There’s a joke I tell about my oldest friend, Dan, and how we’ve known each other so long that we were both straight when we first met. Obviously, by that I mean neither of us had come out as gay yet (although how either of us fooled anyone is a question). For me it was somewhat of a late start, aged around 22, and beginning to tell only a few close friends. Heading off to university at 24 was a chance to relaunch myself and be more open with new people. But it wasn’t until I was almost 29 that I came out to my parents and family.
I didn’t have to make any big announcement. By this point I was living in London and while on the phone to mum, planning a trip home to see them, I casually mentioned I’d need the bigger bedroom as I’d be bringing my boyfriend with me (first serious relationship). Her reaction? She simply asked his name and then the conversation carried on as normal as you like.
On the train home after we’d been staying with my parents for a week, I got a text from mum to say how happy they were to meet the boyfriend, and that they wanted me to know that I could’ve told them at any time before then. They’d always known, and it would never have been an issue.
You couldn’t ask for a better coming out story. Unless you’re the type who lives for the drama. The aforementioned boyfriend (well out of the picture these days) didn’t have such a great experience. Just as he had been my catalyst for telling my parents, I was the same for him in return. His parents came to visit his flat in London for an afternoon while I was there, along with other friends. There was no announcement but later that evening he received a phone call from his unhappy father saying they’d basically worked it out themselves, complete with the sounds of his mother’s tearful wailing in the background.
Looking back, not coming out to my parents sooner is probably my only real regret. Of course, they knew. I’d actively avoided the conversation, and flat out denied it once in my late teens. But even though I knew I wouldn’t be thrown out of home or disowned, there was still something that made me hold this part of who I am as a secret. Was it shame? Maybe. I’d been brought up Catholic and while I didn’t believe a word of what the church had to say, perhaps there was some subliminal idea that had sunk in. More likely, in retrospect, I think I was afraid to go against the assumed unspoken expectations I’d put on myself about the path the world was setting me up to take: get married young, have kids, get a steady job. It’s what my parents did, and my grandparents. The ex’s parents’ reaction was definitely about having to readjust their expectations.
Now, nearly two decades after first beginning to tell my close friends about my sexual orientation, I find I am coming out all over again. This time, however, it’s to reveal my gender critical views.
Each of us has our own story of how we let others know about our sexual orientation. For some it is obvious, for others it can be a complete shock or a change from what people assume. The reactions of family and friends can be vastly different; embracing us for who we are or recoiling and rejecting us completely. We continue to come out throughout our lives, with each new friend, new employer, or even new social situations. It feels that each time it becomes less and less of a statement, and more just another less than fascinating fact about who we are.
Now, nearly two decades after first beginning to tell my close friends about my sexual orientation, I find I am coming out all over again. This time, however, it’s to reveal my gender critical views. I accept the reality of biological sex, the fact it is binary and immutable, and I reject the ideology that replaces sex with gender identity.
And what reaction do I face with this ‘revelation’? For the most part it’s much like the reaction my parents had to me being gay. Talking about gender critical views, and the issues around gender identity ideology, is just talking common sense to most people, and they agree.
Then, much like some of those friends when we first tell them we’re gay, there are those who have tons of questions. There’s an amount of disbelief at what is going on and how captured so many institutions are by gender ideology, and dismay at the impact it has on children, LGB people and women. These people are well and truly peaked and want to know every detail they’ve been missing before now.
Unfortunately, just like those parents who disown their child who comes out as gay, I’ve had friends that have not reacted well to me revealing my gender critical position. One in particular was, until a year ago, probably my closest friend. A former flatmate, a world travelling buddy, and someone who knows where the bodies are buried from all the other secrets of my past. He discovered that I had taken part in a webinar by LGB Alliance, where gay men were discussing their perspectives on gender ideology and its impact.
It took me three months to get him to respond to me at all, and to meet up for what turned into a 4-hour conversation (him repeating his disbelief that I could be agreeing with such “hateful and transphobic” people, me explaining to him that it’s not about being anti-trans). Not long after that it was back to radio silence and has been that way ever since. I’m not sure he even watched the webinar video – he certainly never took me up on the invitation to point out exactly what I’d said in the webinar that he thought was hateful or transphobic – but he is one of the entrenched gay men who know, deep down, that defending the team is a priority. The problem is that they haven’t realised the team has changed, and the thing they’re defending isn’t what they think it is.
I miss my friend, but I’ve made some fantastic new ones in only a year since coming out as gender critical. I’m fortunate that I’m self-employed and so there’s no risk of me being fired from work because someone doesn’t like that I stand up for reality and say that sex matters.
Coming out as gender critical now isn’t just to spread the word to those who don’t know what is going on. It’s as much about connecting with other gender critical people. To let others know they’re not alone. We ARE the majority. We can find safety in numbers.
The tide is turning in the gender critical debate, and we need to all stand up and speak out. A first step is to simply come out as gender critical (or however you describe it). I met someone at the LGB Alliance conference who said he got talking to another man on the train on the way there because he saw his “Gay Not Queer” T-shirt and figured they were going to the same event. It turns out they live only a street apart from each other, but thought they were the only gender critical person in their small town.
Coming out as gender critical now isn’t just to spread the word to those who don’t know what is going on. It’s as much about connecting with other gender critical people. To let others know they’re not alone. We ARE the majority. We can find safety in numbers. Does this mean that nobody else will face problems at work if they say sex is real, binary and immutable? No, unfortunately there’s still work to do there. Does it mean people won’t fall out, or completely lose touch, with friends or family who are firmly in the TWAW camp? Again, no . . . but hopefully they’ll come back eventually.
There are more and more of us coming out as gender critical, and more and more cover to do so. There have been some high-profile cases where people have become the victim of abuse or received accusations of transphobia but, as a wise woman once said, they can’t fire all of us. We need to stand up and be counted, and show others we’re here and that they are not alone in their views.
So, this is why I fully support Gender Critical Coming Out Day on Sunday 19th December – this is the anniversary of JK Rowling’s tweet in support of Maya Forstater. I’m already pretty out with my GC views but on this day I’ll be actively doing more and supporting and encouraging those who want, and are able, to come out as gender critical. And not just on the day but continuing forward. Of course, not everyone will be able to be out and many need to keep anonymity online for their own safety. People should only do what they feel is safe in their situation.
Take a look at the Gender Critical Coming Out Day website for more information and ideas about actions you can take: https://gendercriticalcomingoutday.org/
James Roberts is a freelance consultant in the NfP/charity sector. He has previously project managed a regional Pride Festival, been Chair of Trustees for LGBT Consortium, advised and supported LGB Alliance on development projects, and created the gay speed dating event 28GaysLater.
James tweets at @HumanGayMale (https://twitter.com/HumanGayMale)