New York gave me the confidence to come out as a gay man
Seeing people be unashamedly themselves ignited something in me
James Lambert: ‘It took me time to be okay with who I am.’
This week I celebrated gay pride in New York, at a parade that saw two million people take to the streets to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ with “Defiantly Different” theme.
It moved me. It made me immensely proud to be part of such a diverse, bold and resilient group of people. It also made me reflect and look back to growing up in Ireland and my experience coming out.
Everyone has a different path, and sexual orientation is a complex thing. I remember in my teenage years having a feeling I was different in some way, and it terrified me. I had a good mix of friends, boys and girls, the word “gay” was one thrown around to describe something undesirable, made idiomatic, little to do with its definition.
In primary school, sexual education did not account for heteronormative variables. There were few gay role models growing up, and representations in media were often exaggerated, hyper effeminate men who served as fun accessories to the main characters.
I always prided myself on being entrepreneurial and had an innate desire to work in a big city, a powerful company, someday with a seat at the table. But I was ignorant and thought as a gay man I would be restricted in what I could do, so I squashed the thought. Who I thought I was and what my aspirations were, could not allow me to be gay. The thought was unacceptable.
Being raised Catholic I always had faith growing up and would pray every night. I would pray to keep my family safe, and at the end I would pray that I would not be gay. I would never dwell on it for long or even think about it, for the very thought would make it that bit more real. I did not want to be different.
Somehow, I managed to compartmentalise that part of myself and continued to go on lads nights out and shift a girl and whatever else to keep going. I was relatively happy, had friends, and my studies were going well. But deep down, something was not clicking.
Four years ago I moved to America.I was part of a dual-degree programme with 12 other Irish people, studying at Northeastern University in Boston at the cost of Dublin City University fees. My inner conflict came to the fore when I graduated in 2016. It was the final semester of senior year. I was effectively leading a double life. I met guys for dates, one who became my boyfriend for a time. aIt felt extremely right, and, in those stolen moments, I felt completely at ease with myself.
In Boston I lived with friends from DCU and there the double life began to cause real stress. I was juggling two identities, and trying to keep up an act. I felt like I a phony. I was scared that these friends, who had become like brothers and sisters, would think less of me. That the James they knew was in actual fact someone else. I was worried everyone would feel I had betrayed them, that I was weak for keeping this secret. These thoughts were bull, of course; misinformed internal perceptions, far removed from reality.
My family came to Boston for graduation in May 2016. They were immensely proud of me (and relieved) that I was finished my third-level education. My parents, both then primary school principals, had always supported my education. But during this happy time, I felt a deep sadness that was difficult to reconcile: I was starting a new job and moving to New York City, a place I dreamed about since I was a kid, graduating from university and harboring this big (gay!) secret. I chose not to tell them during graduation, in fear of eclipsing the moment.
A few months into my new New York life, I began to live more openly as a gay man. It was new, exciting and eye opening. I met people who broke down my own ignorant perceptions of what I thought it meant to be gay. I experienced romantic love and met new people who have since become my best friends. Seeing people be unashamedly themselves ignited something in me and gave me the confidence to be more okay in my own skin.
I put together a message, had it peer reviewed and sent it to my family Whatsapp group explaining everything. My dad had no idea, my mam and sisters understood, and to my youngest brother it made absolutely no difference. They all came back to say they loved me and supported me. I told my Irish friends face to face while home that Christmas, and they were happy for me.
It took me time to be okay with who I am, and I hope my story can help even just one person still struggling to find some support to realise that being gay does not make a difference to what matters. I am excited for the next generation, that they never for a minute should be scared to hide who they are. I am grateful to those far braver than me who faced the cruel hand of discrimination and demanded equality. I am proud to be an Irishman and have the highest-ranking seat in our Government filled by an openly gay man.
Life is too short and brilliant to allow any time to be consumed hiding your full, wonderful self. Plus, staying in the closet is so last season.
James Lambert is a blockchain specialist working at R3 in New York. He can be contacted on Instagram @jlambert85