I am gay.

I’m sorry if this is a surprise. I meant to tell you naturally, over dinner maybe, or drinks. It may have come up as you’d have told me about your latest heartache and I’d have told you of mine. You may have been surprised, but you wouldn’t have let it show. And just like that, we would order another drink and me being gay would have been something normal. No big deal.

So this shouldn’t be an article. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t have to publicly explore my sexuality with thousands of people watching. But it feels irresponsible and immoral at this point not to. Because a man killed 49 people on Sunday in a gay club in Florida.

People he viewed as deviant, undeserving of love, kindness, and in the end, the right to life. People like me. He didn’t know what their favorite colour was. He didn’t know if they liked dogs over cats. He didn’t know if they donated to charity, if they wanted children, if they were dreamers, if they were good or bad people. Would that have made a difference?

When I woke up on Sunday and read the news, although I wasn’t there, although I didn’t know the victims, I felt crushed in a way I never thought I’d feel. For the first time I fully understood homophobia, despite often having been a victim of it in the past. Despite strangers on the street calling me disgusting for daring to hold the hand of the man I loved in public.

It’s hard to explain what homophobia feels like, especially in the extreme form that it took on Sunday. But imagine finding out one day that someone hates you, wants you dead for no reason other than that you dare exist. And now imagine this one person is actually hundreds of people. Thousands. Millions. From all over the world. People you don’t know. People that don’t even know you exist. Yet they hate you.

Many of these people will never even meet a queer person. Or so they think, because so many gay men and women live a lie, repressing their true identity in fear of being ostracised or worse. In some extreme cases, repression can lead to denial, delusion and self-rejection. So the haters go on hating, unaware that some of the people they love and admire are gay; parents, siblings, friends, idols.

I told my youngest brother that I’m gay on Monday. He lives in Greece so I couldn’t do it face to face. My parents think he might still be too young, but I was afraid to wait any longer. Afraid that in the absence of a visible gay person in his life, blind hate might take root in his heart.

Greece, despite its modern facade, is steeped in tradition. Unfortunately this can often manifest as sexism and homophobia. Although my immediate family and friends know (and have been extremely supportive), the rest of my family back home is, I presume, blissfully unaware of my actual sexual preferences. Something unlikely to have been helped by my own years of repression and confusion.

If I’m honest, I’ve been reluctant to come out to them. It’s been easy. We live in different countries and our reunions are few and far between. I don’t want to have to do this. I don’t want to be the source of polarisation in my family (does anyone?). I’m afraid some of them might be deeply homophobic. But maybe if they knew, they wouldn’t be.

So today, even though I feel like I’m still exploring love within myself and with others, even though I hate being pigeon-holed by a society that sometimes reveals itself as deeply intolerant, today I am a proud gay man. And my favorite color is turquoise.

I love the sea, the life it harbours, the feelings it evokes. I need colour in my life, when I wake up, when I work, when I cook. My humor is at best black and at worst lacking. My style is questionable. I like crumpets smothered in butter. I used to only drink lager, but I’ve developed a love for chocolate stouts. My dad is Greek, my mum is Greek-Australian. I like dogs, but only if they’re big. Otherwise I prefer cats.

So starting today you know me as a human first and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community second.

And maybe next time someone says fags are a plague you’ll think of me and maybe you’ll say ‘No, that’s just not right. This guy is wrong. I should say something.’

And maybe you will say something. And maybe one day we won’t be hated.