I launched rucomingout.com in March 2012 when I was working as a youth worker for Britain’s National Health Service.
I was working with a 17-year-old called Jay and he told me he was gay. He had so many questions about coming out and what it was like to be gay. He regularly heard his parents use homophobic language and never heard any of his friends speak positively about being gay.
He feared he would be excluded from his group of friends and disowned by his parents.
I tried my best to reassure him and to help him understand the fear he had was normal and the reality of coming out would probably not be as bad as he was imagining. I remember having similar fears when I was in the closet and really wanted him to know things were not as bad I had built them up to be.
I realized that although he believed me, he was only hearing the experiences of one person. I decided to ask a few of my friends to email their coming out experiences – good and bad – so this young person could read them.
He read them over and over again and told me he wanted to hear from other people about how coming out was like for them. I realized that although there was a seemingly endless array of support for gay people online, there was hardly any support for people who were in the closet.
Most websites were also only concerned with having safe sex, obviously important but Jay was not at that stage yet – he just wanted to know that he wasn’t alone.
So I started to collect as many experiences of coming out as I could by using social media and personal contacts. I wanted to show our stories with pictures and locations and our jobs and ages. When you can see someone and know things about them, then you start to understand their journey and realize your own.
Just over two years on, more than 250 people from all around the world have written and submitted their experiences of coming out. The site has had almost 200,000 visitors and has is really helping people to realize that coming out is not always as frightening as we think it is going to be. Every single story is unique and adds to the rich tapestry of coming out experiences that can be read by those who will eventually be in a position to write their own.
One of the first stories I was emailed was by a man called Ulysses who was 46 at the time. Ulysses is from America and knew he was gay by the time he was 13. He was a child in the 1960s and grew up in a transformative period in LGBTI history. Ulysees’ story provides an important window into LGBTI history as well showing that things do get better. He will celebrate his 40th anniversary with his partner next year, and his teenaged children will celebrate with them.
Although each person has their own unique set of experiences around coming out, there are commonalities that became apparent to me quite quickly. Most people were scared of telling their loved ones. Many had no visible LGBTI role models.
But I think the most telling common theme I have found is people ultimately feel better once they have come out. Of course some of us go through difficult times, but in the end being yourself and being able to share who you are with those who matter to you is amazing – something everyone should be able to experience.
Felix is 24 and from Manchester in north west England and explains the challenges around being LGBTI and coming out in regards to sexuality and gender identity and how they do not have to be seen as a negative forever:
‘Being queer, being trans, it’s made me who I am. And I like who I am. I love the people in my life who I might not have met if I wasn’t. I like the way it makes me think about the world, and other people. Would I choose to give that up for an easier ride? Not a chance!’
I was born and raised in a small town in the Midlands of England and what struck me when I moved to London just over a year ago was how different everyday life for LGBTI people is here.
The simple fact there are more out LGBTI people in London than in a small town makes life that little easier. Visibility is so important and if you spend your entire day going to work, coming home, socializing and then going to bed without seeing a single person who you know identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, you are less likely to want to come out yourself. A simple short walk around Soho would make any person considering coming out feel that little bit less alone.
Compare that to Paul, 42, who was raised on the edge of the Cotswolds, England’s famous picturesque rural hills, and didn’t know any other gay people ‘except the lovely camp chemist down the road’.
Dan Brocklebank, an actor who has appeared in Hollywood films and some of the most popular British TV series grew up in Kineton, a small rural village in not far from Stratford upon Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace.
Dan felt isolated and alone and didn’t know any other gay people growing up. However, looking back on his coming out experience he realizes the importance of LGBTI visibility.
In his story on rucomingout.com he says ‘the gay community is warm, supportive and welcoming; a “club” where you feel connected to other members instantly. If only I had known this back then.’
It’s easy for us to forget how that fear felt. We come out and things often go better than we imagine they would and so we move on with our lives leaving that challenging, often emotionally fraught, period of our lives behind.
But there are millions of people experiencing that same fear right now. People in nations with basic LGBTI rights may be coming out earlier and young people may seem more comfortable with their sexualities. But that fear of rejection, of being hated, of being disowned, is still there.
Sharing our stories really does make a difference to other people’s lives. People need to know that they are not alone.
Next weekend, the rucomingout Summer Party will raise money for leading British gay charity Stonewall’s Eductaion for All campaign, tackling homophobia in schools.
The party is on Saturday 30 August at The Eagle in Vauxhall, south London. Tickets are £8 and are available from rucomingout.com/party. Acts include Rozalla, Topping and Butch, DJ Lady Lloyd, Silver Summers, Baga Chipz and Ronika. You are very welcome to join us and I hope to see you there.
Wayne Dhesi is the founder of rucomingout.