‘Coming Out is Hard to Do…’

Slight paraphrase of a well known song there, but it came to me as I was doing the final proof-read of ‘The Power of Love’. I managed to get myself into the situation where I had a wonderful boyfriend/partner (Dave), all my friends knew I was gay, Dave’s grandparents and my grandparents knew I was gay, and my parents almost certainly knew too although I hadn’t told them myself. Back in Oxford UK from Tennessee, perhaps the time was right?

‘Actually, there’s something else I have to talk to you about.’ I gulped, gripping the edge of the sink, and then dived in with both feet. ‘The sooner the better.’

I felt my parents exchanging knowing glances behind my back. Now I was certain that I was in for a roasting. Oh, for a family like Dave’s!

‘Dave and I are more than just best friends. Much more. Since we first met, I, erm…’

I sensed I was about to gabble nonsense again, and took a deep breath instead, looking at their reflections in the kitchen window to try and gauge the reaction. My mother, bless her, threw me a lifeline.

‘He’s your boyfriend, isn’t he?’

I dropped my gaze to the washing-up water in the bowl, and answered almost in a whisper.


There was a silence, broken by my father.

‘Do you understand what you’re saying?’

Do I understand what I’m saying? Well of course I bloody do. The question is, do you?

‘I’m saying…’ I paused, and looked up, from one to the other. ‘I’m saying, yes, he’s my boyfriend. Yes, I love him. Yes, it means I’m…’

I couldn’t say it. The word stuck in my throat like a dry pebble. But Dave appeared behind them at the door and, overhearing, took over the situation in an instant.

‘It means that we are homosexual partners, Mr Cavanagh. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, or even horrifies you. But that is what nature has made me, and Tony…’ he used the full name!! – well, the full abbreviation, then –  ‘… Tony shares the curse I’m afraid.’

Thank you Dave, oh thank you! Help me, babe!

There was a silence that seemed to last a thousand years. Then I asked the question I dreaded to ask, quietly and deliberately, but unable still to look them in the eye.

‘Would you prefer us to leave?’

My mother answered that question by turning me around, enveloping me in her arms, and bursting into tears.

‘No, of course not. Don’t be silly.’ This was my father. He turned to Dave.

‘Brian – er, your father – prepared us, of course. But I don’t think I fully believed him. Not until now.’ He turned back to me. ‘What took you so long to confess?’

Confess? Oh, come on, dad.

Dave intervened again. Oh Dave, you bloody marvellous guy, you!

‘He doesn’t have to “confess”, Mr Cavanagh. It’s what he is. It’s what we are. Both of us. Neither of us has done anything wrong, and so we don’t have anything to, er, confess.’

I sensed that he wanted to put his arms around me, but couldn’t bring himself to do it at that moment in front of my father. And, anyway, mum was in the way…

‘No. I see. But if Brian knew, why didn’t you tell us?’

‘Your reaction.’ I sounded sullen, even to myself, as well as muffled by my mother’s embrace. But it was true, I had anticipated his reaction exactly. ‘I expected it. I was afraid of it.’

‘And so there’ll be no grandchildren.’ This was my mother, still with her arms wrapped around me.

‘Don’t say that! We’re not suddenly incapable of being fathers,’ said Dave. ‘There’s lots of girls always looking for help – er, you know, sperm donation!’ Oh, thanks, Dave, for laying that clue for the future! And then, immediately, I wished he hadn’t.

My father choked a little, but he knew he was beaten. ‘Well, Mr David Anderton, I thank you for your honesty, even if my own son was scared to admit it to us. I suppose I should say something like, erm, welcome to the family.’ He stuck his hand out to Dave, rather awkwardly, who didn’t take it.

‘We still love you, dear, of course,’ said my mother, rather unhelpfully.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,’ I said, wiping away a few tears. ‘I just couldn’t do it.’

‘You always were a sensitive one,’ she continued. ‘Brian told us all about how you were a lifeline for David when you first met.’

I was becoming tired of hearing this! ‘He told you everything, didn’t he?’

‘As good as. He asked for you to be allowed to stay in America. For David.’

God, I owe that man so much. There was a long and awkward silence, during which I sensed strongly that Dave wanted to sweep me up in his arms and carry me away…

OK, that’s enough. You get the idea. Didn’t play the best hand of cards there, did I? But, it is probably the hardest thing a gay guy has to do.

You’ll maybe be pleased to hear that the books are not filled with this emotional ‘gay Mills and Boon’ guff! Just a little relevant bit, here and there…

And now: some happier boys!

