Everyone has completely different experiences when you finally come out as gay. Mine was complicated by the first sexual experience being a sexual assault and was further compounded by my complete shame and self-hatred after it happened.
I still know the exact moment I started thinking about men in a sexual way. I think I was probably about 9 or 10. It felt foreign to me, out of place and something I instinctively knew somehow to push away.
I grew up with the combination of the generation and also a small town that seems now looking back very insulated from the outside world. At that time the usual insult to another guy at school was "fag" or "poofter". It's disturbing, but for the time was happening it was perfectly normal. I dreaded every year the Mardi Gras was on because it generated more hate about the whole thing, for me it was a nightmare.
Looking back I was one of those people who when I eventually told people they said they already knew. But for me, the experience was intense and destructive to my future self. I always knew there was something different to me than other boys my age and because everything I had ever heard about gay people that it was wrong and disgusting and shameful. There was absolutely no acceptance of gay men in my world, so of course, when I started to mentally explore my sexuality it brought fear and terror that this couldn't possibly be right, I had to be normal.
As a teenager, I obviously couldn't fight the raging hormones racing through my mind and body. So in complete isolation, I began to explore it more. The turning point was when I let those hormones and teenage angst lead me to a point where I put myself in a horrible situation and paid the price for life. The assault changed me in seconds, in mere seconds my entire life would change forever. After the assault confusion kicked in, how could I possibly still be thinking about being gay after what had happened?
I managed to get through year 12 at school and to be really honest, it was one of the best years if my life. We had an awesome circle of friends, I felt accepted and those memories will stay with me for life. Somehow I was able for the most part to lock my sexuality in a box and properly enjoy the friendships I had and a crazy amount of funny memories. But the time came to apply for University and I knew I had to get out where I was. So I moved to Newcastle with some very dear and lifelong friends. We had our issues as flatmates, but nothing that ever made living together any less fun.
It was at this point I really began exploring my sexuality. Here is an actual quote from my journal in 1999. "I know I am sexually attracted to men but I could never imagine actually having a boyfriend". It shows how I was still avoiding the truth.
I started going to the gay club in Newcastle and met my best friend, Paul. We had our complications, but I couldn't imagine life without him. He helped me in more ways than he could ever know. He was "out" and didn't hide who he was.
The night I will never forget as long as I live, was the night I met Ben. I remember every little detail and finally felt a sense of normality that I had feelings for this amazing person. It was the first time in my life that I accepted that this feeling was normal and not only that but it was exciting. I felt like I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, that I was gay and in love.
I knew then it was time to "come out". To cut a long and complicated story short, I went home to tell mum. She was incredible, all she cared about that I was ok and happy. My sister responded as I knew she would, with unwavering support. So it was done, I had finally said the words "I am gay" and with that, it spread like wildfire through the town I grew up in.
Despite some backlash and complications, I felt liberated, I finally felt normal, my normal anyway. Those early years I have such fond memories of, the mischief Paul and I would get in and the crazy experiences we shared together. He remains someone who I care deeply for and I am forever grateful for the night I met him.
There is nothing easy about accepting that you don't fit into societies norms. There is also nothing easy about being on the receiving end from family and strangers of pure hatred. But it is something that every gay man and woman have to face at some point. The thought of someone hating you enough to punch you in the face, without knowing you at all is sometimes a scary reality for some of us.
But things are changing. Despite the Marriage Equality vote being so destructive to so many people, the end result was worth it. Being on my own it was a tricky thing to deal with. There was the hate all over the internet and I even remember sitting in my local park and looking up to a "vote no" skywriting sign.
Then there was my own personal loneliness when I saw the celebrations after the result. It felt selfish to feel resentment towards the crowds of people celebrating the right result. That night I felt more alone than ever before.
My coming out experience was difficult, to say the least, but it was always going to be part of my story. Like everyone, my experience is my own and I would never compare it to anyone else's. We all have our story to tell and this is mine.