How a fashion brand’s Pride collection helped me come out to my father

WORDS By Gabriel Rule

“I was willing to have people on the street label me without even having articulated my sexuality to my father.”

I was a bit of a Billy Elliot growing up. Saturday mornings were spent faffing around a football field before being ferried in my dad’s car, usually with a tuckshop pie in hand, to ballet classes. I would love to say that I sometimes got to ballet donning a leotard and football boots but, unlike Billy, I don’t live in a movie.

The film probably doesn’t even belong to the gay-cinema canon, and it’s a little indulgent for me to compare my solidly middle-class, ultra-liberal parents to the plight of a miner’s son in Thatcher’s England. But if anything, the film represents a marrying of unassuming ends of the spectrum. 

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Balenciaga’s 2021 Pride collection did the same for me: it married two things that had lived in parallel. The famous Gap logo, historically pinned to varsity jackets and ultra-masculine, maybe boring, garments of a more binary time, had been changed with the simple flick of a savvy designer’s wrist to represent pride. 

Call it capitalism (ahem, the T-shirts retail for over $800), or queer-washing, sure. But you have to respect it. It’s simple in design, but poignant in its representation of a coming of the new age. I had to have one. 

In my family home, pride was never off-limits, but it also wasn’t something I felt I needed to define myself. ‘Coming out’ was never important to me, or maybe it was, but all I knew was I didn’t want to live under a suffocating label. 

You could argue that if you had a jeté jumping, tap dancing son that assumptions could be made, and I’m sure they were. There aren’t enough football training sessions in the world to make up for that. 

Still, it was never really spoken about. In my mind, I would one day bring home a guy and we’d sit down to Sunday roast, no one batting an eye. He’d help with the washing up and make conversation with my parents as I sat in awe of the fact that I was capable of living with such pride.

As I started to approach my mid-twenties it hadn’t happened yet. Being gay is hard. You spend your teen years having people tell you something you’re not quite aware of yourself. Then you become an adult and a lot of your early sexual encounters, the ones you use to form your understanding of desire are fleeting, anonymous. 

I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience, but it was mine. You try going on a couple of dates and you’re already full of too much cynicism to enjoy it. In this perfect storm of confusion and disappointment, it seems impossible to find what you were looking for to begin with: pride. 

One hand is pulling you in the direction of wanting something that resembles a ‘traditional’ relationship, while your experiences are telling you that that is never going to happen. The Balenciaga collection is, of course, no cure for this, but it does represent something of a tonic. While I unwrapped the folds of the grey tissue paper cocooning the shirt, I started to feel anxious. 

Here was a shirt that would put me in the tick-box I had wanted to avoid for so long. Most people I walked past on the street wouldn’t see it as new-season Balenciaga, but rather a label. That’s when it hit me.

I was willing to have people on the street label me without even having articulated my sexuality to my father, someone who had a better understanding of me than the anonymous faces I passed as I tap-danced down the street.

I brought the T-shirt to him and sat it in front of him. “So, I bought a new T-shirt.” He looked up at me and feigned surprise. I explained how I hadn’t felt like my sexuality was something off-limits to speak about, but I hadn’t spoken about it because I never wanted it to define me.

I was waiting for words, but I looked into his eyes instead. In them, I saw what I had been looking for the whole time: pride. Pride from him, in my willingness to live authentically, without hesitation, towards my truest self.

I realised he would have had the same look in his eyes when driving me from football to ballet. Proud his son was, despite the odds, working towards something beyond the traditional, something he loved. At that moment I understood pride by another name: love. And I started to feel it myself. 

If you or someone you know is thinking of coming out, try this advice.

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