Rugby playing primary school teacher Christian John opens up about coming out, finding love and overcoming life’s obstacles.
Just because a fella is perceived to be good-looking and has an air of confidence, doesn’t mean he’s had an easy life. From the various people who get in touch with GuysLikeU, it would seem that many young men think good looking people can coast through life without a worry in the world, while more ordinary types wallow in misery.
But that’s not true, especially when you’re LGBT! Coming to terms with being gay is always a difficult stage for any guy, no matter what they look like. Afterall, we all struggle to understand who exactly we are and we all tend to fear the reactions of our loved ones. Thankfully, most of us discover that those fears turn out to be groundless and we go on to lead happy lives.
At first glance, Christian John – a primary school teacher by day, podcaster by night – whiffs of a cool confidence that might suggest he has navigated his way through life without too many obstacles. But like the rest of us, he says that he has experienced the very same insecurities most of us have; he fretted about telling his family and friends about his sexuality, he’s been self-conscious about the way he looks and he’s felt isolated and intimidated.
Here, Christian, 30, shares with us his bumpy journey through life, how he now has a grip on who he is and how he’s found out more about the way gay men deal with their sexuality by chatting to rugby players on his fascinating new podcast Ruck My Life!
So Christian, take us back a bit… So Christian, take us back a bit… When did you first get an inkling that you might be fabulous?
I don’t know exactly when I knew I was gay. I started having feelings for men when I was around about fifteen or sixteen but I never acted on them and just thought that it was normal. I didn’t really know what being gay meant but at the same time I never spoke about these feelings to my friends or family out of fear of being criticised. I was confused. I still found women attractive and felt the urge to date them to suppress the gay feelings. I then learnt about bisexuality and assumed that that was what I could be and started telling my very closest friends that. However it was at the same time when some of the music bands we were into were coming out as bi and I think my friends felt I was just copying them and that I wouldn’t actually act on my feelings and that it was just a phase. So again I shrunk back into my shell.
What was school like?
If I’m honest, I was never really bullied because I was gay or bi. Only my closest friends knew I was different and think they thought it might be a phase because I would still fancy girls and go on dates.
Can you remember your first gay experience?
I was working at a bar in Milton Keynes, where I had grown up. There were no gay bars in the city but this was a very camp bar where we played lots of cheesy music. Guests were allowed to dance on the tables and we had lots of hen parties. One of the other bar men was out and gay and one night after closing we went to one of the bigger night clubs. After a few too many drinks we kissed. I felt so self conscious that I quickly left and went home. I felt really bad for leaving him there and the next day we met and discussed it. We decided to leave things as they were and shortly after I moved to university anyway so we never saw each other again.
Some young people coming to terms with their sexuality tend to suffer from mental health issues. Did you find yourself getting lost?
At the time I didn’t really know what mental health was. I don’t think many teenagers did at the time and probably still don’t. I guess looking back, did I feel isolated? Lonely? Depressed? Maybe. I certainly felt like there was no one to talk to and so my self confidence plummeted. When I was 18 and choosing which university to go to, I had a big decision to make. I very nearly didn’t go and went to work as a trainee zoologist at a local safari park. Had I done this I think I would have had a much harder time dealing with my insecurities as going to uni allowed me to be free and identify myself as whoever and whatever I chose. I am so glad I made the decision to leave.
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So when did you fully embrace your sexuality?
It wasn’t until I went to university that I thought I could reinvent myself and decided to explore my gay feelings more. In my first year I lived in a house with six other lads and the house next to us had eight girls. I remember quickly becoming good friends with the girls as the lads were all into football – something I never had any interest in. One day one of the girls came out as a lesbian and I confided in her about being gay and we supported each other by going to the gay bars, LGBT events and I soon realised I was totally gay and decided to come out to all my friends. Not one of them had an issue with it, which was a big relief.
Was being gay something you had found hard to deal with?
It wasn’t so much that I found it hard to accept I just had no role model or someone that I could look up to who was gay, both in my private life and the media. There was no such thing as LGBT support in schools at this time and people frequently used slurs like ‘Oh that’s so GAY!’ when they were referring to something that was stupid or wrong and I didn’t want people to associate that term with me. When I went to uni and told everybody I was gay I felt so much better. However, I still find it difficult to be myself, especially in the work place, as although all the staff know I am gay, none of the parents have been told and when I run training sessions for adults and other teachers, people always assume that because I’m married they think I have a wife. Most of the time I correct them but it does make me feel awkward so there has been times when I have ignored it.
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Uni sounds like it was a liberating place.
