‘I can’t be arsed to come out’

Looking down the roster of people to ‘come out’ can be daunting for some queer people. Although for many nowadays, it’s simply just too much effort to tell everyone. We spoke to some young people who have adopted this mindset.

It was the annual Christmas Eve party with all the family friends. The Michael Bublé tunes were on, the prosecco was flowing, and Lauren, 21, from Birmingham, was buzzing to be catching up with old friends… that was until the gay punchline. Lauren, who identifies as bisexual, was chatting with a childhood friend about his new teaching job when he teased about having some staff room gossip to spill. He leant forward and whispered “two of the forty-year-old teachers are lesbian together”.

“In that one second, my mood completely dropped. We’d been having such a nice time and it completely caught me off guard. He sat there sniggering at his own joke, and I just felt gutted and embarrassed.” says Lauren. “It was a reality check, a reminder that I might have moments like this for the rest of my life.

“Later in the night, the conversation turned to dating and when the questions moved onto me I thought to myself ‘I cannot be bothered to go through this right now’. I already felt uncomfortable after the lesbian joke earlier, and the last thing I needed was the all too familiar patronising interview about my sexuality, so I only talked about dating guys.”

For many in the LGBT+ community, ‘coming out’ isn’t a one-time monumental occasion like they show in the movies. Instead, it’s a constant in their lives. After working up the courage to tell their nearest and dearest, can come the slow and sour realisation that each new person in their life means, in theory, a new person to tell.

This comes from the societal expectation that LGBT+ people need to declare their sexuality to everyone in their lives, cause y’know, it’s often still ‘straight until proven otherwise’. You would have thought we would be past that by now, but instead it’s gotten to the point where lots of young LGBT+ people simply can’t be bothered to come out anymore.

This is the case for Jake*, a 21-year-old student from Sheffield. Jake is currently only out as bisexual to his mum, and he doesn’t plan on sharing his sexuality much further than with his girlfriend and close mates.

“I’m definitely not completely out, but I don’t think I ever will be,” he says. “It started off in high school when there were kids being bullied for being gay. With the idea of telling people I was bisexual, I just couldn’t be arsed for any of the shit that comes along with it, so I didn’t tell anyone.

“I feel quite comfortable with one day just having the people closest to me know and I’d like to keep it that way. After telling my girlfriend, maybe one day I’ll go down to the pub and tell all the lads and they might all get me a pint. That’s the dream.

“I think it’s very personal to everyone who they want to tell. It wouldn’t bother me if other people did know, it’s more like why would they need to? It really doesn’t matter at all. I am who I am and it doesn’t really change anything for me if I tell people or not because I know it myself.”

For some in the community, the ‘can’t be bothered’ mindset extends to family and friends too. This is true for Lily*, a 22-year-old accountant from Birmingham, who has chosen not to come out to her grandparents about her bisexuality. “With extended family, it just feels like a lot of effort for what it’s worth. My grandad always makes the typical gay sexist jokes, so I don’t want to bring it up because I just feel like he’ll secretly judge and that’s too much effort to deal with.

“It’s more circumstantial at work because it’s not as if I go around telling people I’m bi or putting it all over my Instagram. If it came up directly, then I would say something. But if they ask about relationships generally, I’m not going to be like ‘oh by the way I’m bisexual’.”

That being said, being out in certain areas of your life but not in others can start to take a toll. Lily says, “When people bring up relationships and dating and I know that they don’t know the extent of my sexuality, I feel a bit repressed. You kind of wish you could just tell them so that it’s out there and you can feel a bit more free with that weight lifted off you.

“It’s like when you are watching a film with people and there’s the typical ‘oh he looks nice’, but for me it’s also ‘oh she looks nice’, but i resist saying it. It’s those small things in your day to day life that you just don’t get to do.

“The issue is ‘coming out’ is portrayed as one big event and then it’s done and everything is fine, but in reality it’s not like that.”

Even when someone has come out to their chosen people, it doesn’t mean there’s an easy road ahead. Despite telling her parents two years ago, Lily is still navigating how ‘out’ she wants to be at home. “I didn’t come out to them on a whim, but I hadn’t exactly planned it. My parents were just chatting about it and I thought I might as well say it.

“The first words out my mum’s mouth were ‘I don’t believe you. Are you sure? I’m not convinced’. She said it then and still stands by it now that she doesn’t understand how someone can like both guys and girls. When you’re going through such a confusing process by yourself, and then the person that has brought you up your whole life says she doesn’t believe you, you start to doubt yourself internally and it makes it even more confusing.

“That’s the one person I usually go to for support, but she’s now the person on the opposite side to me. I do act a bit more straight because of it. I try not to mention certain things around her because of what she said, so I guess you could say it’s like trying to go back into the closet in a sense.”

It’s not uncommon for straight-presenting people to slip under the gaydar. In fact, it can be a handy mask to put on in situations when they don’t feel safe or comfortable in having their queer identity known.

Katie*, a 22-year-old student, comes from a small town near Bristol where there aren’t many ‘out’ queer people. Because of this, and the occasional undertones of homophobia in her workplace, she chooses to keep quiet about her attraction to women.

“If there’s people I’m not ‘out’ to at home that start talking about relationships and dating, then I’ll probably only talk about men, just because it’s easier that way. That’s not an advantage of being bi per say, but it simplifies things because I’m not lying by talking about my interest in men, it’s just not the full story.

“In lots of those situations it would also just feel weird and awkward to suddenly interrupt and say ‘well I like women too’. It then seems like you’re trying to always draw attention to it, which isn’t the case.

“The thing is you’re always going to be meeting new people throughout your life so there is always going to be someone you’re not out to. So to bring up your sexuality with every new person is just long, and sometimes it’s easier to not bother.”

Slipping under the straight mask is something Ellie*, a 21-year-old student from Birmingham, does too. “It’s that funny thing of passing as straight until you say otherwise. But that’s not something you always feel like doing.

“Some queer people probably don’t ever get to semi-avoid uncomfortable situations by passing as straight, maybe if they present in a more overtly gay way.

“I kind of wrestle with whether I’m not being truthful to who I am in those moments, but of course when someone makes an odd comment then the last thing you want to do is stand in the line of fire and say you’re a part of that group too. Also, you’ve got to remember it’s not like we’re lying or anything, it’s the people around us who have assumed we are straight. We just don’t want to have to correct them every time and have it turn into a big conversation.”

Let’s be clear about that. It shouldn’t fall on LGBT+ people’s shoulders to clarify their sexuality when someone wrongfully assumes it.

It’s commonly said that queer people should only come out when they feel ready, but even that mentality exerts a pressure that they are expected to come out to everyone at some point. Whatever degree of being ‘out’ someone is, in both the greater sense and in the day-to-day, they should never feel pressured into sharing their sexuality.

For queer people, navigating coming out in all areas of their life is not a simple task. It’s no wonder some can’t be bothered. Ultimately, without the assumed default that everyone is straight, there wouldn’t even be a closet queer people would need to come out of. So let’s start there.

*This person’s name has been changed to protect their identity.

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