Why Coming Out Could Save Your Life

As 2014 enters it’s closing months it’s proven to be a year of progress for gay sports men and women. The issue will sadly continue to be a taboo subject but progress is definitely the right way of putting it.

Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorpe spoke publicly for the first time about his long-hidden sexuality and how his denial was sparked by fear of a backlash from the Australian public. This is an issue affecting men and women across the world on a daily basis and I can only echo what has been said countless times before – why? I’ve known people in my life tormented by the same problem and I take my hat off to Thorpe. It’s no picnic hiding your true self, gay or otherwise. The prejudice of sexuality in sport has raised its ugly head on several occasions in recent years. In professional soccer alone FIFA estimates there are over 265 million male and female players and yet only a small handful is openly gay. This statistic serves to remind us of how society’s outdated attitudes are forcing good people to live ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ heterosexual lives. But what is ‘normal’ anymore? What is ‘acceptable’? Our perceptions have to change.

Marcus, an old school friend of mine came out two years ago at the age of 26. These past two years have been without question the best of his life. His new found happiness however was only achieved after many years of denial and painful self-discovery. Marcus is from a strong catholic background, not all Catholics are homophobic but there are obviously certain anti-gay teachings that many adhere to. We became firm friends at the age of 15 but I had suspected he was gay the moment I clapped eyes on him 3 years earlier. Marcus was the type who would joke around innocently fondling girls but always getting away with it because they assumed he was gay. I didn’t dare share my thoughts with anyone else, the potential social consequences at high school were regrettable and it simply wasn’t my place to say. As we got to know each other we began having many deep and meaningful conversations. We talked endlessly about life, girls, football, our studies, typical teenage boy stuff. I had always expected him to privately tell me he was gay but that long-awaited conversation never came to fruition. What he did tell me however shocked me to my very core. He told me that he had tried to take his life on three separate occasions. I was in shock, we all go through difficult times in our adolescent lives but I never imagined his problems had reached such a drastic point. The biggest problem Marcus explained was his frustration at not being able to pinpoint why he felt the way he did. I had my suspicions that it was either depression or issues with his sexuality. Maybe he couldn’t accept it or maybe he just didn’t realize it? At the time I hadn’t wanted to say in case I only made the situation worse. I could never imagine how scary it would be at that age to suddenly realize you weren’t what was expected of you.

Soon we would leave school and start university together. If there was ever a time to come out I always believed this was it. Gone were the constraints of school life, the judgment, the masks we all wore to survive. I myself had even rebelled a little, gone was the quiet 17 year old replaced by a long-haired and pierced Led Zeppelin enthusiast. Marcus however remained the same awkward teenager who every day was looking more and more uncomfortable in his own skin. I sympathized, I really did but how can you tell someone they are gay without being certain they even know them self? I decided it was vital he made this discovery without my influence. We would go out a lot in those days, enjoying the new found freedoms of student life in abundance. Naturally we met a lot of girls, Marcus got his fair share of attention but he would never ever reciprocate. I’d noticed on a number of occasions he actually looked rather upset when a girl would approach him, it was like he desperately wanted to be interested but something was holding him back.

At the end of first year we lost touch. We drifted into different crowds and Marcus soon left the country to work abroad for a year. I would think about him all the time, for so long I just wanted him to be honest and know that there was at least one person who would support and accept him no matter what. I often wondered if going abroad was really for career purposes as he’d said or if it was just a much needed escape from reality. Then in the summer of 2012, as I arrived at my front door after a day’s work I saw Marcus standing there waiting. He looked exactly the same and yet somehow completely different. It was the first time I’d seen him for around five years and the first time I’d seen him smile since we were about fifteen. We spoke for hours.

