Yes... I am Gay

In his most intimate post yet, Ben Collins reveals his most personal experience of coming to terms with being gay and learning to accept and embrace his sexuality

Before you read on... This entry is a long one, I won't lie and whilst I have broken it in to parts for those who wish to read it in stages, I feel it reads best when read in both order and succession. So please, before reading on, put the kettle on and make yourself comfortable.

PART 1: Ben, The Homophobe 
I am always reminded when speaking with other gay men of just how lucky I am, for it seems unlike many of them, I have yet to ever experience any real form of homophobia. However, whilst I have never experienced any hatred from an external source, I have for a very long time had an internal battle which at times I think can be just as painful.

What has always struck me though is how many of the people I have come out to have little, if no idea of what this is like. I guess though if you consider yourself straight you never need think about it, but for me at least, the process of accepting my sexuality and coming to terms with it was and still is an ongoing journey.
Coming to terms with your sexuality and coming out is far more complicated than I think many people give credit
For me, it started when I was just 12 and whilst many things were unclear at that time, I knew from the outset of puberty that I wasn't like the other boys. Whilst initially it was unclear what this thing was that was making me different, it would take just a year or so for me to begin to figure it out.

So a year later and having discovered this feeling I might be attracted to people of the same sex, the battle began. For at 13, when all you want do is be normal, the thought of being gay, was for me at least a horrible one. I mean, whilst I was never taught that being gay was bad, it only ever held for me negative connotations.
Whilst kids in the playground don’t use the term “gay” in the literal homophobic sense, it does without doubt bring a negative connotation
Making this all the more worse was the isolation. You see, where other boys could talk openly and frequently about how their desires were growing and manifesting, I was left confused with what seemed to be a much more perplexing problem at hand.

And that was that. It remained this way until after years of doubt and denial I finally acknowledged that I was gay, though at just 17 I was still a far way off from true acceptance. Why? Well, this I guess is where that ongoing battle stems from. You see, if I had been given the choice, I would have chosen to be straight - no doubt about it. I love women, I want to have children and that traditional family image we have instilled in us as a child resonates with me more deeply than I think I can put in to words. The problem at hand though is that I can’t help but fancy men and the idea of becoming intimate with a woman is nothing short of repulsive.
If I had been given the choice, I would be straight
It is a problem that at the age of just thirteen or fourteen is a difficult for one to try and understand, let alone share with others. I'm telling you, growing up with this is not easy and many people seem oblivious to the fact boys and girls everywhere feel they have no choice but to spend years dealing with this in a very isolated and lonely place.

So this feeling of near self-loathing continued for many years. In fact, the denial that developed as a result led me for a long time trying to convince myself “it was just a phase” and trying to promote this I even found myself having a couple of girlfriends.

I have fallen in love with palm trees in California
However, try as I might I always knew deep down that it was a wasted effort and whilst this denial would continue to come and go, I began coming out when I was 17.

At first it was slow and I was very selective about who I told. For me at least, what made coming out so important was that it was like me giving up on the hope of being straight and as such marked the beginning of me accepting who I really was. Gradually though, as I began building confidence with my sexuality, I over the next five years became much more open with others until at last, after everybody else, I finally told my Dad. 

Coming out to my Dad was I think, like for a lot of gay men, the person I feared telling most. Knowing I am the first and only son and the only male in the family able to carry forward the Collins name, I knew whatever the outcome there would be a degree of disappointment. 

But for me, a name is just a name and whilst this certain disappointment was not something to happy about, it was nothing in comparison to the fear of perhaps a wider rejection that I felt as being a real possibility. So considering all this for many years, I knew that I could only tell him once I was 100% sure and truly beyond any doubt. As such, when I did eventually come out to my Dad I felt as if I had in just a few short words made a giant leap forward.

So putting my feelings to one side for a minute I have been, I now realise, very lucky. For whilst the process of coming out has no doubt been a long and difficult one, I have unlike many others come out relatively unscathed. I have lost no friends, no family members and I have never felt like I am seen any differently for being gay.
I have lost no friends, no family members and I have never felt like I am seen any differently for being gay
As such, when I come to hear of the problems that other teens and men have had in coming out I feel very sad. Realising how difficult it can be, even when people are supportive, I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to build up the confidence to come out to your loved ones only to be told you are worth nothing, have let them down and should feel ashamed. It must I am sure be awful.

So at 22 and I am firmly out of the closet but still far from feeling good about it. You see, I still want the wife, the kids and the 2-up-2-down, I just know for sure it ain’t ever gonna happen. 