Yes, it allowed me to be happy and explore my sexuality. I knew my mum would never have an issue with it. She was a head teacher herself and loved Arts and worked hard with children with low self-esteem. However I still had that little devil on my shoulder whispering ‘What if?’ So I waited until I was 100% sure of myself and wrote a letter to send to her. However, before I could send it, my mum and I got talking about a family dispute and out of the blue she asked me if I was gay. It took me by complete surprise but I just said ‘yes’. She was completely fine with it and relieved for me to finally be myself around her. Since then she has been extremely supportive, especially when I got married and always books Manchester Pride tickets well in advance – even before we do!
That’s great. Was your dad as easy?
I was worried most about telling him because our relationship was a complicated one. You see, my parents were divorced and my dad had remarried into a large family. I think I struggled to gain attention from him and we slowly lost touch and over time we had less things in common.
Was that hard for you?
Yes. You see, I always held a torch for him because before my parents got divorced he was my hero. So when I came out I lived in fear that the thin thread that held us together would be cut and he would never want to see or hear from me. I think that nightmare a lot of gay men think because of what they see or hear in the media about coming out to their parents.
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And that’s not always the case, is it?
No, the reality is much more colourful. Although I waited until I was in a committed relationship a couple of years after uni, I told him over the phone and his words were ‘We already know and we are more than happy about it.’ I guess social media had a part to play in that and I imagine my step brothers or sisters may have shown pictures of me with another man in most of my posts. I’d love to say that it repaired our relationship and we are closer than ever, but sadly not. But at least I know that being gay is not the reason for our separation.
When you were properly out did you throw yourself into the scene?
I was living in Chester at the time where there was a very small gay scene but much bigger than in Milton Keynes, so for me it was the perfect transition. I don’t think I threw myself in completely straight away but as I became more confident I then went along to different socials, events. It wasn’t until I went to Manchester’s Canal Street that I saw how big and intimidating the scene can be. However, I grew to love it.
Was it a world that you enjoyed or did you ever feel like you didn’t belong?
At first I felt like a complete virgin, very shy, very scared of drag queens who I felt were the complete opposite to me. I steered away from any interaction with other gay men. I was a rubbish flirt. I don’t think I felt like I was being left out I think I was just slow to build my confidence. But once I did I fell in love with it and now I can’t get enough of it and a lot of my close friends are drag queens and they even came to my wedding.
Was love what you sought on the scene or were you more preoccupied in getting laid?
Before meeting my husband, I always struggled with relationships. At first I had no idea what I was doing. There was no sex education for gay people at school and I can’t remember any at uni either. I had to google a lot of things – which is the worst thing you can possibly do, so that scared me when I was younger. But after a while I started to date. At first I wanted to have someone I could rely on but a lot of the gay men I met were only after one thing and once they got it, they moved on. So I had to learn the hard way and got hurt a lot. So for a long time I dated guys in the hope for love and support but never really got it. So I did go through a phase of being more sexual. But this didn’t last long because I soon realised that I had become the guy who I got hurt by some years before. So I had a word with myself and slowed down and eventually found the man I love today and we couldn’t be happier.
Did you ever experience any homophobia along the way?
Yes, but not in any horrific way. You hear so many horror stories and I’m lucky I’ve had it okay. That said, when I’d come out of the gay bars in Chester and Manchester I’d hear the usual queer slurs being called out. The main issue was when our rugby team had just finished a fundraiser where a lot of the lads decided to ‘drag’ up to put on a show. Later that night I still had the outfit on and went to a local fast food restaurant to get some food before going home. The staff were used to drag queens but there happened to be a group of youths there who saw me as an easy target. They started shouting awful abuse at me and when I walked outside they ganged up around me, stole my food and threw it at me. Luckily the restaurant owner saw this and scared them off. He rang me a taxi, waited for me to get in it and gave me some food – I always go back to him for food since then!
Jesus! What twats! Men tend to find it hard to open up about mental health issues. Have there been times in your life when things have got too much and you’ve not dealt with it well?
I have suffered from some issues but not to do with being gay. I was at the Ariana Grande concert at the MEN Arena in Manchester that was bombed. I was lucky enough to walk away unhurt, but the things I saw and heard scared me and they left their mark on me.
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It must have been traumatic, just witnessing the carnage.
