01 Feb 2021
I’m not sure where to begin when it comes to telling my ‘coming out’ story. Some may wonder why I should even have to tell it, but it felt important for me to do so especially with it being LGBTQ+ history month. Growing up, nobody I knew was anything other than straight, or if I they were, they certainly kept it a good secret (which is kind of my point). Anyway, here goes…
A bit about me: I’m now 28, born and bred in Coventry. My parents divorced when I was 11 so I spent most of my childhood growing up between two households with my little sister in tow. Things didn’t always go to plan, and at the age of 14, I ended up living with my dad and my sister with my mum. Looking back, I think part of that decision was motivated by the fact I felt more at home with my dad – he didn’t ask too many questions and I could kind of get on with things my way.
I had always been a tomboy growing up – playing football, refusing to do or wear anything girly whatsoever – and I went wherever my dad went. This meant spending a lot of time in the pub playing pool and being one of the lads, just how I liked it and where I felt comfortable. When I was younger, I didn’t really give much thought beyond that. I was a tomboy and proud.
It wasn’t until the age of 13 that I started to see more of the world, understanding and realising that I wasn’t just a tomboy, that in fact I wasn’t straight either. I couldn’t get my head round it, and while I knew deep down, I wasn’t comfortable with myself. How can you be OK telling others if you can’t accept it? I felt very alone and like I was living another life, desperately doing what I could to fit in with others at school. Thankfully for me, my best friend came out as gay, so this in some weird way gave me permission to do the same.
The battle with myself and accepting who I was continued for the rest of my school years, where only a handful of close friends knew what I was going through. My parents still didn’t know. The only place I felt I could be myself was on MySpace pages that I kept separate from other accounts so people wouldn’t find out. I carried on getting accused of being a ‘dyke’ from people at school because in their eyes, I was just a tomboy who couldn’t get a boyfriend. I didn’t fit in.
It was only at university where I could create a new identity for myself. No one knew me, so what did I have to lose? I still didn’t tell everyone, only if they asked, and when they did, it was actually a relief. I found sanctuary in the women’s football team, surrounded by some of the first gay people I had met that were my own age.
I’d love to tell you that I continued to flourish from there. However, when I entered the world of work, I suppressed it once again. I told select colleagues, letting them tell everyone else that I was gay, eventually stopping the whispering. My boss at the time even pulled me into an office asking, “Is there anything I need to know?” I responded by asking him what he wanted to know. He asked if I was with anybody, to which I told him I was in a same sex relationship. The closing remark was him asking “What are the next steps?” You can see how this didn’t fill me with hope that I could one day be myself and stop exhausting myself living two lives.
Finding acceptance in housing
It was only when I came into housing things began to change. I was lucky enough to meet someone who cared – a previous manager that has continued to be a great support ever since. She always asked how my girlfriend was – a small thing, but it put me completely at ease. Since then I haven’t been scared to tell anyone, not really. I do however, depending on the situation still say ‘partner’ to begin with, testing the waters before I tell them her name is Lauran. I’m a lot more comfortable now, knowing if someone doesn’t like it, then that’s their issue.
Whenever I do feel that slight pang of judgement, it feels as though you’re coming out, over and over again to nearly everyone that you meet. Imagine having to feel like you have to do that?
An inspiring sector
12 months ago, I would never have done this – share publicly how I feel and my experiences. However, the last year has been a bit of an awakening for me, bolstered after being the victim of a homophobic attack. I was so angry that I tweeted about it, and I was overwhelmed by the love and support of people from right across the sector. Other LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, supporting me from nowhere. It meant the world.
Housing is full of inspiring role models. Whether they know it or not. I have no idea where I would be without them and their support. They’re not doing anything other than being themselves. Something, I have experienced first-hand as a LGBTQ+ person, that is one of the hardest battles to win.
LGBTQ+ history month is all about recognising these battles, standing on the shoulders of those that have come out before us, carrying on their fight for equality. The more people who can share their experiences the better it will become.
I found my home in housing, let’s all make sure others can do the same.
Rebecca Clarke is head of membership at the Chartered Institute of Housing.