Coming Out – “Are you ready to do this?”

Saturday July the 2nd will see the return of Pride in London, two years since the Covid-19 pandemic relegated the annual celebration off the streets of the capital. This year is also historic, as it marks 50 years since the first Gay Pride in Britain, which took place in July of 1972, and was organised by the Gay Liberation front (GLF). As the streets of central London are filled with members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, coming together in what could be called “a collective coming out”, this article looks at the very notion of “coming out”, as a central part of becoming. 


Luda & Beryl, 2011 Ope Lori @ Image Courtesy of PILAA

The interconnected nature of both aspects was evidenced, as viewers tuned into the ITV documentary, Kelly Holmes: Being Me. Aired on the 26th of June, we heard the coming out story of Dame Kelly Holmes, the nations prized Olympic Gold medal winning heroine. With an emphasis on the “Being Me” being written in bold on the title screen, we see Holmes relive her challenges with not being able to come out, in what was a beautiful yet painful testimony from the athlete. Now in her early 50s, she is coming out to the public and the rest of the world, and in such an emphatic way, by appearing in this documentary for all to see. Her deeply moving and emotional journey is one that many from the LGBTQIA+ communities can relate to, such as thinking of when is it the right time to come out?  Or what makes coming such a difficult experience for some, although not for all, and lastly, how can we foster inclusive and supportive spaces for those yet to come out or who may want to remain in the closet, for various reasons?




When is it the right time to come out?

“Are you ready to do this?” were the initial words asked by the interviewer to Holmes in the opening scene, before she nervously responded “yep, ready to do it. Need to do it. So gotta get it done.” (1) We learn that for various reasons, including Holmes national identity as a sporting heroine and having served in the Army at a time when it was illegal to be gay, she was unable to come out. For 32 years she had kept this secret to herself, family and friends, fearing that she would be caught. When she came out, she did so first to her non-biological father, whom her mother married and then to the rest of her family at the age of 27. When speaking to her family about her coming out to them, most had known and had always been supportive. For one sister, she states that by her telling her, it had brought them much closer. Coming out, in the most basic sense, is defined as:

“The process of telling someone else how they identify in terms of their romantic orientation, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Coming out is a lifelong process that has both intrapersonal and interpersonal components, although most people have an initial phase where they are first coming out to themselves.” (2)

As we saw with Holmes, it wasn’t just about an issue of time, but it was also related to how she felt, and to how her mental health was deteriorating. The longer and longer she remained in the closet, unable to be herself, the worse she became, to the point we learn that the athlete self-harmed and wanted to commit suicide.

Time and history, however, is still an important aspect. She interviews Welsh Olympic Boxing Champion Lauren Price, who is in a relationship with fellow Olympic boxing medallist Karriss Artingstall, who also served in the Army. The couple officially came out as dating in 2020 after the Tokyo Olympics. When asked about whether they made a decision to come out, the pair both discuss their experiences as being positive and not being an issue. When Holmes mentions that there was a ban for being gay in the Army, which was only overturned in 2000, both were unaware that it even existed and were complete disbelief. Speaking to a current LGBTQ Army network group, they reiterate how times have changed, that they felt included, and that if there were issues, there were now policies in place to help support them.


Codes of conduct

Being in the Army seemed to be the most challenging reason behind Holmes not being able to come out. She recalls a time whilst serving, when the Royal Military Police had come to the regiment trying to find out who was gay. Feeling violated by people going into their spaces, what was crucial in Holmes account, was that they were trying to look for “anything they could find to see if you were gay.” (3) Perhaps this may seem like a strange thing to say, after all how can you see your sexual or romantic orientation? 

Back in 2019, Lil Nas X, one of the few musicians to come out as openly gay with his blockbusting song, Old Town Road, was in number 1 spot of the general Billboard Hot 100, for a record-breaking nineteen consecutive weeks. Whilst the song was controversial for reasons, such as it wasn’t seen as typically rap, neither country, but both i.e., “country rap” what was important, was that the song was largely about coming out. 

Lil Nas X came out to his sister and father, in early June 2019, as he felt it was the right time to do so, despite his uncertainty whether his fans would stick by him or not. He thought it was obvious from his music and the videos that he would be “read” as gay, but when the rolling Stone magazine said that one of his songs “touches on themes such as coming clean, growing up and embracing oneself”, he found himself tweeting the next day for clarity, that he was gay, saying “deadass thought I made it obvious”. (4) The response to the news was mostly positive, but also garnered a large amount of homophobic backlash on social media, including from members of the hip hop community. 

