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Telling your parents is truly one of the most terrifying prospects anyone faces. You tell yourself they’ll support you, but you never wholly believe it. This is my coming out story.
The night before: Lying in bed.
I think deep down I’ve always known. Even from a young age I realised I was always lying when people asked. But when you’re a fourteen year old boy, trying desperately hard to fit in with everyone else, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. Most people would probably be fine with it, but the school playground can be a vicious introduction to your new life. Better off waiting until you’re older and you know what you want. After all, it might just be a phase.
Well that’s what you know your parents will tell you. At least, you think so. You accept that you’re from a very old-school, working class background. Catholic family with a carpenter for a Dad – not Richard, but you agree that he could aptly be referred to as Dick. – In fact, the majority of your male relatives are employed in stereotypically male jobs such as builders, mechanics, painters and engineers. What would they think of you when they found out? That familiar nauseating feeling strikes the pit of your stomach again. That same headache that forces you to sit down every time you think about telling your Dad. If he turned around and said, “It’s just a phase” and left it at that you’d be ecstatic. It’s a denial, but it’s not disgust.
Mum, on the other hand, might take it better. Up to now she’s been supportive of all your other choices you’ve made in life. You’ve just turned 20; no longer her little boy in your eyes, but always in hers. The more you think about it, and you’ve thought about it a lot, it’ll be easier to tell her first than both your parents at once. But even if you get the warmest reception it’ll still leave you feeling slightly cold. You know that this isn’t what she wanted for you. She wants for you to have the best possible life and this is definitely a hurdle. It’s not something that can’t be overcome, but it’s an unnecessary obstacle in her eyes.
Maybe that’s your problem, always try to see things through everyone else’s eyes and predetermine what their reactions will be. No matter how well you think you know someone, they can always still surprise you. You can’t help but let out a small laugh, the irony of the last statement just sinking in. You finally agree to stop thinking about what everyone else will think; you’re happy now so forget the consequences.
Anyway it’s too late to change your mind now. You’ve had around a year’s experience trying a lot of new things in situations that you never would have found yourself in before. And you know what? You love it. Of course at first you were nervous, terrified even, but it only takes one spark to fill you with confidence. Now you can’t imagine life any other way. The tension leading up to it, the thrill of the process and performance, and the satisfaction you feel when you finish.
Your friends have known for a while. They were incredibly understanding, but they know more about what it’s like for you. They realise the world is not the same place it was when your parents were 21. The opportunities aren’t so limited anymore and it’s becoming increasingly common. It was different coming out about it to them though, the reaction was so nonchalant. “Of course, we’ve always thought that’s how you’d end up.” No grand brouhaha, no aggro, no nerves- just support.
The occasional person has asked you, “Why would you choose that? Haven’t you seen the state of this world? Are you absolutely certain you want to carry on down that path?” And you try your hardest not to start singing some Macklemore straight back at them. You try to explain that it’s not a choice, if you weren’t living your life this way then you would never be happy. It’s much better to live a life filled with happiness and difficulties than depression and plain-sailing.
T minus 3 hours: Sitting on the train.
It’s finally came. The day you head home, only your parents don’t know what you’re bringing. You decided a long time ago that you wouldn’t do it any other way. This way they can’t turn around and tell you you’re not. Not when they see.
You start to reflect on the past year of your life. Undoubtedly it has been the most exhilarating 12 months you’ve lived so far. By no stretch of the imagination has it been a fairytale; you’ve experienced your fair share of tears, frustration and, most importantly, heartbreak. But you came out on top. Look at you now, you magnificent man! Ok, stop looking. You’re grinning like an idiot on the train and starting to get weird looks from the man opposite you. Abort looking so happy with yourself. I said ABORT!
Right, back to normal reflecting again. It’s a strange feeling; keeping a secret from those who are meant to be closest to you. The tiniest part of you feels guilty for hiding this part of you for so long. When you really think about it it’s silly. Other times when you mess up in life and try to keep a secret, it’s because people will be upset or angry with you for a while because of an event which lasted for a certain amount of time. This time the secret is something that hasn’t started and finished, it’s something that will continue with you until the day you die. Most talk of death scares you, but this time you’re excited.
