Former competitive swimmer Harry Needs opens up about living life as a bisexual man.
Living in lockdown has been a pretty tough time for many of us. Unable to meet up with friends and family or even venture too far from home, a lot of guys and girls have found it something of a challenge to live in strict confinement or deal with the feelings of emptiness and loneliness. However, for others, this very strange time of forced incarceration has proved to be a welcome time of reflection and self-discovery.
Take gorgeous Harry Needs, for example. The dashing former competitive swimmer told his thousands of Instagram followers on Father’s Day that he is and always has been bisexual, admitting: “I’m only sharing this side of myself to everyone now in hope that I can help others. I hope my journey can inspire many others to be true to themselves.
A day later, his ex-wife, Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, posted a message of support, writing: ‘So proud of Harry for opening up yesterday. It was really brave and very honest. He opened up to me last year and I’m so glad he felt comfortable and confident enough now to share it. His sexuality doesn’t affect or change his ability to parent Summer. He’s a fantastic dad and our priority is always going to be Summer. We’ll always have each other’s back.”
How sweet, right? Just goes to prove that some relationships can be remain strong after separation. In fact, the former lovebirds are such good pals that Harry and Rebecca have happily conquered the self-isolating challenges in their successful modern family co-parenting methods.
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So proud of @harryneeds for opening up yesterday. It was really brave and very honest. He opened up to me last year and I’m so glad he felt comfortable and confident enough now to share it. His sexuality doesn’t affect or change his ability to parent Summer. He’s a fantastic dad and our priority is always going to be Summer. We’ll always have each other’s back 💗
Here, in an exclusive interview with GuysLikeU, Harry opens up about the confusion he endured during his teens as he came to terms with his sexuality, what he is looking for in Mr or Mrs Right and how he hopes his story can help young guys and girls work out who they really are sooner rather than later.
Harry, tell us about growing up.
I’m proud of my beginnings, and the council estate I grew up on in Islington, London will always be home. I moved to Nottingham when I was 17 to progress my career as an international swimmer for team GBR. I’m an only child, so my immediate family circle was small, tightknit, and super supportive around of my goals. That hasn’t changed to this day and it’s something I have passed down to my own daughter, she’s so loved.
You say you realised that you liked boys and girls when you were 13… Did this cause you a lot of confusion at the time?
All through adolescence and puberty, you’re on this remarkable maturing journey; which starts to allow you to discover your true attraction to people. Living in a society dominated by one heterosexual binary it can be incredibly confusing if you feel an attraction to both sexes. I think we’re all taught that if you’re not ‘straight’ you’re ‘gay’ and there are no other identities. As a bisexual you sometimes feel like you don’t have a place. Despite the fact that awareness and understanding of this is changing for the better, everyone should be accommodated in society; equally and comfortably and happily. We’re all on a spectrum after all.
Was bisexuality something you were aware about growing up?
My bisexuality was more of feeling when I was younger. I really didn’t know there was a specific label for my authentic self until much later in my teens.
So did you consider yourself gay at any point?
The popular belief that there are just gay people and straight people in the world is what makes being bisexual so confusing. I have to admit I’ve questioned my sexuality a lot over the years, but I’ve always known that I was neither gay nor straight.
Did hiding away make you feel lead to you feeling depressed?
Regardless of how I identify, I have suffered with both depression and anxiety from as early as I can remember. I still do. Generally, I’ve always felt comfortable and confident in my own skin, but looking back, I don’t think the confusion I’ve experienced with my sexuality helped my mental health.
What do you mean?
I have always been in cis, heterosexual relationships, all the way through to when I got married. Although I knew deep down my sexuality was more fluid than I had ever expressed, I have never felt oppressed or trapped in any way. For me, it’s always been about being attracted to a person and who they are; my wedding day is still the happiest day of my life.
What was life at school like – did the other pupils notice anything different about you?
I went to London Nautical School for boys. It’s a prestigious feeder school to the Royal Navy. I have to admit, my school experience was spectacular. The school had its own sports college. I was a swimmer at the time so I was always one of the sporty kids. I was also the hard-working kind; I won various awards and accolades and even went on to become school captain in year 12. The only thing noticeably different about me at school was the constant scent of chlorinated pool water.
