“I just wish I could have loved and accepted myself then and known I was enough just as I was.”
BY THE SPILL
1 January 2021
This is the first instalment of My Coming Out, a monthly interview series sharing the unique stories of people all over the world, who came out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or questioning.
Coming out stories are as diverse as people. These series may inspire you, make you laugh or even cry at times. They also offer guidance for effective allyship of the LGBTQIA+ community. We hope they help you and your loved ones. To share your own coming out story, please contact our editor here.
This month we chat with Sam Adams, a 53 year-old life coach based in Brighton, UK who came out as gay in the early 1990s.
The first thing we always ask, because everyone has a different way of ‘knowing’, is: When did you know?
I think I knew from an early age, as I always remember being attracted to girls and not boys!
When did you come out, and why?
I came out around 1993/1994. I had a girlfriend at the time who moved in with me and it was just so awkward. I was paranoid about her answering the door, or answering the phone as I lived in a one bedroomed place! I was living my life in secret, while she was out to her family and they were totally cool. I think that gave me the courage to do it.
credit: Sam Adams
How did you do it?
I told my sister first as we were close and felt she would be my biggest ally. I told her over the phone and she was totally cool with it. I think she suspected. I told my mum and dad after that. I was really anxious about telling them, my mother is Black and comes from a small Caribbean island and I thought she would really struggle with it. I went over every evening for about 3 weeks and just couldn’t do it. Eventually I did… I said ‘I have something to tell you.” My Mum said straight away, “We don’t want to know.” That was harsh, but I blurted it out anyway. My Dad said that I would grow out of it. We didn’t speak for a couple of months after that; that was an extremely painful time. I really don’t remember telling friends and the like, because I had basically distanced myself from them as I was fearful of their rejection!
Did you do it once or several times?
I think when you’re gay, you can never just come out once. Because we live in a society where the norm is to be straight. So every time you have a new friend or job you have to out yourself again!
How did other people react when you came out?
I was pretty scared about telling people. I let my sister tell friends and family I knew the word would soon get around! I was close to my Dutch Uncle and family and I wrote them a letter. He called me and was totally fine; he said being gay in Holland wasn’t an issue, ‘we are open people’.
What were your fears or concerns before, or when you came out?
I guess the same as most people, fear of rejection, being ostracised, criticised and other people’s opinion and ridicule.
Do you have any frustrations or concerns about your community that you would like to address?
Not really, I think we’ve come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s.
How did coming out affect your life?
I really only came out to friends and family. I didn’t come out at work until I met a crew mate who was gay. I think initially there was a sense of relief and I felt more free.
Are you out at work, or your personal life, or both? Or some aspects of your life but not all?
I’m out in all areas of my life these days. I’m much more comfortable being gay, but it has taken a very long time to feel this way! Even though I came out in the 90s, whilst I accepted it I still wasn’t comfortable with it, and I dreaded telling people when they assumed otherwise. Now I don’t care so much what people think.
What are you the most grateful for now that you’ve come out, and about your community?
I’m grateful that it’s more socially acceptable; when I came out I didn’t know many gay people and it was seen in a very derogatory way.
Do you have any regrets about how you came out, or other areas of your life related to your coming out?
I don’t really regret it, I wish I had the confidence to love myself for who I was. Truth is I didn’t. There was a lot of negative self talk and wishing I wasn’t gay. So I guess I just wish I could have loved and accepted myself then, and known I was enough just as I was. I regret I didn't accept myself much earlier. This definitely affected previous relationships and I didn't express my feelings completely or show public displays of affection.
What would you tell your younger self, before you came out? Is there anything you wish you had known?
I wish I had known it was gonna be OK, that no one was going to harm me or ridicule me. That most people don’t actually care.
What advice would you give people going through this, whether they are scared of coming out, going through this alone, or unsure of how to do it?
