There are a record number of people in the UK who identify as LGBTQ+. It’s wonderful that more people feel a sense of freedom and are able come out and live however they want. But some of the new members in the community are navigating their sexuality later in life. Five queer people share their experiences of coming out, navigating queer spaces and self acceptance when you’re a little older.
Veronica, 45, Birmingham
I knew I was bisexual in my teens but I think that because of culture and society I didn’t come out earlier. It was hard to be queer in the 80s, I had black lesbian friends that were under attack which frightened me a bit. I wish I had been bold enough to come out then but society definitely wasn’t as tolerant and accepting as it is now, it was a completely different time. My generation was expected to lead a heteronormative life. Although I had sexual experiences with women throughout my teens, (sometimes under the influence of drugs and alcohol) I only had relationships with men. I just wasn’t ready to be open and honest about my identity.
Last year my family and I went through a life changing event, which led me to finally come out. I’m constantly telling people to be their authentic selves so I thought it was probably time for me to take my own advice. They do say that 40 is the new 20! My parents and partner weren’t as shocked as I thought they would be, my partner told me he had already picked up on it and my son asked if I was going through a phase. Which is a fair question because I’m always reinventing myself.
Coming out hasn’t impacted my life negatively. I think it’s because I’m older, there’s nothing anyone can say. It’s my life and I can live it however I want. I’ve found a sense of freedom that I didn’t have in my teens, my 20s or even in my 30s. Reaching 45 made me question everything. I had to ask myself if I wanted to live freely and be happy or put on a mask and do what society wanted.
I think LGBTQ+ organisations want to create a space where it’s safe for people to come out, but mainstream society call that a gay agenda. I also think that in the black community, black women are blamed for the destruction of the black family. Black women have to navigate not only through white supremacy patriarchy but also mysognoir. That’s a lot to carry, it’s a burden, but it’s not mine. If black feminists, lesbians, trans and non-binary people are the destruction of the black family, then let’s keep disrupting it. In reality it’s the black man that is causing the destruction, in his quest to be on the same playing field as a mediocre white man.
It would be great if LGBTQ+ organisations led by people of colour focused on culture as well as the queer identity. Can we bring some of our culture without it being hotep? Coming out is not just about your sexuality its about your entire being. Sexuality does not define us.
I feel like part of the LGBTQ+ community when I’m around my siblings. I think that particularly because of where I live, I don’t find the community in Birmingham to be my scene.
When I go to events I’m very open about my age. Being around a lot of 30 somethings is a bit weird because they could be my children. It would be great if there was a part of the community for older people but it didn’t focus on our age. You have a shelf life when you’re queer, you have to be in a relationship or an old lady with cats. If older people were more involved in the events then maybe we would feel more confident to attend them.
Calvin, 39, London
I remember coming out as bisexual to two of my childhood friends when I was around 26. I thought their responses were quite odd, they didn’t say anything offensive or supportive. Since then, I haven’t officially come out to anyone else, my family might know I’m bisexual but it hasn’t been discussed openly.
I wish I had more queer experiences when I was younger, I feel like I would’ve found like minded people, which I feel would have allowed me to feel more free. I didn’t have my first sexual experience with another man until I was in my mid thirties. I was curious for a long time and it was an opportunity to finally explore who I was.
I grew up in care, in an area where toxic masculinity and discrimination was and is still a thing. If I was open about dating men I would be in danger. I’m trained in martial arts so I can stand up for myself if I need to. But I would feel responsible putting someone else’s life at risk. I’ve learnt to live in secrecy, which has lead me to a life of constant internal conflict.
I don’t feel like I’m part of the queer community. Bisexuals are marginalised within a marginalised community. The experience of anti-blackness is a lot already so being bisexual adds to the headache. Something that I’ve always found wild within the community is the biphobic views some lesbians have towards bisexual women and the views some bisexual women have towards bisexual men. I feel like there’s no unity.
More can definitely be done to support black people when they come out. I’d like to help with creating a space for that, but the barriers are crazy. If there is a space for black people to feel safe because of exclusion from non-black people there’s fake outrage, whilst completely ignoring why there is a need for the safe space in the first place but we stand up for ourselves, we’re made to look like the aggressors.