Marcus was now a happy and proud, gay man. He told me of how his year abroad had been the worst of his life; he had tried to take his life for a fourth time. He hadn’t wanted to die, he simply couldn’t stand to feel the way he did anymore. He had finally been backed into a corner and realized it was time to make a change, his life quite simply depended on it. Marcus explained that his sexuality had crossed his mind many times over the years but that he could never make sense of his feelings as he had no desire to be with either a man or a woman. As it turned out not being interested in women was just the beginning to a lengthy process of realizing he was interested in men. In tackling his problems Marcus first spoke to the one member of his family that he felt would have the most positive reaction and things gradually progressed from there. His family were devout Catholics but monsters they were not. They supported him in every way imaginable and wished only that he had come to them sooner. It just goes to show that people might just surprise you with their reactions. I sincerely hope other families out there can show the same understanding that Marcus’ did.

It’s always easier said than done, but people have asked me what they should do in these situations and I always say the same thing – do everything in your power to accept yourself. Be comfortable with who you are, maybe this will put those around you at ease as well and if anyone has a problem with it then they’re probably not worth having in your life. Being gay is not a crime. Try to seek inspiration from those in the public eye and try to relate to the immense scrutiny they have faced, people who have achieved great things irrespective of race, background and most definitely of sexuality. Soccer players Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzelsperger, Basketball player Jason Collins, NFL star Michael Sam and now Olympic legend Ian Thorpe, these are the modern day suffragettes of the gay community. If you find yourself in the same situation as my good friend Marcus then look up to these people if they can do it there’s no reason why you can’t, so long as you want to. Marcus’ journey was so very nearly a tragic one but coming out freed him from what he called a ‘straightjacket of heterosexuality’. It quite literally saved his life.

Don’t let your journey be tragic.

The First Date Effect

I often describe a first date as a combination of a job interview, riding a rollarcoaster and a trip to the dentist. After all, sometimes it’s successful, sometimes it’s thrilling and sometimes it’s just downright painful. As I continue to analyse the process of dating I can’t help but think back to my younger self and how I used to handle meeting people for the first time. It can be daunting even now at the age of 27 so how on earth did the 18 year old me get by?

My process was always the same. Fifteen outfit changes, countless hair styles, shots of vodka and desperate attempts to memorise the conversation topics written on my hand (remember to rub these off!) By the time I’d left the house I was a tipsy, over-dressed, walking hair spray factory. Sometimes the stress of it all would even lead to tantrums, swearing and door slamming, when I was getting ready it was safe to say no one dared get in my way. My mother would also say she knew when I was going on a date because she could hear me jumping up and down, to this day I still don’t recall, but apparently when I get excited I do this subconscious jumping on the spot thing, similar to a boxer about to start a fight, we all have our quirks I guess. I always find it incredible how such a simple thing like meeting a nice girl for a quiet drink can turn us into such vain and irritable monsters, or is that just me? There was also my emo phase, a time when I refused to leave the house without wearing eye liner and black nail varnish but I’ll save that story for another day.

One of my worst habits on dates was not listening, not because I wasn’t interested but because I was too busy thinking about what I was going to say next. I was terrible for over-thinking. That’s something I’ve learned as I’ve got older, dont over complicate things just enjoy the company of a stranger, regardless of attraction or a potential future just make the most of the moment. One of my more awkward first dates was inadvertently a blind one. I’d been at the house-warming party of a friend and apparently had asked her roommate out on a date. It was only the next day however that I made this discovery when my friend had asked where I was taking her. I thought it was a wind-up at first, I had no recollection of her roommate at all and alcohol usually didn’t affect me in such a way. Sure enough though a couple of days later I was on my way to meet ‘Cat’. When I saw her I had to seriously question what I had been drinking at the party, not in a nasty way, she just wasn’t anything like what I’d usually go for. When I asked her what she’d like to do she said the cinema. This is always a major no-no for me, the cinema in my opinion defeats the purpose of a first date but ever the gentleman I agreed and off we went. She wanted to see the latest ‘Narnia’ movie, we managed to get tickets but the cinema had very limited seating. As we walked in, the movie had already started and we couldn’t see spare seats anywhere so I had to do that embarassing thing where you get a member of staff to come and guide you with a torch making you look like a pair of hikers lost in the woods. As it happens there was no two seats together, I laughed but Cat said “this will do.” So not only am I sat in a dark movie theatre with zero opportunity to actually get to know this girl, there I was, sat in the row behind her! To add to my misery an old school friend was sitting directly behind me and said hello, I tried to explain that I was on a date but the only people sitting next to me were an old man and a spotty teenager who resembled Superbad’s ‘McLovin’, great start to the night. I have to be honest I was a little tempted just to leave, it was the most ridiculous dating situation I’d ever found myself in, you could hardly even call it a date at this point. The movie ended and we finally went to the pub, as we chatted I realised I had absolutely nothing in common with this girl. I couldn’t quite believe I’d just sat through that movie for her and in the process made my future high school reunion that little bit more awkward. As I said goodbye she leaned in for a kiss, I had to laugh it had been the most awful of nights how could she possibly think a kiss was on the cards? But as I had given up on life by this point, I duly obliged.