"You can adopt though, right?" Yes, I realise this, but I want to have at least one mini-Ben and maybe too a little Benjamima (the names are perhaps still up for debate). In fact, I would like lots of children… perhaps a couple of my own and then in addition I would like to either foster or adopt two or three more. But then this opens up another can of worms because raising children is not something I see myself doing alone.

"Well you’ll meet someone." That’s what people say but I don’t believe it. I mean I know that statistically the chances work rather well in my favour but at nearly 25 I am still yet to fall in love or for that matter even have a proper relationship. And yes, whilst I am in no rush, certainly at the moment at least, I have yet to have any indication that things will work out. I realise many people will think this is ridiculous and I don't know how else to describe it - I just don't see it happening.

You see, I have met plenty of men who I have a great emotional relationship with, they’re just never gay and likewise on the flip I have had my fair share of sexual experiences but nearly never with somebody I feel there the potential for a lasting emotional connection to perhaps develop a relationship.

Then as if things aren’t already complicated enough, I have at home especially, been very disliking of the LGBT community. Obviously completely unfounded and based entirely on my own insecurities, I have come to really dislike the flamboyant and colourful nature of this community and have often likened myself to a homophobic homosexual. After all, I am gay because I fancy men… not men that act like girls.
A self-declared homophobic homosexual, relationships are not my forte

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Part 2: Joey 
So reaching the tender age of 24 this year I felt like I still have a serious problem. There is now clearly no doubt in my mind that I am gay, but whilst I am technically ‘out of the closet’ I am still a very long way from reaching that place I hope to one day reach.

So in the spirit of what this ‘revolution’ is all about I set one of my travel objectives to be for me to explore gay culture abroad. In context to this post however, I was specifically reminding myself that this trip can aid me along the way to what I hope will one day be that full acceptance and eventual pride of who I am.

And in fact, I didn't wait very long to begin, for my very first host was in fact gay. Clearly a very grounded, down to earth and successful man, I purposefully chose him because I don’t feel at home I have met enough gay positive role models.

So that first night was a real eye opener and just as I had hoped, Joey seemed like any other decent guy – he just so happened to be gay. Anyway, after showing me around his art studio and talking at length about his travels and experiences he took me along to a couple of local gay bars to meet some of his friends and share a few beers.

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The first bar was very normal. There was nothing that stood out as being particularly different, perhaps only that the barman wore 75% less clothing than one might expect for the time of year.

The second bar however… now that was different. Unlike any bar I have been in to before there was a notable absence of nearly any light, giving the place an instant seediness which made me in part feel nervous, part intrigued. Then, at the back of the bar there was “the back room” which sparing you the details confirmed this place was just as seedy as I had first felt. Most entertaining though was what was on TV. 

So just like any other regular bar, the walls were plastered with flatscreen TVs, though unlike what you might expect, these didn't feature neither sports nor music. Oh no. Instead, each screen had on show a different hardcore gay porno. 

Now I don’t know about you but I found this just a teeny bit distracting. For whilst Joey introduced me to his friends, who again like him seemed perfectly normal, I was doing my best to keep a straight face. You see, as I was stood there talking to this guy about having just arrived from England, I had in plain sight behind him some guy in his early twenties getting his back doors blown in by some 6 foot Goliath. I won’t lie, it was weird. I mean is this social etiquette really deemed acceptable? Apparently so.

PART 3: Doug
So why am I writing all this? Well I can imagine that if you are one of my regular readers you will have no doubt by have now noticed that this post is much more personal than perhaps I have written to date. Well the answer is simple - Doug.

Now you might remember just a couple of months ago I was a few thousand kilometres north back on Vancouver Island and with the third of my Victoria-based families I found myself in the home of Marilene, Doug and Selina. Anyway, half way through my stay with them I ended up on a drunken night out with Doug that besides other things would lead to the worst hangover I have had in years.

Anyway, mid-way through the night, Doug looks up over his pint and without warning says “so I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…”

I cut him off immediately and just said it - “Yes, I’m gay.” He had obviously known the answer before asking but it started off a rather interesting conversation. Slightly confused, he started by asking me why I hadn't said anything to them before about being gay.
“Yes, I'm gay”
And it was a damn good question. I hadn't before then given it much thought but I had now stayed with these three great families and despite supposedly being ‘out’ and now considering them all good friends, I had obviously chosen not to reveal that I was gay. But why?

