Q&A Interview Wayne Dhesi, RUComingOut National Coming Out Day
Wayne Dhesi is the founder of RUComingOut, an LGBT organization providing help and support for people hoping to come out with their sexual and gender identities. He is also a Youths Programme Manager at Stonewall and a contributing writer for Attitude Magazine as well as delivering training and workshops on topics such 'challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language’. He was recently commended by Prime Minister David Cameron who named Wayne a Point of Light in recognition of his work.
When you’re in the closet, does your whole life revolve around coming out or hiding the secret?
For me it was everything, every thought I had. My thoughts were split between making sure I didn’t slip up and say something that would out me to people, deciding whether coming out was even an option for me, feeling sad the majority of the time and knowing that this thing was happening to me and I didn’t have an answer. If you’ve got those thoughts and feelings in your head it’s very difficult to feel positive about anything. If you were looking forward to a holiday or a birthday, it kind of didn’t matter, because when those things finished you were back, well I was back sitting in my bedroom. It’s difficult to explain but even the highs in my life when I was in the closet only reached a certain high, because I was overwhelmingly down about my life. You can only be happy so much when you have this black cloud over your head. As soon as this cloud is gone, and it takes time, but when it’s not there anymore, and it is such a cliché, but it is like the sun is finally out, you can get excited about other things and feel other emotions, other than these negative ones. You’re living outside of your thoughts for once and living in your true reality, not a constructed one.
Can you tell us about the process of writing your coming out story?
It took me a while to write it. I’ve heard from other people it felt like therapy. People, who have written these stories, have been able to have a conversation with their family that they might not have been able to before it was all out in the open. A friend of mine, who tried to kill himself and never spoke to his mum about it, was able to finally talk about it when he wrote his coming-out story. The process of sitting down and exploring that part of your life and welcoming others to read it with you is such a rewarding experience. That’s something about the website that I’m proud of. It set out to help people in the closet, but along the way also helps people who are already out.
What does ‘normal’ mean to you?
Away from the external and from society, normal is your own identity. Everyone is so different you can’t define what normal is in that respect. An equivalent word to use instead of normal would be authentic. My normal is who I am now, I probably wasn’t my own normal in my twenties, because I wasn’t being authentic or honest about who I was. I am living my version of normal now: out, gay, and an activist campaigning for LGBT rights.
If you could say something to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?
If someone told me, one day I’d be sat here with you in coffee shop chatting publicly about being gay and choosing to be out, Oh My God! I would never believe that, never in a million years! But it’s not just about you getting to that point of knowing who you are, society can also help you get there quicker, if society is accepting of those differences as well, and it’s the fact society isn’t accepting of those differences, that people who don’t fit society’s norms, don’t feel like they belong. It takes all of us, no matter what minority group we’re in, to show that we are all the same.
What inspires you?
Knowing how miserable I felt when I wasn’t out and knowing that some people don’t get to the point of coming out, where they accept themselves or allow others to accept themselves, I felt like I was in gay limbo, I knew I wasn’t straight, when I was 15 but I didn’t identify as gay until 21. So I had this period of seven years when I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere. It’s a forgotten group of people, because it’s so hard for people who are in that situation to talk to anyone because it would involve coming out and that’s the whole point of it.
So it’s the solitude of it that makes coming-out so unique?
I was lucky enough to go to a vigil in Soho for the victims of the Orlando Shooting. It was one of the most powerful experiences in my whole life. I was standing with friends, crying with them and being shocked with them. I did think at the time, what must a 15-year-old closeted kid be feeling right now. How awful it must be to deal with it all alone. My fear is that they wont be able to come out, or if they were close they aren’t anymore. Second of all, whose shoulder are they crying on? What we’ve seen after the Orlando Shooting, all across the world makes me more proud to be part of a tight-knit community, which includes solidarity between LGBT and straight people. I hope people who are in the closet will see that and want to be part of it.
Who are your role models?
