Meet our Senior Conductor Manager, John, who wanted to share his coming out story to highlight to others that it’s okay to be who you were born to be.
“It was the summer of 1997 when I ‘came out’. I was 21 years old, and it was a great time to be alive. I had graduated from university; Brit Pop was at an all-time high and I was about to start full-time work. So, without further ado, here’s my story on how I finally became the person who I am today…
The early years
At the age of 13, I knew I was a bit different, and back in the late 80’s times were a lot different to what they are now. Of course, there were gay people on TV, but it was a subject not really talked about – certainly not in my family home. I grew up in a council house with all my brothers and sisters, an alcoholic father, and a mother whose health was steadily declining due to Huntington’s Disease.
In 1988 Section 28 of the law was passed which stopped schools from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality. I remember the adverts on TV about the AIDS epidemic saying ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ which petrified me. I remember thinking I have got to act in a certain way, so I kept reassuring myself that it was a phase and that I was going to come out the other end. Obviously, the phase didn’t end, which led me to keep my sexuality a secret until I was 21.
In the summer of 1995, a year after my father had passed away and my Mum’s health was rapidly declining, I went to ‘Mardis Gras’ in Manchester (known now as PRIDE), with some people I used to work with – one who was gay. It opened my eyes to a different world, and I immediately felt comfortable with the people and the atmosphere there. However, I still never told anyone about my feelings. Fast forward a couple of years to 1997 when I graduated. I kept telling myself that this would be the year I would ‘come out’.
I booked a holiday to Majorca and decided to take some time away to think about whether it was going to be my year. On my return, I made myself a member of the local gay club and started to socialise with people like me. It was there where I met my first boyfriend. We spent a lot of time away together, sometimes a few days at a time.
Coming out to my family
Being one of the main carers for my Mum at home, my family used to wonder where I was and what I was up to. My brother got suspicious and managed to get a hold of me at work (as there were no phones back then) and confronted me about my whereabouts. I decided that it was time to come clean, so I told him. After some initial questions, he said that it does not matter who I am with, as long as I am happy and safe - I don’t think it come as a surprise to him, to be honest.
But after telling my brother I felt immediate relief and it helped me feel as though I could also talk to my other siblings about my situation. I remember going home and thinking it was going to be a massive deal, but it was a very warming experience.
In an ideal world I would have come out to my mother, but due to the nature of the illness, I don’t think she would have had the mental capacity to understand. Nevertheless, I truly believe if she had been well, she would have been completely at ease with my lifestyle.
Life at work
Outside of my family life, my workplace was also fantastic. I slowly started to talk more about the relationship I was in and let people ask questions about it. I must admit, in all my different jobs since, I’ve never felt the need to ‘come out’ to people. I don’t feel like I must announce it, as other sexualities don’t have to. Relationships obviously come up in conversation and I am always honest about my life, but I never feel the need to have to make a big song and dance about it.
At London Northwestern Railway, where I am currently a Senior Conductor Manager, we are working hard to champion inclusion. One way is through our internal network groups – where we have an LGBTQ+ support system called Aspect. Here, colleagues come together, share stories, and meet new people. It makes me feel as though I belong.
So, I guess in all this my advice to anyone who is struggling with their sexuality and ‘coming out’ is - be the person you were born to be. Be honest with yourself and you will know the right time to let people know. If things aren’t going well, know that they will get better in time.