Jakub, Counselor, Prague, Czech Republic

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
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photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jakub, in his own words: “(Being gay means) Happiness and fear together. Although I fear what obstacles can come in the future – I really want to have children – I so enjoy being different and fight for equal human rights. I honestly don’t like to say “I’m gay“ out loud because I’m simply a person, a human being. The one absolutely worth it.

Surviving elementary school was my first great success. I was bullied that time and finding another world outside my school actually brought me many friends and options as well. It shaped my life to who I am now. Although I’ve never thought I would be active in the gay rights, suddenly my friends told me: “Whoa, you are an activist!“ I was never thinking about it like this. I am part of the online LGBT counselling project and Prague Pride team and things are getting bigger and bigger. And I so enjoy being part of the change of our society.

I knew I was different at the age of 12. But I couldn’t name it, that feeling was so strange. My classmates at the elementary school were quicker in understanding what is actually happening. They felt my difference and started calling me a faggot etc. It was the toughest time for me. At the age of 20 I came out to my parents. I think they already knew because my “friend” visited me very often so suddenly he was presented to them as my boyfriend. They were not very happy about it, but they’ve got over it. And (hopefully) my last coming out happened a few weeks ago, at the age of 29, I was interviewed to one of the biggest Czech newspapers about my coming out in order to support the online LGBT counselling project. I had my picture all over the page and guess what – my 90 y/o grandfather, who was the only one from my family who didn’t know – has a subscription. You can figure out the rest of the story…

(The gay community in Prague is) Layered. I tend to be a minority in a minority quite often, being always a little bit different than others. Anyways, while I am friends with gay activists and geeks, I am always curious to meet other tribes. Here you can find twinks, jocks, bears and even those guys who have perfect haircut, fitting shirt, holding a glass of mojito while standing along the riverbank. Otters? Weasels? God knows but you can definitely find all of those types in Prague, especially all together during the Prague Pride march.

(Advice to my younger self) Get over it. Bad crap happens to everybody and you have to get over, because it’s your life.”

Alexander, Coordinator, Singapore

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Alexander, in his own words: “Being a gay transgender man in Singapore has its challenges. When you’re younger, people don’t take you seriously. They just think you’re a ‘tomboy’ and that it’s just a phase. You have complete strangers staring at you sometimes, and your identity as a gay man who was assigned female at birth is questioned when you come out, and then dismissed as something that you’re “too young to know for sure”.

As a child, I would adamantly refuse to wear dresses and remotely ‘girly’ clothes and would cry at the idea of wearing them, but I was forced into them regardless. When introduced to my parents’ friends, I would correct my them when they told their friends I was their daughter by saying “I’m your son”. I remember being lectured by my mum when I was ten, and I was told not to call myself their son because it hurt their feelings.

My parents never brought up the subject of LGBT people, and LGBT issues weren’t discussed in school. The only source of information we had in secondary school was the internet, and at the time, mainstream media still had limited portrayal of queer people, which was largely based on stereotypes. I navigated through my early teenage years trying to conform to heteronormativity, but deep down I knew that something wasn’t right. I hated what puberty was doing to me, and each day in the shower served as a reminder that I wasn’t male. When I started being attracted to other boys, I was even more confused, but came to the conclusion that it would be easier to just try being a girl instead.

After finishing my GCE ‘O’ Levels, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with another trans man. We both worked part-time in the same restaurant and were of the same age. He came out to me one day over a text conversation, and I realised that his life growing up was very similar to mine. The only difference was that he liked girls, and I liked boys. That alone still made me question my identity, but after thinking about it for a while, I realised that if there were gay cisgender people, gay transgender people could exist too. Thrilled at how I had finally discovered my identity, I came out to my close friends and classmates in the polytechnic, but the thought of coming out to my parents and their potential rejection still frightened me. One day, I knew I had to stop hiding from them, so I came out to them that year, two days before I turned 17. Needless to say, they were shocked and distraught. They weren’t ready to accept me as their son, and they said that I was too young to know what I wanted. They still thought that it was just a phase.

