“Coming out of the closet” is a metaphor used by the LGBT+ community to describe their self-disclosure of the sexual orientation or gender identity. For this month’s edition, I talked to a fellow EmbrACE editor and columnist, Berdan Kaplan, about his recent coming out.
When did you know you were gay? Were you always sure or did you have to become aware of yourself?
"I only knew I was gay one or two years ago, which is a surprise to most people that ask me this question.
I was bullied a little bit in the beginning of high school, I got called names and kids would tease me for being gay. I knew I was a little different to most guys in my class. I had assimilated pretty well to Dutch culture considering I was part of a Turkish family, and had lots of friends who were girls, I was smaller, I had a more open mindset – these things made me stick out a little more and I was an easy target.
For most of high school, I didn’t even think about my sexuality. I was never really in love, I didn’t really fancy anyone, boy or girl. I had crushes on girls then, but just because I thought they were cute, not because I was sexually attracted to them necessarily.
In fourth class I started becoming more aware of myself and spent time thinking about why I felt the way I felt. ‘Why was I attracted to the male body? Why are boys so handsome? Was I gay?’ But I said to myself (literally in my head) ‘nah, it can’t be- it’s probably just a phase, I’m not going to do that or be that because it takes so much effort to come out, I’m probably not gay. I’ll just like girls’ (laughs). This was where 16-year-old Berdan was at."
Where was the transition between ‘it’s a phase’ to ‘it’s my truth’? Did your friends and family already know, or did you have to come out?
"When I realised that I was gay, I assumed everyone around me already knew this. With my friends, this was in fact the case. It was really easy for me to talk to them, I rambled through my coming out each time and they were really receptive and supportive.
With my parents, it was a whole other story. Because I got picked on in school, they knew there was something there that they weren’t directly addressing. They come from a completely different background and hadn’t experienced anything like this. They didn’t want to experience it, either. So, they knew, but they didn’t want to know. They tried to live in ignorant bliss, I guess.
I knew I had to tell them when I started getting too annoyed by their remarks about my future girlfriend or wife and married life. I couldn’t believe how oblivious they were, as I had made it quite clear that the future they envisioned for me was not the future I wanted for myself. I tried not to lie to them, so I pointed out that marriage and children were not things I wanted, and still don’t at this point in my life. Surely, they knew I wasn’t interested in women. We just never had the conversation lead towards that. It could have, many times, but it stayed at the surface level of girlfriends and future wives.
I couldn’t be myself at home. But I have every right to be who I am, in my home with my parents and my sister. I didn’t want to pretend anymore, so I knew I had to come out"
Did you ever consider not coming out?
"When I realised I was gay, I never ever thought about staying in the closet all my life. I did think about what it would be like to go to school, get a job and move away from my family to then live as who I am, away from the people that wouldn’t accept me, or homosexuality. I think most gay guys in difficult situations have thought of this for a second. But when I realised who I was I also realised that it’s more than okay to be who I am, and to talk about it- to talk about cute guys and what I like about the male form; it was a huge relief to let down my guard around my friends, boys and girls alike. I loved being myself, truly. I don’t see how this is a bad thing for my family or other people around me. Nothing about me has changed! I’ve always been expressive, ambitious, emotional, enthusiastic! I’ve always loved public and definitely talking way too much. It’s all me! I’m the exact same person that they loved before I came out.
A huge factor in coming out was the fact that I loved who I was. I love who I am. Everybody is unique, and I love my uniqueness, my personality. I couldn’t deny myself the right to be happy as the best and most true version of myself."
How do you see acceptance and awareness of LGBT+ people changing in the future, if at all?
"I think in a few decades it will be completely normal in more parts of the world for people to come out. Gay, or lesbian, or asexual or pansexual or any-sexual won’t be seen as a minority that have to declare themselves as who they are. It’s like the most normal thing, your sexuality. It’s not that one kind of sexuality is a norm, and another isn’t, or one is better than the other.
It’s not 100% about the education a person receives that makes them accepting or unaccepting of LGBT+ people. It plays a part, sure- most university level students know that your sexuality is something you are born with, not something you choose. It’s in your DNA, it’s undeniable, it’s not subjective. But that’s not to say that people that aren’t in higher education don’t also understand this and accept someone’s sexuality just as it is. Take one of my family members, for example, that graduated from a university of applied sciences. I came out to them three weeks ago and they haven’t spoken to me since. So, it’s not as simple as secular education teaching people that homosexuality isn’t wrong.
I think education in the home is more important. It’s where the culture, norms and values are taught, and where acceptance and open-mindedness can also be taught. This particular family member and I are quite different in many ways, even though we were raised in the same environment."
Having been through this so recently, and still going through it now- what would your advice be to people who may be in a similar situation to yours?
"Stay true to yourself. That sounds so cliché but it’s so, so true. You have to have patience for those people around you that are struggling. But stand by yourself, you have every right to be and feel and live what you want to! It's frustrating but it will turn out great in the end."