INWOOD — When it comes to coming out, everyone has a unique and personal story to tell about their experience, said Victor-John Villanueva, 38, who is organizing an an event to create awareness around issues facing newly out members in the community.
The Inwood native, who said he came out to his family almost two decades ago, said he’s bringing together a handful of “courageous individuals” to share their coming out story, and how they’ve felt since, as part of the inaugural “TMI: Touched, Moved, and Inspired” event on Saturday, June 25, at the Bread and Yoga Studio at 5000 Broadway.
“There are going to be people I’ve met, who are going to share their stories,” Villanueva said. “To share who they are, what struggles they went through and what triumphs they’ve accomplished.”
The goal of the event, Villanueva said, is to open a dialogue in the community and “offer people a place where they could find solace and peace of mind.” Although there have been LGBT-friendly bars and groups like Hamilton Lodge in the Uptown scene, he added, there wasn’t a stage to help people feel comfortable being who they are meant to be.
“It doesn’t need to be ‘gayberhood,’” Villanueva said, adding that he wants to continue TMI as a series for other topics, including race and more gender topics. “I would like there to be a level of conversation, where hopefully everyone will be able to identify.”
Villanueva said four people will be sharing their stories, including Brooklyn graphic designer, Zipeng Zhu, 25, who came to an awareness of his identity a while ago, and a 43-year-old Staten Island resident named Rob who's just beginning the journey.
Rob declined to share his last name, as he’s still in the transitional phase of telling his loved ones and friends, he said.
Zhu, who designed the logo and graphics for the event, said he knew he was always gay. But born and raised in China, he didn’t realize what being gay was until he was 14 and heard the word and learned the definition.
“That sounds like me,” Zhu said, adding that his mother was and still is “very weird” about it, and refused to talk about it, so it wasn’t until he moved to the U.S. to continue college that he became very open about his sexuality.
“It’s just who I am and what I’ve looked for,” he said. “I don’t really have a problem about sharing a part of me. Life is too short.”
For Rob, a self-proclaimed blue collar worker and 25-year military man, the story is just beginning, although he said he already feels so much more free.
“I was reaching critical mass,” he said. “I couldn’t exist in that form anymore. I felt like I was wearing a mask and I needed to be around people like me.”
Rob said it took approximately 8 years to come to terms with his truth. He first told his mother two years ago, and then last year came out to his wife of 10 years.
“It was the scariest thing I did in my life, and I’ve been to combat twice already,” he said.