“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door”. – Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to become an elected official in the United States of America. His fight against homophobia made history. If you haven’t yet seen the movie based on his life: you’re missing out. This heartbreaking and inspiring story accurately shows how coming out of the closet in his time was both a really courageous, and political act.
But what is it like nowadays? Increasing amounts of same-sex couples are getting married. Some people might think being gay in our modern society isn’t a big deal anymore. They even say that that is in to be queer. But, just a little reminder, homosexuality was only removed from the OMS list of illnesses in 1990. Just 28 years ago.
Today, gay relationships are still criminalised in 72 countries. Punishments for homosexuality range from prison sentences to the death penalty.
While some of us now have the chance and opportunity to live in countries where we feel safe and have rights, being open about ourselves and our sexuality to the world can still make us feel vulnerable and exposed. The “coming out” conversation, is one we would rather never have. What if people just didn’t care? What if saying, “Mom, I’m gay” would sound as unnecessary as, “Mom, I’m straight”?
Their coming out story
We wanted to explore this topic more so we interviewed a few different interesting people we know who were open to telling us more about their own coming out stories. First chapter of this series: Becky and Chiko.
- Becky (on the left) and Chiko (on the right)
Becky and Chiko are a married couple from the UK. Two strong, independent, awesome, vegan gals. The type of beautiful people you don’t run into that often. We met them a few months ago in England and we instantly had a strong connection. We wanted to know more about their journey as queer women, and they were lovely enough to answer our questions.
You both grew up in binational families and in two different districts of London. How did you both experienced your coming out?
Becky: I was so so lucky in that my mum had always been really open, educational and supportive of her children being any sexuality. When she taught us about sex she explained how a man and a woman have sex, how a man and a man do and how a woman and a woman do.
We were told that people can love anyone and that is perfectly fine and we are free to love and have sex with who we want, as long as we both choose it and feel comfortable about it. So for me, I never really came out to my mum, I just told her “hey, I’m going on a date with (a guy or a girl or just someone)” and that was it.
Coming out to my friends was a bit scary. I came out to my best friend, Sarah, first. I remember we were walking home together and we were about 14/15. My heart was pounding so loud I thought she would be able to hear it over our footsteps and of course, once I finally got the words out- that I like guys and girls, her response was “well duh!” and that was that. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable coming out to the rest of my friends, but as they said, I “have always been different”.
I didn’t worry so much about the kids at school. I was worried about the general community as I knew a lot of people who were openly homophobic. They would attack others for being gay, especially boys. Homosexuality was seen as disgusting, unnatural and for most people around where I grew up, it was a good reason to hurt someone.
I already had limited contact with my Pakistani dad and my Muslim family so didn’t worry about their response. When I told my dad, he was accepting, but not being very close to him, it was more of a courtesy than anything else, I wasn’t bothered by any reaction he may have but was surprised when, at a party at his house, one of his friends made a derogatory comment towards me, he defended me and cut that person out of his life.
I know I have been reaaaaaalllllly lucky, but even having been so accepted, I have found that my straight “accepting” friends, do that- they accept me, but they have never been to a gay rights march or asked about being queer and I didn’t really feel supported by them or like they did anything to help us be more accepted in society – most of them are with homophobic men and I often felt like the token around them.
I came out in my teens as “bisexual” because that was the closest thing to what I felt- I just liked people, I didn’t care about their junk! Now, if it comes up, I do a “second coming out” as queer/pansexual. I prefer the more umbrella term of queer that, for me, means I just like who I like- the soul, not the flesh. And I feel like that about all aspects of the physical body. It doesn’t bother me too much what’s there, it’s the content of that body that interests me.
- Becky & Chiko’s wedding at an animal sanctuary
Chiko: Although I think I’ve always been gay, when I was younger, it was never really an option in my mind and I didn’t have any concept of what a lesbian was until I was older. By that time the term ‘gay’ was seen as something bad. I was busy trying to push away my feelings towards girls and do ‘normal’ things like having boyfriends.
When I was 14, TV shows like Ally McBeal and then later Friends, showed women kissing each other which was ground breaking – before this, there was no same-sex anything on TV. It started to normalise things and gave me the confidence to kiss a girl for the first time.
I started to say to everyone at my school that I was gay and was obsessed with Britney Spears and Buffy. But, being a rather sarcastic person, people thought that I was joking. I then properly ‘came out’ to one of my best friends on my 15th birthday and then to 3 other friends closely afterwards. They were fine with it and were really supportive.
