Graphic designer Dan Mackey opens up about his fears of coming out to his mother, meeting the man of his dreams and how the Coronavirus has impacted on their lives…
We all know that a lot of young gay men spend their early years fretting about coming out and living a bleak and joyless future. But more often than not, these crippling worries tend to amount to nothing and many fellas go on to experience happy lives as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of general life.
Meet gorgeous Dan Mackey, a graphic designer from Brighton who spent many of his teenage years feeling anxious about embracing his true self for fear of rejection. In a frank and honest interview with GuysLikeU, the 32 year old looks back at how he finally found the confidence to tell his mum who he really was, how he met his gorgeous fiancé and how his life have been affected by the Coronavirus.
Let’s start at the beginning, Dan… Was there a particular moment when you knew for certain that you liked boys?
I knew pretty much in primary school that I was a bit different. I did actively try not to be gay by getting girlfriends and distancing myself from other gay guys. I kept a diary all through my childhood which helped get my feelings written down. But I only wrote down I was gay when I was 18 years old – and that was a big deal for me! However, from then on I started to accept who I was and embraced it. That said, I was so worried about my mum finding out I was gay that I didn’t do anything physical with guys until I came out to her although I was secretly a member of all the chat rooms and apps…
So who was the first person you were able to confide in?
For a year and a half after accepting I was gay I didn’t tell anyone, even though I knew who I was. Looking back, my diary entries became even more lonely and worrying about the future. On May 25th 2007 I told my best friend Becky I was gay. I was actually too scared to even say the word gay, so I gave her a letter instead. We didn’t really talk about it, she hugged me and we got on with our day. I told myself the hardest part was done. It wasn’t a secret anymore and I realised that being out to someone hadn’t instantly changed my friendship like I had thought it would.
When did you broach the subject with your family?
I told my mum two months later. Writing a letter to my friend had worked out well, so I wrote one again. Once it was written I knew I couldn’t bottle out. In it I said that being gay was not something I would have chosen for myself and I really wished I wasn’t. Looking back, I feel sorry for the young Dan who wrote that, as being gay is something I would NEVER change! I’m so happy that younger gay guys seem to have got past the guilt of being gay that some of my friends share.
What did your mum say once you gave her the letter?
She screwed it up and gave it back, saying it was my choice and that she didn’t know what to say, as she had never been in this situation before.
Wow, was that hard?
I knew it could have been worse and put it down to shock. After that, my mum and I didn’t speak about it again. Things went back to normal. I was off to Uni that year so I knew I had got it off my chest and looked forward to meeting a new group of people when I could just be me, without the fear of my parents finding out.
What was uni like? Did you throw yourself into the scene?
I fully embraced being gay when I moved to Portsmouth as a student. I was still in halls with straight guys, but it felt different telling them I was gay from the start and I felt confident about it. I found myself jumping straight into relationships as a safety net I think, but the gay friends I did meet at uni I still see today – where as other friends I’ve lost touch with.
You must have been in your element?
I always found that meeting new gay people is easier than straight people as we all have as shared experience of hiding who we are in the first part of our lives. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, it is a trauma we all have scars from! But I’d much rather talk to someone in a pub than go to a club though – unless it’s fancy dress…
So how did you address your sexuality with your mum?
When I started seeing someone at uni I wanted my mum to meet him as she hadn’t met any other gay men! When she did, she realised that being gay didn’t mean I would change or that other gay people were what she had imagined them to be.
Did the mother-son dynamic change?
We were always very close and she has always been there for me in any way she could – like helping me at school when I was falling behind or coming to get me at Uni when I got ill. Now I’m an adult I still see her and my dad more than I did before. She helps me do the work I do and makes cute crochet that I can sell for her through my crafts company 11 Rugby Road!
Was love something that you sought or were you more interested in being a sexual being?
I jumped from relationship to relationship rather than be single for very long. When I met Adam (my fiance) we were both out of long term relationships at the same. Having been friends for years before it felt lucky that we we’re both single and could get to know each other better and naturally.
You live in Brighton, but have you experienced any homophobia?
I used to hold hands with Adam alot in Brighton – it’s known for being a gay city and you’re always likely to see gay couples holding hands. But I realised that we barely do it now and subconsciously it must be because we used to get heckled by vans driving past or random people outside pubs. I am deliberately trying to hold hands more after thinking this, as it’s small acts that normalise LGBTQ+ relationships more so than when we put on a parade in Pride.
You’re a good looking guy, have you ever been insecure about the way you looked?
I always found stuff to hate about myself when I was younger. I was too short, overly hairy and covered in moles. I used to go mad with tweezers and hair removal and even trying to take my moles off myself – with sandpaper!!! Now I’m a wise 32 year old man who knows there are far more important things than looks. But of course like anyone, I still have my confident or insecure days. Who doesn’t?
A lot of gay guys are obsessed with achieving perfect body?
I have followed some very beautiful men online and then unfollowed after realising there was nothing more there than a great body or face. I think we all give ourselves a hard time that we could be doing more and looking more like other people, but there’s no way you can keep that up. I much prefer to look at accounts of creative queer men that the body beautiful.
So you’re not a gym bunny then?