Of course, the journey of transitioning still wasn’t smooth after coming out. There have been times when I felt that life as a trans man wasn’t worth living, and I had contemplated suicide. However, in the recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet people that have been so open-minded and accepting, and their support has brought me through the hard times to a better place in life. However, I know that there are trans youth out there who do not have proper support in their circle of friends, which is why I started volunteering with The Purple Alliance and helped to start a casual support group for trans* people in Singapore. It’s been almost two years since I started volunteer work, and I have grown a lot as a person in this period of time.

The LGBT community in Singapore is more diverse than one might think it is, but it is still largely segregated. When people think of LGBT rights, most tend to think about Section 377A of the penal code and marriage equality, but in reality, there is so much more work to be done. There is still discrimination within the LGBT community, and some people are still not educated on issues transgender people face. Hormones for trans people are hard to acquire and surgery is expensive and not covered by insurance. However, recently there have been more people speaking out for the transgender community. Things are changing, and as the years go by, the LGBT community will be closer to becoming one.

I recently turned 20, and looking at how far we have come as a community and how much more we can and will progress, I’m glad that I didn’t decide to end my life. If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would say, “Stop poking your head out of the big window and calculating how long it will take for you to hit the ground. Things will fall into place in time. You’ll witness plenty of great things in the years to come, and you will be a part of it.”

Marc, Photographer, Berlin, Germany

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Marc, in his own words: “Whilst being gay certainly had an influence on my personality during my formative years, at this stage, being gay simply means that I am attracted to men, full stop ! (I could not possibly tell who I would have become, if I had been straight)

(With regards to challenges and successes) Ask me at my deathbed; life is fraught with challenges, failures and successes and I like it that way. Which ones really stand out in the end, it is too early to tell, hopefully.

(My coming out story) Lots of panic, anxiety & self-questioning. In the end, it all went well with those people who matter in my life.

(The gay community in Berlin) is rather lively… with lots of subcultures within the gay scene itself. Admittedly, I am not much into any of them.

(Advice to my younger self) Do the same all over again.”

Ariel, Journalist, Panama City, Panama

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Ariel, in his own words: “I have never felt guilty or shameful about being gay; however, one of the greatest experiences I faced as a result of my sexuality was letting go of the expectations that society and my family planned for me. Society tries to teach us what is right and wrong, and coming out of the closet is a rebellion against those expectations and rules. You have to learn to live not just to be accepted, but to be yourself. The world out there is a big place and there is a space for everyone.

I came out when I was very young at the age of 14. Being still an adolescent, I had to educate the people around me, especially those whom I loved the most, like my father. This was a big challenge because they had little-to-no understanding of what it meant to be gay: for them, the raunchy, dirty sex acts where the first things to come to mind. Moreover, these were always filtered through a religious/moral lens. They were not immediately able to think of the love and companionship that might be involved in my relationships. Coming out at this age was especially difficult because one depends on his/her parents for everything.

Now I’m glad I came out when I was so young because my family has had many years to process, learn, and get over their fears and prejudices. Today, I live very openly with my family and they are very accepting of my life. For example, when my boyfriend comes to visit from the United States, he stays with me in my bedroom at my father’s house. During holidays, he comes to all of the family parties, and my grandmother even buys him a present. Today, when others see this, they often tell me how lucky I am; however, what they don’t realize is that this level of acceptance took more than ten years.
Panama is a very small country with a very small gay community. Gay people want things to change, but they are too scared to do anything about it. Because of pervasive homophobia in society, many feel that there is more value in staying in the closet than taking the risk of coming out. Moreover, there is a lot of discrimination (gender, race, class, etc.) within the gay community itself. Change is happening, but it is slow and incremental.

