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Opinion and Insight

National Coming Out Day: It Got Harder, It Got Better

Wunderman’s senior creative Lucy Eldridge opens up about her decade-long coming out story

National Coming Out Day: It Got Harder, It Got Better

Today marks thirty years since the first National Coming Out day, and almost a decade since I starting getting to grips with my own sexuality. As with every member of the LGBT+ community, it’s been quite a journey; one where I’ve craved the acceptance of others, and from myself.  

So, let’s start at the beginning.

I began to realise I was taking less and less of an interest in the boys I went to school with, when I was 17. That was also the year I met someone who was an out and proud bisexual, and hearing about her life opened my mind the the possibilities. 

It wasn’t boys or bust, which is what a lot of LBT women think before they label the voice in their head by the true name of internalised homophobia. 

One of the first times I said it out loud was to my best friend in the year above. I went to visit her at uni and spent the entire train journey with knots in my stomach, knowing I had to open up to someone. We got out-of-our mind drunk, and I slurred at her that I might be interested in women. She was unsure of what to say, but that might’ve been her blood-alcohol ratio. 

I didn’t tell many more people at school, as I was about to go to uni myself, and like a lot of freshers, I used my first months to live the honest life I’d craved. I was openly out with everyone I met in my university town, even my lecturers, but that bubble burst when I came home for summer.

Stepping into my mum’s house symbolised a step back into the closet. I spent most of the break working at a local bar, feeling like the year of freedom I had at uni never even happened. I even dated a couple of guys that summer. 

Halfway through the break, I planned a trip back to my uni town to attend my first Pride.  

My mum kept asking questions about why I was going back, so I summoned all of the courage I had to tell her…over email. It was a long, very demanding email that I still snigger about to this day. I told her I was pansexual (because I was scared and wanted to confuse her), asked her to not talk about it with me in person, and to keep any questions she may have for my sister (“oh, and while you’re at it, can you tell her for me?”). 

Thankfully, she’d already put up with 18 years of me being difficult, so this confession was water off a duck’s back. Her only fear was the very real discrimination people from the LGBT+ community face, and that my life would not be as straightforward as she’d hoped.

By the time I told my dad, I had finished uni and moved to London. I waited until things got semi-serious with a girlfriend before I finally stopped hiding my life from him. He got a call instead of an email and simply replied “I’m happy, as long as you’re happy".

After that, it just started rolling off the tongue in my everyday life, including work. I did a little test in bookcrits or interviews, using my partner’s pronouns wherever I could. It was exhausting, and might’ve felt a little unnecessary to some, but it felt like vital self preservation. 

Ok, moving on a few years to 2016. A year of tension: Brexit, Trump, but also the year my girlfriend and I started looking for a place together. I didn’t think I was still hiding who I was from anyone -  sure, I still had to come out everyday as every out LGBT+’er does, but there were still important people in my life that I hadn’t told; my grandparents. 

My grandparents are lifetime South Londoners, church goers, and big fans of me; their first grandchild. We disagree on most things politically, notably Brexit, and the idea of telling them about myself - something I am super proud of in every day life - was utterly terrifying. What if their fear of 'others' included me because of who I loved? Before I’d even told my mum that I wanted to let them know, I had to accept that this is something that could result in me losing them. I wasn’t looking for tolerance. It was acceptance or nothing. 

Although I’d painstakingly worked all of this out in my head, it still didn’t mean I’d grown up from the times I’d come out over email or over the phone. So, I did what any independent woman would do and asked my mum to pass on a note I’d written, and let me know how they react. Weirdly, she refused and said a letter wouldn’t cut it, so after crying and arguing at her down the phone, I planned to go and see them myself. 

I sat in their living room for hours avoiding the topic and any other that would cause contention. I was going to give up on the whole thing altogether until my gran quoted a Daily Mail headline. We spoke about how much had changed over their lifetimes; including the legalisation of interracial marriage in the US, that’s how I segued onto the topic of the semi-recent legalisation of same sex marriage. 

They made their views clear when one of them commented “that’s because gay people aren’t productive". I was terrified of their rejection, but I had a hit of sweet, sweet adrenaline and blurted out “it’s funny you say that, cause I’m gay, and I intend on getting married, and having children". Stunned silence.

The break of the silence was a heartfelt stutter from my granddad “You have my blood running through your veins, and I love you for exactly who you are". I told them I was moving in with my partner, and they made it clear they’d love to meet her. The next day, I got a letter of acceptance from my gran and cried all of the tears. 

From an LGBT+ community standpoint, my story is not remarkable. I might’ve been prepared for losing family members, but I didn’t. I could’ve faced doubts about being a lesbian from friends who knew me to have boyfriends, but I didn’t. 

I first told this story Petra Kucha style in front of hundreds of people at GoogleHQ for WPP Stella Ignite, as my story on growth. Since then, I met and spoke to so many people about their journey, their child’s journey, and answered any questions they had. I co-founded Wunderman’s first LGBT+ network and put on a series of events to engage and educate the office, and our numbers are growing. 

Providing a platform for people to be out at work has not only been soul soothing for me, but it’s allowed others to start their journey of being comfortable to come out at work, themselves. 

“It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” — Robert Eichberg, co-founder of National Coming Out day.

You can find Lucy across most social channels at @lucyelderflower.

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Genre: Strategy/Insight