A few months later at school, the topic of Britney Spears came up. As usual, I was honest about thinking she was the epitome of all that was good in the world(!) and that I was well and truly gay. Then somebody said that if I were, I would not be ashamed and wouldn’t joke about it. So at break time, I stood up in class and announced that I was gay. Everyone just stared at me and didn’t say anything. So I left the room and my friends stayed back and confirmed to everyone that I was being serious. And that was that, I had officially come out.
One person reacted negatively and called out to me asking if I fancied her to which I replied ‘No, you’re disgusting’ and she didn’t bother me after that. I had a couple of other small instances but nothing major. Going to a small all-girls school helped. I think it would have been more difficult if there were boys there, judging by the reactions I got from them outside of school.
Coming out to my parents was harder as I didn’t have a clue how they would react. They never really said anything about gay people before. I had heard horror stories about kids getting kicked out of their homes for being gay. My bags were packed and I was ready to leave if they did not accept me. I sat them down and said ‘I’m gay’ to which there was what felt like the longest pause of my life. My dad eventually replied ‘….and?’ – turns out he was fine about it and was kind of happy that I wouldn’t end up with some horrible man.
My mum later told me that she cried and was sad about it. Being Japanese, she didn’t know anything about being gay. She felt a bit lost but she got over it and has been nothing but supportive ever since. She told my Japanese family. There were some additional tears from one of my aunts but everyone has again been really supportive. It was common for Asian families back then to not be supportive of gay people but my family has always been a bit different.
My grandfather was at first not supportive of my mum marrying a foreigner but things changed. I think having that different outside aspect of the family had a knock on effect which made everyone more open minded. We didn’t tell my grandparents but I’m pretty sure that my granddad knew when I brought my wife to Japan for the first time. Everyone loves her and can see how happy we are together and that’s all that they care about.
So many years after it, are there are still people close to you not accepting it? Do you ignore it or does it still affects you?
Becky: I think the only person I know who isn’t really accepting or supportive is my grandma and it seems she has started to make some changes. Mostly, I don’t have time for people who worry about who I love or what I do with my vagina. I ain’t worrying about theirs! And for me, that means even my grandma. I’ve had limited contact with my grandma for years since I’ve been with my now wife, which I think we were both happy with.
After a few introductions of my partner to my grandma, she continually referred to her as my “friend” if she acknowledged her at all. For me, that was not cool and not what I wanted to be around. I didn’t spend time trying to make her comfortable about our relationship.
Since we got married earlier this year, however, I received a birthday card addressed to my new married name! I was really surprised about that level of acknowledgement, but when Christmas rolled around, my wife was not included in the card. So, I’m happy to leave things as they are. It doesn’t make me sad. I feel like it’s her loss to not be around the awesomeness that is me and my wife! And the great thing is that I get to choose new family, who do accept and love me for who I am. And people who can bring themselves to utter my wife’s name…..seriously, she’s not Voldemort!
Chiko: No, I don’t think there is anyone. Honestly, if anyone did not accept me or had a problem with me or my wife, they would not be close to me. I have very little tolerance for homophobia. I would gladly cut ties with anyone who had a problem with anyone being gay.
I’m incredibly proud of and grateful to the gay people who came before me and paved the way for society to now be more accepting of me. I do now see it as my duty to do the same. I will always stand up for our community if anyone speaks bad of us.
Did somebody or something inspired you and gave your the courage to come out?
Becky: Definitely my mum. She is a magical being.
Chiko: Britney Spears, Buffy and all those late 90’s TV shows that depicted same-sex anything!
Any words for those struggling with their identity and sexuality?
Becky: Find community if possible. You are not alone. Whether you know people in person or not who you can talk to, there are support groups, helplines, facebook groups.
Reach out (even anonymously), as scary as it feels. The rewards of having people who understand you, recognize you and feel your struggle are limitless. You are not alone. You will not feel this way forever, you are loved, so so much. And you, and your truth are beautiful and so powerful.
Chiko: Unfortunately, we live in a world where certain groups have power over others; men over women, whites over people of colour, humans over animals, straight over gay.
Most of us have been taught from a young age that this is ‘normal’. It can be difficult to go against that. Most great things however rarely come from ‘normal’. It’s the differences in life which set us apart. Create real change in the world and make us realise that ‘normal’ is nothing to aspire to.
I know how frightening it can be to come to terms with something that you did not expect for yourself but I also know the pay off. I truly believe that being different has benefited me immensely. It has made me question all aspects of life. I threw away any concept of being ‘normal’ a long time ago.
So I guess my words for those struggling with their identity would be… congratulations for being different! The ‘normal’ world is broken, let’s try and fix it!
You can find all our other LGBTQ posts right here!