British Vogue’s Edward Enninful shares ‘terrifying’ coming out story: ‘I felt petrified’
British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful has recalled being “petrified” by his sexuality, growing up as a British-Ghanaian Christian in the 1980s.
Enninful is one of the most influential people in the fashion world. He’s blazed a trail as the first gay Black man to lead British Vogue and champions the LGBTQ+ community – not least in the July Pride issue which shines a spotlight on British LGBTQ+ voices, including those of Miriam Margolyes, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma D’Arcy and Bella Ramsey.
He is set to leave the magazine after six years, amid rumours of tension with US counterpart Anna Wintour. He’ll take up a global advisory position at Vogue next year.
The 51-year-old journalist’s path to success as a gay Black man hasn’t been easy, as he reflected on in a heart-felt piece in the Independent to celebrate this year’s Pride month.
“Before I came out, I mostly felt scared,” he wrote. “Actually, scratch that. I felt petrified.”
He said he grew up as a “good, Christian schoolboy” in London in the 1980s and heard his father threaten: “If any of those gays come into this house, it will be over my dead body.”
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Enninful went on: “The fire and brimstone that would rage in church seemed so real that I genuinely thought I was going to hell and that a life – and afterlife – of eternal damnation awaited me.
“This is the way for a lot of young LGBT+ people still today, especially in religious communities. The feelings are terrifying and can seem extremely real.
“In many ways, though, I was lucky. In the Ghanaian community I grew up in, the best you could usually hope for was silence and secrecy, an acceptance that you would never talk about ‘such things’.”
At the age of 16, Enninful was scouted by “genius stylist” Simon Foxton as a model for i-D magazine which changed the trajectory of his life for ever, sending him to Paris, Milan and New York as he climbed the creative ladder.
“Suddenly, I was a teenager in London and meeting gay and trans people everywhere: photoshoots, parties, gigs, clubs. But did I feel pride? It was probably more complicated than that,” he reflected.
Regardless, five years on, at the “grand old age of 21”, he decided to come out to his mum and wider family. “I was extremely fortunate to have the mother I had,” he wrote.
“She loved me – I knew that always – and when I eventually told her I was gay, having returned to London after a romantic epiphany on a New York dancefloor, there was no question of me being exiled by the family.
“Even my father came around. Sort of. I mean, he didn’t kill me. As ever, in the LGBT+ community we rely on one another to be pioneers, and when my brilliant and charismatic cousin Michael – always my father’s favourite – came out when I was 17, the turf had been softened.
“By the time I came out, they seemed more cross about the fact that I’d dropped out of my law [studies] and was vamping around in the unreliable world of fashion and photoshoots.”
Enninful’s memoir, A Visible Man, published last year, tells more of his extraordinary story.
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