My friend Anderson who I met when I was 18-20 years old: I knew gay people already, even in my group of friends weirdly. But I think the difference between Anderson and other person was that he was like Jake Shears in a way, in that he was completely unapologetic about whom he was. He was 100% him and still is, and that’s the reason why he became my role model and always will be. I also felt like he wasn’t just doing it for him but for other people too. One of the first times I saw him was in a pub back home, he was singing a song on the jukebox and all the straight lads just loved him. I thought, wow this guy is amazing, and you know they weren’t laughing at him; Anderson could just sit there and talk to strangers and often did. He has this knack of getting people to see him first before his sexuality. That made me realise that that label doesn’t have to define you if you don’t want it to.
At the end of your coming out story you say, being able to be our true selves isn't a privilege, it's a human right. Any comment?
When you don’t have to go through the coming out process, the idea of being open about what person you are probably isn’t something you ever really think about. At the moment we have to fight, whether it’s internally, emotionally or out in the public, for our relationships and identities to be seen as equal. In that respect when you do come out, you feel like it’s a little bit of a privilege to be out in the open.
Is public shaming in schools and online a big problem?
Yes, research we’ve done at Stonewall shows that teens that seem to be gay are the ones who get bullied. The rates are far higher than with teens that are out at school. That suggests that people who are out and confident are not necessarily a target, they’re happy with who they are and you can’t really pick on that and a lot of straight kids are also bullied homophobic-ally: boys that don’t like football, girls who like football, boys who are good at school. It’s weird to think that still happens.
You spoke of not having to fit into a stereotype of what a gay man was. Do you think this is true of today’s LGBT community?
I think we are moving towards now…how can I put it, a kind of a binary notion of identity. I think we’ve moved away from the idea that a gay man is really camp and a lesbian woman is really butch. I think what we did was moved quite quickly into the idea that a gay guy can now be really really camp or he can be really muscly and have a big beard, because there is this fight against the stereotypes. Where we’re moving on is more to the middle ground, to an accurate representation of what LGBT people are. For me that’s so important because that representation is everything, its key! But to go from the idea that all gay men are camp to the idea that they are all masculine is also dangerous, especially for young kids who are camp and might feel lost. There is no rule and I can see that slowly that linear notion is becoming more fluid.
This has been a big year in particular for the visibility of the Transgender community, any comments on that?
Personally, I think it’s about Trans people finally getting to a point where they feel they can’t stay silent anymore. I don’t like this idea of trans people being given a platform, because I know there has been a trans movement for years already. I know some trans activists who, it feels like it’s there time, but it doesn’t mean they’ve not been trying to fight for this platform for years. I guess with the Stonewall riots in 1969 that was the breaking point when gay people decided they weren’t going to stand for it anymore. I kind of feel like this is the year, or the time when trans people are finally saying, we are not going to stand for this anymore, but its in a different way, and it’s through social media, and YouTube videos and educating people and trans people becoming magazine editors, TV presenters and actually being patient with people on what happened.
Do you have any final words of inspiration for teenagers? Any ‘Am I Normal’ Tips you would like to share, that maybe you wish an adult had told when you were a teen?
The advice I would give would be to not rush the coming out. No one should dictate to you how quickly you should move, other than you. I took my time, six years, and I’m really glad that I did. Don’t rush, take your time, don’t choose to label yourself in any way if you don’t think that label fits you. I’m really happy to identify as gay but I’m also very happy to see we’re moving away from a need to identify to specific labels. The first time I spoke to someone about it was to my friend Ben, a couple of years before I properly came out, and I didn’t plan what I was going to say. I just sat down and told him what I wanted to share, and it was almost easier. If you see it as sharing your thoughts rather then a coming-out event, then it’s not a commitment or you labelling yourself. It did make it easier for when I did come out, cause I had planted the seed. There is no pressure; you can decide how it works for you.
For more help & support on issues raised in this article please refer to Channel 4's Help & Support page - Sexuality and Gender