I came out when I was 14 years old to my long-time best friend and to some of my classmates. I don’t think it was “liberatory”, not at first at least. Sure, it was easier not pretend to like girls and to be interested in soccer and other “boy-ish” stuff, but it was more a way to explore myself through narration and talking to my peers – not that they were receptive or understanding, I was more like an “alien” to them (“I never thought something like that could happen so close to me” – said once one of my classmates.).
Verbalizing my thoughts and the way I felt was an occasion to put order in my mind; saying it out loud would make it true, otherwise I would have kept wondering and wondering, feeling ashamed, repressing and lying to myself. It may sound shallow, but the biggest help came from strangers on the Internet, met through Tumblr. They came from all over the world, from Brazil to Philippines, queer (I didn’t even know this word back then) teens like me; we used to watch Glee and other queer-positive tv shows and talk about our daily problems in “real life”. I remember thinking “I wanna be like these cool people in these tv shows when I grow up”. And that is why is extremely important to be represented in mainstream media.
That said, it was not easy growing up gay in a small town in Southern Italy; my peers were mostly (Upper) Middle Class people with bourgeoise values, they wouldn’t reflect on actuality, world stuff, social issues. The rumour spread very quick and people would make fun of me and talk shit all the time, whispering stuff at school, yelling slurs from their cars and sh*t like that. Nobody ever hit me – honestly, that would have killed me – but words hurt a lot anyway; I felt extremely lonely and I used to cry myself to sleep almost every night during my high school years.
People would be like “don’t be so sure about it”. Well, nobody would ever say something like that when you’re heterosexual. They even suggested not to be “so open” about it, otherwise people would bully me. I can understand the concern, but at the same time we should ask ourselves “do we want to keep living in the shadows, silenced, while our people suffer and, in some cases, die? Or do we want to freely be ourselves, brave, proud, speak out and – most important – seek the support we need?”. Would I come out again even if I went through hard times? Absolutely. My only regret is not being proud enough about it, in order to adequately react to bullies.
Pride came only a few years later once I started university in Naples (when I was 18, I considered it a huge, open-minded city – then I guess I got used to it); I felt an improvement in my self-esteem, I started dating, having sex (I was such a inexpert honestly) and gradually learned how to understand and deal with my emotions, feelings and most important to be coherent to what I really desired. I used to struggle with not dating and not having sex back in high school, while feeling very sexual myself. I would observe (and envy) my heterosexual peers having sex for the first time, dealing with their boyfriend issues and I was just there, feeling lonely and extremely horny. But in the end, I guess it was better this way; learning through mine and other’s experiences was a useful mean to recognize and avoid toxicity in relationships.
Nowadays stigma got way better, but I can’t help but notice that it extended to other domains. It just applies to everything that is considered “deviant” in our sex-negative and heteronormative society. You enjoy casual sex? There must be something wrong with you. Interested in exploring, talking and acting on your sexual desires? Perv. Wanna consider non-monogamy? You’re unable to love. You get naked on the internet? Attention wh*re. People just don’t understand the freedom behind all this and the path one makes in order to get there. It’s hard to get rid of things you have been taught and to overcome beliefs that are so deeply rooted in our culture and it’s our duty to deconstruct and start a reflection on certain mechanisms, about love, sexuality, relationship, especially as queer people. When did we become so bourgeoise? Exposure can be hard, whether you’re out of the closet in a small town or fully naked on the Internet, but people cannot really hurt us if we are proud of what we are and what we advocate for.