“Behind every mask, there is a face and behind that a story.” I look at this quote every day to remind me that we all have a story to tell and especially gay men. Each of us has a coming out story, whether it’s funny, heartbreaking or encouraging, our stories made us the men we’ve become today.
Adolescence as a young gay man growing up in the 80s wasn’t the easiest for me. Although, I came from a very open and liberal-minded family, my internal issues and the name calling (sissy and faggot), the perception that gays were considered weak and not real men, caused me to develop anxiety about coming out.
Coming out for me was a process, and if you were to tell me that it would have gotten better when I was only 10-years old, I wouldn’t have believed you. I think this is especially true as an African-American male. It’s no secret that the heterosexual black men in my community are not that understanding and accepting of gay men. It is, however, changing. But gay youth in particular continue to experience significant challenges during adolescence.
The alarming rate of suicide in America is disturbing. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. Even more alarming is the rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one-quarter report having made a suicide attempt.
It’s heartbreaking to know that LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. (Statistics taken from The Trevor Project’s Facts About Suicide)
We’ve seen several initiatives to support our youth, bring awareness to the issues they face and to encourage others to be a voice of hope. Individuals like London photographer Tom Dingley remind us of the continued need for us to show each other who we are as individuals and humans. Via his portrait project, #Outcome we are exposed to a fresh, new, and reflective approach to the “it gets better” campaigns. We as a community have to continue reinforcing and encouraging our youth who are struggling because the coming out process, no matter what you may think, is never going to be easy.
Photographer Tom Dingley started his #Outcome project in 2014, to photograph LGBT people holding a picture of themselves as a child – showing that it does get better, by providing young LGBT people with role models for life beyond adolescent angst, uncertainty, and bullying.
The message is: No matter how hard it is growing up and coming to terms with your sexuality or identity; you can be who you are, living a successful and happy life, out of the closet. The aim is also to help break down stereotypes of what an LGBT person looks like, or can be – because there is no absolute definition; as the project shows.
Tom has exhibited the ongoing project at London Pride, Brighton Pride, Student Pride, Digital-Pride and as part of LGBT History Month celebrations. Adding more portraits to Outcome over time; the collection now includes Lord Chris Smith, Elly Barnes MBE, Britain’s Got Talent’s La Voix, Bake Off’s John Whaite, The Apprentice’s Sanjay Sood-Smith and Emmerdale’s Alicya Eyo and many other people.
The project is a celebration of all LGBT people, known and unknown.
The moment I saw the first set of photos on Instagram, I knew I wanted to be a part of this amazing intitiative and share it with our Kinkster MAG readers and bring this amazing initiative across the pond.
As he releases the book, #OutcomeBook, as part of this project, I had a chance to connect further with Dingley on his work.
Your #Outcome project has been in the works since 2014. Can you describe the project and how it has developed over time?
A: The project started as a way for me to explore portraiture while exploring the notion of “it gets better,” which was a great influence on me. After the first test shoot I quickly decided to photograph LGBT people referencing part of their daily lives while holding a childhood photo. To show the young person they were to the out adult they are now.
And you just released #OutcomeBook (LGBT Portraits) on October 10 after a successful crowd sourcing campaign. What was the fundraising process like and how long did it take?
A: Crowdfunding is difficult, it constantly feels like you’re begging for money and that it’s the only thing you talk about for a month, for example. Thankfully I was sharing the crowd funding link as well as the book publisher, so having two audiences helped to get the campaign seen and backed. Once the money came in, it was all very exciting to know a book was possible, as colour printing is very expensive.
How did your relationship with Arachne Press, the publisher of your #OutcomeBook (LGBT Portraits) come about?
A: Cherry, the publisher at Arachne Press, was one of the first women I photographed for Outcome. She’d seen my project news and request for involvement on an Arts listing website. After some time, and more portraits later, she approached me about a book and we started getting a plan together and timeline for when to launch and crowdfund.
What have been the biggest challenges to the #Outcome (LGBT) photo campaign and #OutcomeBook (LGBT Portraits)?
A: Early on when I was finding people to be involved, I would just put shoutouts on social media and whoever replied I would arrange a shoot, however early on, it was the same demographic I was connecting with. So then I became more proactive and set out to create a range of portraits from a more diverse demographic. Which I have managed to do.
As you’ve photographed people and they’ve shared their coming out stores, which one was the most troubling and which was the most uplifting?
A: Out of the 115 people I’ve photographed I have heard so many coming out stories. All different but with the same underlying feelings of uncertainty. I’ve heard stories of men and women who had been married and came out later in life, others who had run away from home and even one who had contemplated suicide. Thankfully the Outcome portraits show that it got better for them, as it should for everyone else.
As the #Outcome (LGBT) initiative grows, is there any particular LGBT celebrity or personality you’d love to have photographed?
A: As I’m based in London, England, I would have a few names that we would know and I hope an American audience would too. So the likes of Stephen Fry and Tom Daley. Obviously, such named as Ellen, Rupaul, George Takei and Sarah Paulson…or my favourite person, Bianca Del Rio.
What’s on the horizon for your project?
A. With the Outcome Book recently launched here in London, I hope to take the exhibition on tour, around the UK and beyond if possible. I hope to extend the Outcome project into a resource for schools and colleges to help promote equality and a positive outlook for LGBT+ teens growing up in school. At each exhibition I will also have a studio where I can photograph more people in each city, adding to the portfolio of Outcome portraits. I’m excited to grow the project bigger than the 115 pictures it is already.
Follow #Outcome (LGBT) on Instagram