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The story of tm74
By Tom (tm74)

My name is Tom, and I only came to accept my sexuality in my mid-30’s. In fact, "accept" really isn’t the right word, as this is still something I’m working to come to terms with, but this is the story-so-far...

My parents are very religious people, and throughout my childhood and teens it was expected that I would attend church, and Sunday School, and mid-week youth groups, and the like. The church we attended did not have a full time pastor or vicar or whatever, but there was a team of elders who were responsible for running the Church, and teaching during the services. My father was one of those elders who oversaw the church, and from time to time preached at services.

Sex was not something that was discussed, and neither was sexuality, beyond the traditional view that I was expected to find a nice Christian girl, get engaged, get married, have sex and produce a family. In that order.

Although I don’t really remember any specific teaching on the subject, the idea that guys could fall in love with other guys, and have meaningful relationships wasn’t accepted. In fact, anything other than the perfect ideal family was wrong. I didn’t know any different, this is how I was brought up.

From my teens onwards, I had a feeling I was somehow different. I knew that pictures of shirtless guys in magazines, on posters, and on TV and in movies were more “interesting” to me than pictures of women in various stages of undress. I never saw the attraction of Page 3 (for those not in the UK, one of the major tabloid newspapers has a tradition of having a full-page photo of a topless woman on the 3rd page) – however I always put this down to my religious upbringing being "better than that". I never really considered that maybe there was another reason. when the other guys in my class were passing round that days picture at the bus stop before school.

However, I knew somehow that I probably shouldn’t talk about, or generally make others aware of my liking to see pictures (or indeed, real) shirtless guys, I didn’t know why, I didn’t really understand, I just knew to hide it.

That’s how things continued, pretty much until I got to University. I joined the Christian Union. I started the search for "someone" to get engaged to, marry, have sex with, and start a family with.

I almost failed.

I didn’t really understand other guys talking about "hot women" or "cute girls" – and at this point, I didn’t even know that there were guys out there who liked other guys. My education in the real-world issues just didn’t include any of this.

All around me my peers in the Christian Union were pairing up, and I just had no idea why I couldn’t. Looking back, I suppose I just didn’t find anyone attractive. I’d long since learned to suppress any attraction for guys, to the point where it became natural to suppress it. However, what I couldn’t surpress was my lack of feelings of attraction towards women.

Eventually, a relationship came along, but it was based on friendship, not physical attraction. I had no real desire to move the relationship forward. I was comfortable. Yes, there was some sexual behaviour, and some of it was fun, I’m not going to deny that. I had no desire to develop the relationship into getting married. That lasted a few years, but she clearly wanted more than I was willing to be, and that was that.

The breakup of that relationship was one of the factors that pushed me away from the Church and religion, I went through a period of depression and anxiety so severe that my doctor put my on anti-anxiety medication. The main reason I left the Church was their failure to cope with someone who was clinically depressed. They couldn't handle someone who found that their religous beliefs did not bring them all the comfort they needed in the bad times.

I still hadn’t considered I was anything other than straight.
Anyway, it’s now 2001, and I start developing a close friendship with a guy at work, who I’ll refer to as "J". We just seem to connect on a level that I really don’t understand, outside of work, we’re always texting and chatting on Messenger etc.

He knows about my religious history, and he tells me about his involvement with his local church, and tries to persuade me back. A little while after than, on MSN, he tells me he’s gay.

My world falls apart. I had no idea he wasn't straight. I don’t know how to deal with this. I was brought up to believe that being anything other than the traditional straight image is incompatible with being Christian. The only idea I can come up with is to talk to J about it.

He later told me that my reaction to his coming out was the first time anyone had been anything other than "oh, OK". I was his nightmare coming out. However, over the next few months, he shows me how much I’ve misunderstood about the Christian teachings I’ve been brought up with are distorted about many things – not just homosexualty. I still have the emails that went back and forth between us. Sometimes I read them back and cry over what an idiot I was, and realise how much slack he's cut me over the years as I've struggled to understand him, and as you'll see, me.

He helped me understand that homosexuality is not a choice, God created each and every one of us, gay, straight, white, black, and that God loves each and every one of his creations. The teachings that God loves everyone, whoever they are and however they’ve sinned contradict what I believed that anything other than "straight" was totally unacceptable to God.

I have never returned to Church. However, the distorted version I was brought up with has shaped me, and the way I interact with other people. I’d always “accepted” other gays in my mind as being, well, not Christians – which resolved the problem in my mind.
It took me a long time to accept J for who he was. Since then we've just kind of drifted apart.

Yes, I was an idiot back then. I’d still never connected what "gay" was with how I perceived myself.

Fast forward to 2008. J is now in a steady long-term relationship. I’ve now been single for over 8 years. I still haven’t really considered that being gay might be the reason I’ve been struggling – although at this point I’ve started thinking about things with the pretext "what if I am gay? – how would things be different."

For some reason (they’ve never said, I’ve never asked) J starts to try and re-develop a friendship with me. J and I still work for the same company, so our paths still cross from time to time. By this time, I’ve met his partner a couple of times. Totally out-of-the-blue, J reacts to one of my “miserable and stressed” Facebook status updates by having me spend a weekend in their company – Saturday afternoon through to Sunday afternoon.

