Alexander, in his own words:“Being gay is a part of my identity. I did not choose to be gay as well as I did not choose my skin colour, body shape or mother tongue. I would love to say that it as simple as having blue eyes for example, but things are more complicated when it comes to your sexual orientation, of course. I understand it as an integral part of me nowadays. I am not ashamed of being gay nor do I take pride in it, because it does not make me any special, better or worse than others.
It has not, however, always been like this. It took me a lot of time to come to terms with my own sexuality. Most of the challenges of being gay I have faced in my life were only in my head. I spend my growing up years living in self-denial as I unconsciously separated my fantasies and desires from the unreal picture I had of myself. It was a foolish mistake. What you long for will always eventually find you, so I gradually learned to embrace who I am. Even though I did not come out to my parents until last year, my hardest coming out was coming out to myself.
The society has not helped me much with my feelings of insecurity. Although it is true that the Czechs are tolerant and Prague is a gay paradise compared to the most parts of the world, this tolerance comes with a price. It is rather ignorance than acceptance. I feel that this is a deeper issue connected to disappearance of ideas and values from our modern democracy. It is easy to tolerate something unusual by overlooking it, but to genuinely embrace something strange is another story. It involves leaving your prejudices, which, I am afraid, cannot be enforced by any law.
Gay marriage or adoption is not on the table here right now and the limited public discussion which we have is carried out quite poorly. LGBT rights do not establish any special privileges for a small group of people as some media or even activists claim. On the contrary, their purpose is to eliminate a shameful discrimination against minority which is legally in force now. LGBT rights are universal human rights and therefore we must fight for them at any cost, because we are human, after all. Some of us just happen to be queer.”
Jany, in his own words:“I hope (being gay) still means the same to me what it did when I came out to myself. The great possibility of finding a guy for me. The hope that my sexy teenage dreams can actually come true! The luxury of enjoying true love, or at least chasing it. And the excitement from all of it.
I come from a small town in South Bohemia where being gay simply did not exist in the 90’s or early 00’s. My parents are teachers and my older brother is a miraculous science geek. I think both these facts made me strive for other people’s praise more than is right. I dreamt “dirty dreams” about boys since my teens but it took me more than 10 years to acknowledge being gay is a purer lifestyle than pretending to be hetero. Now I’m proud of being able to listen to my own inner voice. Life seems so much less planned and more dramatic. It actually feels like living in a movie. Now I know I want to enjoy men more!
My girlfriend and I had been together for more than five years when I started thinking about my coming out. The relationship we had was just great and even stronger. And yes, we also had lots of great sex. There was just the problem: I tended to think about boys and could not help myself. I felt so ashamed of not being able to get it under control. After few hookups that pushed me so down, I wanted to figure out how I could overcome my feelings towards men. And while studying human sexuality, I realized I couldn’t do anything about it while staying honest to myself. The only way to fix my desperate mind was to say the truth. My girlfriend was the first one that I told. Three exhausting weeks later, we both decided to be friends. I’m proud we managed to sort it out in a good way. I’m proud and thankful of my girl, one can’t say how much. We’re still close and she found a new boyfriend.
After my coming out, I fell in love with a boy for the first time and it brought me feelings I never felt before.
Obviously, boyfriends fix everything.
I wish the (LGBTQ) community (in Prague) would be stronger. There are maybe 50 activists and then random groupings of friends. Few cafes/ bars, few clubs. But at least men have everything what they are supposed to have. So it’s good.
(Advice to my younger self) Sexuality will not change after you grow up. Nothing that you feel is wrong if it doesn’t harm anyone. You must learn to listen to yourself. Our feelings are the most precious experiences, don’t let anyone or anything steal it away from you. Being attracted to boys is so cool! And being physical with them is the special sweet spot that you not only can but should enjoy if you feel like to!”
Josef, in his own words:“From early childhood I knew I liked boys more then girls. For me personally it was absolutely normal. The only trouble was to deal with people around me. I grew up in 80’s and 90’s in eastern Slovakia and I had so little information about what it meant to be gay. But I never wanted to change it, I felt special.
