For the longest time I was pretty damn certain that I would never come out.

I was in the home stretch of my 20s and increasingly felt like damaged goods. If it hadn’t happened already, it probably wasn’t going to, right? That ship had sailed and I had missed it.

That was until 2014, an important year in my personal history…

I kissed a guy for the first time. I had sex for the first time. I was living openly as a gay man.

In hindsight, it was obvious that I had never given up on the idea of coming out. It was a notion constantly pondered, a thought that persistently swirled through the ol’ grey matter. I was looking for comfort. I was looking for a sense of security. I was looking for a final push.

My behaviour had changed that year and I could see myself mentally preparing.

I had started following gay people on social media, with a growing curiosity about their actual day-to-day lives. They weren’t too different from me. They had friends. They had jobs. They had interests. Being gay wasn’t this all consuming thing that defined every aspect of a person’s life. Who knew? It was more than a stereotype I didn’t necessarily conform with.

I had started reading gay-themed articles on the interwebs, too – identifying more and more with the issues. The LGBT section of Buzzfeed had quickly become a daily port of call for me.

Then, I began to seek out gay media – films, television shows, and video game.

I was actively pursuing the things I went out of my way to avoid in the past.

Up until this point, I had a complicated history with gay-themed content.

My favourite show during high school was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I rambled away on internet forums. I read post-episode breakdowns. The obsession ran deep, my friend. I’m not exaggerating when I say it shaped me in a whole lot of important ways as a writer and a man. Who knew that wasn’t enough, though? One day, I read that this was a series popular with gay men. I freaked out. I didn’t want to be gay, after all. This wouldn’t stand. I abandoned Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stopped watching.

I was so deep in the closet that I didn’t want to be associated with a show that was associated with gays. You can imagine how well I went with a series that was actually about the gays…

Back in the day I studied television at university…

Our unit coordinator was an out and proud gay man that terrified me just a little bit. I was a guy attempting to perfect my straight guy performance, while he wore his identity on his sleeve. This guy was a huge fan of Russell T. Davis, the show runner of Doctor Who at the time. He also created a little show called Queer as Folk before that. I distinctly remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable watching footage of it in lectures. I wanted to run out of there.

Embarrassingly enough, I complained about this lecturer subjecting us to ‘gay porn’ in the unit review at the end of the semester. Yeah, I’ve come along way, man. I’ve come along way…

Queer as Folk wasn’t gay porn. Far from it. It was something important to a lot of people.

I’ve heard variations of the same story, time-and-time again. It’s one where young gay men and women, who were struggling with their sexualities, would sneak out into their living rooms after dark to covertly watch Queer as Folk or The L Word. It helped them. It was important to see people like them on television. It was important to see what a post-closeted life looked like.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I understood. I was ready. It was my turn. I needed to do this…

I started to watch gay-themed shows and movies.

I would make sure no one knew I was doing this, either. It was something to be hidden.

I watched a film called Weekend that blew my mind. It was about two normal, grounded guys temporarily entangled in each others lives. I could see myself in these men. They were relatable and human. They talked about things I thought about. They weren’t stereotypes or caricatures. I began to imagine myself in their shoes and having these kinds of experiences.

Queer as Folk wasn’t the important show for me. That would turn out to be HBO’s Looking.

This was a series that premiered in 2014 at a pretty fortuitous and meaningful time.

Looking was about a group of gay men in San Francisco, and their regular, day-to-day lives. It wasn’t overly romanticised in the slightest and felt similar in tone to HBO’s Girls.

This show was the definition of polarising – people either loved it or hated it.

I’m not going to lie, I was put off by the gay content – my comfort with such things would come later. I saw how these men were living and didn’t necessary want that kind of life. I didn’t identify with any of these guys on a personal level. This felt far removed from my experiences. I kept watching and a funny thing happened… I started to warm to them.

It was a bit like the social media thing I mentioned earlier.

They had friends. They had jobs. They had interests. The show wasn’t just about sex. These men were real, fleshed out people. This was a world populated by folks who are comfortable with themselves on the other side of coming out. It wasn’t the only way, but a version…

The characters could be abrasive and selfish, always fucking up right on cue like clockwork. I would routinely shake my fist at the TV and call them out on their stupid decisions. They weren’t the poster children of what the model gay man should look like – or my version, at least. Turns out, no one is the poster child of what the model gay man should look like. Who knew?

Once I got over the fact that Looking wasn’t entirely in line with my own experiences or fantasy of how things could be, the honesty and realism of the writing stood out.

These guys might not be perfect, but they’re living with the freedom to be the people they want to be. This was a freedom I had denied myself. There wasn’t much of my own life I’d have to change. I wouldn’t need a personality overhaul. For the first time I could reconcile being gay with the person I wanted to be. The form that took was entirely up to me…

Looking and shows like it are important. They means something…

Seeing gay people on television and getting that glimpse of what a post-closet life can look like will always be welcome. It helped me in a very real way to be comfortable with myself and played a part in getting me out of that closet.

The trailer for the Looking movie has just been released… I can’t help but smile while watching it.

I can see how far I’ve progressed in my own life, from when the series premiered to where it’s finishing. And the funny thing? It’s not so far removed from my own life any more. Go figure.

You can follow Dan Clarke on Twitter.

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