Community News & Features Meet the gay men who are not out By Ian Howley | @IanHowley | Photo: shutterstock.com Sometimes we in our little gay bubble forget that not all gay men come out. In our coming out survey, about 10% of those who responded told us they were not ‘out’. So we decided to talk to these men to see who they are, where they are from and their thoughts on their sexuality and coming out. It’s time to meet the gay and bisexual men who are not ‘out’. Who are not out? Young and in the closet Jake is 17 years old and lives in Birmingham. He told us that he’s not out and he’s pretty sure no-one knows that he is gay. He said: “I’ve known that I am gay from about the age of 12. But I don’t feel the time is right for me to tell anyone.” Kris, 19 from Glasgow echoes the same feelings: “I’ve known from a very young age, but I just don’t feel like I’m in a place yet in my life to tell others.” Rex, 19 from Letterkenny in Ireland told us: “I’ve been comfortable with being gay for the last few years but I come from a small town in Ireland and I’m not sure how my family would take the news. I’ve just started college. To me this might be my chance to come out in a more accepting environment.” Married men Peter is 42 and comes from Middlesbrough. He’s been married to a woman for 26 years. He told us in our survey that he’s known all his life that he’s gay: “I grew up in a different time when being gay was frowned upon. I got married to my wife, who I love, we have kids and I’ve had a nice life. I sometimes wish this was not my life but it was the right decision for me at that time in my life. I know some people would say I’m living a lie, and I am a little, but I chose this and have to live with it.” Peter wasn’t the only man married to a woman who responded to our survey. Paul is 36 and has been married for just over two years. “I live in a little village in north Yorkshire. I grew up with men who are men’s men. Think rugby and football type lads. I suppose you can say I am one too. I made the decision at a young age not to act on my feelings for other men. It’s not to say I haven’t been with a man, I have, but I forced myself to be in relationships with women. I thought this would be the best option for me and my family.” Religious men Mohamed is 23 and lives in South West London. He says he’ll never come out due to his religion. “As a Muslim man the idea of ‘coming out’ is just not possible. My family would shun me and my community would ignore me. Religion is a big part of our way of life and being gay simply does not fit in with that life.” Jason is 52 and lives in North London. He told us that being a devout Catholic has helped him not act on his feelings. He said: “I pray to God every day to help me not act on my feelings. Sodomy is a sin and if I act on my feelings towards men I will go straight to hell. I have led a celibate life and I’m thankful that God has given me the strength not to act on my feelings.” Men from ethnic backgrounds Some of the men who responded to our survey said their race pays a big part as to why they are not out. Josh, 24 from Brixton told us: “In the black community the word gay is a major sin. I know if I told my mother that I am gay she would not be able to cope and I’d bring shame on our family. My dad is a typical Jamaican man who shouts the words faggot and batty boy frequently. Telling them is just not an option. I’ve decided not to come out till I’m at least older or if I move away.” Son, 29 from China told us that he had to move to London to be himself. He only arrived in London a couple of months ago on a student visa but hopes to stay in London so he can be himself. “I grew up in a village in China. To be gay in China is unacceptable. You bring great shame on your family. I’ve heard of families killing their children because they are gay. I knew that if I wanted to be myself that I needed to move away. So I applied to university in London and moved over in August. I haven’t told anyone yet but having the freedom to visit a gay bar is amazing.” How do you meet men? As part of our survey, we asked everyone who is not ‘out’ how they meet men for sex. Jake, 17 from Birmingham told us: “I’m still a virgin. Though I have used apps like Grindr to talk to men, I’m just not ready to meet face to face yet”. Kris, 19 from Glasgow said: “I meet men on Grindr. I don’t show my face on the app till I know I’m going to meet up. I have also gone to cruising grounds and been to a sauna twice.” Rex, 19 from Letterkenny told us: “There are no gay bars where I am, so I have to rely on Grindr. The nearest city is 20 miles away and I’ve talked to a couple of guys there. We talk about meeting up but I’m nervous about that. I guess it will happen some day soon.” Peter, who is married to a woman, said: “It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a man. I try to suppress that urge but the last time I had sex with a man was back in 2013. We met through Grindr. He was not out either. We only did oral.” Mohamed, 23 from South West London told us: “I’ve been to cruise bars and saunas. I don’t use apps as I’m afraid of someone finding them on my phone. It’s not often I get to meet men.” Josh, 24 from Brixton said: “I use apps. I don’t share my face pics.” Son told us: “I haven’t met anyone yet. I’ve talked to a few men on Grindr. It’s all new to me but I’m nervous and excited at the same time.” Mental health We asked all those who were surveyed whether they thought being in the closet has affected their mental health and self-esteem. Rex told us that he suffered with mental health issues which he believes are linked to being in the closet. He said: “I have gone though long periods where I wouldn’t get