How it feels to be the catalyst for another person’s coming out

By Samuel Leighton-Dore

Every major change in a person’s life requires a catalyst; be it an instigating factor, person, or event. For weight loss, it might be an online health seminar, illness or meeting a personal trainer. When changing careers, it could be the advice of a close friend or mentor.

However, on the subject of coming out, the catalyst usually arrives in the form of a partner or love interest. These are the unassuming victims of our community — those who throw their hearts so readily on the line in the name of freedom, equality, and love.

For me, it all began with Sean* — a doe-eyed TV commercial actor. We were 16 and as close to being “in love” as two borderline emo 16-year-olds can be. There was a problem, though. One small obstacle standing between us and our pubertal brand of happily ever after: his faux-religious and hyper-conservative parents. With a villainous mother and father assumedly plucked straight from the cast of Matilda, it was perhaps unsurprising that Sean remained (and possibly remains?) firmly in the figurative closet.

But never fear — Sam is here!

Whether it stemmed from the superhuman pull of his dimpled grin, or some fucked up saviour complex of mine, I was determined to help my so-called lover in whichever way I could. You see, my parents couldn’t have been more accepting of me being gay. My mother is an emotionally-erratic relationships counsellor, and my father a highly-sensitive would-be poet trapped in the dull motions of a government job. They practically screamed it from the rooftop.

There was no denying that (when it came to family) I’d been lucky. Surely it was therefore my moral obligation to help Sean through this challenging phase of his life, just as others had done for me. I accepted the challenge, regardless of any immediate compromise to personal joy. There would be plenty of time for all that good shit later, I told myself.

Just once he was out of the closet.

But weeks turned into months, and I slowly grew wary of holding hands beneath dinner tables and sleeping in separate bedrooms. I wanted him to feel proud of our relationship, not ashamed of it. My patience was wearing thin. I began to wonder whether dating a closeted man was any different to sleeping with a married one. There might be promises of change, promises of a future together — but at the end of the day what are you left with?

Sean dumped me shortly after that. For another man. Also closeted. I was equal parts heartbroken and relieved. Next time would be different, I said. Next time I’d fall for a man as comfortable with his sexuality as I was.

But (there’s always a fucking but) then came Lee.

Lee was a long-haired, bushy-browed street artist from the northern beaches of Sydney. He anxiously approached me one night, slipping a business card (folded to the size of a five-cent coin) into my front pocket. His voice broke with nerves — he’d never been out with a guy before, he said, but I was special. That probs should’ve been warning enough — but I was already balls-deep emotionally invested. The first date went well, as did the second. I was obviously thrilled and quickly proclaimed my newfound happiness to anyone kind enough to listen.

Our relationship lasted roughly a fortnight. He claimed that (while having never felt this way before) he wasn’t ready to be seen dating another guy. Ready to date? Sure. Just not ready enough to be caught in the act. The mid-coital conversation left me tired and sticky with devastation. I still remember him handling my body as an abstinent Christian boy would his fiance’s panties. Simultaneously uncomfortable and thrilled. Both anticipant and hesitant.

Lee had pulled it (and me) off. He’d somehow managed to fulfil both his curiosity and sexual desire, all without losing an ounce of North Shore street cred. However, in a completely expected twist he has since come out to family and friends. I just hope his gorgeous new boyfriend thinks of me each night while reaping the sun-tanned fruit of my silent labour.

I think the two core problems are these: our inherent feelings of obligation to those struggling with their sexuality, and our community’s collective attraction to “are they or aren’t they?” straighty-one-eighties. The journey from our closet to the neon lights of Oxford St may not always be a smooth one, but it should always be a personal one. Personal in the sense that you don’t require another’s romantic attachment as the soul axis for individual change.

So yeah, don’t be the unbeknown “door handle” to another man’s closet.

They’ll grab you, hold you down, give you a pull — and then let you go.

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