The weight about to be lifted off your shoulders is humongous. You’ve tried to convince yourself that you won’t care how they react, the fact that you no longer have to keep on lying is enough for you now. You’re sure it’s enough. You hope it’s enough.
You’ve changed your mind. This is a terrible idea and you don’t want to go through with it.
You wish you hadn’t told your friends that this was the weekend you were telling your parents.
This is your stop. You say goodbye to your little surprise until later on.
D-Day: After-dinner drinks.
You don’t think you’ve ever been so nervous, even the alcohol isn’t bringing down your anxiety levels. You consider calling off the whole thing, but then the thought you’ve been skirting around for years hits you straight in the face. You can’t lie to them forever. Sooner or later they will find out, so why not tell them tonight?
‘Callum, are you ignoring me?’
You realise in your panic you’ve just missed everything your Mum’s just said.
‘Sorry, I just zoned out. What did you say?’
‘I said has anything exciting happened whilst you’ve been at university?’
This is the perfect moment to come clean. One last swig of beer as you nod your head and try to remember the sentence you’d rehearsed a thousand times before.
“As it goes, yes. It’s something I’m really excited about and hope you will be too. I’ve known for a long time that I wasn’t like you two or anyone else in the family, but it’s only been in the past year that I’ve really been able to be sure. I’d told myself so many times that I didn’t want to tell anyone until I was absolutely certain. And now I’m sure I am.
‘Mum, Dad, I’m… a comedian.’
You’re not sure where to look. You resist the urge to look down at the table, but at the same time cannot muster the strength to stare your parents out. In the end you try and take a drink from your pint to look as relaxed as possible.
‘Are you sure?’
Ding! We have a winner. Discussing it with your friends you had brainstormed about the possible responses from your parents. “Are you sure?” was the 2/1 favourite, closely followed by “No you’re not.” And “You can’t be.” You have to admit that you’re a little disappointed that the longshots of one parent storming out or bursting out into a Glee-style song number didn’t occur, but at least with this response you have your own ready.
‘Certain, I’ve known for a while, but it’s become concrete this year.’
They don’t look convinced. It’s been a while since your Dad spoke and you get a little worried as he starts to open his mouth.
“Have you even… Done it yet?”
For some reason he chooses to whisper the final part of his sentence. You try to play over the past minute of your life back to yourself, but you’ve been so nervous you can’t be sure of everything. Did you accidentally tell them you were gay?
“Have I ever done stand-up comedy?”
Good, at least that clears it up. You definitely said comedian. You reach down into your bag and pull out the surprise you said goodbye to on the train. A promotional poster for a comedy night, with your real name on the real poster for the real comedy club. 100% proof that you are indeed definitely a comedian. You bring out your Kindle and load up your own eBook. Ok, it’s self-published, available for free and been downloaded less than 1000 times, but it’s something you created.
“Over the past year I’ve managed to publish my own collection of short comedic essays and perform live comedy almost every week. It’s who I am. To paraphrase Sister Mary Clarence, ‘If you wake up in the morning and you can’t think of anything but comedy, then you should be a comedian.”
Of all the fantastic people you could have quoted to show your intelligence and deep thoughts about the matter, you chose Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act 2. You look back to your Mum, who in turn looks back to you, who in turn looks back to your Mum because taking turns in looking at each other seems like all you’re capable of at that moment.
“Well it’s your choice, I just hope you know you won’t be able to live your whole life that way. You’ll grow out of it”
You bite your tongue. Shouting obscenities across the table might not be the most mature response. You hoped they’d understand and support you, and maybe in time they will. But for tonight it was enough just to tell them. Now that all is said and done you’re just happy. Happy that you’ve finally came out to your parents as a comedian.
“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” – Kurt Vonnegut.