Novelist and former Channel 4 News culture editor Matt Cain may have been out, but he certainly wasn’t proud.
He’d endured a decade of homophobic bullying in grade school where he learned to eat his lunch in a toilet stall to avoid being spat at by other kids, or worse. On the bus he’d feel everyone’s pointed fingers as they chanted a single word: queer.
When he was around 16, he details in a first-person account on Buzzfeed, he discovered a magic solution to come out of his shell and get people to like him: alcohol.
After getting hammered, he was loud, confident, funny and above all else, popular. It didn’t occur to him that as he got older, his peers became less homophobic. The equation was simple and reliable — alcohol = likability.
“I was ready to do anything to get the party going and the first person everyone wanted at any drink-fuelled celebration. I went from being the most unpopular person in school to the most popular person at sixth-form college, and, later, university,” he writes.
He came out at 17 and began drunkenly sleeping around, and quickly learned that his self-deprecating stories of sexual encounters played great at the pubs among his straight friends.
“Yes, I was having fun – of sorts – but it continued right through my twenties, and as I approached 30 my life was revolving around an endless cycle of drinking, casual sex, and unhealthy relationships with unsuitable men,” he recounts. “I was constantly having to up the ante by getting drunker and dirtier just to maintain the momentum. On more than one occasion I found myself going home with a man with an unusual profession just because I thought it would make a good anecdote.”
Just after turning 30, he hit rock bottom. For the first time, his reliance on alcohol began to come into focus. Once it did, he looked deeper to discover why he was destroying himself in the first place.
“I was trying to annihilate my real self because there was something about that person that I still hated…I began to realise that even though I’d come to feel happy being gay, having grown up in a world where I was constantly told that my sexuality was disgusting and therefore I was disgusting had cast a long shadow of self-loathing.
“You don’t have to look far among gay men, particularly those brought up before attitudes began to change, to see this self-destructive pattern repeated and repeated.”
Five years into sobriety, he started to experiment with drinking again.
“I wrote myself a set of rules, the foremost of which is never to drink when unhappy. Also, to not sacrifice my dignity for the sake of entertaining others. And to ensure I go home before I’m tempted to jump into bed with an unsuitable man.
“I’ve had the occasional mishap. But on the whole, armed with more self-awareness and a desire to take care of myself, I’m doing well. The angry edge that used to accompany my nights out is gone. The objective, to punish myself, has disappeared.”
Now he channels all those juicy stories into his novels. His first, Nothing But Trouble, got its name from how people used to refer to him.
You can read his full story here, and please, let’s all stop punishing ourselves!