“In those days, I didn’t know what gay was”

Stephen, a Supported Employee at Aruma, shares his coming out story on National Coming Out Day.

Derek (left) and Stephen (right), at a candle-making workshop in Sydney.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day – so what better opportunity to share a coming-out story from Stephen, a proud member of Aruma’s LGBTQI+ community?

Stephen, who works in our IT department as a Supported Employee, was born in Scotland and moved to Sydney with his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Stephen had trouble settling in at school and was bullied and called ‘gay’ by his peers.

In those days, I didn’t know what gay was, says Stephen. I always kind of knew that I was different. I just couldn’t put my finger on what the difference was. Nobody was there to explain anything to me.

Along came the nightclub

Thankfully, everything fell into place for Stephen when he visited a Sydney nightclub in his late teens. It happened to be a gay nightclub. And I kind of walked in and I thought: ‘I understand these people’, says Stephen. And once I was able to say that’s exactly what I am, things became much easier.

Stephen soon started coming out to his friends in Sydney, but it took another five years to have the conversation with his parents. My parents had gone back to the UK, says Stephen. And with my parents being halfway around the world, I didn’t think it was right to put that on them.

Just before his 21st birthday, Stephen moved back to Glasgow and decided it was time tell his parents he was gay. And my father didn’t speak to me for two weeks, which was a bit awkward because we worked for the same company, he says. Finally, he said to me, ‘Are you happy?’ And I said I was. And he said, ‘I’m really happy you’re happy’ – and that was it. My mum, on the other hand, was kinda over the moon by it!

And then came Derek

In Scotland at that time, it was illegal for men under the age of 21 to be gay. Without the nightlife and support he had enjoyed in Sydney, Stephen realised Glasgow wasn’t for him. I ended up going to live in a little village in the hills,” he says. There were three pubs there, and only like 100 people. But it was absolutely fantastic!

It was here that Stephen met his partner Derek through a mutual friend. They hit it off immediately, but after only a short time together, Stephen developed chronic fatigue syndrome. My parents said, ‘you need to come home so we can look after you’, says Stephen. I had to explain that I was seeing this guy and they said, ‘Well that’s fine’.

While Stephen recovered at his parents, Derek regularly caught taxis from the village to come and see him. Sometimes he would just sit and watch me while I slept and chat to mum and dad, says Stephen. 28 years later – we’re still together!

Be true to yourself

Stephen, who now lives in the central coast with Derek, says he’s lucky that his parents had taught him to be true to himself. He says without support, others could find coming out so much harder. His advice is: find your people. Find somebody that you can talk to that will understand. And you may need to go out of your family for that.

He continues, Once it is out, you have to be prepared to live your life… you need to be ready to live that, and accept that, and love who you are. And that’s not just for people in the LGBTQI+ community, that’s for everyone.