Most of the world's homos have their very own special coming out story or at least a "how I avoided coming out" story. The diversity of these stories, as well as the common threads which unite them, are one of the most fascinating aspects of the gay community.
I Want the World to Know is inviting everyone -- yes, that means YOU! -- to share your own coming out story as part of the project's effort to humanize the gay rights movement and diminish homophobia. Becca Katz recognizes that visibility matters and that everyone has a story worth telling and uses her film background and passion for activism to give everyone a voice. Notable entertainers including Jill Bennett, Cathy DeBuono, Cat Davis, Jason Stuart and Bridget McManus have all participated in the project.
A new feature of the site invites parents of gay daughters and sons to submit their own video describing their own process with coming to terms with their child's sexuality.
Read below for details on how to submit your own video.
I sat down with filmmaker & activist and founder of IWTWTK, Rebecca S. Katz, to talk more about her project. Becca is a 2007 Tufts graduate (English/Film Studies) and currently lives in New York City, where she works for Shine Global, a non-profit film production company dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of children worldwide through documentary film.
Jess: What was the inspiration for I Want the World to Know?
Becca: The inspiration was originally Proposition 8 in November 2008. I was feeling really moved to do something and since I work in the film industry I wanted to use my skills and passion for something in the gay community. I first started interviewing people about Prop 8… I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I thought maybe a documentary, maybe talk to people who are trying to get married but can’t… And then I thought, what’s the point of this documentary? It kind of became a different project when I realized that it’s really the young people that need help, and the reason that people don’t believe in gay marriage is because they’re afraid of homosexuals and it stems from homophobia. I thought to myself – that’s the bigger issue here… it’s homophobia, not gay marriage.
"Listening to just one person can be more effective than a rally of hundreds of people."
The final push for this project happened in April 2009, when I heard about two young boys who had committed suicide, one in Atlanta and one in Western Massachusetts. Both were eleven years old and they were being taunted at school for being gay. Regardless of what their sexualities actually were, they both decided that instead of dealing with these problems, the best solution would be to kill themselves.
I just thought to myself; this is where the story is. This is where people need help.
So I started talking to my friends about their coming out stories, 'cause I know through my day job how stories can reach & inspire people. Listening to just one person can be more effective than seeing a rally of hundreds of people. Just hearing one story where you realize that person is just like you, and that we've all come to terms with who we are -- that's how you reach people.
Becca: I just hope to get as many people to share their stories on the site as possible. Obviously, the end goal is to eradicate homophobia, but really it’s to touch people and to make people realize that gay people are just people and each of us has our own story. In terms of this project and having it grow, I'd love to get people from all walks of life to share their stories. I would love to get more minorities on the site because I want to make sure everybody has someone that they can relate to. I want to get transgender people, bisexuals, people who identify as queer… the full spectrum of the gay community.
Jess: Have you noticed any common threads throughout all the coming out stories? Or, anything you’ve heard repeated over and over again?
Becca: Well, almost everybody I ask to share their story says that their story is boring or not interesting, or notable. That’s the common thread I hear – people don’t think that their stories are worth telling! But I’ve found that everybody’s story is incredible.
Also everyone who has come out will say that they feel incredible happiness & like full human now that they're not hiding anything. That speaks volumes for people who are just thinking about coming out; the potential of your lives will skyrocket.
Jess: Have you noticed any differences in the coming out stories from gay men vs. women?
Becca: No, actually, there hasn't been a difference between men and women. I think it’s interesting because the real difference in the coming out stories is generational.
Younger people have similar stories and those of the older generation have similar stories. I interviewed this couple, Stanley and Oliver, and they came out in the ‘60s-‘70s, so Stonewall was a huge influence on them. The political atmosphere for them was so tangible and prevalent. Also I’ve noticed all of the people I’ve interviewed from that generation are wanting to pass on that political energy and passion to our generation.
Jess: Do you think it’s important for young people to define their sexuality?
