It’s Okay to be Gay – Review of a Collection of Coming Out Stories Edited by Alison Stokes

This book contains a vast number of coming out stories told by UK celebrities (some of whom I’d never heard of). Each chapter is a short (3-4 pages) tale of their experiences coming out to their friends and family. There is a range of stories from people with a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. However, the overwhelming message of the book is that you should come out, and the earlier the better for your own sake.

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This message is not dogma, but more that through the lived experiences of these people, the ones who came out later in life regretted it, and the ones who came out earlier found that they were more accepted (although if you live in a country where coming out could get you arrested I would think carefully over this). Most (but not all) of the celebrities in the book came out to their friends and family before they were famous. The notable exceptions are Gareth Thomas (former Welsh international rugby player), and Stifyn Parri (pronounced Stephen), a Welsh soap actor who was part of the first televised gay male kiss in the UK (as part of a soap opera called Brookside).

I thought it was an interesting book. All of the people included in it said their lives improved for the most part after they came out to their friends and family. The book is designed to be a lifeline for those who are at school (similar to the It Gets Better project), so that by reading the stories they won’t feel so isolated and driven to self-destruct. I think it’s a noble idea, although I’m not so sure about the execution. The first problem is that the cover of the book is so obviously about LGBT issues, that any young closeted person would be unlikely to read it. I am thoroughly out of the closet, and even I did not want to make it too obvious when I was reading it in public. The second problem is that I don’t think younger people access these stories through books. When I was thinking about coming out, I got my inspiration from Youtube videos and new articles. Even now I don’t go to coming out stories all in one place, but enjoy the slow drip of new stories of people coming out in the media and through social media. The third problem is that it is mostly focussed on gay and lesbian stories. There are a few bisexual and undecideds included, but no trans stories and no asexuals. This may reflect that lack of representation of these groups in UK celebrity culture. However one would have hoped that the editor would have searched for them, and tried to include them.

That said, it is still important that this resource exists because it does address an issue for young gay people who need help in coming out. And not everyone will go online to learn about this. It is also interesting to read about different coming out stories. However I think the criticisms I have above outweigh the merits of the book. In particular how it is packaged seems like an odd lack of foresight. However, if you are thinking about coming out as gay or lesbian, then it is worth the read, provided that you can read it in private.

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