"I thought love could not be a thing in this world"
Former HEHTA researcher and founder of IHW's Athena SWAN LGBTQ+ working group, now a lecturer in forensic toxicology, Rafael Venson, shares his experience of coming out.
I believe coming out is a very personal process. Different people have different coming-out times.
For me, it was a process that took years. Although I am not sure when it started, I remember knowing I was different (and "wrong") before I was even 10 years old. It’s a very confusing feeling for a kid.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a very happy and healthy childhood, with a loving family and friends. However, this feeling of being "wrong" led me to be independent early and over-analyse everything I did. Any issue I had, mainly if it was related to my sexuality, I tried to solve myself as I couldn’t share with anyone else. I also needed to be careful not to "give away" I was gay, so every gesture and word were carefully studied.
Don't seek acceptance, seek respect.
Skipping forward some years, when I was 25, I moved to a city 1,400km away from my hometown and from everyone I knew. There I found myself alone and started questioning myself about what being gay really meant. Up until then, I had never had contact with the "gay world" and I was full of prejudice. I thought love could not be a thing in this world, and therefore I’d die alone if I "opted" to follow this path. This was when I decided to start researching homosexuality and making gay friends. It was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was also a very fun experience. I met my first boyfriend after a couple of months and lived a very happy 3-year relationship that proved I was wrong thinking love was not a thing between gays. In fact, I was wrong about so many things! And I thinking now I find it shocking that a 25-year old gay man, in the 2000s, could have so much misinformation about being gay. The bottom line is: I wish I had been exposed to how the world really is, full of diversity. This way, I would have known I was not wrong by being different and that I was definitely not alone.
If I was to give any advice, it would be:
- Respect your own time: people have different experiences in life, and they live in different settings, both culturally and physically. The experience one person has is not necessarily the best for another person.
- Listen to other people’s experience: it’s a matter of probability! The more experience you obtain from other people, the more probable is that you’ll find what’s best for you! Research using internet, films, books, and other media can also be very important. For me, it was essential.
- Don’t judge people by their first reaction: this is a very passionate subject, and people can unintentionally be cruel at first. The same way the "coming-out time" should be respected, so should other people’s time in digesting the information.
- Don’t seek acceptance, seek respect: a lot of people use the word "acceptance" when talking about coming out. There is nothing wrong with being gay, and using this word implies we need people to approve us. I know this can sound petty, but in my opinion this sends the wrong message. What we want is respect and equity, not acceptance.
Dr Rafael Venson
Lecturer in Forensic Toxicology/Pharmacology
University of Glasgow
First published: 21 September 2020