To come out of the closet, I wrote a letter to my mother (as I was used to doing at the time to say important things), but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She talked to my father that the same night and then the nightmare started. They thought I was confused and sent me to a psychologist the very next day. Thankfully, he was a good man and didn’t try to change me.

My mother was upset and did not talk to me for several days; however, I did not pay that much attention to either of my parents because I never thought I was doing anything wrong. After a few days, my mother got over it and soon became my best friend—I could even talk to her about boys. However, in a country where machismo runs strong, there was not much that she could do immediately to change my father. Within the space that she had, she did what she could to protect me. I was lucky to have her by my side.
For my father, it was much more difficult: he was so sure this was a choice and that this was something that I could change if I wanted to change. I could have made things easier for myself just by telling him that I was going to try to change even though I had no intention of doing so. But I refused. I told him that if it was so easy to change, that he himself should try to change his heterosexuality to be attracted to men. We stopped talking and we grew apart. Every once in a while, he would repeat his question, but I always had the same answer.

While most of my friends were out having fun at this age, I was at home grounded because I refused to change. Now, I think about it as a joke, but I was basically grounded for six years with very limited freedom or time to go to parties to socialize with friends. The upside is that I had plenty of time to read, think, and understand my sexuality and what it meant to be gay. This only made me more confident in my ability to combat their homophobia with well-articulated arguments.

Coming out is a continuous process: as we go to our jobs, hang out with friends, shop for groceries, spend time at parties, go to large dinners, we are constantly meeting new people and one never stops coming out. If you are not entirely honest or coy, people will often gossip about what you are doing, so I just prefer to be honest to remove all of their fun.”

Štěpán, Student/Publisher, Prague, Czech Republic

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photo by Kevin Truong

Štěpán, in his own words: “I remember all the days I spent in bed with my laptop. I desperately needed proof that all the stuff I felt was a real thing. I didn’t doubt my homosexuality. At the age of fifteen I was pretty sure that I was gay. I just felt so alone. I was searching online for what I could not find in real life. I was looking for love because I didn’t see it anywhere around me. Well, I saw a plenty of love except the gay love. I was living with my parents in a small village, so it’s no surprise that I couldn’t find any gay guys. I had nobody to talk to and I felt like gay love was something virtual, something I couldn’t achieve in real life.

However, to me being gay doesn’t mean being alone. I was a lonely gay boy once but these times are over. I still feel lonely once in a while. But we all do every now and then, I guess.

For me, to be gay has more sides. The first side is public. By saying ‘I am gay’ I am making a public statement. These three words mean that I am not hiding, that my life is not in contradiction to my feelings. This is not important just for me but also for the wider group of guys who remain in closet afraid of coming out. This declaration is my strongest weapon.

The other side is more personal, intimate. It’s hiding my more vulnerable self. The one I’m not usually showing to other people. The one which craves for all that things my heterosexual friends had. First teenage love, first dates, first innocent public kiss. And of course those things my heterosexual friends will have. Marriage, family. This face is my inner struggle to believe that I can live a happy life even as a gay man. I don’t feel these doubts often but they are still a part of me, no matter how irrational they are.

So after all what being gay really means for me is being little an activist all the time. Being visible and open about my life.

Luckily a lot of things went good for me during the last year. I moved to Prague. I am studying at a university. My short article in which I incidentally outed myself got published in a national magazine. And I found love (and I lost it but that is a different story). When I look back now I find it unbelievable how things have changed. For the first time in my life I feel like everything is as it should be. I am incredibly grateful for that. But besides being grateful I think I owe something to my younger self. To that lonely young guy who felt so lost. And I’ve found a way how to pay this debt. As I said before — by saying ‘I am gay’ out loud, one can affect a whole community. I don’t want to waste that opportunity. So I’ve decided to publish my own zine about gay men. A zine that would show ordinary stuff which gay guys have to deal with every day.

