Coming out is always hard, but what happens when you’ve spent decades hiding your sexuality? Matthew Wade spoke to gay men about coming out later in life.
Coming out at 45 is no easy feat, and for Steven Bloom it was a moment he’d spent several decades struggling to reconcile before ultimately biting the bullet to his then-wife over a casual evening chat.
Now the President of the Gay and Married Men’s Association (GAMMA), Bloom said he knew from a young age he was interested in men but a handful of factors kept pushing his desires further and further inward.
“In the seventies there was a fair bit of homophobia, and my family was pretty reserved and conservative,” he said.
“I had a gay uncle but because we lived on different sides of the city, it wasn’t easy to call him and I didn’t feel that I could just ring him. [My sexuality] was something I wanted to deny.”
Growing up during a time where homophobia was prolific made times tough for Bloom, who said arousal was a difficult thing for him to control, particularly in the change rooms with his peers.
He was not only struggling with the thought that he was different from the other boys at his school but also struggling to conceptualise and understand what same-sex attraction meant.
And then at the turn of the decade, the AIDS crisis hit.
“As a teenager it was all about HIV and AIDS, and it was a terrible thing – I didn’t want that,” he said.
“I didn’t identify with anything I saw as ‘gay’ at the time. Drag queens getting bashed, AIDS, and lots of homophobia.
“I didn’t even know what the word homophobia was back then.”
A detrimental combination of ingrained homophobia in Australian culture and the homophobic violence and rhetoric that exploded during the AIDS crisis meant that Bloom was forced to hide his sexual identity and deny it.
Moving forward to the mid-noughties he was suffering depression, seeing psychiatrists, and taking anti-depressants.
As an extra step to combat his mental health issues Bloom undertook mindful meditation which saw him begin to understand himself a lot more.
“I spent three years thinking about my sexuality, and trying to identify where the depression was coming from,” he said.
“Finally I started to realise if I was being brutally honest with myself that I was definitely attracted to men.”
When he came out to his wife, he says it wasn’t out of the blue.
“I’d always dropped hints saying if anything were to ever happen to us, I’d never get married again, and we’d talked about sexuality,” he said.
“One night we were having another one of those sexuality questions and she said are you gay – I had about ten seconds to watch my life flash before my eyes and decided then and there if I was going to be honest, I was going to be honest for the rest of my life.
“I said yes I am, and burst out crying.”
For Geoff Selig, the Executive Chairman of IVE Group, discovering his sexuality as a young man was a confusing and difficult process.
“I suppose growing up can be confusing at times, particularly around the issue of one’s sexuality,” he said.
“At ten years old I don’t remember being fully conscious of the realisation I was gay, and in fact what the hell gay actually meant.
“For me it was the beginning of high school when I first really came out to myself, and actually realised I was gay – I was scared.”
Keeping his sexuality hidden, Selig married at the age of 25 and shared his life with his wonderful wife Jane and their three gorgeous daughters.
He came out to Jane 15 years ago but it wasn’t until 2014 at the age of 50 that he fully came out to his family and everyone else in his life.
“I couldn’t go on living my life in the closet,” he said.
‘It’s soul destroying and destructive to everyone you love.
“The coming out process was the most seminal time of my life, and I’m so glad I found the strength to finally ‘do it’.
Despite feeling happy that he’s finally come out to those in his life, Selig believes it makes such a huge difference to come out earlier as a teenager.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the negativity and self-loathing that runs through your veins for so long while living in the closet never really leaves you,” he said.
“That’s why I believe coming during the formative adolescent years of your life is such a crucial ingredient to living life with a healthy self-esteem.”
Despite the culture and lifestyles of young queer people in Australia looking far different than they did several decades earlier, both Bloom and Selig agree that we still have strides to go when it comes to ensuring LGBTI youth feel safe and comfortable.
“Sexual identity and one’s sexuality remain complex issues in many ways for a lot of people, so we still have a very long way to go I feel until everyone feels a level of comfort in coming out early,” Selig said.
For more information about the Gay and Married Men’s Association visit www.gamma.org.au.