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How a school bus journey home made me realize I might be gay

How a school bus journey home made me realize I might be gay

Emma Goswell talks about her own coming out

It was the beginning of 1989. I was busy pretending to care about my A levels, wearing too much eyeliner, listening to The Cure (a lot) and I still hadn’t mastered the Rubik’s Cube.

In my head I was a rebel, a goth, a poet – but one thing I definitely wasn’t was gay. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

I’d fancied loads of boys, hadn’t I? I’d even dated some of them. It being the 80’s they had names like Gavin and Kevin, wore lots of denim and loved Jon Bon Jovi.

I think I nearly had sex with Kevin at a party in Bermondsey in 1988 but even I couldn’t drink enough Cinzano to go through with it.

My friends went through more boys than Duran Duran had hit singles and they were having sex. Actual sex. By the time we were all 17 they’d been through the Karma Sutra several times and I was still a virgin.

Gay role models while growing up

In my confused head I brushed it off just telling myself I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t not having sex with boys because I was gay or anything. God no. I mean – no one was gay were they?

Well there was Boy George, Andy Bell and Jimmy Somerville– but apart from that no one was really gay! Were they?

And as for lesbians they were even rarer than the proverbial hen’s teeth. Apart from Martina Navratilova I certainly didn’t know any. Well certainly not in my school or my corner of the world anyway.

Emma Goswell talks coming out
Emma now works for LGBTI radio station, Gaydio (Photo: Supplied)

The encounter that changed everything

Then I met her. The girl that would change everything. She was 16 and I was 17 and I started talking to her on the coach on a school trip.

We were on the way back from seeing Les Miserables in the West End. I like to think this is proof that musicals make you gay, but I don’t have much empirical evidence to back that up!

She’d just joined our school, so I didn’t know her, but I found her fascinating. I wanted to talk to her all night, to know everything about her. To share everything with her. To impress her, to make her laugh. I wanted…. To touch her.

What the hell? Something had seismically shifted. What the hell was wrong with me? To cut a long story short I convinced her to stay the night with me and share my bed. Yes, if nothing else, no one can accuse me of taking things slowly.

I went from not even questioning my sexuality to engaging in carnal activity with a member of the same gender in the space of a couple of hours. If my sexuality was a car I’d like to think it was a Lamborghini: 0 to gay in 60 seconds!

Ashamed at my sexuality

That was the easy bit, I guess. I knew what I wanted and from the moment I met her I was crazy in love. Part of me was so happy I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. However, most of me was ashamed.

I couldn’t be gay. It was a dirty word. Being gay in the 80’s certainly seemed like something to be ashamed of.

The British tabloids were full of stories exposing politicians or celebrities homosexuality: like it was a dirty secret that needed to be revealed in the public interest.

It was a terrifying and ugly time and it certainly made me think that being gay was something I really didn’t want to be part of. I didn’t know anyone who was gay and out and happy – so why would I tell anyone?

In fact, was so closeted I even wrote a coded version of what had happened the night before in my diary.

I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think of anything else but her. I stayed silent for five months. Five months having the most incredible love affair of my life but not feeling able to share it with anyone.

‘We all want to be loved and accepted by our friends and our family’

One the one hand it’s nobody’s business who we sleep with or which gender we identify as. But we all want to be loved and accepted by our friends and our family – for who we are. We don’t want to lie – we want to be us.

We want those we care about to share the highs and lows of our life – and that means being honest about everything.

Coming out shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is. The stakes are high.

We all know people who have lost it all by coming out. I’ve spoken to those who faced physical violence, others who have suffered complete rejection by their family and one who was thrown out of the RAF because it was still illegal to serve and be a homosexual.

Telling my dad

In a very calculated move, I only told my best friend on my last ever day of school. If she rejected me then – well, I’d never have to see her or any of my school friends again, would I? Luckily for me she didn’t and we’re still friends 30 years later.

Telling my parents was another level. I didn’t really want to do it – It was more coerced out of me!

Sadly the love of my life didn’t feel the same and after nine months broke my heart into a million pieces.

To say I was devastated was an understatement. I became more morose than Morrissey, wrote more poetry than Byron (but it was awful) and became an insufferable teenage dirtbag.

I was so annoying and miserable my father eventually dragged me aside for a talk. He said, ‘What is wrong with you? Are you pregnant, on drugs or gay?’ It was very like a multiple choice of parental nightmares.

I thought long and hard before replying with the brilliantly vague answer of: ‘Yes. One of those.’ Luckily my father is in possession of half a brain and eyes in his head, so he quickly ascertained he had a homosexual for a first born.

We cried, we had a heart-to-heart then we went to the pub to drink beer – well, because we’re Goswells. It wasn’t all a bed of roses. My parents didn’t exactly throw a ‘Wahey Emma’s queer’ party. There were a few twists and turns in the road to full acceptance.

But I’m glad I did it. Like most people out the closet, I felt a huge sense of relief. A rewarding sense of being able to be honest and true about myself. And a sense of, ‘Right – can we just get on with life now?’

Coming out is something you keep doing

That was 30 years ago and like most LGBT people it didn’t take me long to realise that coming out is something that you keep having to do.

Every time you get a new job, make new friends, join a new group. It’s bloody irritating to be honest – and in an ideal world it is of course completely unnecessary.

We’re a long way from getting to that ideal world though, which is what lead me to start my podcast – ‘Coming Out Stories’ . I wanted there to be somewhere where people who had yet to do it could go.

I hoped hearing stories from other people would be both a comfort and an inspiration. And I hoped it will be a useful resource too for parents, siblings or friends of those who are coming out.

Share you stories of coming out

I’m not trying to encourage anyone to come out – far from it. I firmly believe it’s all about freedom of choice and no one should ever be forced out and made to come out before they’re ready.

The stories are as beautifully varied as the people telling them. I’ve heard from those who called their parents on the phone, others who wrote letters or emails, one who came out on stage, some who were forced to come out after appearances on national television and one who came out to over half a million followers on Instagram!

Some of the stories are a hard listen – I’ll admit that. I’ve spoken to people who have been through gay conversion therapy, who have faced violence who have no contact with their family because they came out.

But even in the darkest story there is always light and hope and the proof that it really does get better.

You can search for Coming Out Stories on itunes, Spotify, TuneIn or wherever you get your podcasts from.

More ways to listen here

You can follow @comeoutstories on Twitter.

See also

How do I convince my mum to accept my sexuality and wish me happiness?

What’s the best way to come out to homophobic parents?