René, in his own words: “(Being gay) is my sexuality, i.e. I am gay. Perhaps it has defined who I am in quite a few ways, perhaps it hasn’t. I tend believe that I am, that we all are, who we are. Sexuality is merely a part of that. (Dutch) Society however still focuses on your sexuality when it differs from the (social) norm; people tend to call me a gay person, whereas I see myself as a person. That simply means that eventhough we’ve come along way, we still have a long way to go. I long for the day when we all stop using the term “gay marriage” and see it for what it is: marriage. When we stop seeing someone’s sexuality, and start seeing the person instead.
I’ve had quite an easy life to be honest! My biggest success will be when I can be as openminded as I wanna be. That I don’t judge others anymore so easily and readily as I sometimes do. Reality is a bit different of course haha; I can be a real prejudiced bitch at times. So that makes it also my biggest challenge in life!
I don’t really have a coming out story. First time I ever told someone I’m gay was when I was 13, to my then best friend in school. And to him it didn’t come as a surprise. By the time I was 16 basically everyone in school knew as I didn’t make a secret out of it. My dad asked me if I was gay, so again no surprise there, to him or my mom. Honestly I dislike the term “coming out”; the fact that when your sexuality doesn’t conform to the norm (i.e. heterosexual, simply cos the majority of people is) should not imply that you have to stand up and tell people. People that truly know you and love you will take you for who you are. It’s basically about letting go of your expectations about others. Why expect what another person is like? Let them be!
Does something like a “gay community” exist? Perhaps. Here in Amsterdam we have different (gay) scenes but they intermix. As do other people, straight etc., mix with gay people. Okay, in my head it’s probably a tad more utopian than in real but still, I like to dream.
My advice to my younger self: believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of who you are. Don’t listen to negative things others say. Listen to positive criticism from people you trust. Oh and be as fabulous as you wanna be and last but not least: don’t spend all your money!”
Tom, in his own words:“Being gay means accepting myself 100%. Being gay means knowing who I am. Being gay means being proud of who I am. Being gay means having a unique shared experience with millions of people around the world. Being gay means being strong. Being gay means being me.
Mark and I had an instant connection when we first met each other – almost 10 years ago now – and our bond is still growing by the day. We share many of the same interests and values, which makes us such a strong and happy couple. Our relationship has evolved naturally and smoothly. We met at university and started out as friends. We both were in love with each other, but didn’t talk about it, afraid to ruin our friendship. During a study trip to Paris, we finally kissed – the city of love indeed! We were past the dating stage immediately: we knew we were in for the long haul.
Early 2013, my younger brother died. It was a really tough time that really gets you thinking about life. Before my brother’s death, marriage was never on the table. We always felt it was an outdated concept, and what use is getting married really? But then we realized that we wanted and needed some official document saying we’re together, and as we can get married in the Netherlands we really should take advantage of that privilege.
We wanted to get married in our own way. So no big extravaganza, but a small ceremony with our family and closest friends. And no expensive tuxedos we’d never wear again, but both wearing vintage denim jackets, pug shirts, black skinny jeans and Converse All Stars – hey, if people stop us in the streets asking if we’re twins, why not play with that?
I came out to my parents shortly after Mark and I got together. I told them pretty casually in their kitchen during lunch – even though it by no means felt casual. They reacted well, accepting and supportive, like everyone hopes their parents will. They made very clear to me that they love me and that it’s not my problem if people have an issue with my sexuality – it’s their problem. Still, I found it hard to come out to the rest of my family.
Growing up in a small town, I wasn’t aware of any gay people around me. I only knew about gay jokes, village rumors and exaggerated portrayals of gay life in the media, which were all reasons for me to not come out. So for some years, I was out in my life in Amsterdam, but still in the closet when I visited my family. I felt bad about my dishonesty – towards Mark, my parents, my family and also myself. And when I finally did come out, it really was not an issue at all. I should’ve given them more credit!
In the end, I think I needed to work through all that, get over my insecurities and truly become at peace with myself before I could fully come out.
The Amsterdam gay community doesn’t play a huge role in my life, but I really enjoy going to gay bars, clubs and parties from time to time. Just like I enjoy visiting non-specifically gay bars, clubs and parties.
If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d tell him to not be afraid and to just come out already. Life is so much better, easier and happier when you’re out!”
Mark, in his own words: “Being gay means being myself and making choices that I want to make without conforming to the expectations of other people. Being part of an minority has an impact on my view of the world. It made me realize that I can question social conventions and I am thankful for that. All that being said, I am aware of the fact that I’ve had it quite easy growing up with great friends and family in an progressive country.