Sharan, 34, London
I was too scared to come out I think. I wasn’t sure what value it had at the time, either. Especially when it comes to bisexuality – there’s so many misconceptions and myths that you find you’re questioning yourself regularly about whether you are queer. But when I saw Stephanie Beatriz talk openly about her bisexuality – she reaffirmed a lot of my feelings.
When I did finally come out last year, I noticed a change in the way I freely spoke about sexual and romantic desires. I kind of wish I was able to be like that when I was younger – it has come hand in hand with a lot of mental health issues I suffer from now. Having an uncertainty on where I belong led to a lot of anxiety and depression.
I think talking about sexuality as a whole is a cultural anomaly for a lot of South Asians. So when I started talking about it, within the sphere of my magazine, there were a lot of people who embraced me, shared their stories and thanked me. That was also important for me – as a face of a South Asian magazine, I wanted to be able to live openly and show that there’s nothing wrong with that. So I feel more empowered, if anything, being an Indian bisexual!
Just before and after coming out, I would go to a lot of QTPOC nights in London and feel so immersed – I needed that. Since then, I barely go to those nights but that’s only because I realised I didn’t need to constantly reaffirm my sexuality to myself. The community makes me feel more welcomed when it is non-white and womxn and non-binary centred to be honest, but that’s mostly because there’s so much sexism and racism in the community (like there is anywhere). Spaces should be open to people who are discovering all aspects of sexuality, without having to ask them to box themselves within one identity.
Serena, 33, Birmingham
I came out as bisexual last year, it felt like the right time for me. As a mother and a church goer I was cautious about people’s perceptions of me and and their opinions. I love God, however, I dislike ‘holier than thou’ people. The church goers I have encountered have been the the most judgmental people in society. They say ‘God is love and love thy neighbour’ but only as long as the ‘neighbour’ does not embarrass, bring shame or impinge on their finances. They forget that the same neighbour is in need and/or broken. We all need healing and need of acceptance.
I have lost family members and friends, but I have met new people who are accepting of my sexuality. These friendships have made me feel accepted and in a place where I can feel secure. On this foundation, I can build to become a better person. I finally feel authentically ‘me’ and it has served me well in regards to romantic relationships. I’m no longer restricting myself to please others and I absolutely deserve to be able to do that!
Dee, 31, London
My relationship was kept a secret for 10 years. I always felt like I shouldn’t have had to come out, who I chose to sleep with didn’t define me, but we felt like we had to come out to be validated together as a couple. I never experienced an attraction to anybody that wasn’t a cisgender man when I was growing up. So when I started having feelings for my best friend at university, pop culture had taught me that what I was going through a “phase”. One day we set a goal that if we were still seeing each other on our 10 year anniversary then we would come out and that’s pretty much what we did.
It was harder than we thought it would be. We were best friends and that relationship just grew. The secret definitely wasn’t something that was planned at all or even on purpose, but to us it was useful. Her family are Punjabi and her culture is not LGBTQ friendly. I couldn’t really understand my feelings and neither could she so it remained a secret. How we coped, I just don’t know but we did and I’m so happy that we found a way.
I really didn’t understand how or what to define myself as until my late-twenties. As society has changed I feel like it has become easier for this generation to have clear ways to define themselves that people understand or at least terms that can be Googled. Although, everything you live through makes you who you are. I wouldn’t be who I am today. The secret added a certain “je ne sais quoi” to our relationship, which definitely wouldn’t be as strong as it is now. Coming out to my friends and family made me nervous, but when I did, they reacted completely differently to how I expected and they have all been as supportive as possible.
I identify as pansexual, my partner bisexual and we are in an open relationship; I felt that people judged us and our coming out journey within the community. I’m not the type of person who cares about who you are, I respect authenticity over everything and I have found support in places and with people who support me for being me even though they don’t particularly “get it”. Regardless of what’s happening in your life and what you are going through I feel society puts a pressure on people to define or label themselves, so that everyone else can know who you are and how to treat you.
Some names have been changed