Was swimming a sport that other boys at your school poked fun at?
Most of my friends at school played football, some going on to break out onto an international and professional stage, but there was always a mutual respect for me as a sportsman. Swimming is a very equal sport when it comes to mainstream binary gender identities, but I’d still like to see boundaries pushed further.
Did you ever have experiences with boys and girls during this period?
Although I identify as bisexual now, it’s been difficult to be open about it in the past because I was always in heterosexual relationships throughout my teens, right up until I married Rebecca. I would feel very hypocritical to open up publicly or speak out about being bisexual without actually having been in a same sex relationship… Which is why I am now able and comfortable to speak out about it now.
Looking back, do you think stifling your true understanding of yourself affected your mental health?
On the surface, as a closeted bisexual, it’s easier to hide because you can just say you’re more into one sex over the other. But, of course, as I am bisexual my attractions are fluid. Even though after my divorce I came to terms with my authentic self, there have been difficult times on my journey because I didn’t feel confident enough to confide in anyone else about it, even though I have had many great friends along the way who were there for me. And yes, I do think that feeling isolated and hiding away may have had a negative impact on my mental health. But I was lucky to have had a huge outlet in my sport of swimming and these particularly unique friendships that I still have in my life today.
You got together with Rebecca at 17… Were you honest with her from the outset or did you keep your fluidity to yourself?
I didn’t say a thing. For me personally, my journey with Rebecca was a destination to love. I think as an unconfident bisexual man it was extremely difficult back then to admit it even to myself, especially considering I had zero experience with the same sex. Once I knew I loved Rebecca, I was committed to that relationship and its journey for the rest of my life.
That’s lovely. Was there a point in your relationship when you finally did come clean? Did you ever feel guilt, like you had deceived her?
I only talked to Rebecca about my sexuality as a friend after we had amicably separated. I never felt I deceived her, because I loved her and like I already said, I never had the time to discover my full sexuality. Becky and I are extremely supportive of each other and our lives now revolve around our daughter Summer, who is our main priority.
How did the rest of your family react to your bisexuality?
They have all been extremely supportive. We all share the same the opinion that sexual preference doesn’t define a person so it wasn’t a big deal. They all share the same openminded maturity and accept me for the person I am. I love them for that!
You’ve said you don’t like labels…. In an ideal world how would you like to be viewed – Harry the dad, the nice guy who has girlfriends and boyfriends?
I feel like more people are now getting more educated on the individual preference to the way they like to label themselves. However, it doesn’t sit well with me as an individual. I don’t like confining people to a historical identity space. We’re all human and we all share this world together. If I have to be honest, I’m extremely new to the LGBTQ+ community and I have a lot of learning to do myself. I actually feel like I’ve been quite ignorant in my life to date, so although I’m contradictorily referring to myself as bisexual in this interview, I suspect that will change. Having said that, Harry the dad, the nice guy who has girlfriends and boyfriends has a great ring to it for now.
In recent years, there are so many different sexual identifications – do you think this is a good idea or do think by doing so we are segregating ourselves even more???
Contextually, it’s more difficult to communicate a message without labelling, but not impossible. As graphic designer and communicating in the digital world, I use semiotics and communication theory daily through the abstraction of art, with that said, I do feel a more pragmatic approach socially could be a good idea to help avoid further segregation. What I don’t want to see is hegemonic society where some people feel unworthy or discriminated against.
Do you think bisexual men and women are still viewed in a certain way by the general public?
I guess a common misconception is that bisexuals are greedy or indecisive; which is completely false. I can’t speak for everyone when I say this, but the hardest bisexual stereotype I’ve personally had to endure is that I’m using bisexuality as a ‘gateway’ or a step to becoming gay. I’m sure there are people out there who identify as gay after a bit of sexually experimentation, but for me personally I believe we’re all on a spectrum and I shouldn’t have to defend my interest in both men and women.