I think my whole life is a challenge. I was always very interested in art. When I was 26 I started to study photography at the University. I finished my Master degree with a very personal queer music project Mušnula. You can check it on youtube. I think is very important to express the queer side of my personality. The funny thing is that I am also a yoga instructor. And I am very conservative about yoga. That’s good balance.
I came to my mother the night before I left my parents flat. I was 20 and decided to move to another city to live with my boyfriend. I think my mother was sad not because I told her I was gay, but because I left home. We always had a very strong relationship.
My partner was director of a queer film festival in Prague for 4 years. So we are a part of queer community here. But I am not a party person, I do not drink alcohol and I don’t visit gay clubs or bars. So I really don’t know. I think I know more about yoga community.
I try not to look back. But I am 35 now and sometimes I feel I would like to have more friends. During my life I had just a few really strong friendships. Many of them do not last until today. And I think it is my fault. I don’t know if I can change it. Maybe it’s too late.”
Jirka, in his own words:“I rather appreciate the process of becoming gay and deciding about that, than being “gay”. It is some work label I use more for other people than for me myself. I’d better avoid expectation that comes from the label. As if you would be a jar of raspberry jam. But I am also the blueberry one. I see myself as non-heterosexual. It feels less determining for me. And for me, that all means great opportunity. I am the lucky one. Grateful for being pushed out of my heteronormative limits and comfort zone. I would not have enough courage otherwise. To realize a little bit more, how the world, relationships, and life work, not how I was told it is. To be more myself, not what I think is expected from me to want, feel and be. And after all, it is more fun…
Until last year I thought that coming out was the greatest challenge. Yes, it took some time, till I was ready to become gay (and later leave this label a little bit), but after all it was fun and I enjoyed that. I confess, I thought it would be so easy and everything is solved now. From last year the greatest adventure is being single as I left my partnership after eleven years. I never thought I would come to this. Now it fits, we are friends and yet we share the same home. But I wasn’t on my own for a decade.
I would never imagine anyone else than my (former) man. And still I can’t. I can’t figure it out I could feel with somebody else so natural, safe, open, loyal and trustful. He was like a car and I was a motor. He provided home and security. He was attentive and helpful. I provided inspiration, movement, life and emotions. Quite traditional scheme. We both nourished our home and relationship in our way. I was aware that he wasn’t giving me the needed gasoline back. And finally my heart was running on empty, motor went dry. And still I couldn’t imagine getting out of the car… family. And we were becoming estranged; he was losing his dignity in my eyes. I wasn’t aware how much I was losing my own dignity in my eyes…
“Look around just people, can you hear their voice, Find the one who’ll guide you to the limits of your choice” (The Gravity of Love) So as always I needed to find someone else to ignite me. We had always an open relationship. It wasn’t anything new to meet somebody. But this time, thanks to that dragon, I found a well in a desert. I didn’t fall in love and leave my man because of somebody else. I just realized what I’ve been missing. How much I am thirsty and how much I have eroded.
I realized that there is another fear than being lonely. I am more frightened to find myself with a strange man in a strange room. Buried alive. I needed a revolutionary road… And finally there was a moment of survival and breaking up, though it brought another personal crisis. Till then my partnership was the main source I clung to. So when I took it as a china figure and smashed it against the floor, my life was shattered. I was at point zero, even eleven years back, lonely, numb, without any strength, resources or self-esteem. But I knew that was the only way: first to break everything into pieces to be able to put it together newly.
So after eleven years I am like a boat once again out on the sea. Sometimes lonely, uncertain, tired, scared or hurt, but at least I am aware I am living. Though it is safe to be a boat in a harbor, that’s not what the boat was built for. Now I have to learn a lot of things, recall things and skills I’ve forgotten and reinvent myself. I’ve learnt how not to bark at the wrong tree. (If it’s the right tree, you don’t need to bark at all.) How not to let others waste your time. (You have to appreciate yourself first.) Slowly I am putting together pieces of my self-esteem on my own. I am inspiring, source of inception for others. Though I am not always self-confident, I substitute it with my passion(s) and determination. I am not brave to travel alone, but I am brave enough to be open, brave to closeness, to look somebody in the eye. And I don’t want a man. I want man and love.
