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LGBTQ+ inclusion – Kevin’s story

This is a guest post written by one of our Sanctus Coaches, Kevin.

I’m from a traditional working class family, and grew up in a North West Kent suburb in the 80’s and 90’s. My mum was a hairdresser and my dad was a milkman. I was the milkman’s son in every sense of the word, at least that is how it felt! Don’t get me wrong, I have a loving family. But in those times, I didn’t feel safe in my own skin, even at home. 

I remember my grandad once asking me why I talk ‘like that’ (I had a softly spoken voice). He had served in WW2. He always had a story to tell. I looked up to him, everyone did. And when my nan died he took me under his wing. Looking back now, that day was a defining moment for me, it’s when I lost my true voice. 

As I approached my early teens, I was bullied at school for being ‘gay’. The irony is at the time I didn’t really understand what sexuality was, let alone if I was a ‘poof’. And during my teenage years, I blamed my dad for everything. I could see in him the bits of myself that I couldn’t be with. At home I was an angry teenager. To the outside world, I made myself small. It was safer that way.

I always felt a bit of an outsider, but didn’t really know why. I was the last to be picked for the football team, rejection is the worst feeling! And I had difficulty making friends as an introvert. So I ended up hanging out with the other ‘outsiders’. The one thing we had in common was our difference. And that we were not great at picking up girls. This became my cover story. If I just kept quiet, and kept myself out of trouble, I could stay unnoticed.

I remember at sixth form my media studies teacher once calling me out for being gay in front of the whole class. I just wanted to hide away, so I did nothing about it. Even then, I was still unsure about my sexuality. I was dating girls but at the time also had a secret crush on the ginger boy in the class. Had I reported it, I would have been admitting who I was, something I wasn’t prepared to accept for myself.

There was seemingly nobody I could turn to for support during those years. I was too ashamed to discuss it with my parents. Reporting it at school was never really an option. My friends were all straight guys. I had two younger brothers and no sisters, and my role in the family was to be the strong one. The one person I probably would have turned to, if she was still alive, was my nan. There was no one else. So I buried myself in my studies.

University was very different, everyone was much more open and accepting. I went to a very liberal university. They had an LGBT group, but I wanted nothing to do with it. To my friends and house mates I was straight. I stayed in a house with mainly girls during my second year, and I felt more comfortable in their company. But I still didn’t want to accept the possibility that I might like boys more than girls in a sexual way. There was something that was conditioned into me. 

I remember that summer going on a camping holiday with my family. I think I had a crush on a guy that was in the tent next to us. We hardly said a word to each other the whole time, but there was a connection. On one day of the holiday, I got into an argument with my brother and he told me that I’d been living around women for too long. I felt so much shame. It seemed that every time I got closer to who I was I would listen to someone else’s narrative, and it would shut me down.

My final year at university I lived in an all-male house, and you couldn’t get much more ‘alpha’ male. All northerners, all into football, women, and booze. Thinking back now, I wonder how much that decision was another way of me trying to reinvent myself, and an act of denial. 

I took on a part time job at Burger King whilst at uni. This was the first time I felt I belonged somewhere. There were two openly gay guys working there, but there was this other guy who would openly flirt with me, and I really fancied him. But nothing ever happened. I was still carrying this internal tension. He also had a girlfriend (this was to become a common theme).

After university I moved back home, and for the next 5 years I worked either for the family business, or in another business that had close ties with my family, both within construction. My career became my life, and any ideas that I had previously flirted with around my sexuality I buried deep inside. I could not bring myself to accept that I could be gay or even bisexual. And I ended up pursuing a successful career in construction consultancy (a male dominated industry).    

It was only as I was approaching my 30th birthday that I began to question my life, my way of being. I went on my first solo trip outside of Europe, to Thailand. For the first time in my life I allowed myself to follow my heart, to follow my own destiny, without fear of judgement, and without attachment. I fell for an Australian guy, my room buddy. He was a few years younger than me, but probably on a similar level in terms of sexual maturity. He ended up choosing another girl over me and they slept together on the final night of the holiday, and I was left heart broken.

It took me a few more years, a work relocation to London, and another male crush, before I finally accepted that I was gay, and within a few weeks of this, I came out to my family and closest allies. My biggest fear was losing my family, above all else. I was afraid that I would not be accepted for who I was. Living and working in London, and solo travel, opened up my eyes to a whole new world, where I could begin to accept myself.

Until very recently, I have never hung around in gay circles. I felt a huge sense of shame around my femininity, and whether that was a result of my upbringing or society in general, I never came into contact with anyone from the gay community in my day to day life, and I never went searching for it. My social conditioning, whether it was from my family and friends, school life, or work culture, didn’t really support it and were openly prejudiced against it. 

I could have chosen a very different path of course. I could have rebelled against the social narratives, I’m sure that I would have found my way at an earlier age had I looked hard enough, but I had neither the appetite or the strength or backing to do so. I found safety, dignity and belonging from my family and through my work. And I chose the life I was ‘supposed’ to live rather than the life I wanted to live.

I’m really grateful for everybody who has supported me on my coming out journey, most of all my family. The first person I told was my mum. It was on Christmas Day. It was around 6 am, at my brother’s house, and we were the only two people awake. It wasn’t planned, but just happened organically. I had installed Grindr on my phone a couple of months before and was worried that my brother might see it. When I sat next to her on the sofa and told her my news, tears started streaming down my face, and I was shaking. I remember her putting her arms around me and giving me the warmest hug. I cried my eyes out, 30+ years of pain and suffering released in a moment. 

My biggest regret is not doing it earlier. I wasn’t living a lie, I was lying to myself all these years. And everyone, friends, family, work colleagues, have been really supportive, and allowed me to be myself, and to live and be in acceptance of my truth. Of course, we are in a different time now. The LGBTQ rights movement has come a long way, and we live in a much more tolerant society than 20 or 30 years ago. But I defy anyone that says it’s easy. As a gay man I find myself ‘coming out’ every single day, every time I meet someone new.

There is still so much more work to be done, and so much damage to be repaired. This is what I love about my work. It is about challenging those underlying assumptions and limiting beliefs that have shaped us, reconnecting with our inner truth, and learning to love ourselves for who we are, our most authentic selves. This is where my passion lies now. Before we can be truly accepted by others, we first need to accept ourselves for who we are. Inclusivity starts from within.

Check out our Pride 2021 page here for more stories and other pieces of useful content.