Catching your breath after a deep dive; that’s what coming out feels like.
Finally getting to a place where you are ready to show the world your sexuality is an absolutely amazing achievement. It is infinitely liberating, there is no taking away from that.
However, the obvious is overlooked: Coming out isn’t the end of the race, it’s the beginning of a marathon which will test your endurance, character and very definition as a person.
I’m lucky, my coming out to my parents was relatively stress free. And while I endured bullying and felt unsupported during my school days, I came to terms with my sexuality and grew happy having that part of myself open to the world.
As a newly out and proud gay man I submersed myself in gay culture and enjoyed its bounty of self expression.
But I wasn’t prepared for bathing in a pool of open sexuality with other out men, stewing in self-inflicted insecurity, stereotypes and expectations.
Not all gay men act the same way to each other or to the wider LGBTI community. But I found most of the stereotyping I faced was from other gay guys.
The chink in my armor, and the biggest toll on my mental health, is dwindling body confidence. They made me believe I had to have the fit other’s stereotype of a young gay man by having the perfect smooth, buff body.
My failure to live up to their ideal bled into my life, knocking my confidence.
By forcing myself to try to fit within this, by attempting to meet society’s expectations, I prevented myself from truly finding individuality and happiness.
It’s all too easy to adopt other’s attitudes about who you should be and how you should look when there isn’t much encouragement to take your own place in society.
Very quickly as these stereotyped expectations bled into my life and I was treading familiar waters of anxiety and low self-esteem with depleting energy once more.
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I continue to manage my body image issues – alongside my panic disorder diagnosis – on a daily basis.
It’s only when I afford myself the opportunity to step back and realise that I’m going down this same path again that I change my direction and avoid pitfalls.
On the bright side, I still managed on my own to – if I do say so myself – become a well rounded an ultimately happy individual – I just want to make use of my hardships to advocate the discussion of topics, like mental health and coming out, in the hope of lessening the burden of those yet to take the leaps of faith I have so far in life.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in writing this I hope to gift a message to a version of myself out there who’s full of questions: You are not defined by sexuality or its stereotypes.
At first coming out feels like discovering who you are. As time goes on, it becomes about owning that part of who you are. You are gay, but you have to find your own individuality with that and not get lost in the ‘ideals’ of your sexuality.
Coming out will later bring more questions. It’s a great step but not the end of the journey. There will be further insecurities to work around, which will lead you away from your true path. It isn’t going to be the extended relief you hoped for so be aware of the remaining marathon left to run.
Coming out is a crucial tool in the fight for awareness and equality, and there are many amazing charities and foundations guiding those on that journey.
But there’s an equally important missing link:
Why are ‘outees’ being left to fend for themselves in finding the next steps to individuality?
The fact National Coming Out Day and World Mental Health Day coincide with each other this year is a useful coincidence. It reminds us the link between them has not yet been made by our community.
We need to find a way of providing moral support as the marathon continues.