So why would it have been obvious? The answer here relies on who is looking, what are the codes that are being read. How does someone present and how are they being recognised? Note in the video of Old Town Road, Lil Nas X is wearing a crucifix earring. Perhaps this has less significance in regards to his sexual orientation, as it did for men back in the 60s. Men who wore earrings in their right ear, did so, to indicate their sexual preference. Of course, times have changed from the times of George Michael and his iconic dangling crucifix earring. Song artists like Sam Smith, who identifies as non-binary, has been seen wearing earrings on both right and left sides. Harry Styles, the former One Direction boy band member, but now solo artist, who doesn’t disclose his sexuality, but neither denies it, calling himself gender fluid or Queer, can be seen wearing earrings and mixing up fashion styles indicative of being masculine, feminine and androgynous.

In Trans* (2018) a key book written by Jack Halberstam, an influential gender, queer, trans and visual theorist, on speaking about these specific codes and to seeing how bodies are read as problematic, or less so, when they fit into their associated gender ideals, they say “a masculine woman, in the context of a farm, is not automatically read as a lesbian; she is simply a hardworking woman who can take care of herself and her farm.” (5)


Wrestle, 2011 Ope Lori @ Image Courtesy of PILAA

Community and safe spaces

This brings us to the final question; where is it safe to come out? Are there certain spaces which pose more threat than others, just as the Army did for Holmes prior to its decriminalising of being gay? What industries and professions, dose coming out still bare a risk? For example, it has been 24 years since Justin Fashanu, committed suicide in 1998 following allegations of sexual assault of a 17-year-old boy. Since then, he was known as the first openly gay professional footballer and there was no one else in the British game of men’s topflight football to come out, until recently. Now Jake Daniels, the 17-year-old Blackpool FC professional football player, has come out earlier in May as gay. Is this however a watershed moment for men’s football or is it a mere milestone? Is it easier in traditional office time workplaces, to come out, or can it be as difficult with this new mode of hybrid working, as a result of the pandemic? Or within academia, are there certain courses that are more LGBTQIA+ friendly than others? For example, the Lecturer teaching in the Visual Arts, as opposed to the one in the Sciences? Or what about the Lecturer teaching the same course, but being based in rural parts of the UK, as opposed to being in a big city? 

Of course, there could be stereotypes in making these assumptions on what is deemed as a safe space, however as Halberstam states, “it is also crucial to be specific about which queer subjects face what kind of threats, from whom, and in what locations.” (6) Therefore, being mindful of our environment and the privileges that some spaces hold over others, is equally as important, in identifying where is deemed as fertile ground to come out.

And finally, what is a safe space? In much of our work with organisations or in helping to facilitate difficult conversations on matters of identity, what we have come to see over time, is that safe spaces are not just about a physical, inclusive environments to be in, but also, they are about who you can go to in your time of need. Who can give you support and who can you trust? Who do you feel comfortable enough to come out too? This could be friends, family or community. In the documentary, Holmes speaks to UK Black Pride Founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah—a.k.a. “Lady Phyll”, about this aspect of community which she has been absent from. Lady Phyll speaks about coming out to her own family and the challenges with coming out, especially as a child of a heritage country where being LGBT is illegal. She states that she also has a different family, a chosen family, “the community.”

Having people to confide in, to help you take yourself out of the closet, is as important in the coming out process. For Holmes, she confides in one of her male friends, who she says she recorded and shared voice notes too, in order to help her deal with being gay, especially when she was at her lowest. For a long time, she was unable to get help for her mental health, for fear of being outed by whoever she spoke too. She now speaks to her psychologist, where she says that if not for her, she wouldn’t be able to do the documentary and be free. 

2022 Pride Flag, visibly intersex and inclusive. Designed by intersex activist, Valentino Vecchietti

Tomorrow, as the LGBTQIA+ communities celebrate Pride in London, with the theme of #AllOurPride, remember that coming out as a shared rite of passage, will mean different things for different members of the community. Coming out stories can fluctuate from positive experiences to ones which have left members of the community estranged from those they have called friends and family. 

For all the good things with being out and being seen, we should also remember that “with recognition comes acceptance, with acceptance comes power, with power comes regulation,” (7) and it is that regulation which is part of the infrastructure of belonging, which for some members of the LGBTQIA+ community, is still an ongoing battle. 


1) Kelly Holmes: Being Me (2022) ITV, 26 June 2022 [Broadcasting]

2) See ‘Coming Out’ resource as part of the LGBT Centre Unc- chapel Hill, at

3) Kelly Holmes: Being Me (2022) ITV, 26 June 2022 [Broadcasting]  

4) Griffiths, K. (2020) Lil Nas X: Old Town Rodeo for a New Power Generation, Red Wedge, 30 June. Online. (Accessed 17 August 2020).

5) Halberstam, J. (2018) Trans*, University of California Press, Oakland, California.

6) Ibid.

7) Ibid.