I pretty much knew I was gay by the time I started secondary school. But at my all-boys northern grammar, being gay felt like something negative, a bit rubbish and best to hide. I was terrified my friends wouldn’t want to be my friends any more. I was convinced they might think that I fancied them all.
I knew how I was meant to be. I should play rugby, like football, hang and around town after school with girls from the other local school. Protecting this secret was draining. I tried different ways to hide it. For a while I just pretended to be straight. One boy brought a porn magazine into school and like the other guys I joined in ripping a picture out, folding it up and hiding it in the back of my phone. I’d rate girls out of 10 and even tried to start having a relationship. I hoped doing these things might make me straight.
But they didn’t, so I tried something else. I used the cover of being bookish not to go into town after school where I’d have to mix with girls. I became guarded – I didn’t invite anyone back to my house for five years because it made me feel vulnerable.
Everyone else is already taken.
I avoided doing anything that might expose me. I decided not to drink alcohol for fear of letting down my guard. I didn’t go to my school leavers’ ball.
In the end, I came out accidentally to my closest friends at university when I was drunk. Their reaction? Not bothered.
When I realised my friends were still my friends, I gradually felt able to tell more people. I found it helpful talking to other LGBT+ people about their experiences. I realised that if I’d heard how other people were feeling, I might have felt less lonely and confused at school.
If I could go back to my 12-year-old self, there's so much I'd like to say. I'd like to say that, however hard it may seem, life will get better, and that being gay won't stop anyone from having loving relationships or doing what you want. Most of all, that being your true self will make you happy than you'd ever imagined.