Definitely not. I’m more of a biscuit bandit. I joined a gym briefly that had a pool and used to bob about in it a bit, but I just try and keep active by getting out and about and doing DIY in the house.
You post a lot of flesh-flashing pictures on your social media – do you get lots of unwanted attention from followers?
I actually love chatting to other Instagram and Twitter users, even the weird and wonderful ones! I’ve met lots of friends through social media and I love how it connects people. I do deliberatley attention seek a little with not much on to advertise 11 Rugby Road sometimes… so I’m just happy if someone sees my graphic design or clicks on my 11 Rugby Road account by accident.
A lot of gay men use instagram as a means to boost there self esteem – do you have a healthy relationship with social media?
I’m guilty of chucking on some googled hashtags to my pictures, but I’m not that bothered about followers and likes. I like posting about things I’ve made even if they don’t get the same interation. I like following creative profiles that inspire me to make different things.
Do you believe in tribes – have you ever felt the pressure to fit in to any?
I don’t really see different type divides. I think you can go out in Brighton and meet a spectrum of amazing people. When I lived in London I felt more like the diversity had gone. The gay clubs were just for gay men and everyone seemed very young! With the friends I see the most I think the connecting factor is just we’re all fun people – and maybe too much alcohol.
You’re engaged to a very dashing chap called Adam. How did you meet?
I met Adam ten years ago through mutual friends and we’ve been together six years now! It’s nice to have met naturally and have shared friendship group while we got to know each other. Even before the Corona lockdown we saw each other every day while both encourging each other to be creative with 11 Rugby Road. He’s my best friend, colleague/employee/boss and family.
Is it easy being in a relationship?
We spend twenty four seven with each other which is more than usual! I think once you both find your groove with each other it’s easy. We both do different things and have strengths and weaknesses – that can’t really be changed! We’ve been engaged for a while but a wedding always seems like an expense that we could do without (as we’re both freelance you never know how much you’ll make in a year). One day it’ll happen! And it’ll be a very DIY crafty day!
What is the dynamic like? Who does what? how are you different?
Job wise, I take more control of the online side of 11 Rugby Road and Adam is great at the sales we do in Brighton and at our home twice a year. We both have the same ethos that would rather make things and embrace DIY than spend money on brand new things. I think that’s made our house and shop different from what you might normally see.
You’ve mention 11 Rugby Road a lot.You quit a job to focus on it. That’s brave. What convinced you to do it?
Having a creative partner we both encouraged each other that we could give it a go at being freelance – we could always go back to working for companies. We have a very different life than when we had a full time jobs. Gone are pay day treats and holidays but we have the best time. It’s still exciting when sell a £2.50 card or big garden sculptures we sell in person. We always make things that we love and are happy to be left with if no one else wants them! I think that helps compared to shops where they discount bought in objects that people haven’t had a connection to. Also the best part of being freelance is having the time to have a dog – Egg the pug says hi!
How has this Covid-19 situation changed things or impacted on work?
We have taken a big hit on the fairs we do in Brighton. Two thirds of what we did was during Brighton Fringe Open House, where we’d convert out home into a shop space. We are so lucky to have the support of social media and I have been putting more things on our website designed to post out. It makes a big difference financially but also mentally to be doing something like packaging orders and going to the post office. Also from feedback people have said it puts a smile on their face recieving something in the post and changing up their day.
How are you dealing with isolation?
It’s a strange one and every day seems to provoke a different feeling. The days where I feel the best are the days when I mix it up – going on a different walk, making something, doing some DIY. I’m very lucky that I have a garden so can feel in my own bubble there away from the craziness. And there’s the healing power of having a dog! I can look at his silly face and just feel happy and he needs walking so forces us to get out and not hide away, which I think I would do otherwise!
Has this situation been a scary time? Are you sticking to the rules about not enjoying the beach?
It was strange when back in February in Brighton had lots of the first cases and was in the news a lot. The city is full of flats so the green spaces are very full with people trying to get out. I’m always very proud of living in Brighton and I think the people here are handling it well and proving we are a friendly city – with neighbours coming together and helping each other.
We were so sad to hear that Legends bar has closed for good. What impact will that have on the gay community in Brighton?
Since I moved to Brighton I’ve seen lots of the gay spaces disappear which is sad! I think we can easily mock our gay scene for being dated and not as glamourous as London and Manchester – but Legends was a staple for a night out. The worst part is that it won’t be the last – with spaces constantly being bought up to turn into flats. Adam, our friend James and I like putting on themed club nights in different places and with less clubs open I think those types of nights out will be what we can look forward to!
Do you think we will all come out of this changed people?
It is hard to see how things wont change! I expect the shops and bars and pubs we use will be hard places to stay open, but we’ll be ready to support them. I think we will appreciate people more! Whether they’re strangers or friends and family – I’m looking forward to giving everyone a hug!
What would you say to your 12 year old self about the future?
I would say to be self confident. My mantra used to be “be quietly amazing” and I did that all through my student life and into full time work. I was good at what I did but people still didn’t know my name. The rule should always be to ‘be caps lock: AWESOME’
Check out Dan’s amazing craft products at 11Rugby Road