If you had told me two years ago that one of the most mind-altering aspects of my ‘coming-out’ was going to be EastEnders, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, it is, sadly, true.

I’m not talking about a particular story line, or something that even happened recently, I’m talking about how we reconnect with ourselves before we redefined ourselves. Now, coming-out isn’t experienced the same way – some of us don’t even do it – but, it is often a transition from hiding to openness, to some degree.

The process is long, arduous and quite frankly confusing.

When I was twelve I had never heard the word ‘bisexual’ but I had definitely heard the word gay, or at least had it thrown at me in the playground or heard it used to describe something that wasn’t ‘dope’ – two binary adjectives children of the 90s will remember well.

And with this, I hid behind my internalised homophobia, trying to 'stay' straight or deny myself the experience of connecting to these profound feelings of attraction. The most confusing aspect of this? That, although I denied myself homosexual attraction to be a valid feeling, it did nothing to diminish my attraction to opposite or other gendered people. I was oscillating between something I, back then, saw and experienced as a binary – opposed to allowing myself to play bumper cars on the spectrum.

Looking back, it all makes sense to me now, but that journey can be rough.

I was always sensitive and soft as a child, I hated violence and rejected heteronormative notions of masculinity. In my early years friendships with young girls were the only place I felt comfortable, they took me in and made me one of their own. I’d be the Dad for their ‘playing-house’ game or I’d be the newly-wedded husband in the marriage game (I know, I know). But it never really occurred to me why.

I often put it down to being raised by a single mother, or that the most consistent people in my life had been women. My Mum’s sisters, and largely also my grandmothers on both sides, always pitched in with child care. I grew up knowing more about periods and menopause than a lot of women in adult life and knew well the stark difference in how cismen and ciswomen were defined, in the working-class home, before I could put words to it. However, that didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

As I rattled my brain I couldn’t help but draw up this feeling of othering in primary school.

The boys didn’t like me, they actually, actively sought me out for attack, I was a punching bag – or to one boy in particular, a kicking bag, right in the groin – and it hurt. Perhaps I threatened them, or perhaps they intimidated me, but there was something askew. And then I remembered Christopher.

I remember him so vividly. He was what we might call, a 'Jack the Lad'. He always had scratches on his knobbly knees, a slick haircut and this big, perfectly teethed smile. He’d come back after the summer holidays a picture-perfect glow of Spanish summer vacation, his brown hair sun-kissed and that reddish hue of sunburn across his t-zone that only the olive skinned white kids get. I really admired him, a lot. Or did I?

I had countless stories, anecdotes and memories like this. Feelings of nostalgia around particular men and boys, this deep sense of admiration and happiness from tracing the lines of their faces or listening to them speak; noticing their posture and pose, waiting for their next move.

It was a sensation that I couldn’t comprehend. I didn’t view women or girls like this, my attraction or the normality of being attracted to them, was either lost on me as a child or something I probably didn’t have to think about. I knew that loving a women’s face was right to me, it was forced down my neck to be frank, but these same gender titillations made me feel like an imposter, an outsider – someone not privy to their own soul’s yearning.

This is where EastEnders comes in. I remember I was particularly vocal, and obsessed, with a character called David Watts – bear in mind this show was an everyday highlight for me in the 90s, with my newly minted 5 channel terrestrial TV. 

Yet, I didn’t just like David as a character, I wanted to be him. I proclaimed that I was changing my name to David, a subtle change from Daniel I protested to my Mum – a proclamation many times ignored – and I’d be upset if he wasn’t the centre of the story. I was envious of everyone around him, enamoured with his tacky suits and wanted my hair to be just like his – jet black and perfectly set. 

Now, I’m not saying this childhood speculation or analysis is definitive or even accurate – although, it feels pretty right. It’s a conversation that I’ve had with other queer people, bi, gay, lesbian – anyone that doesn’t identify as hetero – and they all have similar stories. Whereas I am on the side of people that would argue coming-out is a performative gesture for straight people, in our society, it is an often liberating and self-affirming process (but also a time of our lives that can be fraught with conflict, rejection and uncertainty). 

When I started to think about this, I started to truly connect with my sexuality as a continuum. I was able to re-stitch my past experiences into the very fabric of who I am now, rather than feeling alienated and othered by the division in my own story. I split open the shell of what I had been hiding or ignoring for all those years and sowed the seeds into my experiences – reconnecting with the past and the present.

So, when asked by an online dating site to answer some questions for my profile, I quite fluidly said that ‘something I had been thinking a lot about recently’ was “how knowing myself more I can redefine my story as a child, re-sculpt my admiration for men as crushes and crushes for women as admiration.”

I’d like to think we can all do that, in any small way, to allow ourselves the growth and fullness of our identities. To truly accept who we are, both before and after we come out.

By Daniel VB

Queer, bisexual freelance-writer with special interest in dismantling toxic masculinity, redefining gender whilst exploring sexuality – and all other intersections.

Twitter: @thelastgoodbi

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