We spend the evening getting to know each other again, which includes me really talking to M for the first time beyond "Hi". Somehow the conversation gets onto the subject of being gay, and how he figured himself out, and I realise that some of the things he’s saying ring true with me, not "getting" how his peers would comment on a woman’s body, not finding Page 3 in any way exciting. Over the next few months, as the friendship develops I use the opportunity to sound them out on various topics, we talk a lot about our upbringings, our past relationships and the gay community and how the media stereotypes are exactly that - extreme stereotypes. Not every gay man wears rainbow coloured tank-tops or talks like Jack from Will & Grace. Most are just normal, everyday people.

Of course, I say nothing at this time about my doubts over my own sexuality, but that evening was the real trigger to start my journey. Over the following few months I explore "so, am I gay?" – I read a ton of stuff online, I realise that all I’m really doing is unlocking the part of me that I suppressed so deeply as a teenager. I also realise through that research that it’s not as simple as "gay" or "straight" – which helps me accept that although I managed to have a relationship with a woman in the past, I’d much prefer a relationship with guys.

One part of this research involves "trying" gay porn. What a revelation that turned out to be. It was like a switch was thrown in my head.

I reach the realisation that being gay explains so much, but I’m not sure, but I’ve no idea how to continue this journey. I decide that I need someone I can talk to, who will respect my privacy and not gossip about things behind my back. The only people I can even consider talking to are J & M – although I do have other gay friends, they’re the only ones I’m comfortable talking to on such a deep level.

One evening, I invite them round for dinner (as we’ve taken to doing every few weeks) and I decide to tell them. We get the food out of the way, and given how I’d taken J coming out to me several years previously, I was horribly nervous about this – I know I’d been awful to him at the time. They have by now sensed that there’s something on my mind, and I finally, far too late in the evening really, manage to utter the words “I think I’m not straight”. Yes. “Not Straight” – I couldn’t even bring myself to say “gay”. By now I’m in tears.

We couldn’t chat for long then, we all had work the following day and it was already late, but I made it clear that I’d been struggling for some time, that I was very confused over it all, and that I’d taken a lot of time and soul-searching to reach this point. From the first moments, they were totally supportive of me, but I know that they had a very shocked conversation on their way home that evening... when they got home, I got an SMS message from them which simply read - "we're here for you, if you need us we're less than an hour away, anytime".

I was in tears again. Not tears of sadness though, tears of relief.

Over the following couple of months, they helped a lot, we’ve had some very frank and open conversations on various subjects, and just having their acceptance helped me a lot. I still struggle at times, I still question who I am sometimes, but then there'll be an experience, or a moment of clarity when things just click into place, and for a few minutes or hours, I can be totally sure of myself. These times are usually in the company of other gay people, when I don't have to hide who I am.

Unfortunately, I leaned on them a little too much, and got a bit too dependent on them – and my mood swings and the anxiety I was putting myself through while I figured out who I am put a lot of strain on the friendship. My friendship with J has had rough times before, but it always hurts when the friendship is less close.

However, this situation has had a positive side, it’s forced me to come out to a few more people, just so I’ve got someone to talk to! So far, everyone who I’ve told has been totally OK with it – but I’ve been careful to pick people who are likely to be – i.e. those of my friends who are gay themselves, or I know have other gay friends., but the number of people who know about me is steadily climbing, and now includes all of my closest friends.

I’m now pretty much sure of who I really am. This was brought home to me on a short vacation to the USA with a couple of my friends (whom I am, as yet, not out to) One evening, we ended up in a “Hooters” restaurant. The others wanted to go, I just played along - but let them debate the merits of the waitressing staff. I didn't find any of them attractive in the slightest. I was considering coming out to them towards the end of the trip - but one of them made a few slightly negative comments about gay people in his office, and I decided I didn't want to risk the friendship over it just yet.

My biggest fear now is that my parents will find out. I’m very careful over what I let those people who know my parents, or my sister find out. Facebook is in some ways, my biggest enemy. It’ll only take one slip-up by someone who knows to get word back to my sister, and my parents. I’ve become something of an expert on the privacy setup of Facebook, and grouping people to give them different views of my life.

Whether I’ll ever reach the point where I can tell my religious parents, I don’t know.
I've a long way to go here, I've a lot still to learn about myself, and allow myself to "unhide" everything I've buried inside. I'm expecting some times to be easier than others, and some "outings" to be easier than others too.

Finally a word about my experiences on EC.

I’ve found the sense of acceptance and community on this website so valuable on my journey – this is a place where age really doesn’t seem to matter. I certainly find that this is a place where everyone can be themselves, this is a place where I can completely be me, whether I’m happy or sad, whether I want to be serious, or talk about the rubbish music on my iPod, the sense of community here is incredible. Plus this is a place where there is no such thing as a stupid question. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Sometimes I go through days where I'm questioning myself, "am I really gay?", and there’s always someone willing to give a  or send a reassuring message or being willing to talk. The community here has been a part of my journey, and I hope that in the future I can be there to help others in theirs.

My journey is by no means over. It never will be.

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