*Warning: This article contains upsetting subjects and talk of self harm*
Chris Lovell is a Belfast Giants fan and he has had a couple of articles posted on TCW before. This one is different, very different. Chris is a gay man living in Northern Ireland and this is the story of how he came out ten years ago. It’s important that stories like these are heard and put out in the open, and we here at TCW are proud that Chris has entrusted us to print his story in the hope that it may help others who find themselves in a similar situation to his.
This is a story I’ve been holding onto for a long time and one I have tried to forget, tried to act like it didn’t happen or effect me.
I’m now 34 years of age and for the past 10 years I’ve been an openly gay man, living my own truth and being unashamedly me. Before then? Before then was a very different and difficult time, one I very nearly didn’t survive.
I’ll start by explaining my family situation, at only a few weeks old my biological parents placed me in care which I remained in, including after care, until I was 21. I was lucky, I was fostered at a month old by an incredible family. I, to this day, regard them as my parents and love them and the family with everything I have. I was lucky to grow up with parents who had 3 children of their own and still fostered over 200 children in their time.
The reason for explaining the above is, the family itself was very religious and I grew up within the Presbyterian Church all of my childhood and adolescence. Not only did I actively attend church and the youth facilities, I also did missionary work in many countries including Ireland, Russia, Moldova and the US. So growing up the church and its laws shaped and guided my life.
I knew from at least my early teens I was different. I didn’t understand what it was at that point, however I knew I didn’t find girls attractive. I tried to ignore and suppress these feelings for years given my upbringing, being gay wasn’t an option for me.
I remember my mum watching Coronation Street in 2003 when it had its first gay kiss, I was sat with mum when she remarked ‘that’s disgusting,’ she turned it off and to this day she has never watched Corrie since. Not that my mum knew how I was feeling back then but it pushed me so far back into the closet, I decided at that point I was never going to come out, I was 15 at the time.
I muddled through the next few years, saying nothing and opening up to no-one, I was struggling but you become so good at hiding it. You put on a persona, you do the macho straight things, you play sports, you throw homophobic slurs around in the locker room, anything you can to fit in.
In 2009 I had hidden this ‘thing’ for years, my friends and family knew something was wrong but they had no idea what. I still refused to accept it myself, let alone was I ever telling anyone else. It was always there, always in my head, never fading. The fear of someone finding out is indescribable, personally I decided I would rather be dead than be out. I ran myself a bath as I normally would however my intention wasn’t to bathe myself, I had no intention of getting out of this bath.
I got into the bath and used a razor blade to slit my wrists, be under no illusion, its incredibly painful but when you feel you’ve no other option you won’t be stopped. I don’t remember a much after that, I’ve been told my dad found me and drove me to the hospital himself.
Even after this I wouldn’t tell people what was wrong, this was Belfast, heartland for the DUP and other political parties in Northern Ireland who had blocking gay rights as one of their election promises. How was I going to come out and survive in this place? I continued hating myself, however I was constantly watched by family and friends which is probably one of the reasons I managed to still be here in 2012.
In 2012 I was in Swindon seeing my stepsister, we decided to head out to the Pink Rooms, a gay club she worked at because a few of her friends were gay, let’s just say my sister found out because I woke up in bed beside one of her friends the next day!
We headed back home that morning and as we walked in my step mum asked how the night was and Abby just blurts out ‘Yeah it was good, Chris had fun and shagged Andy,’ I could have died on the spot, my step mum laughed and hugged me saying ‘Chris I’ve known for ages and so has your Dad, we don’t care, you’re family’
That was a much better reaction than I could ever have hoped for however that was the easy part, after all my biological father was only 18 when I was born, my foster parents however are a different generation not to mention extremely religious, telling them was a different prospect but I knew they would find out now people knew, unless I told them first.
I arrived home and told my parents I needed to speak to them, inside I was terrified of what was to come. I sat them down and explained, after bumbling for 10 minutes. It went very much how expected, my Dad was silent, my Mum told me it was a phase and not be telling people I was ‘different’.
Different, really? I’m no different to anyone else, it just happens I’m attracted to people of the same sex as myself. That was how they chose to process it and live with it, it hasn’t changed much to this day. When I would head out to gay clubs or pubs in Belfast, they would ask me if I was going to a ‘funny club,’ as if I was attending a local comedy club. It still hurts me that they can’t accept that part of my life, I’ve been with my partner nearly 8 years now and my Mum has met him once, by chance, in the street when we were out. It’s just not a position I’m going to put him in. They know we live together and share a bed but in their head it’s different, we’re ‘just good friends’.
My brother and sisters don’t really talk about it much around my parents either, it’s easier that way. I’m out to the world but every time I see my parents I have to closet myself again, that hurts. It’s how it is for many gay people.
My life from that point changed quite a lot, I left the church and many groups I was part of through that, it’s not somewhere I was particularly welcomed, especially after I turned down the option of doing a course with the minister. Something now known as ‘conversion therapy’ under the veil of religion. I declined this as I’d damaged my own health enough hiding for 23 years, I was finally free but at a cost, friends and family.
Over the next while I noticed a lot of friends distance themselves from me, I didn’t care at this point, who I sleep with doesn’t and shouldn’t effect actual friendship, after all its not something your going to witness!
It wasn’t all bad, not at all. I made friends in the LGBTQ community I have to this day. I learnt a lot about the plights many had gone through, the pain we all shared and the shockingly similar stories that connected us, even those we don’t know personally.
I’ve written this, to reflect on my own journey and how it happened but also to remind myself who I am, the battles I fought along the way and survived, the battles all LGBTQ people fight everyday, the homophobia we face everyday. I’ve written this for others to understand, your actions and words can effect an openly gay person, trans person, whomever. Moreover they can have devastating consequences you don’t realise or know. I’ve known 4 people from my community who aren’t going to see their next birthday, because of hate, fear of rejection, bullying, the acceptance of homophobia in society.
As I come to the end I’ll finish with a question.
If it was your family member, how would you react? Would you still throw the term ‘faggot’ around? Could you forgive yourself if they became another statistic?
Lastly, to anyone out there struggling, whether ‘out’ or not, I promise you, you’ll be okay. You’re stronger than you can possibly imagine. You may lose people, they are people who don’t deserve to be in your life, but you’ll meet so many incredible people, friends, allies and support.
Keep fighting your battle, do what’s right for you, come out when you’re ready to, not before.
Be you, unashamedly true to who you are.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrisgllovell