiss each other all the time.” But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted – a fleeting kiss, a night off from the ol’ ball and chain. My dreams were of holding hands and tender squabbles and kisses, yes, but in a bed, a kitchen, a sofa. Kisses that weren’t stolen under a disco ball but given freely over and over and over again.
After a year, it was time to get help. I sought out a counsellor. At our first session she said the word ‘lesbian’ and I winced. I mumbled, steeped in shame, that I was a bit confused about my sexuality and she replied in her gentle, understanding way that we didn’t have to use labels:
“Sexuality is a spectrum and where we are on that spectrum can change over time. You don’t have to label yourself if you don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
In that room, I could voice the fears that had blackened my thoughts for so long. Nothing anyone could say to me could be worse than the terrible things I’d said to myself in the months and years before I came out. My counsellor encouraged me to explore my feelings in my own time, opening doors and waiting quietly for me to walk through them. She taught me to recognise my fears – and stare the fuckers down.
After I’d told the truth I began to feel lighter and more hopeful that maybe, one day, the anxiety would fall away like a bad dream. And eventually, slowly, it did. I told my friends and family, their faces rippling from surprise to shock to curiosity to compassion as they urgently ordered new bottles of wine. It was a big deal – and then it wasn’t. Everyone scooped up this new truth about me and plopped it in my file with all the others.
I feel incredibly lucky now to have so many people who’ll shriek with laughter at my bad date stories and cheer me on when I meet someone great, but for a long time I felt horribly alone. So for anyone who’s feeling lonely. For anyone who’s confused or lost or afraid. Or for anyone who’s curious about how it really feels to date women: this blog is for you.