An in-depth discussion with Dylan Lewis, the Ole Miss student whose story touched so many people’s hearts. You might have read his article in the New York Times: “My Family Didn’t Accept Me. Ole Miss Did” but there is so much more to his story.
It all started when Vanessa Gregory, a professor at Ole Miss, reached out to Lewis about taking an independent study class with her.
“I give all the credit to her, she is the one who pushed the words out of me, who drove me to continue writing, she is honestly one of a kind,” Lewis said.
The story has been shared hundreds of times, and that number continues to grow. Lewis was not expecting his article to reach as many people as it did. He originally didn’t even want to publish.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to go through the writing of it, selfishly it was for me at first, just a way of venting. I tried so many different things, but nothing ever worked,” Lewis said.
Lewis began the article after he returned from Christmas break with Gregory. He added to it each week, hoping that he would eventually finish it. When he finished the story, Lewis figured it would just be for the school newspaper; however, his professor had other plans.
“She said to me, ‘No, we are aiming high.’ I asked her if she was thinking like the newspaper in Tupelo, and she said ‘no, The New York Times,’” Lewis said.
She told him to think on it, so he did. The next week he entered her office and said, “let’s do this, kids who are going through the same thing need this.”
Lewis had one main goal he wanted to achieve by sharing his story with his article.
“I just wanted it to help people, even if it was just one person who it helped them come out to their parents, or helped them know that there is hope even in the darkest times,” Lewis said.
Lewis feared backlash upon publishing the article. He was scared that any negativity the article may receive would hurt the message. When Lewis began looking through the comments on the article, he was pleasantly surprised.
“Boy, was I surprised it blew my mind. There were 345 comments or so on the New York Times post, I read through all of them, and not one was negative,” said Lewis.
Lewis does not want his sexuality to define him, but instead, he would like to be defined by his character.
“I don’t want to be defined as a gay male. I want to be defined as passionate, loving, and a good writer,” Lewis said.
In the past couple of years, Oxford has begun to embrace the LGBTQ community, from the Pride parade to business on the Square putting the pride flag outside of their establishments. Lewis reflected on the change he’s seen in the small Mississippi town.
“It’s been very interesting to see the culture change here. When I describe Oxford to people, I tell them when you think of Oxford you can not think of Mississippi because it’s in its own little bubble,” Lewis said.
Despite the way Ole Miss is sometimes displayed in a negative light; Lewis wants people to know that a lot has changed through the years.
“I hate the negativity that Ole Miss gets, there is so much good here, it’s been fun to be part of the change,” Lewis said.
A lot of people have been connecting to Lewis’ story, saying that they can feel the love and compassion in his writing, but cannot believe that he is still wanting to have a relationship with his family, whom he has not spoken to since the article came out. Lewis mentioned that some readers have reached out to him and said that they could tell in his writing that he does care for his family even though they chose not to accept him.
So the big question that everyone wants to know after reading Lewis’ heartfelt, tear jerking, viral story is, has his family read the article or reached out to him about it since? The short answer is unfortunately no.
“No, but I am convinced that they have seen it. I saw that my aunt and stepmom were both online, and the article circulated so much that there is no way they didn’t see it or that someone hasn’t sent it to them. That’s been the hardest thing, absolutely nothing from them, not even that they are pissed off or upset, or I’m sorry,- nothing,” Lewis said.
However, that might not be the case much longer; Lewis plans to stop by and see his family before he leaves for Texas to say goodbye.
“I don’t want to leave with this bad feeling. I’m just going to go, if they want to be a part of my journey, they can be a part. If they don’t, then they don’t. I’ve always been the one that tries to reconnect. We talk one day, and then I’ll hear nothing for two months,” Lewis said.
Lewis has received incredible feedback from his article from Harper’s magazine, emails from people wanting him to do a documentary; others have reached out about starting a podcast. People who have been touched by Lewis’ story, will be happy to know that there is more to come. He has committed to doing the documentary and podcast.
“What matters to me the most is the feedback that I’ve received from people that it has helped. From mothers whose children just came out, to others who delayed getting their education because a similar thing happened to them. They are the people that I wanted to touch,” Lewis said.
Lewis will leave Oxford and move to Houston, Texas to teach sixth graders as part of Teach for America. Teach for America is an organization that helps to make education accessible to all types of people, Lewis joins in pursuit of helping in any way he can in hopes that education can do for them what it did for him.
“Teach for America is going to be my number one priority, those kids are going to come first in my life. I plan to soak up every minute of it, educational environments were always a safe place for me, and that’s what I want for my kids in my class,” Lewis said.
Lewis is now looking into creating a scholarship at Ole Miss for the next upcoming year. He wants to create the fund to aid students who have gone through a similar situation, such as being alienated from their families because of their sexuality.
“I just want to give back. Ole Miss has given me so much. I hope that through this article, people can see that even someone like myself who was involved in all these things and did all these things, that I was still so broken inside. There are kids out there going through the same thing, and they just want help, and I want to give that to them,” Lewis said.
Lewis noted that he doesn’t want to live in a world that is so polarized, that defines people by their label. He said it’s time to tear those labels off.
“People have really treated me like a human here at Ole Miss, they don’t look at me by my sexuality,” Lewis said.
He contributes a lot to the Ole Miss community, which accepted him for who he was.
“The article I wrote was my way of trying to give someone else hope, that there is light in the midst of all darkness,” said Lewis.
Lewis wanted his article in the New York Times to resonate with people who might not agree with his sexuality, but after reading it, hopes that they might become more understanding.
“I saw a couple of comments that said ‘wow, now I understand what all you and others have to go through.’ That’s what I wanted; I wanted it to open people’s mind, I wanted to help people better understand. I think that is what this piece did; I gave people an opportunity to understand what gay people have to deal with,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ hopes that his message is one that can speak to many different people on many different levels.
“I just wish that people would open their minds, and know that being open minded, doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything, but being understanding of others.”
New York Times Article, Dylan Lewis: My Family Didn’t Accept Me. Ole Miss Did.
Alex Kitchens is the social media editor for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.