First of all, it starts with you. Do your best to be comfortable with it, and don’t rush it. Spend some time to really get to understand yourself and feel ok with it all. It will definitely help when you come to start telling people. Also, slow down to speed up. Don’t rush yourself to tell everyone all at once, go at your own pace. I told a handful of people at first and I’m glad I did it that way. It can be quite overwhelming to come out to everyone all at once. Pick one person first; start off by telling those you think will be most supportive. I told my sister first, we were close and she is pretty chilled about everything. That was the best decision, she turned into a great ally. So pick one person you’re pretty sure, or as sure as you can be that you think will be OK with it.
Own it! I definitely didn’t own it when I came out. I was terrified and anxious and it showed. Be confident and use positive language. Work on self acceptance; this will 100% help. Trust me, feeling comfortable about who you are is life changing. You have to know your tribe too, those who are supportive. Get together and lean into them for support. It could just be in a WhatsApp group, but it’s important to have a network who has your back!
Be prepared. My parents didn’t react well, and whilst I was terrified of their reaction, I wasn’t prepared for their rejection. Not everyone will react how you might expect, so let your allies know and make sure they are around afterwards. It’s hard not to take negative reactions personally; I know I did but it’s not a reflection of you! Take time too - I found it a big adjustment to get used to, and to be honest, spent too many decades of feeling uncomfortable. I don’t want this for you, so reach out for support, get a mentor, join groups. Ask for help and take your time with it all. We need space and time to process not only our feelings and emotions but others too. So give them space as well.
Then I would also advise to step back, and give those who may not react as you would like some time. My parents didn't react well, but with time and support from other family members, things improved. Their silence, whilst painful, might just be them processing things. Remember that it’s your choice. Have a think about how you will tell certain people. I told close family face to face but I did also write a couple of letters and emails. I guess face to face is best, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think some people just don’t know what to say initially, so emails and texts can actually be ok.
It might also be a good idea to have a think about what exactly you’re going to say. I was so nervous I was glad I rehearsed my lines... so to speak! And keep in mind sharing isn’t always caring. Something that is good to remember is to let those you do tell know how you feel about them sharing your news! I wasn’t comfortable with it at first, but then I swiftly shifted to ‘yeah you tell everyone’, as I felt it took the heat off of me. But unless you make people aware that you don’t want every man and his dog knowing, they might just go out and share it.
My final bit of advice is to be mindful of the fact that this is an ongoing process. You don’t come out just once, sadly. But what I have found is that it gets easier.
What are you the most proud of about your coming out, and in your life in general?
Well I guess that I had the courage to be me, and despite everything now, at the ripe old age of 53 I feel more me than ever before. Now finally I accept me for me completely, and I’m not ashamed to tell anyone that I’m gay. I guess it’s a ‘never say never’ kind of attitude, always looking to grow and improve!
If you could, what would you like to change, whether in laws or culture, to make this a better experience for people? And to improve life for the LGBTQIA+ community?
I guess the biggest change would be worldwide equality for all. Being gay not seen as something weird to some or odd. People not being harmed because of their sexuality.
What advice would you give to people for them to be a supportive and effective ally when a loved one is coming out to them?
I guess just be a listener at first, listen to understand. Let them know they have your support, don’t be afraid to ask questions, but don’t push it. Education leads to understanding. Be there for them everyday, not just on coming out day; be vocal about it and stand up if you hear inappropriate language etc.
What should people NOT do when someone comes out to them?
Overreact, put pressure on them to be different. Try and minimise it!
Are there any resources, organisations, websites or any content you would like to share, that helped you personally or could help others?
Literally googling ‘coming out’ these days and you’ll get a ton of stuff, plus there are plenty of support groups, and I would definitely engage in these.
What are your hopes for the future, or projects that are meaningful to you?
I can already see a difference in our society; my niece, who is 15, talks about gay and trans friends, and it’s not a big deal in school. I hope this continues and that there is more education around LGBTQ stuff in school.
Is there anything else you would like to add, and share with the rest of the world?
Remember It starts with you… Take responsibility for your life, put yourself in the driving seat. Be you, you will attract the right people this way. Start using your true voice, feelings and behaviours as soon as possible. it’s the only way to be truly happy!
Do you want to share your coming out story with our readers? Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org