[Essay] Coming Out in Lockdown — Dominic Brown

The fear of hearing ‘I told you so’ stopped me from coming out for a long time. No-one owes it to anyone else to come out, of course. But doing so can bring a certain relief: the idea of living with sincerity. This was never my motivation. I’ve always been sincere, always acted different, treading carefully somewhere between the masculine and the feminine. I took great pride in it. I would happily tell anyone who asked: ‘My being camp doesn’t make me gay’. So, the fear that my coming out could be met with an abrupt ‘don’t worry we already knew’ or an ‘I told you so’ when I’d spent fifteen years agonising over it held me back from confronting it in myself. I’m twenty-six and I still don’t really know – so how is it possible anyone else really knew?

From a young age I was forced to defend my sexuality in a way that straight acting boys don’t have to. Trying to ironclad my heterosexuality with a web of white lies and distraction tactics was hard fucking work – especially as a preteen who didn’t really understand why it was so important to appear straight to begin with.  All you know is that you should try your very best even if it isn’t always believable. Learning to dissemble from an early age, it’s no surprise that I have had a complex relationship with my heterosexuality ever since. As soon as I understood that I could hold onto elements of it without giving it up entirely everything started to change. 

Why am I doing this now? After more than a decade constructing this image, why come out now? The lockdown gave me a golden opportunity. I knew I wouldn’t come face-to-face with either of my parents for weeks after unloading it all onto them. This gave me a little protective blanket of time in which they could process. So I wrote a letter. A letter that would say everything without being interrupted, pre-empt any uncomfortable questions, and diffuse any potentially upsetting responses. That anguish seeped away, of course, when I read my mother’s thoughtfully penned response.

I am flamboyant by nature, and it is one of the best things about me. For someone like me it always felt unfair growing up that if you were straight/straight acting you didn’t have to talk about your sexuality at all, or justify your behaviour to others. ‘Are you a girl or a boy?’ I was asked well into my teens this was mostly down to my exuberant behaviour and gentle, lightly pitched voice. This was followed by the usual primitive berating I imagine any subverting teenage boy in rural England might have received. It mostly consisted of a casual “decking” after school or the occasional “faggot” whispered in to your ear while you tried to scramble between French and Maths unscathed. 

It’s only as I got older that I realised how lucky I am to be confident in my skin. Confident enough to get up and sing on stage at school or wear something ridiculous on non uniform day. I couldn’t see at the time, but those people hassling you just wish they had the same freedom of expression you sought out from a young age. Sadly no one ever tells you that at high school or if they do it is impossible to hear. So I carried on agonising: ‘why is it so hard to just be straight?’. At parties and on holidays, at university and into my twenties, friends and family would ask: “Are you sure?”. I decided I couldn’t possibly let myself not be straight because then I’d be giving everyone exactly what they wanted… the dreaded ‘I told you so’. I decided to make myself the exception to the rule The Camp Straight Guy. I made it my thing. It was so lifelike even I believed it for a while. I didn’t really feel like a gay person. In many ways I still don’t.

It’s funny that I have Covid-19 to thank for this breakthrough. In fact, my mum and I have always been close. Not least of all because we both love going to the theatre and to art galleries and drinking cocktails, you know, “girly” stuff. Of course I am not oblivious to my privilege coming of age at a time of relative tolerance towards sexuality and gender identity. But even ten years ago that spectrum seemed far more binary than it is now. Back then, if you weren’t straight, you were gay. Bisexual was something widely considered to be a gateway sexuality when I was growing up. I remember so clearly I was in New York on holiday with my mum, just the two of us drinking palomas, when she posed the question: ‘Are you sure you aren’t gay?’. I later realised when talking with a friend what a precious gift this was. She wasn’t just trying to get answers out of me. She was giving me space to share my truth and not just that but validating it. Not everyone gets that. I just sighed and responded: ‘You don’t need to keep asking – as soon as I have news I’ll let you know’. This was a lie. I had given it extensive thought by this point but this didn’t feel like the time to tell her. As it happened that time wouldn’t come for another five years. I had been on furlough just a few days when I began hammering away at the keyboard of my recently redundant laptop in an effort to draft what turned out to be my coming out letter. 

In my early twenties I got a job working in fashion, dyed my hair platinum blond and started dressing like the person I had always wanted to be. I realised there was nothing wrong with me so why sanitise it to make myself seem straighter than I was. Slowly I stopped torturing myself. I met more people who refused to define as straight or gay and then people who didn’t identify as male or female at all. Then it became easier to face my true self without giving that self a title. As a perfectionist my biggest failure was my failure to be straight. I had excelled at school, I was popular, made people laugh and had forged a successful career. One thing I could never get the hang of was being completely straight. But that didn’t necessarily make me entirely gay either… did it? This was the hardest thing to learn.

I always felt I didn’t have to face this conversation head on because I was so happy on my own. How could I be queer if I wasn’t searching for a partner. As I grew into my twenties I got more comfortable with the idea of sharing a life with someone. To do this, I was going to have to answer that plaguing question: what, or who, exactly was I looking for? I could be gay…ish. Un-straight? In essence it is queerness in the simplest form.

I concluded the letter to my parents by explaining: ‘I never acted insincerely with you, it would be more accurate to say I’d been holding a part of myself back’. I came to the realisation that while the relationships I had shared with women in the past could still be truthful I wasn’t limited to those experiences. I had opened myself up to a completely new outlook, one where I would no longer brush briskly past windows of opportunity as I had done in the past but instead linger in the doorway in hopes of something unexpected.

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Dominic Brown is a Journalism graduate from Suffolk currently living in London and working in luxury fashion PR. He studied at The London College of Communication where he helped establish The University of Arts London publication, Artefact Magazine.