I was born just eight years after partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Mr Humphries, Kenny Everett and Larry Grayson were among the kind of TV personalities people probably recollected back then whenever the topic of men who are gay came around. As a pre-teen kid I couldn’t relate – and I still couldn’t as a teen when I started to understand why and how I felt different to other boys.

Those characters and personalities were what they were and have value. But personally they baffled me. If they were gay what was I?

Rob Kearney Strongman lifting a weight
Rob Kearney (used with his permission)

I mean… yes, I was gay. But I didn’t have a withering wit, a limp wrist, sharp tongue or interest in anything particularly “effete” (although some failed attempts were made at these things – as many kids do). Instead I liked BMX bikes and space lego. (Fine, alright: and Madonna.) So what did that make me?

Fast forward to 2018 and now I come across gay men in the media who (for me) are the sorts of personalities I realise now that I needed and missed in my youth: men getting on with life, happening to be gay and being out. I don’t share about these to ask you, gentle reader, to listen to my violin and weep along that I missed them when I wanted or needed them as a kid growing up gay (or even as a tween). I share them because they’re important in their own right and because (while other people have listed a few of them previously in blogs or articles) I don’t think anyone has listed them all together yet.

So here we go.

Rob Kearney – Rob is a former World’s Strongest Man contender. Yep. Let that one sink in for a moment. (He’s in the running for the title again for 2018.)

Gareth Thomas – Welsh Rugby Captain. That as well.

Tab Hunter – the film star (perhaps held up as what everyone thought a gay man wasn’t) who came out in retirement.

Thomas Hitzlsperger – the highest-profile male footballer to come out (played for Germany and Aston Villa).

Ryan O’Callaghan – NFL Player (I heard of this one via Gaybros of Reddit. His story is amazing: hero to himself and others).

Orlando Cruz – Professional Boxer. You read that right.

Lots of gay men aren’t camp and don’t inhabit the third space all that much and aren’t sharp with their wit and do wear their sparkles on the inside instead. This has got to be OK too.

Given my age I sort of expect people (who are also my age) to flick through their gay stereotypes subconsciously when I come out to them: Oh say something funny! Oh then you’re hiding your camp! Oh that’s a bit like trans! Oh you must be kinky! …and so on. (Nope. I’m not witty – I don’t even speak all that fast, I’m not particularly camp any more than any other Brit, I’m no shade of trans and no kinkier than the next guy.)

Worse – there can be a shade of this even within the gay community sometimes. (As an exaggeration of what I mean: “Did you know that hiding your inner camp self is internalised homophobia?” No. That’s because it isn’t.)

I guess I expect it rather than balk at it because we all grew up with the same limited media material. Now that’s changed there are no excuses for people to presume anything at all about a man who happens to be gay (and there never were). It educated and helped me to read the inspiring stories I found making this list. I hope it elevates and educates others too.

So here’s to the men out there who don’t fit the old stereotypes surrounding being gay. I’m sure it’s been said before. It doesn’t hurt to say it again.

Do you have a personal gay hero who’d be good on this list? Continue the conversation with me on Twitter.