I knew there were many people who had tragically lost their lives or had been left physically scarred by the attack, so I felt that it was unnecessary for me to seek help even though the experience lingered with me. After the bomb went off, I saw lots of children separated from their families and my teacher instincts took over to help them. It took a long time to get home that night and I barely slept. The next day I went to work because I wanted the children to know I was OK and that I was being strong. However the memories of the night before crept up on me and by lunchtime I had a breakdown and was sent home. A few weeks past and the same thing happened when I was out with friends and an Ariana song came on in the club. All of a sudden I had a panic attack and luckily my best friend was there to get me out and call my husband who came and picked me up.
Did you seek help to get through this bad time?
My work invited councillors in to help me which was helpful, but to this day I still feel guilty for speaking to them or having these outbursts. I am fortunate to have a very understanding husband who helped me understand that what I was going through was completely normal considering the circumstances – I am not sure what I would be like If he hadn’t been there for me.
You’re a good looking guy with what looks like a lot of body confidence. Have you ever been insecure about the way you looked?
Oh all the time! Even hearing those words makes me cringe. I have a hard time with self-confidence although some people might disagree. Over time I have been able to hide my insecurities. I have always battled with body image and it doesn’t help being surrounded on social media by men who look like Greek adonis statues! But I am getting better at accepting compliments and finding a look that works for me. But I am a big believer that personality trumps looks. There are a few physically beautiful men that I meet or chat to, who are arrogant and self-obsessed to the point that they become mean and bitchy, like Mean Girls. However, most guys I chat to (and I also have a lot of very handsome friends) who are very kind, generous and supportive!
Have you ever felt that you didn’t feel part of the gay world?
Maybe when I was younger and less well educated about the gay world, but living in Manchester and more importantly being part of the Manchester Village Spartans RUFC has helped me identify my place in the gay world and I love being part of it.
The gay world is refreshingly mixed one. Do you believe in types or tribes where did you fit in.
It’s a fact of life that like-minded people will bond together. To me, people identify with tribes where as having a type is more about attraction. In terms of where I fit in, I have always liked fitness and looking after myself. I guess physically I was never a ‘twink’ as my broad shoulders and thick legs knocked me out of that category. However as I have constantly battled with my weight I feel that I am not necessarily toned enough to be a ‘jock’ but not hairy enough to be a ‘cub’? Some people mention sub groups like ‘otter’ but I think it gets a little bit ridiculous. So I tend to go on what other people would suggest. I couldn’t care less what tribe I was, but alway grateful for the compliments. Type wise I have always been attracted to older men – and when I say older I just mean 30+. I have tried in the past to date younger guys but like many of us, being young you don’t always have the experience, or maturity to settle down so it never worked out.
I have always felt safe using them. By the time I was on them, I had reached a level of maturity. I knew never to trust a headless torso or an out of focus face pic as that normally suggested they are either awful at selfies or a lot older than they say they are. Im sure I am not the first to say I have met up with several guys who turn out to look nothing like their picture or have completely lied about their age or occupation. I don’t normally allow the experience to last much longer than the first introduction if they are not what they seemed on the app. I don’t know if this is a compliment but I regularly get messages from friends around the UK or even abroad about guys using my images pretending to be me. I never understood why anyone would do this. It’s not like they look like me and I’m sure anyone who met them would think the same. One incident that really irritated me was when this one guy in Iran who used my pictures for his profile. I wasn’t sure what mad me most angry – stealing my pic, saying he was 40 or that that he was DOM TOP! But aside formal the cat fishing, I actually met my husband through on an app so not all meets are bad!
Aww, that’s sweet. So tell was about your hubby Tom.
So we met through an app and by coincidence we both ended up going to a mutual friend’s house party. I have always liked the idea of being in love with someone but it certainly wasn’t the initial goal. After our initial meet my partner actually played hard to get and ended the relationship after spotting me in a rugby team picture standing next to his ex-boyfriend – which of course I knew nothing about. But he must have come to his senses soon after, as a couple of weeks later it was a complete role reversal and suddenly I was the one playing hard to get and eventually caved in and we have been happy ever since.
Has it been easy being in a relationship?
Being in a relationship is great but not always easy. I think more so for gay men. In my case, we are two guys who are both quite stubborn and don’t always back down easily. I think differences in personality can clash but it’s how you deal with these situations that makes or breaks the relationship. Sure we have had our differences but we always come to find equal grounds and laugh about it later. One piece of advice I’d give anyone, never go to sleep on an argument. Make sure you both apologise, even if you don’t mean it at the time, and make sure you have separate hobbies that give you both some personal space. Or better yet, get a dog!
Was your big day a sensation?
