Ask any openly homosexual person you know and they’ll tell you, coming out isn’t easy.
Even if their experience of informing their nearest and dearest was a veritable walk through the park of acceptance, tolerance and understanding; most will, if not have, faced some form of discrimination in their lives.
Forced outing on the other hand is horrible. Stripped down to the bone it’s a simple violation of human rights. At face value it can often be embarrassing, hurtful, degrading and in some cases dangerous to the individual.
In a perfect world we should always be the ones who decide when, how and where to verbally express our sexuality to the people that matter the most to us.
But in the not-so-perfect world we live in, is forced outing always wrong? Is it always a terrible thing?
I was publicly outed at school when I was young, in front of my entire year of about 90 16-year-old boys. And although thinking back to that day isn’t the most pleasant of memories, it’s made me the person I am today.
When I was a teenager, I was pretty much invisible. Although truth be told I didn’t exactly put myself on the radar. I was short, fat and would rather play my GameCube on the weekend than socialise with other human beings.
However, by the age of 15 I was taller, slimmer, and through a job in a restaurant, meeting and making new friends. And I had given and received my first blow job by two different guys respectively.
Assured by both that no one would ever find out, for a whole week I enjoyed the blissful feeling of finally having found other people like me. I wasn’t just fantasising over episodes of Queer as Folk anymore: I had tasted cock and it was great!
But as is the case with many a teenage drama, it wasn’t long before it all went tits up. The guy who sucked me off, Ben (now, would you believe, one of my closest friends), was out and proud at his school since the age of 13. He couldn’t wait to boast about his conquest in the bowling alley toilets over the weekend.
Unfortunately, where I grew up wasn’t the biggest of towns and unluckily for me one of Ben’s friends was an old primary school friend of mine who knew someone at my school. Word got around and the story of how Jack Smith got a blow-job from another boy spread like wildfire.
To add insult to injury I was off sick the day everyone found out. It was a Monday and about half way through the day my friend Stephen, the guy who I did the trouser-level tongue tango to, warned me the word was out, so to speak, over text. If I didn’t already feel sick, I did then.
The next day when I arrived late to registration, I walked through the full classroom to my seat. I waited for the insults and abuse to start but nothing happened. No one said a word. It seemed all the days of being invisible were starting to pay off.
And 45 minutes through second period physics, there was still nothing. I began to think it had all blown over, that no one cared. It was yesterday’s news after all.
But then it started: a guy sat behind me finally remembered and he didn’t make it a secret. He gasped like all his Christmases had come at once. Then came sniggering, next came words and sentences:
‘Isn’t that the guy who?’
‘Yeah, he’s actually gay. Like 100% bent.’
The next thing I know the bell’s gone, we’ve all poured out into the courtyard and I’m circled. The circle’s getting bigger and bigger as more classes leave for break and they all start to chant ‘GAY BOY, GAY BOY’ at me.
Mortified, I turned to go back into the building, desperately trying to get somewhere they couldn’t follow; but people were still coming out, blocking my way, calling me a faggot.
Then out of the blue, Stephen, now the only closeted one between us, grabs me, tells me not to listen and walks me away. What happened after that I honestly don’t remember - it all seems like a dream. A fucked-up, blurry and severely uncomfortable dream.
Teenage mistakes and hormone-fuelled misery aside, my forced outing forced me to stop being invisible. It forced attention on to me, albeit not the nicest of attention, and made me decide: either breakdown and run away or be strong.
I can safely say I decided to do the latter. I didn’t like school but I loved university. I met men, went to oodles of gay bars, made plenty of mistakes and wound up with a degree, a great bunch of friends and a desire to see the world.
After uni I moved across the planet in search of something fabulous, and for the last two years I’ve lived in Sydney working as an editor and writer, as well as volunteering for the most established gay and lesbian rights organisations in New South Wales. I love that too.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of likeminded friends, a loving family or even a tolerant society, so my experience will not always ring true with everyone out there. But in danger of sounding like a Dan Savage convert, it really does get better.
Over the past seven years I’ve learned that respect and love are key to a happy existence and I’m certainly not afraid to firmly inform anyone that wants to call me a faggot, a bender or a gay boy exactly where to shove their homophobic intolerance.
So if you too have been publicly outed, forced to reveal your sexuality before you were ready, then please don’t worry. Life is not meant to be easy, it wasn’t designed that way. It’s imperfect, impractical and a right pain in the arse from time to time.
But let’s be honest, us gays know more than anyone that a pain in the arse isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be bloody fantastic.
Coming Out Day will be celebrated in the US and many other places around the world next week on 11 October.