Everyone should have the experience of “coming out” in their lives. Not only because it would wipe the assumption slate clean and place us as equals on a path towards disclosing our gender and sexual identities when we’re ready. That’s massively important. But also, because the experience of sharing something so deeply personal about oneself can be life-giving.
I was a late bloomer in the unveiling of my sexuality. Growing up in small-town Western Australia, in a rather conservative Catholic family, the story of being gay was shrouded in suspicion and judgement, and somehow my body learned early on not to go there. So much was suppressed in my teenage years, and not only sexual feelings – there were parts of my personality that I wouldn’t step into for fear of being seen.
It wasn’t until I was working at a magazine in my early 20s when the story I had of being gay started to be reframed, and the impulse to come out (first, to myself) arose. I was hearing about same-sex couples in loving relationships; gay men going on dates and having fun in their own skin; people identifying as queer and making it known in their families and workplaces. The dark cloud that had engulfed this story for so long was lifting, and I started to envisage a life for myself where I had embraced the feelings I had inside with the person I was outside.
Coming out for me is synonymous with this union of the inner and the outer. In some ways, it was very much an experience of “coming in,” because for the first time ever, I was listening to who I was and seeing who I could be from a truthful place. I wasn’t taking cues from the outside world, or having to trim, dial back and even fabricate an identity in order to get by. I was home.
Granted, it wasn’t a permanent arrival! Many shadowy moments and murmurs have since swept me away from that place of firm footing. But the experience of it has never left me, and remains a north star whenever life gets derailed. My inner knowing was so strong at the time of coming out that I was able to say some of the hardest things I’ve had to say to people I love. I’m not a naturally courageous person, nor am I someone who has an easy time talking about myself, and yet in those moments of having to “tell” my mum, my brothers, my best friends and just about everyone else in my life, courage surged.
I was lucky in that I sensed my support network was strong enough to hold me through that process, which they did (some straight away, others in time). I know not everyone has that, and some can’t even enter that place of envisaging what “out” looks and feels like for their lives because of social and cultural pressures. We’ve got work to do still. The nugget I’m trying to get to here is that communicating something honest and unknown about ourselves, something which feels raw and vulnerable like sexuality, contains a kind of magic power that simultaneously grounds us and gives us wings.
For the three months that followed my “coming out,” I was more loving, generous and creative than I had ever been. I was filled with ideas and possibilities about my life. I booked my first overseas trip. I took delight in things easily. I had deeper and richer conversations with people. I was more curious. I volunteered. There was something in having tended to and clarified this aspect of my inner world that enabled me to show up to the outer in a richer way.
That experience is a reminder for me to get my stuff out. To have hard conversations and do hard things. The years since then have also been a reminder that life isn’t an upward trajectory of learning and growing until we’ve ascended into the heavens. It’s up, down, mess up here, grow there, be in your ego here, give from your integrated self there. What I’m aiming for is to at least remember the integrated self. To know how it feels when I acknowledge the real stuff inside and embrace it for the world to see, so that it always feels like a good place to walk back to.
Interested to learn how to tell your own story in an empowering way? Join Master Storyteller, Nathan Scolaro for Small Giants Academy’s Storytelling for Change deep dive. A 6-week program exploring how to harness storytelling for social and environmental impact with special guests including filmmaker Damon Gameau, climate solutions campaigner Claire O’Rourke, filmmaker and activist Maya Newell, co-founder of Thankyou, Daniel Flynn and Dumbo Feather Editor in Chief, Berry Liberman.