But this zine would be more than just paying off. I miss an honest image of the gay community in local media. Even the gay media promote prejudice. They are trying to sell so they mostly write about sex. I would like to change that as I feel that showing stories of gay men without making them obscene, without the need to provoke, can positively affect the attitude of the society towards the community.

Back then in the first year of high school I was fighting with my dad a lot. Once we had an awful argument. I remember him saying

“You’ve been so overly emotional ever since childhood. So unnatural.”

I told him that the word unnatural is so hurtful when you are gay.

“Is it true?” he asked me quietly. “Are you gay?”

“Yeah, I am pretty sure,” I said and left the room. Then I didn’t speak to him for a whole month. So from a present day perspective it seems that he was kind of right. I was a drama queen.

But despite the dreadful beginning, my parents never judged me for who I am. For long time we didn’t discuss my sexuality. But that changed when I told my mother how important is for me to share my private life with her and dad. Since then she’s been truly supportive.

Prague actually seems pretty queer friendly to me. The queer community is most visible during August when Prague Pride is held. For the rest of the year the community seems to be more invisible and sometimes even looks like a private party. However, there is a lot of events happening during the year. Nevertheless, Prague isn’t that big, so after some time you feel like you know everyone because you always meet same folks.

If I had to chance to speak to myself at the age of sixteen, I would say “Fuck Grindr.” You are still a boy and these guys will fuck you and leave you. And you will feel like shit. You will blame yourself. You will think you can’t find love. And you will blame yourself again. And even years after that you will still think that it was all your fault.”

Rey and Chris, Ipswich, Australia

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photo by Kevin Truong, Rey (left) and Chris (right)
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photo by Kevin Truong, Remi (Right) and Chris (Left)
photo by Kevin Truong, Rey (Right) and Chris (Left)
Chris, in his own words: “For me being gay has become just another part of who I am, sometimes important, most times not so much. I have come to understand myself as just another kind of being human, part of the variety of human existence. Being gay means an appreciation that I am different from the majority of the rest of humanity, but similar to a significant minority of others, so I have come to understand that I share my essential humanity with all other humans, but my sexuality with only some. In general I count my values more highly than my sexuality and I share these with my friends, and it therefore doesn’t usually matter to me whether they are gay or otherwise, even though it is becoming increasingly true that most of my friends are also gay.

There have been times when being gay has been a great source of anxiety for me. I am grateful for the great social strides that have been taken over the past two or three decades that have allowed me to take my place in society with my head held high, to openly live with my partner and to acknowledge my relationship at work. I am also grateful my progressive friends and work colleagues who have created a welcoming and nurturing environment. Of course there are still hangovers from the bad old days, but now the photograph I have of Rey and I on my desk is no cause for comment. Except periodically, from older gay men who remember – as I do – when you just wouldn’t dare, maybe not even dare to enjoy a relationship.

So on another, perhaps more important, level, being gay now means for me the opportunity to live life honestly and openly, authentically, without fanfare, but in a way that I consider normal. The opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of relationships, the odd things that I and Rey do, life in general, all in the broader context of friendly discussion; the opportunity to be (in most ways) like everybody else, these are special to me. The social benefit (perhaps the political benefit) is normalisation. I am encouraged when I see young people carrying out their relationships in an open and positive way and I’m even more gratified when I see my peers doing the same. Being gay, welcoming gayness, is not just about embracing diversity in myself and others, for me it’s about living diversity as un-self-consciously as I can – and encouraging others to do the same.

I think the biggest challenge for me has been the challenge of authenticity, whether that has been acknowledging my sexuality to myself, family and friends, understanding and negotiating/re-finding my faith, and/or thinking through the next stages of my life. So far I think I’ve been reasonably successful (I hope so). But I count the biggest successes those times in my life when I have been part of something that has made a positive difference in someone else’s life. These are the opportunities to look out for. Right now, though, the biggest challenge ahead for us is the renovation of our house. :-)

I tried a couple of fairly abortive attempts at coming out when I was younger, first when I was 18 and the next when I was about 25 or so. Neither were particularly successful and I retreated back into my protective shell, denied myself, tried to live in other ways, but at age 40, I finally came to a stage when I decided I no longer cared, that hiding/denying really didn’t matter any more and made no sense whatsoever and that it was time to live authentically whatever that might turn out to look like. And as it happens it has worked out well. I have great friendships, I met Rey and we clicked, we met each other’s families and clicked; we all genuinely like each other and we have a wonderful family life – and for that I am very grateful. That is what I hope for for others because it is so beneficial.