I guess that’s a similar position many of us have found ourselves in, perhaps not the finer details but the whole process of getting ready, being excited and generally just looking forward to the night and then it turns out to be option 3, a trip to the dentist. But for every Narnia date there are also the spectacular ones, the dates that remind us of why the tantrums, door slamming and endless outfit changes are completely worthwhile. One of my best ever dates ended with a 3am slow dance to a busker in an empty Glasgow street, it was like a scene from a movie (not Narnia). That’s what I believe to be the beauty of dating though, when you step through your front door you have absolutely no clue as to what the night has in store for you, whether it’s a movie sat in separate rows or slow-dancing to one of your favourite songs.

So to anyone soon to be embarking on a dreaded first date, don’t be disheartened if it’s not what you hoped for. One day you’ll laugh about it and perhaps you’ll even write about it. Whatever happens though, I truly believe that your 3am  slow dance is just around the corner, never lose faith.

Happy Dating

PTB

No One Deserves To Be Raped – For The Women of Brazil

I’d like to take a quick moment to lend my voice to a moving campaign currently making waves in Brazil. Spearheaded by journalist Nana Quieroz, women are protesting the notion that they are ‘asking’ to be raped by wearing provocative clothing.

In Brazil a woman is raped every 12 seconds, reports Bella Naija. A truly shocking statistic, why is this allowed to happen? Rape is unacceptable in any circumstance, to suggest someone deserves such treatment because of their clothing is both naive and shameful. Does wearing provocative clothing make someone a bad person? Perhaps these people wear woolly jumpers on the beach? A country ridden with poverty and gang violence and people want to target innocent women? Senseless.

Women should not be punished for confidence.

PTB

Has Dating Become Pointless?

I was reading an article in the Huffington Post by relationship expert Susan Winter who claims that dating has become ‘tedious, unnatural and unnecessary.’ So I had to ask myself, do I agree?

Winter who rarely dates, decided to prove to friends and family that she could date if she wanted to and as a result agreed to meet every man who asked her out resulting in an impressive 98 dates in 9 months. Her quest to find love however was unsuccessful, but is this down to the quality of her suitors or the attitude of Winter herself? “Men parade their toys while women serve as the cows, pigs and horses parading for our blue ribbon of acceptance” she proclaims. It saddens me however, that a ‘Relationship Expert’ could be quite so cynical. Dating I admit can be tiring at times, but I firmly believe that your success rate is dependant on not just your approach method but your attitude as well. From reading Winter’s views on dating I probably could’ve told you that every one of her dates would prove unsuccessful before she’d even left the house! If you’ve been on 97 dates which you’ve already deemed failures, did date number 98 ever really have a chance?

I find myself mightily defensive of dating because personally I find it to be a fascinating and at times hilarious social experiment. The awkwardness, the nerves, the sweaty palms, back in the day I revelled in it, it was all part of the fun. I was once asked out by a girl completely out of my league and her being so attractive I found myself under even more pressure than usual to impress. We went to our local pub where two comedians were hosting a kind of ‘games night’, it seemed like the perfect icebreaker.