out of bed, I stopped hanging around with my friends and withdrew myself from family events. I was so scared that people could tell I am gay because of the way I talked or moved my hand. Yes, I have thought about killing myself in the past. I’ve never acted on it but it crossed my mind.” Mohamed said: “It would be a lie to say that committing suicide hasn’t crossed my mind. I think it would be the lesser of two shaming experiences that my family would have to deal with. I honestly think they’d rather have to deal with my death than my sexuality.” Paul told us that he’d tried to take his life several times before he got married. “I thought it would be better for everyone involved if I just ended it.” Do you want to come out? We asked everyone if they wanted to ‘come out’. All said yes but felt that it was probably not going to happen any time soon. Jake told us: “I think I will come out eventually but I can’t see it happening till I’m in my mid twenties.” Kris said: “Of course I want to, but I’m just not ready.” Rex told us: “I think once I get done with college and move to a big city like Dublin or London I will, but as long as I stay here it won’t happen.” Peter said: “I think that time for me has passed. It would destroy too many lives to come out now.” Paul agreed with Peter: “It just won’t happen for me. I’ll always have to lead a double life.” Jason said: “As long as God gives me strength to stop these urges, I won’t be acting on it.” Mohamed told us: “I would like to not be living a lie, but my family comes first”. And Josh said: “I can see myself coming out. But not just yet.” Finally, we asked: Are you happy? Jake told us he struggles day to day. “I am some days; I hate myself other days. It’s a battle.” Kris said: “I am happy in general but when I get put into situations where relationships come up I feel awkward and feel I need to lie. Afterwards I tend to crash and feel bad about myself. I’ve had a lot of crying myself to sleep at night.” Peter told us: “I am happy. I have a lovely family. I know I’m not 100% honest with who I am, but I get on with life. In another world I would be out but it’s not reality. I deal with the cards life dealt me.” Mohamed said: “I pray a lot that Allah will guide me through the tough days. I try and come across as though I am happy. Most days I am. But it’s not truthful.” And Josh told us: “I have a good circle of friends and my family respects me. I would like to be out and proud and be happy. Until that day I will battle through and do what I have to do.” We must not forget In an era where equal marriage is now the law, we must not forget that there is a large portion of gay and bisexual men still struggling with their sexuality. In fact, gay and bisexual men are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues and even attempt suicide. This is not acceptable any more. It’s clear that we still have a long way to go in the battle for acceptance and to combat homophobia. If we have learned one thing from these men, it is that their health and happiness is just as important as the gay men who are open and proud. We are one community and we must battle for the health and happiness of all, whether out or not. The impact of ‘coming out’ on your mental health The majority of gay and bisexual men generally maintain good mental health, even though research has shown that they are at greater risk of mental health problems. However, ongoing homophobia, stigma and discrimination can have negative effects on your health. Research also shows that, compared with other men, gay and bisexual men have higher chances of having: Major depression Bipolar disorder General anxiety disorder Gay and bisexual men may also face other health threats that usually happen along with mental health problems. These include more frequent use of illegal drugs and a greater risk of suicide. Gay and bisexual men are more likely than other men to have tried to commit suicide as well as to have succeeded at suicide. HIV is another issue that has had a huge impact on the mental health of gay and bisexual men. It affects men who are living with HIV; and also those who are at high risk, but HIV-negative. Revealing sexual orientation Keeping your sexual orientation hidden from others and fear of having your sexual orientation disclosed can add to the stress of being gay or bisexual. In general, research has shown that gay and bisexual men who are open about their sexual orientation with others have better health outcomes than gay and bisexual men who do not. However, being ‘out’ in some settings and to people who react negatively can add to the stress experienced by gay and bisexual men, and can lead to poorer mental health and discrimination. Keys to maintaining good mental health Having a supportive group of friends and family members is often key to successfully dealing with the stress of day-to-day life and maintaining good mental health. If you are unable to get social support from your friends and families, you can try finding support by becoming involved in community, social, athletic and other groups. Mental health counselling and support groups that are sensitive to the needs of gay and bisexual men can be especially useful if you are coming to terms with your sexual orientation or are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. While many gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men may not seek care from a mental health provider because of a fear of discrimination or homophobia, it is important to keep this as an option and to find a provider that is trustworthy and compatible. Information and support: visit www.rucomingout.com. Help and support: contact LGBT Switchboard, on 0300 330 0630.