Becca: Hmm, I kind of go back and forth with this. When I first came out I did not want to label myself because I think it’s hard to say “I’m a lesbian” or “I’m gay” at first. So, you can say, “I like everybody.” But, having done this project and having met so many wonderful people of different opinions, I actually do think it’s important for us to label ourselves. I’m going to echo what Jill Bennett said in her story, that, if we don’t label ourselves then nobody is going to see us and I think it’s really it’s important to label ourselves as something, other than straight. I also don’t think it’s fair to put your own prejudices against other segments of the LGBT community, like how a lot of lesbians feel about bisexuals.
Jess: Right, we talked about that in our interview with Nicol Paone (Big Gay Sketch Show). She recently came out as bisexual and was referencing some judgment she’s seen firsthand within the gay community towards bisexuality. I think lesbians sometimes choose to ignore the visibility and awareness that bisexual people bring to the community as well.
Becca: Yes, we need to be known, we need to say “yes, I am a bisexual” or “I’m a lesbian” or “I’m transgendered” so that people will say “Oh, I know Bobby and he’s gay and totally cool.”
Jess: And obviously you need a label in order to make that connection and normalize it for all gay people. What has been surprising about the coming out stories you’ve heard?
Becca: What’s been most surprising is the amount of support I’ve gotten. I cannot even tell you how moving it is to me to see and hear all of this feedback. I’ve gone to LA a few times to do some interviews and I’m in my rental car with tears down my face because I can’t believe that people want to talk to me and I can’t believe that people are so willing to share their stories. I first went to LA in August with one scheduled interview with Bridget McManus and I wound up coming home with 10 interviews through friends and sheer luck! And, people that have given me money, like my family and friends to help me buy my equipment… I didn’t think it would ever be what it has become.
"That’s the common thread I hear – people don’t think that their stories are worth telling."
Jess: Do you have any plans to expand the site beyond a collection of videos?
Becca: Yes, actually. I’m thinking about cutting together a short piece composed of snippets from different stories for some film festivals. There’s the NewFest film festival in New York… The genre is a little weird because it’s documentary but there’s no real narrative, it’s just a bunch of interviews, there’s no b-roll or anything. So, for now I want to keep the site going and have it be a place where people can find resources. I have a page where people can find all different books and film. I have a page from the National Equality March in D.C. that I went to and took a video, a page where people can submit their own stories. I’d love for it to become more interactive where people are submitting their own stories. One girl, Emma from the UK submitted her story and that was amazing. So yea, maybe a film or a longer piece where I can incorporate all the different stories together.
Jess: I also thought the site would be helpful for straight friends and family to humanize gay lives to a real intimate level, so it doesn’t seem like this ethereal thing that they can’t get a grasp on.
Becca: Absolutely, that’s why I recently added a For Parents reading section. I really hope that this website can push people to become allies so they can see it’s individual stories, not a collective voice shouting “Equality Now! Equality Now!” Yes, we want equality but sometimes we have to start at a very small level.
Jess: Finally, taking from your own list of interview questions, what advice would you give to people either coming out OR to those living in “the glass closet?”
Becca: I think you have to live honestly but you also have to be respectful of your family. You know, coming out to your mom who is homophobic and saying “Mom, I’m gay and I don’t care what you think about it! I’m just gonna live my life!” Well, that’s great for you but you’re not being very respectful of your mom. I think you have to talk to your mom with love and say, “I understand how you feel but this is me” and try not to fly off the handle. Just like it took you a long time to realize that you are gay, probably years, you can’t expect your mom or dad to instantly be okay with it because it’s a process.
For those living in the glass closet, if you’re dating somebody, bring your girlfriend or boyfriend home because that’s forcing yourself out of the glass closet. And, if you’re not dating somebody, just refuse to be ignored and refuse to let people not include you in conversation or in anything because of your sexuality. Regardless of how you come out, you really have to do it with love because that’s what you want in return, right? You want your family and friends to still love you, so give them love too and say, “I’m being honest with you because I want you to know me.”
How to Share Your Story
Here are the guidelines for submitting your story to the I Want the World to Know Initiative:
When did you first realize you were gay?
When did you come out to your family/friends and what were their reactions?
How do you define your sexuality, if you choose to?
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about or in the process of coming out?
What do you love about being gay?
When did you first realize your child might be gay?
What was your initial reaction to your son or daughter's coming out?
How has your son or daughter's sexuality affected your life?
Any advice for other parents of LGBT children?