I came out two years ago, when I was 19, via a three-page letter.
“I’ve come to recognise the importance of honesty”, I wrote at the time. “Openness and honesty lead to happiness and, in order to live as a free man, I need to get rid of these secrets, these shadows, which have been looming over my shoulders like a black cloud.
I’m tired of pretending. I used to think that silence was the best way to cope with this, but this secret’s too big and daunting to be dealt with on my own. I’m scared but I know I have to be brave. I know I have to be strong.
And even though I’m not sure what happens next, that’s okay I guess. I’m finally free.”
I found this letter in my drawer recently, coincidentally marking nearly two years to the day, and re-read it. Reading it felt strange though; it didn’t sound like me. It was as if I was trying to sound brave and resolute, as if my struggles had now ended.
I was naïve. I’d thought at the time that once I was out, that’d be it; I’d know all I needed to know in order to be content with myself. What I hadn’t realised at the time, however, was that in the subsequent two years that would follow, I’d learn so much more about myself than I’d ever anticipated.
I’m 21 now. Even though I’m still young, and have a lot more to learn, two years of experience have given me hindsight, hindsight that would have benefited me at the time of the letter writing.
So, to my 18-year old self, here is some advice:
There’ll still be moments where you doubt yourself, and that’s okay.
Just because you’re out does not mean that you’re invincible and void of future sadness. Everyone has their own demons, regardless of sexuality or gender. Everyone around you has insecurities. You’re not the only one. When you doubt yourself, or feel alone, don’t let this upset you; it’s human nature. Be patient with yourself. If you open up to people about your feelings, you’ll be confided with in return. Remember, as humans, we’re all still trying to search for that ideal sense of self.
You’ll continue to come out - nearly every day.
Whether it's on nights out, at university, at work, or in everyday encounters, you’ll inevitably feel the need to explain yourself. Initially, you’ll be tentative and nervous, and that’s natural. But give people more credit; they’ll be more welcoming than you anticipate. Each interaction will give you confidence. It will get a little easier each time, until your sexuality becomes as natural as the colour of your hair.
You’ll still face homophobia, whether it explicit and implicit, but this time you’ll know how to handle it.
You’ll be stared at. You’ll be called a faggot. You’ll hear the experiences of your friends, about how they’ve been arrested and bullied and ostracised from their families. You’ll find this off-putting at first.
But you will surround yourself with people who are brave and unapologetically their true selves and, through this, their stories will empower you. Hate will ultimately empower you. It will ignite a spark, encouraging you to be unique. Homophobia will be the impetus you need to strengthen your voice.
Hold your platonic LGBTQIA+ friends close; you’ll need them.
You’re thinking that you’re alone right now. You’re thinking that you’ll never find people who truly understand you. I promise you, you will.
Flings will come and go. You’ll need your platonic LGBTQIA+ friends who understand you. At some point in their lives, these friends have also had to deviate from the norm. They can empathise with you, and comprehend a struggle most people will never be able to understand. This is a strong bond. You’ll rely on each other for support, and you’ll ultimately learn a lot from them. Hold them close to you.
You’ll educate those around you; open their eyes.
People fear things that they do not understand, or aren’t exposed to. At first, family and friends will be shocked, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Be patient. If you’re confident and proud, and if you lead by example, those around you will learn. You’ll open their eyes to the fluidity of sexuality.
At first, when one of your friends says "that’s gay", you’ll be aggravated. You’ll take it personally. In many cases, though, they don’t mean it; it’s just ignorance. They’ve grown up in a society that’s embedded these phrases within them. It’s just the norm for them. If you talk to them, they’ll learn.
You’ll feel alone and different, until you learn to value the very attributes that made you feel alone and different in the first place.
Right now, you want nothing more than to blend in with every one else. You don’t want to be different, and you’ve felt pain in the past for feeling as though you have to hide. But, in time, you’ll learn new things about yourself. Take risks. Paint your nails. Explore the nightlife. Meet new people. Wear the clothes that you were once too scared to touch. Stop apologising for being yourself. Don’t be afraid to smile. Stop feeling selfish for doing the things you want to do. Trust me, the qualities that you were once ashamed of will ultimately become your sources of pride. You’ll learn that individuality is much greater than conformity.
You’ll be happier than you ever thought was possible.
You’ll make mistakes but you’ll ultimately live with honesty, and this is refreshing. You’ll find a voice that you didn’t know existed, and you’ll use it to help others who have shared similar struggles to you. There’s only one of you on this planet. Be proud.
Louis Hanson is freelance writer, student at the University of Melbourne, and LGBTQIA+ youth advocate. Instagram: @louishanson
Image: Lili Steele