One more for today:

I never fail to be moved by the sight of guys showing their love for one another. Straight or gay, we should believe in the power of love, especially when dealing with those difficult situations…

About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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11 Responses to ‘Coming Out is Hard to Do…’

  1. thegayav says:

    You’re a great writer, really enjoyed reading this. All the best to you and your partner.

    • tonycavanagh says:

      Why thank you Stephanie. Didn’t realise this was reaching students in Oz! We had a tour in Oz and a mishap with a road train in the dark… all in Vol 2 (!!). Best wishes with your studies.

  2. Gurjot Singh says:

    Hey Tony, Gurjot from Bangalore, India here. I’m a doctor working on public health and climate change research. I often read your posts, and this one reminded of my time with my parents a few months ago. I’m 25 now, and have been open my sexuality with my friends here in Bangalore since a couple of years, but it took a lot of courage to finally say it to my parents.

    Part of the reason I think is that we expect things to get messy and ugly, and fear losing the people we love most. And then there’s that communication barrier, especially between people of different generations, which makes it a difficult to broach stuff like this easily. I live and work in Bangalore, and visit my parents once in 6 months in north India. And the week or two with them is generally spent trying to unwind and make the best of my limited time with them. And this is precisely what was at the top of my mind when I did it, that I’d forever lose that comfort and warmth in my relationship with them, and it was the hardest to reconcile with. But reconcile I did, for every month I spent not telling them that I was gay was another month spent being dishonest with them, or not letting them know something that was so integral to my existence. I spent my two weeks trying to exactly figure out how I’d put it across to them, and suffice to say it ruined my holidays!

    Finally the night of reckoning came, and I was frantically praying to keep my strength through the ordeal. I was scared as hell but something just kept pushing me through. I think it was the fact that I’d had enough of this dilemma and planning in my head, and wanted to just get over with it, no matter what the consequences. I’d actually braced myself to be shouted at, or something even worse! And there wasn’t really anyone I could have spoken to about it, since most of ‘friends’ were, well, unavailable, literally or otherwise. The worst part was that I have never uttered something even vaguely sexual in front of parents, and to do this in my mother tongue was even harder (its an entirely different thing to sit with my colleagues and talk about this in English in which I’m most comfortable expressing myself)! Somehow I did muster the courage, and just as my mom was about to get up after dinner for bed, I asked her to sit down as I had something to share with them.

    ‘I’ve been planning to talk to you for a long time, and please hear me out patiently before you react.’


    ‘I’m homosexual.’ I gave a pause and looked at their faces for a reaction, and found them a little blank.

    ‘Do you understand what it means?’

    ‘Well, not really, so why don’t you tell us?’

    Though they’d read and heard about this, mainly through newspapers and TV, I guess they’d probably never given it much thought as it was something that happened to ‘others’.

    And this was the hardest part – trying to explain to them what being homosexual is in benign vernacular terms!

    ‘It refers to when a guy likes a guy and a girl likes a girl’, I said, hoping that I’d disappear from the planet that moment!

    ‘So you like a guy?’

    ‘No, I don’t have anyone in my life, but that’s how I am.’

    They continued to listen patiently, and I told them everything there is to tell about homosexuality – its biology, genetics, neuroscience, evolution, history, politics! I told them how it wasn’t a disease as was the common perception, and how people would say otherwise. And that I’d never marry a woman or have kids in the usual way. They heard everything, and questioned occasionally. I’m not sure how convinced they were; I think it was a lot of information to take in one go. My mom teared up a little as to why I’d waited so long to tell them, and I could only say that I wasn’t sure of it myself till a few years ago, and that it’ taken me that much time to muster the courage to tell them. They were disappointed by it all, but didn’t really say anything much.

    The most peculiar thing, and this was happening the second time, was that as I was saying all of this, I could hear every word I said ring loud in my own ears, and the sensation was quite like a dissociative state, as if someone else had entered my body and was doing all the talking, and my real self was observing all of it from above. I think it was because I was extremely scared and conscious of everything I was saying. And as I said, I had the uncanny realization that this was happening to me the second time, the first time being many years ago when I’d decided to come out to the guy I’d fallen in love with during my undergrad days back then. The same intense love, the same fear of losing, yet making up my mind to do it, the same scary and hyperconscious frozen moments (that guy was straight and we eventually ended our relationship)!

