LEARNING THAT COMING OUT IS NOT THE FINAL STEP
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about being a gay man is that coming out is a massive and necessary milestone because it is the most difficult challenge gay men will face. Firstly, not everyone has the luxury of coming out; some people live in households, neighbourhoods, or countries where they will be assaulted, imprisoned, or even killed for doing so. Putting so much emphasis on coming out puts pressure on gay men and causes them to feel more anxious and depressed than they already are because they feel that if they don’t, their sexuality will not be valid. On the other hand, for people who are fortunate enough to be surrounded by individuals and groups who accept them for who they are, coming out is not that big of a deal. In fact, I do not think I ever formally came out to any of my friends, I simply just started embracing my sexuality and they went along with it, without judgement.
The only people I did formally come out to, were my parents. Due to their outdated religious beliefs, I spent most of my adolescence convincing myself if they ever found out about my sexuality, they would disown me. I spent years putting off telling them, but eventually I realised that although my parents were not going to accept my sexuality immediately, they probably wouldn’t disown me. So, I decided to be honest with them. More for their sake then mine because I thought that maybe if I came out to my parents, it would start a conversation and hopefully lead to them deconstructing their ignorant beliefs. Although coming out to my parents was not the most pleasant experience, there are some other struggles that I have also experienced that I think are quite common amongst gay men but are not talked about enough.
LEARNING ABOUT WHO I AM
If you are like me and started embracing your sexuality later in life, you will most likely experience an identity crisis. Now you might think at the age of 24 I might be a bit too young to be having an identity crisis. However, when you spend the first 18 years of your life trying to convince yourself you are something you are not, you usually pick up interests and hobbies that you may not necessarily like just to appease those around you. As early as four years old I remember giving up my interest in princesses because I was worried the boys would make fun of me on my first day of primary school. At age seven I gave up dancing and acting and instead pursued things like footy and tennis because dancing was for girls and sports were for boys. Throughout high school I kept my obsessions about America’s Next Top Model, Glee, Nicki Minaj and Carly Rae Jepsen a secret because I knew all students and staff at the all-boys catholic school I attended would question my sexuality. These are just a few of the many examples of me trying to mould myself into someone that society would accept.
Over the last few years, I have done a lot of self-reflecting, trying to figure out what I genuinely like and what I did because I thought I was ‘supposed’ to like those things. I have also been picking up new hobbies and interests like watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, listening to more female rappers like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion and even starting pole dancing lessons. While I do genuinely enjoy these things, sometimes I worry that because I am so keen to embrace my sexuality, I am only actively picking new interests and hobbies that I think gay men are expected to like. Having spent my entire life catering my interests to other people's expectations, I am worried I have carried this trait with me and am simply repeating old habits. Although I might be out of the closet, learning to trust myself and be brave enough to create an identity that I am genuinely happy with is something I am still figuring out.
LEARNING TO LOVE MY BODY
As well as trying to embrace all facets of my identity, I am also trying to teach myself to love my body. Both prior and after coming out I have had issues with my body and physical appearance. While fear of rejection from my friends and family was part of the reason I stayed in the closet for so long, another key motive was fear of rejection from the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly gay men. Having very little exposure to anything queer culture, my perception of gay men was they were all handsome with perfect physiques, defined jawlines and well-groomed hair. Being someone with messy black hair, lanky arms and no sixpack or jawline I thought I was not good looking enough to be gay, and if that was the case then maybe there was no point coming out at all. While I have become more comfortable with my sexuality over time and have met a lot of lovely gay men who all look completely different and are beautiful nonetheless, this fear of not being good looking enough is something I still carry with me today. The reason why I still feel self-conscious about my looks is that I think we as a community do place a lot of emphasis on our appearance when defining our self-worth and this is reflected in the high rate of eating disorders amongst gay men.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association in America gay men represent only around 5% of the total male population but make up 42% of males who have eating disorders. While there are many reasons people develop eating disorders, I think for gay men, the ridiculously high beauty standards we enforce on ourselves is a contributing factor to this alarming statistic. Thankfully, I have never developed an eating disorder, but I have spent hours looking at myself in the mirror grabbing my body fat and wishing I were a little bit skinnier, feeling guilty for eating some junk food instead of exercising or just lying in bed wishing I had a completely different face and body. Over time, I have been able to drown out these negative thoughts through self-love, acceptance, and not defining my self-worth by how I look. I try and read and watch as much as I can about body positivity and surround myself with people who do not value people just by their looks. However, just like my identity, learning to love the way I look is still something I am battling with.
While the movies might tell you that coming out is the pinnacle of a gay man’s experience, this is simply not the case. Coming out might be an important milestone for some gay men. However, when it comes to fully embracing your sexuality there are many struggles gay men go through, and as a society I think it is time we start giving these issues more of a spotlight.__________________________
Emilio Lanera is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. He has contributed to publications such as The Guardian, Star Observer and Punkee. Emilio enjoys writing about anything that helps break down stigmas or gives a voice to marginalised groups.