Coming out: when is the right time?

Is ‘coming out’ as big a deal as it used to be?

Written by Olivia Dawson


The Irish Twittersphere went into overdrive when former Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar publicly came out as gay on the Miriam O’ Callaghan show on RTE Radio 1 prior to the marriage equality referendum. Despite the overwhelming support he received, the Minister hoped people would not think of his announcement as a ploy to sway voters in the build up to the marriage referendum.

Many listeners, myself included, would beg to differ. Although I am 100% on the side of equality, one cannot deny how conveniently timed his coming out is. What better time to tell the nation that one of their leading ministers is gay than a few days before the wording of the same-sex marriage referendum is announced? Well played Minister, well played.

As for the rest of us, it is unlikely that we will be invited to the RTE Radio 1 studios to declare our sexuality to the nation.

So, when is the right time to come out? Speaking from experience, come out whenever you feel ready and comfortable with your sexuality. There’s no “right time” and there are definitely no “right people” you ought to tell first. It’s not like receiving a scholarship award in that you tell your parents the news first, then your friends, then the extended family etc. No-one is entitled to hear your announcement first. For me, the first people I told were my friends and I then ended up waiting another two years before telling my parents. In fact, I didn’t even tell my parents as such. I didn’t sit them down around the kitchen table one evening and say, “Hey, I’m bisexual!” In my case it was more of a “When’s dinner ready? Okay, I’ll be down in ten. By the way, I have a girlfriend. Yeah, her. Okay. Yeah, chicken’s fine.”

That was over two and a half years ago. I’m 18 now and I’ve just started my second semester at the University of Limerick. Starting college last September, I was excited to be opening a new chapter of my life, but there was one thing niggling at the back of my mind: I was going to have to come out. Again.

Not in the same way as I had done when I was 14, though. Everyone knows it’s different in college. People care less about the clothes you wear, the friends you associate with, the amount of ‘likes’ your profile picture gets on Facebook, and so on. Nevertheless my sexuality had to be revealed at some point and for me, the sooner the better.

To say I was nervous about telling my housemates would be a lie. I was (and still am) in the angsty teenage mind frame of “I don’t give a f*** what anyone thinks of me, if they don’t like it they can f*** off and move houses.” And so they all moved out. No, I’m kidding. Of course they didn’t move out. Like I said, my generation really don’t care who you bring home at night, just as long as you bring someone home. So, my “coming out” in college wasn’t even that. I met one of my housemates in a nightclub during the first week and I was with my girlfriend. I said to him, “Gus, this is my girlfriend, Caoimhe. Caoimhe, this is my housemate, Gus.” That was that. Between his obvious shock and his Corkonian big mouth syndrome, the rest of the housemates knew by the following morning.

A lot of people make such a hype about coming out but there’s really no need. In fact, I don’t believe the concept of “coming out” really applies to society anymore. You don’t hear people saying “I came out to my parents last night.” You’re more likely to hear them say “I told my parents last night,” and the difference between those two statements cannot be underestimated.

Fair enough, the news that a senior minister is now openly gay might deserve a mention in a broadsheet or a page three headline of a tabloid, but any coverage beyond that is totally excessive. In all seriousness, did anyone’s day turn out any different because they saw a picture of Leo’s face on the front cover of a newspaper with the words “openly gay” written above it in font size 48?

Ireland is not a homophobic country anymore. The support for equality in the marriage referendum proved. You don’t have to be afraid of coming out in this country. We’re not Russia; your safety won’t be in jeopardy every time you leave your house. We’re also not California, where having a “gay best friend”, or GBF for short is the latest trend.

So the good news is you won’t be physically assaulted and you won’t be the most sought after fashion trend either. All you’ll really be is you. A more confident, secure, open you. If that’s a bit of an anti-climax, apologies – I guess coming out isn’t as fun as it used to be.

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