‘Do we ever really stop coming out?’

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Photographer Tom Dingley writes for PinkNews about the concept and future of ‘coming out’.

My coming out story is now six years old, although that is not entirely accurate – the last time I came out was just a month ago.

‘Do we ever really stop coming out?’

When I talk of my coming out story, I’m talking about the ‘main event’, the one that was the most important to me. This was when I told my parents.

Since then, I haven’t stopped coming out, however, that does not mean I tell every person I meet on the street, because it still isn’t easy. I just try not to hide anything.

My main stumbling block was telling my parents. Once I had eventually built up the courage to tell them – through many tears and anxious pep talks to myself – a weight suddenly lifted.

From then on, there were friends, colleagues, extended family still in the dark. Did I have to sit them all down and make a pot of tea each time? No, not quite. This is where social media helped a great deal.

My Facebook page became the place to not hide anymore. I didn’t change the “interested in” status, I just allowed myself to be tagged in at London Pride, or G-A-Y. This in itself is an acted as a way of ‘coming out.’

The very freedom to associated with the gay scene also tells everyone who sees it, “this is me.” True, you don’t have to be gay to enjoy a Pride event or night out in Soho, yet for me, it was my way of telling people.

I remember ‘liking’ a gay lifestyle Facebook page and feeling even more empowered, because I did no longer cared if Facebook friends took exception to it.

Over the years, not living in the closet has been so positive. This has transcended into my work as a photographer, with my project; Outcome.

Working on a LGBT+ themed project, like Outcome, is also a way of showing, ‘this is my interest, and it involves me.’ I photograph LGBT+ people as they are now, with a childhood photo of themselves – showing the difference between the children they once were, to the adult they are now, after coming out.

‘Do we ever really stop coming out?’

The project has grown into a large body of work and I am excited to have the largest solo show on display to coincide with National Coming Out Day on 11th October at the University of Greenwich. Also, I am launching my book of Outcome portraits – 80 in total, which is launching the same time as the exhibition.

Everyone I have photographed is out and the act of being in the Outcome project, is another  way of ‘coming out’ for them. Showing their support for LGBT+ issues and standing as role models for those younger, still on the verge of coming out or even coming to a realisation and entering that questioning stage.

Through meeting the 100+ people I’ve photographed – and more at different exhibitions and events – I have found that all of our ‘main’ coming out stories differ. However, the fear and concerns beforehand are the same.

A fear of what the reaction might be, a concern that you will lose friends and a feeling of isolation if you haven’t anyone to talk to in the first place.

For me, I also found that after coming out, it felt like the biggest elephant in the room was following me round – a big pink elephant, at that – and I still needed the reassurance that ‘it gets better.’

Celebrity role models are obviously a good thing, however most seemed too disconnected from my reality of growing up and the gay men on primetime TV were just too hard to identify with.

In the past six years a lot has happened and I’m pleased to see more out celebrities, politicians and sportspeople.

When it’s reported that 99% of schoolchildren have heard the term “that’s so gay” and 69% had heard homophobic remarks; you know it’s important to reassure those growing up LGBT that they are OK and it does get better.

At the same time, we must continue to combat homophobia & oppose bullying through education. I hope that Outcome – both the book and travelling exhibition – will be used in such a way.

‘Do we ever really stop coming out?’

The event coincides with National Coming Out Day, as it is a day when we think about our big announcements but also reach out to those seeking help and guidance.

I think it’s vital that we offer support and love to everyone treading in our footsteps all year round, but having this one day as an occasion is sometimes enough to give a young person the courage to burst out of the closet; just look up the hashtag #nationalcomingoutday.

I’ve often been asked the question, ‘do you think there’ll be a day when no one has to come out?’

The answer is no; I think there will always be announcements of love – hetero & homosexual relationships.

It is the reactions that will hopefully change over time, to an overall positive one, regardless of who you bring home to meet the family.

Introducing my future husband to new people will be a ‘coming out,’ declaring that I’m in love with a man – what will be interesting is how often the reaction is simply a handshake or hug, with not a raised eyebrow in sight.

Outcome exhibition is on at The University of Greenwich, Queen Anne Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, SE10 – Monday 10th – Friday 14th October 10am-5pm.

Outcome photography days Tuesday 11th and Thursday 13th October – come to be photographed for Outcome.
Q&A panel on Wednesday 12th October.

Sign up to the Thunderclap: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/46902-outcomebook-exhibition

Website: https://alumni.gre.ac.uk/outcome

Tom Dingley Photography: https://www.tomdingleyphotography.com