Our wedding was a dream and everything went according to plan and the weather was perfect! The main reason we did it was for of course for love but also security. Gay rights still aren’t perfect in all laws so we felt it was a necessary step. But like any marriage it needs to be for love first.
Would you want children in your life?
Yes we do. My husband was adopted to we at the very least will be considering adoption. I would love to have a child that is biologically mine but it is a difficult and stressful process so we haven’t completely decided yet!
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What advice would you give your younger self about the future?
I would say, Christian, you are an incredibly strong, caring and loyal person and you need to let go of those insecurities because they will only hold you back. Tell your parents you’re gay because they love you for who you are and embrace being gay. Don’t be afraid of falling in love but also don’t let people pressure you into something you’re not ready for. You will face hard and dark times ahead but use your friends and family as a beacon to find your way home again. And for god sake don’t dye your hair when you’re 19!
You’re into your sport now but was it always something you wanted to get into when you were younger.
I was never much of a sports fan, if I’m honest. I liked playing rugby mainly because my dad was a rugby fan. I liked racket sports and sailing but never really followed did them. Because I like keeping fit, I have always found myself returning to sport throughout my life. When I was young there was no such thing as gay sports teams and without social media I would never have heard about them. When I came out I turned away from sport because I didn’t want to be a target but then I found the Manchester Village Spartans and it was the best decision I have made… Well, apart from marrying my husband of course!
When you did play sports was it hard being honest with your teams?
When I was in the school rugby team and then local teams things became hard for me. I never confirmed I was bi or gay to them but I think they had worked out I was different and they used to pick on me a lot by being very aggressive with me during training. They would hide my boots so I couldn’t play, and would never invite me to socials. It’s ironic but you were either in with them or out. And I was very much out. So I left the sporting world before I gave them anymore ammunition. So I joined the Manchester Village Spartans – a gay rugby team – in 2014 after being introduced to one of the founding members and a mutual friends birthday party. We got talking and he convinced me to go along to the next training session. I was terrified but on the first day I was introduced to the committee members, coaches and captains and was paired up with a guy who was a similar size and age to me and we hit it off straight away.
What’s so good about being part of an inclusive team?
Almost everyone is gay which means sexuality is no longer the issue and we have some straight players who are now the minority so we have to be careful not to isolate them! Being part of the IGR has shown me that anyone can be a rugby player as we have a whole spectrum of ability, fitness and backgrounds which is why I wanted to do the podcast I do to give people the platform to share their story of being gay in sport. In doing so I have learnt about some incredible journeys people have been on and the tough challenges that they have overcome. Yes celebrity rugby players have come out as gay which is great but to me the real heroes are the people on our teams, the ones whose stories are not in the tabloids, who do not have millions in the bank but are just your usual team mates.
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Rugby stars appear more at ease about coming out. Why do you think the football fraternity is so different?
I was speaking to one of the Leeds Hunters players in one of my interviews, I think a lot of it comes down to stereotypes and also marketing. I feel that football is more like a multi billion pound industry and relies on the money its fans pay to enjoy the sport. A lot of these fans are heterosexual and the media leads us to believe they are aggressive, intimidating and very working class masculine. I think that if there are any gay football players, they are probably most terrified by the reaction they would get from the fans and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are being forced by their club managers not to come out in the event that sponsors (especially foreign corporate sponsors) would not be interested in funding a gay football player. There has also been a generation built up around the lifestyle of a football player; expensive cars, big houses and catwalk beautiful women on their arms forming a WAG culture. People wouldn’t necessarily identify with a gay relationship.
And how do you think rugby is different?
Rugby has always been less about what you look like or who you are but more about your skill of playing and what you do on the pitch. There is also less money involved in rugby and less outside sponsorship per player and those that are sponsored are sponsored on their performance and not their lifestyle.
But there have been changes in football…
There are definitely efforts being made. I think that football has come a long way in terms of equality and anti-homophobia, but it still has a long way to go, just like rugby world. We only have to look at Israel Folau to see that being gay in rugby is still seen with homophobia.
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Your new podcast Ruck My Life is fantastic. What made you start it?
It is a platform for gay rugby players to share their stories like me about coming out, playing sports at school or college, being gay in the workplace and more importantly, how being part of a gay or inclusive rugby team has helped them become a better version of themselves. Whether it’s becoming more confident, fitter, more outgoing, or overcoming mental issues. The main themes that seem to keep coming up are: coming out to their dads, finding it difficult to bond within in non-IGR teams (often called straight teams) and battling with self esteem and mental wellbeing. It has been an incredible journey so far listening to people from right around the world share their story and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!
Ruck My Life is available is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.