Tamal Ray captured hearts across the country during his thirst-inducing time on The Great British Bake Off – and after revealing he was gay (and more importantly, single) last month, the Manchester-based medical student has opened up about his coming out experience, and the transformative effect it had on not only himself but those around him.
In a column for HuffPost’s ‘Building Modern Men’ month, Tamal recalls the weight that was lifted when he came out and stopped pretending to conform to the “blokey bloke” ideal of his teenage years.
“Like a lot of people coming out, I worried about the reaction I might get, especially from my straight male friends” he writes.
“Things changed once I got to uni. I started to become comfortable with who I was and being gay. And then I started to tell other people and hey, the world didn’t cave in, and people were ok with it. More than ok actually, really lovely and supportive.
“Although the actual coming out conversations themselves were giant canyons of awkwardness, the little freedoms they gave me were priceless: to be able to talk about relationships honestly or make a passing comment about which character on The OC was the hottest (Seth, obviously).”
The 28-year-old – who eventually finished runner-up to Nadiya Hussain on the BBC One baking competition – goes on to explain that as someone “who spent a lot of their teenage years worried about being rejected for being gay”, finally being open about his sexuality actually brought him closer to his straight friends.
“Those guys, who I’d worried might turn cold, did the opposite. They started to open up and be honest themselves. We’d talk about all sorts of stuff: girls they were stressing out over, troubles at home, worries about the future. It opened up a whole new side to our friendships which brought us closer.”
He adds: “Once people knew that I was gay, I started to make a bit more sense in their eyes; suddenly it didn’t seem so strange that I was allergic to sports and that my shelves were filled with books about cake decorating.
“It wasn’t that I was keen to get stereotyped. But for someone who had never felt overly masculine, the assumptions people made were kind of liberating: I no longer felt a pressure to conform to some ‘red blooded’ male identity – I could be my own cake and cartoon loving man.”