Moving Home and Not Coming Out by Anonymous


The first time I was 15. He had blonde curls, deep blue eyes and an American drawl from his mother that cut deep through suburban London. I told a friend how beautiful I thought he was but did nothing else. It surfaced again from time to time but never with the same simplicity, the shy urge to be close to someone, to touch skin and graze lips.

Decades later it has finally begun to materialise but not as I expected. Last year I realised how at home I feel in female clothing – slithers of lace and silk, straps I can pull taught between my fingers and a metallic necklace that jolts me with confidence each time I touch it. What started as a memory of how beautiful I thought a boy at school was has morphed into a preoccupation with ceding control: degradation by older women, an occasionally urgent desire to give head and presenting feminine all seem to be ways of escaping the pressure of a conventionally male role, of taking the lead.

Beginning to grapple with my sexuality has been liberating but also disorientating. On the edge of 40 I move in spaces filled with much younger people, a youthful face allowing me to pass, but feeling faintly voyeuristic. Each new experience creates new questions and my sexuality continues to float just beyond my reach, something that I am slowly growing into but in a way that can feel like a race against time, a puzzle to be solved before my hair turns grey and because, while labels may seem needlessly restrictive to Gen Z, for an elder millennial they are a source of comfort, the promise of a relationship that might come with the certainty of knowing what you want.


This piece started as an Instagram post. I wanted to come out, even if I can’t say exactly what I’m coming out as, so that I could share the photos of myself  – in lingerie and dresses, kneeling and vulnerable –  that currently sit in a folder on my phone, and which I share haphazardly with a few friends from time to time for affirmation. I wanted the likes and comments and the opportunity to connect with others in an online space of fluid sexuality. What stopped me from posting was the chance that my parents, by way of relatives, would see the pictures.

Late last year my sister, who knows about my sexuality, or the lack of definition to it, asked my father on a family call what he would do if she or I were gay. His reply – “I would die” – was blunt and disheartening, yet it was one I think I understand. What my father meant, I believe, is not that shame would kill him, but that having come to terms with so much that is alien to him in his children’s lives already, the effort to understand another new idea right now, as his own body rapidly decays, might be too much. And that seems fair.  

To stay in a partial closet – at least online – at such an advanced age may seem an odd choice, a dereliction of queer duty and reinforcement of cultural norms. But I also see it as an act of love, a recognition of the diminished power of parents who do not have many years left to live and whose conservatism exerts vanishingly little influence beyond the four walls to which their lives are increasingly confined. It does complicate life, however.

Going forward I’d like to embrace the feminine more. Rather than wear lingerie and heels for the occasional dramatic night out I want to alter my everyday, to wear clothing that fits and bangles that clasp shirts above my wrists. I want to embrace in public a prettiness I have always cherished but only in secret. I also want to move back to London, to the city where I was born, and in which my parents and many relatives still live.


Right now I live in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. For foreigners like me – in retreat from bigger cities – this is a place defined by what it isn’t: as expensive as London, Paris or New York, or as aggressive in the assertion of its culture. Taught by decades of surveillance dictatorship to keep to themselves and carrying the inferiority complex of a lost imperial past, the Portuguese often frown at the differences that newcomers are bringing to their city, but they rarely intrude. Isolated from family and peer group too, foreigners enjoy a kind of structural privacy in which we share what we want about ourselves and leave out the rest. Earn remotely from a wealthier country and Lisbon ends up like a blank canvas on which you can paint a new version of yourself.

In this place, where everyone is trying to become happier versions of themselves, it has finally felt natural to wear a dress and OK to answer, when asked what I do: “I am working out my sexuality, and trying to write.”

But if Lisbon offers a certain class of privileged immigrants space to explore, it also requires silence. At the global periphery we have just enough income to feel safe – for now – from the spiralling rents, climate catastrophe and crumbling politics we fled at home, but we can not acknowledge that we are running from those things for fear of breaking the spell. The result is a relentless focus on individual transformation – on breathwork, tantra and miscellaneous retreats. In Lisbon but also, from what I hear, in Bali and other boltholes to which North Americans and European millennials flee, we discover ourselves again and again because we are too disempowered to do anything else.

In London, by contrast, there will be no way to avoid the world’s crises. Politics and economics are present in the air, in a tangible sense of upheaval, strikes, violence and simmering culture war, and, more prosaically, in the larger amount of money you must earn to create time and space for leisure and exploration. After years in a fantasy that feels strangely attractive. Or that is the story I tell myself. The truth is I am terrified about moving home.


What I have not mentioned yet is race and the overwhelming whiteness of Lisbon.

While I sit in the same class and income bracket as many of the digital nomads and other privileged immigrants who have flooded Portugal in recent years, my skin colour is different to most of them, which makes it much harder to suspend disbelief in the lives we have created here. I am constantly reminded of the outside world by the feeling of being slightly out of place in the one I have retreated to, and drawn towards places that contain all of my dialogues, not just the finally freed queer part.

In moving to London, what I really want is to dive into the city’s black and brown queer spaces like a young man, anonymous in a metropolis of liberation for the first time. But I missed that chance twenty years ago. Instead I will be an adult returning to a city pregnant with memory, disciplining norms and the expectation to build on the hard won stability of immigrant parents by acquiring wealth or professional success. At home, in other words, I fear that my belated process of discovery may feel like a misguided indulgence.

For years, when I previously lived in London, I neglected my sexuality as I pursued a version of success that was legible to the world I grew up in. That pull toward the conventional is still there, in the rush to arrive at the destination of my exploration, to solve my sexuality, like a puzzle, so I can move forward and progress to the next step. I’d like to change that mentality. Last year that started with a metallic necklace, which drew me into the present with each touch. I hope it can work as a charm in the journey to come, in a city where it will be much harder but possibly more rewarding.

The writer has chosen to remain anonymous.