Tom Dingley on #Outcome, LGBT and Stephen Fry

Tom Dingley. Pic: Lamees Altalebi

Tom Dingley. Pic: Lamees Altalebi

“Being gay is not the full you. It is part of you,” says Tom Dingley. The fact that people can be gay, but it’s not everything about them, is something that’s very important to this young photographer.

It the theme of his first major exhibition  – a series of images of gay people, such as a police officer, a doctor, a writer, a ballet dancer, a drag queen, all holding photographs of themselves as children. The message is this: these are just normal people, who were born, grew up and have lives and careers.

“I wanted to show LGBT people in every profession to correct stereotypes.” Despite the fact that his own experience of coming out and being gay in public has been relatively untroubled, he is concerned at reaching other young LGBT people who might feel isolated over their sexuality.

It took a while for Dingley, 28, from Greenwich, to choose the name for his exhibition, now at Lewisham Civic Centre. He initially thought of naming it “Growing Up Gay.” But then he had an epiphany and decided to call it #Outcome remembering the moment he decided to come out and what that meant for him.

Dingley says that although his family was supportive of him coming out, he still struggled internally before coming out as gay: “For ages I could not say that G word and I usually stumbled over it because it is a big powerful three-letter word. It was easier to say no straight.”

But he is aware that attitudes can vary from place to place. In Soho and Clapham he can ‘march through’ holding hands with his boyfriend, but there are places where he would be more wary with this public display of affection.

A possibly more pivotal moment in his life was when one of his tutors in college suggested he take on photography. It became his hobby and job, but he didn’t officially call himself a photographer until he got his first commission six years ago at St Joseph’s primary school in Greenwich where his mother worked as an administrator.

Tom Dingley's #Outcome exhibition

Tom Dingley’s #Outcome exhibition

The west is still homophobic, Dingley believes. He blames people’s fear of homosexuality on their ignorance. He laughs as he expresses his irritation with people constantly asking: “So, you have never had a girlfriend?”

Dingley tries to brush off these comments but believes there is a need to discuss homosexuality more often in order to correct the kind of misconceptions which can lead to homophobic behaviour.

He always looks in the mirror before leaving the house in the morning. “Do I look too gay?” he asks himself.

Dingley describes himself as shy. And it’s clear in the way he carries himself, arms crossed, avoiding eye contact and stealing glances at the window. Still he decided to force himself out of his comfort zone and do portrait pictures instead of his previous landscapes ones for this project.

#Outcome, which is part of LBGT History Month, portrays photos of LGBT people from different professions and backgrounds holding photos of themselves as children to reflect on their transformation. The exhibition also includes some more famous people including La Voix the singer from Britain’s Got Talent and Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner.

The exhibition has already been on display at Lewisham Seniors Club as part of a project with the Lewisham Positive Ageing Council, which allowed the older generation discuss their preconceptions about homosexuality. They told him he did not look gay because he didn’t appear to be ‘feminine.’

Dingley finds it interesting that most people taking part in his project are white men between the ages of twenty and forty. He did contact Asian Pride, Black Pride and Trans Pride in an effort to get a more diverse mix of people, but had no response. He believes other ethnic groups find it more difficult to be open about their sexuality.

Stephen Fry whom he describes as a “British institution,” is his role model. He particularly admired Fry because “being gay does not dictate who he is.” This is how Dingley aspires to define himself.

But Dingley is critical of how gay people are represented on television shows including the Channel 4 series Cucumber about a dysfunctional gay couple. Television does not portray gay people in a positive light, Dingley said.  ”It is good to have some kind of representation of gays on television but I want them in a positive way which I know does not make good television.”

Dingley hopes that #Outcome will help other LGBTs out there with their coming out process to make this transformation easier for them than it was for him.  This is why he is considering taking his project to schools to be used as an educational tool and to change some of the stereotypes about gay people.

He offered one last piece of advice to young LGBT people:  “Don’t hold yourself back like I did. There is a life worth living.”

Dingley can be contacted through his website.

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