I’m not so sure there is a gay community as such here in Ipswich. There are lots of gay people in the city, of varying ages and life experience – and lots of them know each other. There have been one or two attempts at creating a regular gay venue, that I know of, with little real success. Well, Brisbane, the State capital, is literally just down the road. We are a University city and I suppose if I were going to look anywhere for a gay “community” here in Ipswich it might be on campus, not so much elsewhere. Perhaps people are making their own communities and we don’t feel the need to create an overarching one. That’s certainly my own feeling on the matter. Rey and I have two very close gay friends here in Ipswich (in fact our best and closest friends) and they are part of our “community” of friends (we are always open to making new friends), but I don’t have any particular sense of a wider gay community as such in Ipswich. Perhaps in one sense that’s actually a good and healthy thing if that means that local gay people are finding community with their families, colleagues and friends, but we have rural centres close by and I’m not sure about where the supports come from for those there and more locally who are vulnerable because of their sexuality – and that is, perhaps, a challenge.

I have thought long and hard about this. I’m not one for giving advice and I tend to think if I had an opportunity to meet my younger self, we would have a long conversation about what lies ahead, the good and the not so good. But I think at the moment if there was a short message to give to my younger self it would be that “Gay is OK; it’s OK to be gay” and maybe, “Don’t leave it so long to come out.” Would I have believed myself and accepted the challenge? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think that I would have thought about it :-)”

Nehemiah, Counselor, Cape Town, South Africa

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photo by Kevin Truong
Nehemiah, in his own words: “To me (being gay) means I’m fabulous, ambitious and a hard worker.

The first thing I created was my own chapter when I chose to live as a gay person. So what I have done is to forgive whoever wronged before without knowing. I asked forgiveness to those who I have wronged. I worked to get where I am today. I always am up for the challenge in life. I’m not afraid of taking a new ride. I make something out of nothing in my life. I turn my situation from red to yellow to the gay rainbow because that is who I am.

(With regards to coming out) I had a friend who was a lesbian. She kind of taught me the whole thing. I had my own experience in my mind. So the first person I told was my cousin because he was always on my side for everything I do. Even if the whole family is against me he was always there. Then I went from there and I first told my sister about it. She went and told the whole family and I was ready for that so it wasn’t that much to handle. Some asked me if they could call a Doctor or Traditional healer to see me and cure everything. With all of that I didn’t stop them and I gave them the go ahead until they gave it in.

The gay community in Cape town is amazing. I never come across that huge problem of me being gay. But I saw some people who have come cross lots of things in life as a gay person. But to me Cape town is great, they treat me with the respect I give them. I smile at them every morning they smile back to me.

(With regards to advice) hmmmmm I came across a lot of things when I was young. I grew up in Village called MANZVIRE in Chipinge (Zimbabwe) I had to make something out of nothing again for me to go to school was hard without someone paying your school fees. I grew up with my Father which happened to never like me at all. He would fight with my Mother in front of me about how I acted like a girl and how I didn’t look like him and how he didn’t have a gay son. At the time I knew nothing about being gay. I was Nehemiah who liked to play with girls, that was what I knew at the time. He used to go to a park with other kids and I had to pretend to be busy because I knew he would not take me along. To see him laughing and having fun with my older brother and young brother while I was there, it was a pain and still a pain in my heart. I couldn’t bury the feeling of being rejected with my Father. People use to make fun of me. Telling me I’m not human enough to be loved that was why my own Father doesn’t like me. I grew up in that situation. It was very hard. Until I come up with decision of forgiving myself and everyone around me and to be happy. The only person I can’t forgive is my Father. I can’t.

