An Interview With Dale Dunham: Founder of Living Without Disguises

Why and how did you start Living Without Disguises (LWD)?

The project originally was going to be a personal blog. Something I was going to share with my family and close friends through which I would be able to help them understand some of what had happened to me as a child. The bullying, the violence, the idea that because I was identified as “gay” that I was not “normal” or worthy of love and the trauma and shame that came from that. I wanted those close to me to understand how these things affected me as a teenager and into my twenties and why I ended up going down the path that I did.

And then in June of 2016, when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened it devastated me. I could see myself in a situation like the victims were in, celebrating with my friends on a night out.  And to know these victims voices and stories had been taken from them in an instant was something I had a really hard time resolving within myself. I did a lot of soul searching during that time and, after a couple of weeks of consideration and talking to a few friends I decided to open up the blog. The new idea was to create a safe place to share our voices and our stories, where individuals can read or listen to other people journeys, and no one can take it away from us.

Why is it so important for LGBTQ individuals to share their authentic stories?

First, we all have a story to tell. Often, we don’t think that our stories are important or have value, but this is not true. Maybe we weren’t involved in the Stonewall Riots or actively participate in a larger political movement, group or event, but the fact is that we all have a history, we have all had experiences, and had to deal with issues throughout our lives. Those experiences need to be shared. Authentic personal stories can open up a connection between different individuals not only within the LGBTQ+ community but outside it as well. For me, it’s this idea of connection that has become a major part of this project. Perhaps this story telling will allow us to have more empathy for who and what we are and through that a greater understanding of what it is that we all are searching for. Sharing these stories creates a history that is relevant not only right now, with what we are going through in the world, but also for future generations. If we don’t share and record them, most of the stories from the average person will be lost to time. I also feel the individual struggle for self-acceptance is another reason it is so important. Being vulnerable, writing our stories, and sharing them can be one of the most empowering ways to grow and move past those things that hold us back, eventually allowing us to be our true selves.

Perhaps this story telling will allow us to have more empathy for who and what we are and through that a greater understanding of what it is that we all are searching for

How do you get people to share their stories since it such a courageous act?

I talk to a lot of people, all the time. For me, the reach of the website, Facebook, and social media are wonderful in connecting with new people, but it is limited and only one component of it. Putting myself in as many situations for exposure as possible, going to different events and organizations and general outreach to people while walking down the street, be it in the Castro district in San Francisco or Soho in London I stop and talk to passers-by. I had booths at Brighton & Hove Pride in the UK last summer as well as Calgary Pride in September of 2017, and these were very successful, I made dozens of contacts and have worked or am working with many of the people I met at them. It’s also about never missing an opportunity, like being in a grocery store talking to a friend of a friend who may know someone from the LGBTQ+ community. I’m like great here is my card. Do you think they might be interested in talking to me?

I think from what I have observed, initially many people are very responsive to the idea and want to share their story, but then when it comes time to take that next step most people realize that perhaps they are not in a place where they are comfortable in doing so. And, for those who do end up doing the interview, I have also had people drop off at that point. My counselor, Jeff, had an interesting way of putting it, in that a lot of people get up to the precipice, but when it comes time to take that step off the edge, in the end, they cannot do it. It may not be their time, it may not ever be their time, and that’s ok because we all come to this for different reasons. The people who have shared have been nothing but supportive throughout the whole process. And, many of them have gone through some very traumatic experiences so for them to be able to vocalize them and share them shows tremendous, tremendous courage.

Being vulnerable, writing our stories, and sharing them can be one of the most empowering ways to grow and move past those things that hold us back...

You have visited various LGBTQ organizations and spoken with numerous LGBTQ individuals. What has stood out to you the most about our community?

Connection. It’s connections. Connecting to something bigger than yourself. And, it has not only come out in the stories but with different organizations and groups that I have sat down with to discuss. One of the constant issues in the community is that people struggle to accept themselves, their sexuality, and finally come to that often-difficult decision to come out, and when they do it doesn’t have the effect that they thought it would have. They come out to a community that they think will embrace them for who and what they are, and what they discover is that within this community there are groups or cliques that are very closed or prejudiced and not supportive. And, find it difficult to make meaningful connections. It is something that I have experienced personally and is a common thread through almost all the stories I have listened to. I don’t think it is just specific to the LGBTQ+ community. It exists in all of society.

Who are 3 current LGBTQ individuals who inspire you and why?

Brian K. Sims – The Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  I admire him and what he accomplished with his college football career, being the only openly gay college football captain in NCAA history.  His hard work and determination in what he brings to the LGBTQ+ community as far as activism and advocacy continually impresses me. He is such an articulate, brilliant man, and represents the community so well. 

Gavin Hennigan from Galloway, Ireland - An extreme environment adventurer. In his late teens, he was an addict in London trying to deal with his homosexuality. He pulled himself out of his addiction and over time has become a role model, motivational speaker and strives to be stronger and better.

Of course, there is Ellen. She has been a celebrity hero of mine for years, and years and years. An interesting little story, in April of 2017, I had been working day in and day out to get ready for my 4-month trip overseas. At that point, I was staying in Calgary with my Mom, and one day around 4 p.m. I decided that I was done packing and working on my computer. I couldn’t talk to anyone anymore. I just needed a couple of hours just to relax, so I said to my mother; “let’s watch TV. “  I am not really a TV person, but I laid down on the couch, we turned on the TV, and it was the start of Ellen episode of the 20th anniversary of coming out. As my Mom and I sat and listened to her, Oprah, Laura Dern, as well as the many other guests and all these people that had been affected by it. The language they were using, and that Ellen was using about authenticity and living as your true self just resonated with me so much. And if I had felt deflated that day, the show renewed me and made me want to work even harder on my project.

When Ellen was given The Presidential Medal of Freedom and watching Obama present it to her was an amazing moment. It was overwhelming, seeing her tears and feeling so proud of her, knowing she represents the community in so many great ways. I don’t think Ellen is someone I would never tire of listening to. Her devotion to her wife/family, her beliefs and what she does is inspirational.

What are the future plans for Living Without Disguises?

The biggest one happened January 15, 2018, as we became a not-for-profit organization. I incorporated the project here in Canada, which was very exciting.  I now have a Board of Directors and members that will help me fulfill the objectives, vision, and mission that I have for Living Without Disguises. We just recently migrated the old .com to a .org and are now in the process of growing the site so we can collaborate on new content and projects, and people can contribute more than their personal stories.

Also, my partner and I leave at the end of May for an 8-month trip around the globe. We will be visiting many countries and cities, attending pride events, speaking to different organizations and conducting interviews. We will be continuing to gather stories for the website as well as starting a documentary.

We have other plans and initiatives in the works, but for right now getting the trip organized and working on our first fundraiser in May is taking up most of my time.

Living Without Disguises is a multifaceted passion project whose ultimate mission is to broadcast the stories of LGBTQ+ people from every corner of the globe, in our own voices. For more information about Living Without Disguises > visit their website HERE