Coming out is often a hugely challenging time in the lives of gay and lesbians all over the world.
We spoke to Wayne Dhesi to talk about his hugely influential and positive website RUComingOut.com which has been hailed in the media as an important resource for those gays and lesbians who are wanting support to come out.
Tell us a little about what the website is for and why it came about?
I’m a youth worker, that’s my full time job, and I have worked with a few boys and girls who were so scared and confused about their sexuality. They had exactly the same fear that I had after I had realised I was gay but before I had plucked up the courage to tell anyone. I realised that once we are out we very rarely, if at all, revisit those feelings because we don’t need to. After all, we’re out and happy now so what would be the benefit in remembering how unpleasant life in the closet was? I challenged myself to put myself back in the situation that these young people found themselves in. It was hard for me emotionally, but I realised that I had a duty – as a happy out man, I felt that I was in a situation to provide exactly what people in the closet need – support and shared experiences. That’s when I started to approach other people to also share their stories and the website seemed like a logical way to share them.
Why do you think it’s important to have a site like yours?
Once you’ve admitted to yourself that you are gay or lesbian you feel alone, well I did anyway. It’s important that when people do feel alone they have access to other people who are in or have been in the same situation as them. The fact that you’re in the closet means that you’re unlikely to be speaking to others about being gay. The website offers that one sided resource. You can simply read the stories you feel are relevant to you, and you don’t have to reveal yourself
Did your own Coming Out spur on the creation of RUComingOut.com?
I had a relatively easy coming out but the fear I felt before doing so was very real at the time and it was partly from thinking back to this fear that made me think of RUcomingout.com
What has the general response been?
The response has been amazing. The biggest surprise for me is regarding the different people who are using the site. I began the project with young men and women in mind but the overall majority of people who are emailing their feedback is coming from people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and older. It’s highlighted to me that not everyone came out to everyone in one go. Lots of people using the site and reading the stories are people who may be out to friends but not family, out to family but not colleagues, out to people online but not to those close to them. I’ve had negative feedback from one or two people who think that being gay is disgusting and saying that I shouldn’t be encouraging people to be true to themselves. These people simply confirm the fact that the site is needed.
Do people really have a tough time Coming Out?
It’s impossible to say how many people have difficult coming out experiences. The website isn’t really about that though I guess. It’s more about the stage before you come out. No matter how positive the actual coming out experience is, that fear that’s in us all before we do it is very real and cannot predict the outcome. I try and include every story I get emailed and the majority of them, about 95%, have had positive outcomes, support from family and friends etc. That is the point of the site – making people realise that the reality of coming out doesn’t have to be as scary as the thought of it.
Is the site for UK people only, or do you have a worldwide audience?
I’m based in the Midlands so obviously the majority of stories are from the UK as I used my friends and their contacts first but as the site grows the stories and visitors are coming from all over the world. So far we have had stories submitted from America, Australia, Sweden, China, Canada and visitors reading the stories from literally every continent.
Has anyone actually used the site to Come Out?
The nature of coming out means that I’ve probably not yet received feedback from those completely in the closet – after all, I can’t imagine someone in their teens taking sneaky looks at the site when no one is looking finding the time to sit and write me an email. However, we recently started publishing a real time coming out diary written by a guy called Jay from America. Jay (@JayDeeEss) is 60 and married with two grown up children. He chose RUcomingout.com to share his coming out experience as it happens. He tells me that the support he is getting via this diary (readers can leave comments under his entries) is a huge factor in his motivation to continue with his journey of being true to himself. It’s often a heart wrenching read but one I think everyone should look at.
Is the site just for Gay men? or can Lesbians / Bisexuals / Transgender people use it?
The site is for gays and lesbians. I would love to feature stories from Trans people too; I just haven’t received any yet! So if you’re reading this and want to submit a story from a trans perspective, get in touch!
The Gay/Lesbian community is currently in the middle of a civil movement towards equality. How do you think that’s going effect people Coming Out?
I really worry sometimes that the negative, homophobic views are being heard louder than the sane, more accepting ones that the majority of society have. When I was in ‘Gay Limbo’ (the stage between admitting to myself I was gay but before I had come out to anyone) I would set myself deadlines to come out. I remember that on a few occasions I was so close to telling people I was gay but then I’d see homophobic comments on TV, in the press or overhear someone at university and this would make me change my mind. People who are scared of coming out will naturally struggle more if they feel that there are people out there who will not like them. However, I think it’s really important not to ignore the negativity that does exist. I spent years living in denial and I’m certainly not going to continue doing now! Whenever something like marriage equality is debated publicly we are exposed to homophobic attitudes more so than we usually are. That’s why it’s important for sites like RUcomingout.com to be even more vocally positive at times like this.
Have you had any personal favourite stories on your website?
I love every single story obviously and I can’t thank people enough for taking the time to do something that is actually very brave, but yes, I do have a few personal favourites.
One of my favourite stories is by Ulysses, a museum curator from the US. He is one of the Stonewall generation of gay men who was right in the middle of the gay rights movement. His story made me realise that these guys faced challenges we could only imagine and despite sometimes feeling the entire world hated their way of life they fought for what they thought was right. It’s a great, inspirational and happy story.
Matthew Lister (a British Olympic hopeful) wrote an amazing story which challenges the stereotypes of gay men. It’s such an honest and detailed account that has resonated with so many people.
Obviously there are stories on there from close friends of mine and my housemate from university, Clare, who helps me with the site, was a fascinating read for me personally. We lived together for two years when we were 19 and 20 and although we had admitted our sexualities to ourselves, we didn’t tell each other!
Your top 5 Coming Out moments… Films? Music? Theatre? Interviews? Life?
1. My coming out – obviously – It changed my life and enabled me to become who I am today – the real me. It enabled me to be more confident and achieve more than I ever would have done if I’d have stayed in the closet.
2. Ellen comes out on TV. I don’t think everyone fully understands the impact that Ellen’s coming out had on the world and attitudes towards gay people. It goes to show that the actions of one person can make such a difference. I urge you to search for the clip on YouTube!
3.Gareth Thomas continues to do so much for the gay community but his coming out marked a huge step forward in one of the last big taboo areas – sport. Gareth had built up a reputation of being a hugely successful, popular rugby player and was respected by people all over the world, including loads of straight guys. His coming out challenged a lot of stereotypes of gay men and hopefully will encourage more gay closeted sports stars to come out too. I don’t think we’ve seen the full Gareth effect quite yet. Give it a few years and I guarantee we’ll have out Premiership footballers who will cite him as an inspiration.
4.Beautiful Thing, a film and originally a play by the incredible Jonathan Harvey is an amazing coming out film set on a council estate in England. It’s beautifully written, sensitively shot and has a fantastic cast. The end scene of one of favourites in film – I’ve seen it about ten times and I know I’ll see it hundreds more!
5. I guess my last one has to be everyone who has taken that massively brave step to be honest with themselves and those they love. Anyone who has come out knows how difficult it can be so everyone deserves a huge well done!! And if you’re yet to take that leap, just know that we will always support you.
visit RUComingOut at www.rucomingout.com