“Everyone stand up” they said, “If we call your number you must sit down and if you are left standing at the end you’ll be asked to take part in the finale of tonight’s show.” Myself and fourteen others were left standing and split into three groups of five. The first five were sent into the audience to retrieve as many items of red clothing as they could find. I began to panic, a stick-thin, body conscious teenager on a date with this stunning girl, I just so happened to be wearing a red t-shirt. The five contestants had just about got to the end of their game when one of the hosts grabbed the microphone and shouted “there’s a guy in the front row with a red t-shirt on!” Before I knew it they were hurtling towards me to quite literally rip the shirt from my back.

There I was sat in the front row with no top on casually wrapping my skinny arms around my even skinnier teenage frame. To my horror my humiliation didn’t end there, all the items taken from the audience were left lying in the middle of the stage for the owners to come up and collect and so I had to make my way up there. What was even more humiliating was that after everyone had left I couldn’t actually find my t-shirt. There I was wandering the stage, confused and alone, asking if anyone had seen it. I could see my date sitting in her seat looking absolutely mortified, as easy-going as I am I literally just wanted to curl up in a ball. As it turned out, my t-shirt had already been chucked next to our seats about ten minutes before I got up on stage, topless, I just hadn’t noticed. The only thing worse than humiliation is unneccesary humiliation!

All of this had happened and it wasn’t even my turn to take part in a game yet! Before I knew it I was back up on stage (thankfully fully clothed) this time stuffing my face in a cracker eating competition. This was anything but pretty, five of us stood in a line with tiny pieces of cracker spewing from the corners of our mouths. Strangely the competition was won by a young guy named Sean Connery! Genuinely!

Much to my surprise, that night ended with a kiss. We had one more date to a David Gray concert but as good as he was it was so mellow it killed the relationship before it’d even begun. Although we never saw one another again, that first date albeit horrendous in many ways, was one of the funniest nights of my life. Dates are memories, life experiences that we can learn from and on the off chance that it does go well, you might just find what you’ve been looking for all along.

So to Susan Winter, I say no, dating isn’t pointless. What’s pointless is going on 98 dates with anyone who asks just to prove a point. Nonetheless, I hope you find what you’re looking for.

Happy Dating

PTB

Why do dog owners always say hello?

I was walking my dog the other day, a 10 year old cocker spaniel who seems to get more energetic and charming with old age. As I strolled along my usual route at the local park I saw a man in his late 40’s up ahead walking a very excitable German Shepherd. I’m a bit of a thinker when I’m walking, either a song in my head or wondering what to have for dinner that night. This guy however marched ahead of his dog like it was an ex-wife after the rest of his money. As he got closer we first looked at each other’s dog and only then did we make eye contact and give a casual “hello.” We both continued in opposite directions and back to leading our separate lives but for that split second when we made eye contact we were like brothers. I’m exaggerating of course but that simple exchange of pleasantries really made me laugh. That look we gave each other’s dog at the start that was our confirmation, confirmation that we are both dog owners, loud and proud.

Dog owners it seems have this unspoken bond, our dogs give us a reason to converse, even if the other person is your very worst nightmare of a human being, in that moment, on that twenty minute walk, we are all equal. It’s a funny but wonderfully simple concept but I must remember to tone down my new found enthusiasm for fellow dog owners, yesterday i was saying hello to just about everyone who passed by. At one point I was forgetting to check if they were even with dogs (that’s the unspoken rule you see), my neighbours must be thinking that guy is far too happy about walking his dog.

It got me thinking as well, can you imagine if everyone driving a car started waving at each other and saying hello because they are all fellow drivers and are bonded by car ownership? Is one man’s Honda Civic another man’s cocker spaniel? Whatever the reason for saying hello I think it’s a beautiful thing sparked by a love of our wonderful canine friends. And remember if you do see a young bearded man walking an old chocolate coloured cocker spaniel just say hello, neither of us bite.

PTB

 

 

Choosing Between Two Loves?