So far, I’ve had an easy life. I think my biggest challenge so far was coming to terms with my being gay. It was a slow process, and I can’t pinpoint a precise moment, but once I did, everything became easier. Some people say that my being together with Tom for 9 years is an accomplishment, but I disagree. Living with Tom (and staying together) is probably the easiest thing I have ever done.
I guess I have always known I was gay. Growing up in a small town, I never got in contact with other gay people. Gay people weren’t visible. Because of this, it took a while for me to get to terms with my being gay. Even though I knew I was gay, I still had problems with being myself. I tried not to be feminine (whatever that may be), since no one seemed to be in the town I grew up in. I was 17 when I came out to my best friend, and one by one I told my other friends. When I was 18, my sister found out by accident and in a panic she told my parents. They all were very supportive. I could talk to them about my struggles, but I never had the feeling that they saw me in another light after coming out.
I moved to Amsterdam a few months after coming out to my family. It took some time to come out to my friends in Amsterdam. It never seemed the right moment to tell someone. Tom also had a big part in this. I met Tom when I just moved to Amsterdam and even though I liked him from the start, we started out as friends. We became so close, that we both didn’t come out, too afraid to lose our friendship. We went on so many dates, without even knowing it. We danced around each other for 6 months, and we finally became a thing when we got drunk on a study-trip to Paris. After that, we came out to everyone in an instant. I think coming out together to our friends made us as close as we are. We have shared the experience and we have basically been together for all our ‘out’ lives.
Nowadays I have no problem with telling people I am gay. I truly can say that I am proud of who I am and if someone thinks otherwise, it’s their problem.
The gay community in Amsterdam is quite small. Everyone knows someone you know. There are a lot of gay cultural and sport activities. There are gay bars and gay clubs, but not that many. A lot of bars and clubs are gay-friendly and some host gay nights. I don’t have to go to a gay bar to feel accepted and have fun. That being said, Amsterdam isn’t as openminded as it is portrayed. You usually do not see two men or women walk down the street holding hands. It is not my experience, but most gay people I know have been called names for ‘acting gay’ in public.
My advice to my younger self would be to trust your gut and just be yourself. Do not hide or change who you are because of someone else.”
Ilari, in his own words: “Being gay to me means to be a member of a minority group, which I consider a privilege most of the time. It defines who I am for a minor part though.
My challenge in life still is to let my heart speak more and my brain babble less. I cherish some very close friendships with people I have known since I was four. They know I keep my spices in alphabetical order. Career wise I am doing well as a voice-over talent with my own studio. It still amazes me, my vocal chords are making money for 25 years now, allowing me owning apartments in Amsterdam and Berlin.
I had girlfriends for the longest time, until I fell for a Lufthansa steward in Frankfurt. I didn’t feel the need to come out before I turned 39, having my first serious relationship with a man who reminded me of Sean Penn. Telling my parents wasn’t a big deal. Today I still remain quite private to the outer circle of people.
Like in many Western cities the need for typical gay clubs and pubs has diminished. Bar Prik (in Amsterdam) however is still going strong and I consider it to be an extension of my living room.
(Advice to my younger self) Trust in yourself, confide in close friends, and mess up your spice rack.”
Bobby, in his own words: “Being gay means to me being myself. Being gay is just part of me as being straight is what’s part of straight people.
My biggest challenge and also success was my 6 month trip to South Africa. It was my first trip all by myself. It was both exciting and scary. I had the most amazing time there and met some amazing people, but I also learned a lot about myself.
My coming out story is a bit different than others’. I was dating this guy and I told some friends. In a week the entire school knew I was dating a 6 year older guy. So I didn’t really come out by choice.
To my parents on the other hand: I came out during a fight. I had a date with that guy, but didn’t tell my parents anything, so they were waiting for me for dinner. Once I finally came home they just started and (of course) they were angry at me. So we were arguing about stuff and I just blurted out that I was on a date with a guy.
The gay community (in Amsterdam) is quite small actually. I’m not talking about numbers, but it’s almost like everyone knows each other. A colleague once told me about this guy I dated a year before. He didn’t know the guy and I only told a few friends about that guy and somehow he knew about us. I’m always surprised if I don’t have mutual friends with guys. Sometimes I think it isn’t even possible anymore.
I think we can learn a lot from Cape Town if it comes to acceptance. Amsterdam is placed as a place where everything is accepted and yes of course we can’t complain. However, if I’d walk through Amsterdam holding hands with a guy, people will call names or look back (in my experience). In my first two months in Cape Town I’ve seen more guys holding hands on the streets than in one or maybe two years in Amsterdam. Plus nobody seemed to care. In Cape Town there’s (just as in Amsterdam) a lot of diversity. Different religions, origins and so on and people seem to have respect for one another in the form of minding their own business.”