Landscape gardener Jack Horwood opens up about the fear of telling his loved ones and rugby team that he was gay!
Even in these days of acceptance, coming out can still feel like a big hurdle for many of those who are coming to terms with their sexuality. In fact, some believe that these days LGBT folks shouldn’t have to announce to those around them whether or not they fancy boys. And yet so many of us continue to fret about sharing our truth. But sadly, sometimes with good reason.
While many of us are more than happy to shout about the fact that we lust after fellas, our biggest fear on our journey is the reaction of our loved ones. Will they still love us the same way if they know we like kissing boys? Or will they find our sexuality so off-putting they’ll turn their backs on us forever? It’s the heartbreaking dilemma every gay man and woman has had to endure since as long as anyone can remember.
It’s a sad fact, there are many gay guys who are indeed tragically rejected by their nearest and dearest and forced to live a new life away from those they thought were there for them, but it’s good to remember that there are so many happy stories of the families and friends of LGBT guys who are totally accepted and loved.
Here, we meet handsome landscaper and rugby player Jack Horwood, 26, who is one of those lucky fellas. In this frank interview, he opens up to about the difficult time he endured coming out, especially when it came to coming clean to his rugby team!
First of all Jack, what was life growing up like for you?
Very normal actually. I grew up in a small village in a small three bedroom house with mum, dad and two brothers. One of my half-sisters also lived with us for a bit when I was very young, so it was a pretty busy house. I have also two half-sisters from my dad’s first marriage so I am the youngest of the five and – some might say – the most annoying.
Were you a typical youngest child?
I was just your average lad who fought with his brothers. I started playing rugby from six and would head out into the country with friends from the village getting up to all sorts of mischief and coming home all muddy. I look back very fondly on my childhood. As much as my brothers and I would wind each other up – and still do – we are very close.
That’s sweet. When did you start to realise you were gay?
I was about eleven, I think. My brother had tried to download a film on the family computer called Coach Carter. It turned out that it was a porno about two women seducing two garage mechanics. He deleted it very quickly so he didn’t get into trouble but me and my friend snuck onto the computer and got it out of the trash bin and watched it. It was then I realised that I had very strong feelings towards the men that were stripping out of their overalls!
So you know that you were gay from watching that? Did you accept that straight away?
It was a few years later, when I was fourteen or fifteen, when I finally came out to myself, if that makes sense. I said to myself ‘stop trying to fight this and just deal with it’. Looking back it was a pretty big moment for me. I lay in my bed and said out loud ‘I’m Gay!’ Now I think back, I imagine a mega round of applause because I earned it.
So once you’d admitted it to yourself, how long was it before you told others?
I actually kept it to myself until I was 20. Can you believe it?
Wow! That’s a long time to keep it in.
When I was fifteen, I almost told my best friend Hannah. It was the summer holidays and I sent her a text to tell her but I bottled it before I said anything. I think the conversation went like this… ‘Hannah, I have this secret to tell you.’ / ‘Yeah, go on, you can tell me anything.’ / ‘It’s massive though I really really need you to promise you won’t tell anyone…’ / ‘OMG, are you gay?’/ ‘Um, nope! Forget it. I’m not gay! Why would you think that!?’
Why did you chicken out? She was helping you out!
Weird as it sounds, when something like that is taken out of your hands, it’s easier to run away. Also, from what I have discovered gays like drama, fireworks and a big musical number to go with the big moments! I guess I’m one of them!
Can you remember your first gay experience?
I can. I started speaking to this guy online when I was about 16, on a website called ManCentral. I lied about my age and told him I was 20. We spoke for ages and we really fell for each other. But then I deleted the site because I felt that what I was doing was wrong. When I was eighteen, I logged back on the site and the guy was still there. I came clean and told him the truth about my age and we started chatting again.
Did you ever meet him?
I ended up finishing work early one day and went to meet him. We did stuff, which, like any first time, was super uncomfortable. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Also, this guy seemed a lot different in person – I just wasn’t attracted to him and I felt awful because we had been chatting for so long. Naturally, after that experience, I just ignored all of his subsequent messages and hid away from my feelings.
Did you ever consider smothering your true feelings?
During my teens I thought it would be an easier life if I was just a ‘normal’ bloke and not have to come out all the time and having people telling me ‘Oh, you don’t look gay’.
A lot of young guys dealing with their sexuality suffer from depression. Did you ever experience any mental health issues?
to be honest, I think I just tucked it away in a little box during or my school and college days. I think I thought to myself that I’d just deal with it all later and wait until everyone is mature enough to deal with that sort of information. I think if I had come out at school or college I would look back on those days a lot more negatively, as I think I would have been pigeonholed, which is pretty crap that we have to look at it that way. I kind of wish I had the balls to have just done it back then. You know, break the mould and change the way everyone around me thought about young gay men. So I just carried on like everything was normal, forged very strong friendships and had a great time at school, college and playing rugger!