So my advice will be “ONLY YOU CAN TELL, NO ONE CAN TELL WHAT I SHOULD DO. SO BE STRONG AND CHANGE THE SITUATION AND TURN IT TO BE A MOTIVATING LETTER TO THE YOUNG TO BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO ALOW YOUR SELF TO BE HAPPY.”

Ronny, Freelancer, Berlin, Germany

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photo by Kevin Truong
Ronny, in his own words: “I refer to myself as a queer guy. It’s a much more happy word to me than ‘gay.ʼ Most of my friends can identify with it, may they be lesbian, gay, trans*, bi, – whatever. To me, ‘queerʼ is a large and beautiful family; solidary, loving, and supportive.

I come from an East German working class family. Nobody of my family ever studied or even had a high-school diploma. So finishing high-school and having had studied was definitely a success but a challenge as well. It’s frequently forgotten that your class background has so much influence on the way you talk, the way you behave yourself, what friends you have, what you eat, which circles you’re in. It’s mostly been in university that I became aware of my background, visiting courses with all these middle-class and upper-class people who couldn’t understand many problems I had. They asked: “Why don’t you just buy the course book?” when I copied my texts for university. “Is that really your lunch?” when I could only afford the very basics in the canteen. “Are you coming to this party tonight?” when I couldn’t pay the entrance fee. The feeling to not fit in was very peculiar in the beginning but made me grow stronger after a while.

I was forced to come out at the age of 14. I had a penpal, Sascha from St. Petersburg. In one of our letters I came out to him; he was very supportive and it really helped me a lot. My dad opened one of these letters and read it. He was very angry and told me he was disappointed in me; that I can’t reproduce; that I’m a threat to the family line. Since then, we don’t talk to each other anymore. My other relatives were much more open, not to mention my friends. And today, I live a happy queer life with the family I chose and without my father.

You can probably rather talk about gay communities. Every district (in Berlin) has their own scene: Kreuzberg is rough and queer; Schöneberg is the ‘gay ghettoʼ; Friedrichshain in the East is still very different from the communities in the West of the city; in some districts ‘the gay communityʼ is still a very delicate little plant, like in Wedding, where I live. In one word, I’d say the community here is rather segregated. That’s the reason why we have had three different Christopher Street Days for the last years.

(Advice to my younger self) Spend more time with your loved ones. They could be gone faster than you think.”

Phillip, Writer, Cleveland, Ohio

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Phillip, in his own words: “What I like about being gay is having met thousands of men from all over whom otherwise I never would have met. Gay gives you carte blanche to meet men of different backgrounds. And from this huge variety of men I have built up a great tolerance for individuality, quirks and all. It’s not always easy being gay, no life style is. I’ve found that a sense of humor has saved me, got through terrible times. And since I’m a writer, I’ve David Sedaris-like humor essays to spread the word that funny is saintly.

Also my garden. I’ve had two clinical depressions and a return to my garden every spring has brought me out of those dark times. The darkest time was in the early 80s when AIDS rose its ugly head, and I heard of my friends in the coastal cities dying left and right. So I pulled up my zipper and didn’t have sex for over l0 years—actually I lost count. I was terrified of that disease. Sex was not worth dying for.

Cleveland is great town to raise a family. It’s not so good for gays. The smart, creative ones leave. It seems all I get are married men. So for the dark cold winter months I go to Fort Lauderdale, a paradise for gay men. Men from all over the world descend on Fort Lauderdale for the winter months, and I’ve made life-long friends who come to visit me in Cleveland in the summer in my gorgeous garden. Visit the video of my garden onYouTube.To read more about me go to my Profile on the Silver Daddies site and enter my profile number #398760.”