Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Sunday, 11 April 2010 10:58 UK

Gay people share life stories in book by Pontypridd man

Derren Brown and Richard Harris
Richard Harris has secured the backing of Derren Brown

As a child, Richard Harris was bullied, ridiculed and even stabbed after admitting he was gay.

At school in the south Wales valleys, he said teachers would often stand by as he was picked on and did little to stop it happening.

Now, however, he is determined to try to help others going through similar experiences.

After being made redundant a year ago, he wrote a book, Closets Are For Clothes, which has been backed by former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas and mind control expert Derren Brown.

He originally intended to use his enforced lay-off to write his own story, but quickly discovered that he had shared experiences with gay people the length and breadth of the world.

Over 200 people across four continents responded to his appeal for help, made via several social networking websites.

"Rather than writing just my story, I wanted to try and pool together as many experiences as possible," said Mr Harris, from Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

"What I wasn't expecting when I set out was the sheer range that I'd find: positive, negative, heart-warming and downright funny at times.

"I guess the biggest thing I've learnt is not to take anything for granted, some of the most positive experiences have been in what you might think of as totalitarian countries like China, whereas one of the most negative case studies came from a young girl whose mother, in supposedly democratic Arkansas, told her lesbian daughter that she couldn't use their bath in case the rest of the family caught AIDS."

Closets Are For Clothes is primarily a self-help book, using collective experiences of gay life to help smooth the path for people who want to come out, as well as trying to educate and reassure those around them.

On the whole I'd say I've had a positive experience, thanks to the support of my family and close friends
Richard Harris

Mr Harris himself was pleasantly surprised with his family's reaction when he first realised he was gay as a child 20 years ago, but suffered years of abuse from schoolmates and even those responsible for protecting him.

"On the whole I'd say I've had a positive experience, thanks to the support of my family and close friends. But I wouldn't pretend that it's an easy process to go through for any young person," he said.

"At school I was bullied, ridiculed and even stabbed, all over something as stupid as who I fancied, and the scariest thing was that teachers stood by and did very little to stop it from happening.

"But on the whole I've been extremely lucky compared to some of the case studies in the book."

The Closets are for Clothes book cover
Closets are for Clothes will be available in May

As well as his own life story and the global perspective on gay life, Mr Harris has written chapters on the history of being gay from Ancient Greece onwards, the relationship with religion, how to recognise if you are gay if you are not quite certain, and the best ways in which to face down tormentors.

But whilst he is expecting a primarily gay audience, he hopes the book will have broader appeal.

"What I've tried to write is a book which any boy or a girl coming out for the first time can give their parents or close friends to read," he said.

"There are chapters about the history of being gay, and I try to bust a few of the myths and stereotypes.

"Hopefully I haven't been too preachy about it, because I'd like to think that a parent coming to it for the first time will be able to find a few laughs where they weren't expecting them."

Mr Harris also highlights the lack of appropriate role models in the media for young gay people.

"If you asked anyone to think of someone gay from the telly, a gay man especially, they'd immediately come back with an over-the-top, melodramatic, effeminate queen," he said.

We need more everyday gay blokes for youngsters to look up to, I'm sure they're out there, but maybe at the moment they don't feel confident enough to state it publicly
Richard Harris

"That's what can be so confusing to young people when they first realise they're gay. They might think that they're attracted to the same sex, but they don't recognise themselves in Graham Norton, Alan Carr or Julian Clary.

"We need more everyday gay blokes for youngsters to look up to, I'm sure they're out there, but maybe at the moment they don't feel confident enough to state it publicly."

Despite finishing writing his book, Mr Harris is urging people to continue sharing their experiences on his website.

"It's been great to write about all the wonderful stories I've been told, but really this needs to be a two-way process," he said.

"Things like the election are great topics to get gay people talking.

"Of course everyone's an individual, and there's not really such a thing as a strictly gay issue, but the book has taught me that there are common themes in all our lives.

"So, if we talk together, then we at least stand a chance of getting heard."

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Richard Harris: Closets are for Clothes
21 May 10 |  Arts and Culture

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