U.K. Site Shares Coming Out Stories of Young and Old Alike
By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com September 06 2012 5:00 AM ET
As a youth worker for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, Wayne Dhesi answers a lot of difficult questions from young people. But when a teenager in his charge asked for advice on coming out, Dhesi wasn’t sure how to respond.
“He had a lot of questions,” says the 30-year-old Dhesi, who himself came out only a few years ago. “I was very apprehensive to give advice, because everyone’s situation is different.”
He decided to write down his own story, creating a detailed narrative that traced his own path from “closeted” to “out” gay man. And he enlisted a friend to write one as well. Dhesi shared these testimonials with the teenager, who came to a realization: he wasn’t alone in his fears. Others had gone through his situation, and survived to discover a community of support.
The experience got Dhesi thinking.
In March 2012, he launched RUComingOut.com, a website that collects firsthand accounts of coming out stories, which are designed to be a “resource for those who are living life in the closet.” To date, Dhesi has received nearly 100 submissions from the out and proud, a diverse selection that includes lawyers, athletes, moms, accountants, and reality television stars. Their locations vary as well. While most are from the United Kingdom, there are representatives from the United States, Sweden, New Zealand, China, Australia, and more.
The result? A growing, written survey of the fears, challenges, and triumphs faced by closeted LGBT people.
Despite their disparate backgrounds, these accounts share many common questions. “What if it was just a phase?" Andres, 21, from New York City remembers thinking. “Why was this happening to me? Why was I not ‘normal’ like the rest of the world?”
Other questions are not so common. “Do I split up my family unit in order for me to be true to myself?" wonders Jess, 31, from Birmingham, England, who was married and had two children at the time. She ended up leaving her husband, and came out by kissing her girlfriend at a family reunion.
Hatred, self-loathing, rejection from family and friends, and even instances of physical and emotional abuse are all chronicled in the virtual pages of RUComingOut.com. But despite hardships and hurdles, the majority of these writers attest that, in the long run, coming out changed their lives for the better.
“It’s a really important step,” Dhesi says. “You can’t control what other people say. You control what you do.”
As the sole editor and webmaster of RUComingOut.com, Dhesi encounters surprises daily. “I thought this would be a resource for the younger generation,” the founder says. “But I was surprised by how many older people are still closeted.”
Reflecting the diversity of his readers' ages, Dhesi gave a 60-year-old man, who goes by the name “Jay,” space for a diary, where he shares the experience of coming out to his wife and grown daughters. Jay describes his first time marching in a gay pride parade as: “an unbelievable experience. For the past fifty some years I have hit, pretended, shielded, cloaked, and closeted myself at every step of the way… It was exhilarating, freeing, and fascinating.”
Dhesi also wasn’t prepared for the reactions of straight people who visited the website. “Many of them told me that they never really thought about how difficult the process of coming out was,” he says. “These stories were an eye-opener for them about the positive role they can play in the lives of their gay friends.”
Straight allies have responded by sending in stories of their own. Gwen, 59, from Warwickshire, came out as a straight supporter after reading her son’s submission. “He was obviously very nervous so I knew it had to be something really important… when he blurted out, ‘I’m gay,’ I found myself thinking, oh – is that all!”
While the website is presently maintained and funded by Dhesi, he is exploring partnerships with corporations in order to increase its visibility and reach more users. He also expressed interest in publishing a book, to be used as an educational tool in schools.
As for the teenager who inspired the website? He recently came out to his parents.
“At the time, you don’t realize how out-of-proportion that fear is to reality,” Dhesi says. “If you can’t be yourself, you can’t reach your full potential.”