Eden: ‘True failure is to shut yourself off from the possibility of love’

12 Oct 2023


Beautiful Thing, the pivotal coming-out and coming-of-age play of the 90s, is arriving in our Courtyard theatre on 18 October. To celebrate its honest, evocative and uplifting themes, we're sharing 5 blogs over 5 days from members of the LGBTQ+ community in Leeds talking about their own 'first love' and 'coming out' stories.

Growing up gay in the nineties, in the shadow of Section 28, I never thought love was in my future. Born in a small mining town in Nottinghamshire, the lack of role models or positive stories had a negative impact on my sense of self, leading me to suppress my sexuality until my late twenties.

At the age of nineteen, I moved to Leeds to study Fine Art and break free from the suppression of living in a small town. What could have been an opportunity to openly explore my sexuality and meet like-minded individuals had an adverse effect as I found myself held captive in the toxicity of lad culture.

Skinny jeans, short back and sides, and unfounded self-confidence could only take me so far until I turned to alcohol and party drugs to numb the side effects of concealing the real me. I’ve never been one to accept hardship and knew a happy life meant beginning to accept myself.

My first love and ‘coming out’ stories are heavily intertwined as this relationship gave me the confidence to forge a new path of self-acceptance after 27 years of secrecy.

In the depths of a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown, an Instagram notification chimed that would change the course of my life forever. You have a new follower. A beautiful man with striking, dark features, head-to-toe in designer labels, lounging in five-star hotels. In an instantaneous, out-of-character moment, I hit ‘follow back.’

Messages were exchanged, fire emojis were sent, and months of harmless check-ins followed until the lockdown was lifted and we met – the week after my 27th birthday. I climbed the stairs at the top of Leeds Dock (late) to meet my virtual crush as questions raced through my mind about all that could be. I was familar with first dates. In fact, in the weeks leading up to this moment I’d had multiple first dates in the hope of finally opening myself up to the idea of romance.

As I approached the bridge, the man who would cause a chain reaction of change in my life, smiled. Hollywood portrays moments of immediate, undeniable connection; Kylie sang about ‘Love at First Sight’; and we all dream of finding ‘the one’, whether secretly or openly. This was one of those moments. Within minutes, we were organising our second date; within days, we were inseparable; within weeks, we were living together; and within moments, we were in love.

I knew I had no choice but to take the leap and tell my family. My heart knew I’d be accepted, but my head had other ideas. Constantly bombarded with negative notions of being gay whilst growing up conjured a subconscious narrative that I was ‘less than’.

I often wonder if I would still be living a lie if I hadn’t had this relationship, making the same mistakes and struggling to decipher who I am. Thankfully, however, with every phone call with my family, the conversation became easier. They were just relieved I was happy. And for two years I was happy – until I wasn’t anymore. There came a point when love simply wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship.

Understanding when to walk away takes just as much strength as persevering, yet we often associate an ending with failure. True failure is to shut yourself off from the possibility of love. Restricting your ability for human connection to reduce the chance of heartbreak. By opening myself up to the pain of getting hurt, I gave myself the best opportunity to start the greatest love story of my life: the one with myself.

Thanks to Rob of Angels of Freedom and Kirsty from Bi+ Leeds Social Group for their invaluable support in gathering these stories together.


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation

    Caddick Group

    Irwin Mitchell