I’m not going to go on about food in this column. I have to write about my biggest mistake. This is difficult for me. Despite the fact that much of my work and life is up for public scrutiny, I remain by nature, quite a private creature.

I would hope that most would be spared from looking back on their lives and objectively winkling out the single most disastrous decision thus far. But in the interests of (hopefully) decent and honest journalism, I acquiesce to my ed and spill the beans.

It’s always a bit of a rollercoaster going back over the scrapbook of life in one’s head, trundling back over the many various speed bumps that come with being human: the hideous embarrassments, the tragedies, the awkward moments, the heartaches. For me, however, the question of what my biggest ever mistake is isn’t ever terribly far from my mind.

To cut a long and complicated story short, I wish I’d had the courage to come out sometime over the ten-odd years before I eventually did, at the less than tender age of 25.

Sam and his dad

Growing up was pretty idyllic. I have incredibly supportive parents. I had a privileged education. There was nothing much to worry about. My personal life was something that I just didn’t think to confront. Boarding school had something to do with it, I guess. As a teenager, I learned pretty quickly to put my head down and try and go unnoticed. Sort of like the military: don’t ask, don’t tell. Primarily for the sake of school balls and such, I made a half-hearted effort with girls. Most of my girlfriends probably knew before I did. I had plenty of girlfriends who seemed to be happy with the occasional pash. I played dumb. Excuses would be as constant as autumnal leaves falling from a tree. Too tired. Too drunk. Too anything. My lukewarm enthusiasm reaped what I was secretly after: to be left alone. To be with no-one at all was infinitely preferable to the unimaginable horror of being outed. I was happy to be alone. Looking back, I find that terribly sad.

When the time finally came, all mid-twenty something, post-uni, post OE confidence, all repressed inner turmoil, it was awkwardness and ungainliness and drama and all the rest of it. Teenagers have youth and inexperience on their side. I had no excuse. Most undignified. Of course, the response raised little more than an eyebrow. My fears were nonexistent, arbitrary, imagined.

I still constantly feel a deep sense of shame that I didn’t tackle it earlier. It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t now.

The lasting effect has been more tangible than I realise. It has made me a little more withdrawn. I still repress my own feelings. I put on a show for people. I still find myself overcompensating, making excuses, and constantly worrying about how I’m perceived. They are habits that have become almost as subconscious as movement: autopilot, even. I still fear what others think. But despite all this, I’m really not into soul searching, self-healing and all the rest of it. It is what it is. My Scottishness probably helps. Shit happens. Giggle it better.

The reason I write all this down is simply for the hope that others in similar situations can take heart. It gets better. Be brave. The cynic in me will say that for as long as humans exist, bigots will probably exist too. Trump; the lacklustre approach to legislative change in Australia; the relentless, distorted illiberal brutality that goes on in the Middle East and so many other places: none of these things help. But to the readers of this wee piece – and most importantly, to those who live in such unnecessary fear like I did for all those wasted pointless years – we’re tucked safely away in a liberal little corner of the South Pacific. Things are good. Don’t do what I did. Be yourself. It’s not a big deal, honestly. Don’t make it one.

Instagram: sam.mannering

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