Well caught off guard I think I said something on the lines of that “I never felt like I had the right opportunity” but I think he realised as I much as I did this was bollocks. It wasn't that there wasn't an opportunity; it was that I didn't want to say something. It got me thinking… perhaps then I am not as out and proud as I first thought!?

Still unsure but realising I perhaps didn't have an answer, Doug explained to me how that if I had perhaps said something, he, or Marilene, or anyone else for that matter, could have introduced me to other people and in turn open doors that might otherwise remain closed.

Anyway, that was that, the conversation moved on and nothing more was said.

But whilst nothing more was said between us, this was far from the end of the story. For Doug had not realised, but this conversation would stick with me and with it set off a chain reaction that will forever I think mark an important turning point in my life.
Unknowingly Doug had set off a chain reaction that will forever mark an important turning point
I just couldn't work it out. Why wouldn't I say anything?

Well the honest answer is I didn't know. All I really knew was that it made me unhappy I had chosen not to say anything and I guess by proxy decided from that point forward to be much more open and to make a real effort with being honest with the people I meet.

Now don’t get excited, I'm not going to become this rainbow spouting, arm flailing, drama queen lady boy, but my actions on Vancouver Island I realised were not too dissimilar from being a total closet case - and frankly that is no better.
I'm not going to become this rainbow spouting, arm flailing, drama queen lady boy
So with me now consciously thinking about being open with people, I have in fact discovered just how closed I have really been. For with each of my hosts in recent weeks I have openly stated I am gay much sooner than if I had otherwise not spoken with Doug. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not making some grand announcement upon stepping over the threshold, but I am not avoiding every opportunity to say so either.

And I won’t lie… it has been difficult. Where before I have always waited to be asked and passed over opportunities to say something, this has been a very different approach. But just like before, I have not once had any bad vibes and it has come to feel good to know I am not only being honest with other people but I am finally maybe being honest with myself.

PART 4: Juan & Aaron
So with this now being addressed I could move on and arriving in to San Francisco – the gay capital of the World – there was a clear opportunity to look at my bad attitude towards the wider gay community.

Just as I have done in many of the towns and cities I have gone through, I logged on to Grindr, in the hope of finding new friends to either get a coffee with or share a beer. For those of you who don’t know what Grindr is it is an app for your smartphone that I guess is a gay social network. With a simple design, it shows you all the guys who are currently logged on and are then listed in order of how far away they are from you.

Now this app is pretty popular and in most cities there are usually at least 100 other guys within just a couple of kilometres but in San Francisco it was, to say the least, more crowded.

Anyway, so after a couple of hours sending messages, I went to meet Juan who working literally around the corner met me after work for coffee. Juan was nice. Very approachable, funny and just a little cute, we got on well and after finishing our coffee he invited me out for the night to go drinking somewhere outside of San Francisco.

Initially I found myself a little unsure but I figured it was best to just go with the flow - and what a night. We met up with a few of his friends, we talked for hours, hit a few bars and generally had a good time.

Then on my second night I met up with Aaron, who visiting from Portland, was just as open and friendly as Juan the night before. Best of all though, Aaron knew San Francisco pretty well and was keen to show me around the gay district, the Castro, where to my surprise things were not as I had anticipated.

People here seemed different. Unlike back home for example where most gay men seem to be quite dramatic, the men and women here seemed far more relaxed. I figured that being gay had become so normal that perhaps the men and women here no longer needed to prove anything. Perhaps it seems that whilst I have been quite reclusive about my sexuality as a way to distance myself from it, others go the opposite direction and conform to the stereotypical gay man that you can increasingly find appearing in sitcoms and soap operas.

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My point here is that I actually enjoyed myself and given my past experiences back home, it was refreshing to enjoy being in the company of other gay men. In fact, I'll go one step further and say I really enjoyed myself... Juan and Aaron were not only really decent human beings but they perhaps enabled me to for the first time to experience ‘the scene’ without that sensational need to just want to kill myself (now whose being dramatic?)

So that was San Francisco and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much so that it joins Montreal and Victoria on my A-List of places I’d rather now live than return back home to the UK.
San Francisco joins my A-List of cities that I would rather live in than return back to the UK
This was the view from Barney's home - and I think you'll agree it was pretty spectacular
PART 5: Barney
Alas though, it was onwards and upwards and after another night on the Greyhound I woke up this time in Los Angeles. LA though was not my final destination and my last stop in America and indeed Stage 1 was Santa Monica, perhaps 45 minutes or so West of downtown LA.