Did you have any gay role models growing up?
I think for any young gay rugby lover, you can’t look any further than the mighty Gareth Thomas and Nigel Owens as guys to look up to. They were both at the top of their game and it would have been such an easy choice for them to keep it under wraps. They were just two blokes who were doing their thing at the highest standard who just happened to like kissing other blokes. Amazing.
Was there anyone you were most worried about coming-out to?
I used to work in a local pub in my village for about three years and there was this girl there who developed a bit of a thing for me. She was beautiful, still is, so I didn’t really believe that she liked me. It turned out that she did and I stupidly lead her on a bit. The thing is, at this point I was fairly comfortable with who I was but stupidly went along with it. But over time, I started to feel awful about it. One drunken night, she came back to mine expecting things to happen – but of course they didn’t. A few nights later she hung back at the pub while I was closing the bar and I sort of ignored her and she ended up getting upset. Later, I told about me her over text! She was the first person I actually told. The amazing thing was, she was so supportive despite the fact I had technically ben a total asshole to her. She’s great and despite not seeing her for ages now, I still love her.
When did you start to tell people close to you?
A couple of months later, I told my brother on a boozy night out. We were both so ridiculously drunk that we both cried and embraced each other. It makes me feel a bit queezy now to think about it but he was very supportive and even came back and stayed at mine that night to make sure I was okay in the morning.
And what about your parents?
Like most gay guys I had built up this massive narrative in my head that my dad would have a massive problem with one of his sons being gay eve though I knew he had a gay mate in the village and was a very accepting man. It seems so ridiculous now to think I was so worried. He was so supportive and really accepted a previous long term partner of mine. In fact, they were like besties! It’s so mad that I got so worried about it. He honestly does not give a shit and is so proud of all his children.
Awww, that’s amazing… Was there anyone in your life who didn’t take it well?
You know what? I have been very lucky. I have an unbelievably accepting family and group of friends. As more and more people found out I discovered the supportive system around me became unreal. I consider myself very lucky as I know there are many coming out stories that give others really negative awful memories. In fact, I had some friends that I never thought would be as accepting as they trend out to be. I remember one friend finding out and he was absolutely buzzing to have a gay mate. The smile on his face was unreal, he literally jumped for joy!
Did you feel comfortable to open about your sexuality when you were part of the rugby team?
I have played rugby since I was six and the majority of my rugby has been played at my local club Bicester and was really worried though about how being gay would affect my rugby life as it was my main hobby which I didn’t want to lose it if my team mates were uncomfortable with me. However, when I played for a higher level club for two seasons – a time I actually came out to friends and family – a rumour about me started to circulate back home which my local team found out about. I was so scared about what people would think of me but as it turned out I had a very positive response. The captain at the time even came up to me in town and congratulated me. He sat me down and we had a big heart to heart.
Wow! That’s just lovely.
Yeah it was and it made me realise how good people are. I remember this other time that I went to a BBQ at my local club when I started playing for them again. One of the old boys, who was in his 50s, approached me and said ‘Jack I have heard about your life choice and I wanna say congratulations, give me a big hug.’ I joked how it wasn’t really a choice and we had a beer as normal.
What a lovely bunch of fellas!
The team have been just bloody fantastic. It’s weird that I seem to be in this little bubble in Oxfordshire where it’s very forward thinking and where being gay is just part of everyday life. Of course, I know in the bigger world there are gay hate crimes on the rise, but I have to admit I am very lucky to live the life I lead.
Yes, it’s lovely that the rugby fraternity are so accepting.
Definitely, although I have experienced first hand about how some religious types within rugby treat gay people. There’s a religious sports organisation which is based in my town who used to have a lot of players come and play for our team when they were doing internships and working nearby. They were great blokes, great players. Even though we got to know each other, I never asked them about their beliefs on sexuality – I guess it just never crossed my mind because they didn’t seem bothered by it. But one day, this organisation put a post up that supported what homophobic rugby player Israel Falou had been spouting off about. It was was weird for me to suddenly see these blokes I had respected so much slap me in the face with the narrow-minded views that they believed in so strongly. It really hurt me. So it’s kind of weird that at the age of twenty six to suddenly have this overwhelming feeling of brokeness when the reaction to my sexuality has always been so wholesome and great.
That’s sad, but it’s good that people are generally much more accepting these days…
I meet people who have never met a gay person before and sometimes they might say something in an offensive way. But I’m happy to chat to them as long as they are willing to learn and understand what a gay person goes through. I’m lucky that I have never really experienced an attack on my sexuality, though sometimes people’s ‘banter’ can get too much. But I think people of any shape, size, race or sexuality go through that sometimes. Luckily, I like to think I’m fabulous, so any haters out there can bore off!