    I finally got up after we were done, and went to my room and wrote a mail to may cousin in London through the tears I was trying hard to fight. It was a terrible feeling knowing that I’d laden them with the burden of something they didn’t even understand properly, and would have a hard time facing, and knowing that they were getting older and this was another disappointment I’d given them (they had wanted me to specialize in medicine further, but I’d put my foot down on public health and politics eventually)! Its a terrible feeling of guilt you know you can do nothing about. Thankfully my cousin mailed back almost instantly and we ended up chatting in the night.

    My parents didn’t really say anything much about it, probably because it was quite a lot to take so quickly, and probably they realized there wasn’t anything much they could do about it. And probably because more than anything, they loved me and it didn’t matter that much. I came to Bangalore after a few days, grateful to know that I hadn’t lost them. My mother wrote to me after a month or so, saying how terrible she’d felt seeing that grief and pain in my eyes, and how she’d wept about it knowing that I’d harbored all of it in my head for so long. She still didn’t get the whole idea of it, and hoped I might find a girl one day. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter that much; the difficult part is done, and I’m sure they’ll learn to accept it fully in course of time.

    There are a lot of things in life we’re scared to do, but once we do them, and look back, we realize we’ve only grown stronger. I don’t really think I can say that about this experience. I still marvel at how I did what I did, and am sure it’ll probably be just as difficult if I were to do it all over again today, just the way the pain hadn’t lessened after I’d told that guy the first time years ago. I don’t think there is anything much I can do about it, except being honest and brave and doing what I feel right.

    Thanks for writing all the good stuff that you do. And I think you’re fortunate to have Dave the way you do.


    • tonycavanagh says:

      Gurjot. Thank you so much for this – I obviously moved you to write a huge post with very personal stuff, and I thank you for being so open. You didn’t say how your undergrad friend reacted when you came out to him, but perhaps this is too personal to share. I’m glad now that I decided to share my ‘kitchen-sink drama’ (English expression for certain types of theatrical or TV show, but applicable in my case!) on the blog as well as part of the books. I also noticed that you wrote your account ‘as it happened’ with narrative and everything, and I think your writing style is rather good. A second career, perhaps, like me?

      I might quote some of your long comment in a direct posting shortly, to make it more ‘visible’ to chance visitors to the blog, if you have no objections.

      Good luck with your work and have a great life being what you are. TC

      • Gurjot Singh says:

        Thanks for the reply. What moved me in your post was knowing what was going in your mind when you decided to tell them, and recognizing almost everything in it that was mine too – the fear of disapproval, the attempt to be honest despite the pain in doing so, the gentleness and grace we did eventually get – and above all, the realization that somehow the burden of this truth-telling and proving ourselves over and over again had somehow been squarely dumped on our shoulders, just because the people around us are too timid to do that. But I suppose things are changing for good, and take comfort in the fact that the next generation will probably not have to make the excruciating mental journeys that ours and previous ones did.

        A funny thing that happened in those two weeks was that somehow co-incidentally I ended up reading ‘And the band played on’ by Randy Shilts (about the early years of the HIV epidemic when thousands of gay men and women died in the US and nobody cared) that I’d been putting off for a long time, and seeing ‘Beginners’ by Mike Mills (about a father who comes out as gay to his son at 75 years of age, and the son’s struggle with relationships), and probably was emboldened by them. I remember that time as the two gayest weeks of my life! LOL!

        You can use what I wrote wherever you wish. And I do love writing like you said; in fact I’ve been planning to turn my experiences of my dramatic medicine days and of being openly gay into a book, hopefully sooner than later.

        I didn’t write about my friend because it wasn’t really relevant there, and because it’s a long tragedy in itself, almost Bronte-esque in its darkness, only in my case I ended up inflicting all the damage on myself, and then finally quit when it became unbearable. I can write about it in a separate mail to you if you want. The passage of some years has given me a more balanced perspective on what actually happened, and I don’t doubt that he loved me back quite a lot, though not in the way I did. But I think he never really understood what it is that he really meant to me, or stand in my shoes and see things from my perspective. Or maybe I didn’t make it clear enough.

        I remember an incident when once he was going home for two months, and I said I wanted to see him once before he left, but reached the train station just as his train had pulled out, and didn’t get to see him. He called me from the train feeling bad that I couldn’t make it in time, and said,’Why did you want me meet me anyway?’ I still have that faded platform ticket in my wallet.

        I’ll write about it to you in a couple of days.


  3. Pingback: Coming Out (2): Gurjot’s Tale « Tony Cavanagh

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