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Had my first swim of the year tonight with some special big hearted people 🏊🏼♂️ I can’t believe how much I’ve undervalued how good swimming is for your #mentalhealth not only is my head clear and my heart strong but my arms are little Fu’ked up… name a better combo? Il wait. I really hope the government change their minds to open up swimming facilities again so I can drag @sairkhan and @racheladedeji to a pool… team slay have have still got some big stereotypes we want to smash down 😬 #swimming #freedom
Why do you think LGBT people find it so hard to be open their true selves even in this day and age?
Everyone of us should be accepted in society: equally and comfortably and happily. This, sadly, isn’t the case yet and therefore should to be consistently challenged. Education in particular will defeat assumptions and ignorance and is critical to encouraging people to be their authentic selves without having to justify themselves. I dislike the term ‘coming out’, like coming out is a thing, it shouldn’t even exist; or it should be called the ‘freedom of my suffering, fears and confusion, to which I yet still don’t feel adequate and equally treated in society’.
GuysLikeU is a big advocate for schools teaching LGBT history and issues – do you think schools should include subjects like this on the curriculum?
I appreciate that the education curriculum is already jammed packed, but I don’t see how I can say education is the key without saying yes to this question. I obviously have a biased opinion on this but after the conversations I have had with many people since sharing my story, it has really opened my eyes to how many kids struggle with their identity at school and how beneficial it would be for a culture change toward acceptance. Additionally, I’d love nothing more than to see kids study subjects like ethnicity and black history and focusing more on many other widely spread and commonly problematic social issues.
How would being taught about the LGBT+ community have helped you when you were 13?
I think I would have had more confidence in my teenage years to be my authentic self. I also would be in position where I’m not learning about a ‘new’ subject in my late 20s. I would have had the opportunity to help others sooner and treat people with the respect everyone deserves.
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Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there that embody the duty to inspire, teach, care and love their children the way they all children deserve too be loved. I can burst with excitement sometimes over how proud I am to be Summers dad, and I will cherish every single moment with this kid until my very last breath. For any dads out their who made mistakes along the way (because we all have), grow beyond it, fix it and never stop trying to be that inspiration, role model and super hero. Never stop creating ourselves, we all deserve happier times 🤍 In honor of #pride Special shout out to all the bisexual dads out there, I see you, I hear you, I feel you 🌈
What made you ‘come out’ this week?
In lockdown due to catastrophic and woeful disruption of Covid-19 I’ve been thinking a lot about what side of history I want to be on and how do I want to look back in my late life remembering this time. With opportunities like my first pride taken away, and with the inspiring movement of Black Lives Matter, the stars aligned for me. It was Father’s Day and it was pride month, and it was the last day of National Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week. As I said before, I’ve suffered with mental health issues for many years and this is an area I’m also passionate about helping others in. I collaborated with the Mind Charity last year organising and taking part in a successful world record breaking relay swim to raise money for mental health awareness. I’m looking forward to doing more projects like this that get us talking about taboo topics and help each other more.
It’s great you have a good relationship with your ex-wife – that must be something you are happy about?
I’m so lucky. And I’m so grateful, Rebecca is a fantastic mum and I go as far as saying she’s a better mum than she was swimmer.
Unbelievably, you’re single. What do you look for in the perfect partner?
I look for values of positivity, loyalty, honesty, ambition, banter and kindness. I’m also dog-father to two gorgeous pups, so if you can handle two dogs and a sassy five year-old, I’m all yours.
Good to know! Do you think boys and girls offer different types of relationships? Are the dynamics different?
In my experience no, love is love. Being in love is very important to me. Being vulnerable in love is equally as important to me. I hope that one day I get to share that opportunity again.
Do you think we can embrace relationships if we haven’t embraced ourselves?
I think you can. I’ve never not been happy in any of my relationships where love is involved. I like to think that we’re on our own individual and personal journeys and sometimes simultaneously were on relationship or companionship journeys as well. Life has this beautiful way of interlinking, unfolding and working out – if you allow it to that is.
Do you think we search people out who we think will make us better people?
I think naturally we are drawn to people who share the same morals and values as us. It would be shallow to just use somebody to get some sort of personal gain, but I think no matter what relationship or friendship develops we are always granted the opportunity to learn and grow.
What would you say to your 12 year old self about the future.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and transparent. Be strong and attentive. Be brave and bold, and never ever give up.