So CouchSurfing for the final time here in the States, my host this time was Barney, who in his early sixties invited me to come stay with him a couple of weeks ago. With incredible rooftop views across to the ocean, Barney lived in a pretty swanky neighbourhood and a house to boot.

Like the home he lived in, Barney himself was great. He welcomed me in to his home, he introduced me to his friends and quite unexpectedly it turned out too that he was also gay.

Whilst we didn't spend a great deal of time together we did have a little time to talk during which time Barney told me of how when he was younger he had come to adopt a child and revealing this without knowing my current thoughts on the matter, he unknowingly provided a real inspiration.

Beyond my time with Barney I also came to meet another guy in Santa Monica, who after everything that had happened in the last month or so, felt like the icing on my developmental cake.
The icing on my developmental cake
So I had arrived in to Santa Monica a little after 10am and with 8hrs to burn before meeting with Barney I found myself more tired than ever and in Starbucks drinking what I think was perhaps two double espressos and a large Americano. The details here I guess are irrelevant but as I sat there trying to wake up I felt truly awful - I had spent the night on the bus and not only did I look like it, I smelled like it too.

Venice Beach, California (Click to enlarge)

PART 6: Simon
So I am in line waiting to order coffee and one of the baristas looks up and smiles. He was obviously gay, which I guess again is irrelevant, but after taking a second or two he looks up again and begins to blush. Now as I said, I’m looking at this moment pretty trampy and so realise his blushing is not derived from anything sexual.

Anyway, a minute or so of being in line and he asks what I would like to drink and after taking my money he suddenly gets all nervous.

“I loved your films” he says admiringly.

I chuckled and smiled, for now it was clear who he thought I was. In fact, something very similar had happened in San Francisco when I was out with Juan a couple of nights ago.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking” he said, “but can I get your autograph?”

I did wonder if I should go along with it but figured it would most likely only end badly.

 I'm afraid I'm not who you think I am” I said. 

Stood there he looked unimpressed for I don’t think he believed me. 

“You’re not the first to ask, but trust me, I’m not Simon Pegg.”

I walked off with my coffee smiling but with now several other members of staff now watching, I felt they really believed I was him. Well either way I'm not complaining… a few minutes later, this besotted guy brings me over a free breakfast and at this point I figured if it’s going to get me free food, he can think I am whoever he likes.

PART 7: Tom
So sitting in the back of Starbucks I smell as bad as I look and logging on to Grindr in the hope of passing the time, I did so without intention. In fact, all I really wanted at that point was a hot shower and an opportunity to change out of my clothes.

Two coffees later and I find myself talking with Tom, a guy in his late thirties who lived just a short hop away on the bus. Claiming no strings attached, Tom was kind enough to offer me to head over and use his shower, saying too he had the opportunity that afternoon to hang out for a while.

So an hour later and I reach Tom’s home, which to say the least blew me away. Whilst he did explain to me what he did for work, I'll be honest, I didn't really understand but whatever he did, it was clearly paying off very well for him. Most striking though was that he was just another really nice guy and during my time in Santa Monica we would come to spend a great deal of time together, becoming in the process good friends.

Spoilt rotten, I was given a full tour of LA, including Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood Boulevard, shown various walks around Santa Monica, Venice and their beautiful beaches, and on a couple nights we went out for drinks and shared in some pretty tasty food. I tell you, whilst Grindr can have its downside, it was for me here in California churning out some real pros.

The sun sets on my final night in America, marking the end of my first stage

PART 8: Ben, The Homo
Then on the final night of Stage 1 and my last night in America, I was as I had expected been in a rather reflective mood. Thinking back to all the incredible experiences I have had and how life back home will never be the same, I felt both so incredibly happy and grateful. For in the last seven months, this journey has truly surpassed every one of my wildest expectations and as just as I said a few months ago - if I died tomorrow, I would do so a very happy man.

Most incredibly though is how in just seven months I already feel so different to the man I was when I left the UK. And whilst there are many small changes I have come to note, there is one change for sure that will I think eventually come to define this stage. 

For just eight months ago, I was in a very different place and if I was given the choice, I would have changed what is one of the most defining parts of who I am. And whilst this journey is still far from over I leave tomorrow for Mexico a proud man. For after an uphill struggle for nearly 15 years I can finally say with heartfelt honesty that I am not just gay and I am not just proud, but if given the same choice today I wouldn't change it for the World.

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