This is a subject that I know has affected many people, both men and women. A close friend once asked me the question, it tormented me for hours on end and it wasn’t even my problem. I suppose the biggest issue for anyone in this situation is fear – fear of regret, fear of choosing the wrong person, fear of making the biggest mistake of your life. Late last year the issue was brought to my attention once again by a work colleague and in my desperate attempts to answer I scoured the internet for advice and surprisingly I found the answer. It didn’t come from Jeremy Kyle or Oprah or a magazine agony aunt it was a quote from none other than Johnny Depp himself. It was so simple, and now if anyone ever asks me how to choose between two people I’ll always give the same answer.

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PTB

Elaine: Beautiful, Intelligent, Stalker.

After your first love you find yourself a bit lost on the relationship front, do I want to meet someone else? Do I just want to have fun? Whatever label this encounter had, Elaine was a mistake. We’d exchanged numbers on a night out, we’d actually hardly spoke when we met but there she was day after day her name popping up on my phone. If I was honest I struggled to remember what she looked like but hesitantly I agreed to meet up. We went to the cinema to see ‘Big Momma’s House 2’ as you can tell I was very cultured in my teens. Halfway through the movie she leaned in and said “I made this for you” it was a CD of her favourite songs, a nice gesture on your two year anniversary but not on a first date and certainly not worth interrupting Big Momma’s House for. Despite a somewhat scary first date for some unexplained reason I continued seeing her, regardless of the early alarm bells.

Elaine had told me she was 19 studying childcare at college, the day after our date she called me in floods of tears, “I’ve done something awful and the guilt has kept me awake all night” at this point I really didn’t care what she’d done, I was still regretting answering the phone. “I’m 17 and I’m still at school” a long pause ensued, I still didn’t care. I was only 19 myself at the time so the age difference didn’t bother me. We saw each other another couple of times, nothing special, Pizza Hut and Brokeback Mountain but still the phone calls continued and now they were to my Mum’s house, it had started to get really out of hand. I didn’t help myself by going to her parents for dinner of course where my teen self couldn’t contain my laughter as  I watched her whole family devour the most impeccably penis shaped meal I’ve ever laid eyes on (beef olives). I messaged Elaine soon after and suggested we cool things, we’d actually only seen each other 3 or 4 times but it was long overdue. She called the house straight away of course. I explained how I was feeling, she was silent until eventually snapping and asking me turn my music off, ‘Swing Swing’ by the All-American Rejects hardly romantic, “it just reminds me of us” she said, what!?!?! This was a girl I’d went to the cinema and Pizza Hut with a couple times, I was unaware we had a song. She wouldn’t accept that I was ending things and so I took the coward’s way out’ “I’m moving to Australia” I said, “to work on an Eco-farm” at the time I didn’t even know what this was nor where the idea had come from. Again a long silence………”I’ll wait for you” she said and so that was the end of Elaine.

Obviously I wasn’t going to Australia but I was half expecting a Friends style send off at the airport similar to when Chandler went to Yemen to escape Janice, it seems funny now looking back but at the time this fear was my reality. The last time I saw Elaine was a few months later when I obviously wasn’t in Australia as she had thought, the shock on her face prevented her from either embracing me or biting my head off and we continued walking in opposite directions.

In spite of Elaine’s faults I did however learn a very important lesson. All jokes aside I think if you meet a girl who is so intense so early on its best to stay clear unless you really are genuinely interested in being with them, not because I think they’re crazy but because they are obviously quite vulnerable and will inevitably get hurt, unnecessarily. At the time I was very nonchalant and just thought why not just see what happens but if truth be told I actually felt sorry for Elaine, she was clearly very insecure and I guess just desperate to be loved, wherever she is now I hope she’s happy and with someone who appreciates her, even if he is living in fear. Just kidding.

Finally, if your mental age is below 25 avoid beef olives at all costs and if you say you’re going to move to Australia make sure you do actually go to Australia, even if just to save the other person the plane fare from when they decide to surprise you at an imaginary Eco-farm in the middle of the Australian outback.

PTB