I was always gender nonconforming. In a hetero-normative and gender stereotypical society I always failed the test to prove myself to be a man. I loved gymnastic or volleyball, but my schoolmates loved football and basketball. I loved broccoli, but I was told I am supposed to love chili. I love HBO, but I was supposed to like Eurosport. Everything was gendered. When I was a child, the main male heroes were Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Movie role models cut somebody’s hand and slapped him with it in the face. And I would rather touch and care. So I couldn’t find any male role model and only women were inspirations for me.
It was the same at home. I was close to my mum, but though my dad loved me, we were somehow strange for each other. So my dad didn’t support me either. Actually it was the other way round. He was feeling insecure and he was shaming things me or others liked. And I was sensitive about that and of course it made some mess with my self-esteem as a man.
When I was in puberty, I was always aroused just by male elements. But I was learned to be romantically involved with women. I resolved it, that men and boys I quite exotic for me, so it made sense to be sexually aroused. I kept my heterosexual identity… and was more and more lonely. I felt, I was not free to explore myself. Because of shame. And I didn’t like to be told I should be gay, because a feel or like this, or if I was gay a should feel like this and like this. I was eager so much to decide about me myself.
Some personal crisis was needed, to shake me. I was over twenty studding psychology at college and one week we were visiting different social and psychological institutions in Prague. I was confronted with the topic homosexuality all the week. I felt like a water surface under rain. My heart, body and mind were completely disconnected.
But it was a first step and few months later, I was 22 and I was finishing my college and started to be open to myself and others, to socialize more. I was ready to be open to explore, whether I could be gay. I was brave enough and hungry (lonely) enough. And the funny part was, I wouldn’t mind being gay after all, but I don’t know how to find out. I even knew it would be OK with my parents. I met some gays before and I admired them for their openness, but I didn’t realized, it could have anything to do with me. I was shy and introvert, let somebody else be gay, who knows how to work it out!
I remember dreams from that time. About houses and travelling, finding direction and destination. It all started with a house with a scaffolding around, that was demolished inside and all the dust went out. The house was me. Build inside according heteronormativity. Now I could start all over according to my own self-determination. And in one dream I finally got to a colorful place. It was almost like in The Wizard of Oz. Also in my life it finally seemed I got from black and white into Technicolor.
I wanted to consult it with some professional, but I realized even before I got there. That could be chance how to tell my mum, I was dealing with something like that, because I needed money for the professional care. But my mum asked me few hours before. She wrote me a letter, we were sometimes exchanging at home, as I was leaving for college, and was worried whether I would feel hurt by her suggesting I maybe could find a boy for myself.
So I was free to explore myself and have support from my family. I just was not used to feel romantically for a man. Hence I switch on a TV program with a gay I liked and tried just to imagine… And it worked out. It was possible. Finally I realized it could be this way, because I felt natural. I could socialize with other people; after all I found friends – gays and my partner pretty soon as well. And in family it was also an explanation (even for my grand mums), everything fitted in place and my relationship with dad was much better.
Gay communities in Prague should be quite diverse. I try to be aware about all the colors of the wind. I am member of a LGBT+ community organization and some of us are radical (I need some real change, not just to cut grass on the ground.) and some conservative. I have a lot of friends who are faithful, some are Catholics. What I appreciate the most is how people are developing and changing their attitudes. My friend made some TV program I took part in and another friend of mine I appreciated very much was inspired by that to meet me after years. He was never a sympathizer of Prague Pride as some unnecessary carnival. But after all he found a partner and wanted to get registered with him. And he was stroke, that it all began once again with his parents that were OK with him being gay and with his partner. But now they were worried about neighbors. My friend was finally sitting in railway station hall and suddenly he got it. He wanted to scream: “I am gay and I am here so just get used to it.” Now he has nothing against any carnival or gay pride because it doesn’t work just to be a good boy.
I would surely not give any advice to my younger elf. I wouldn’t listen. I need to find myself and in my time. Just with some support and inspiration of others. But I choose myself, what’s tasty. There is only one thing I would tell myself. Simply: “I love you.” That boy deserves to know it and it’s all he needs to know.”
Hugo, in his own words:“I was once pondering on the idea of what ‘pride’ means to me. I am not particularly proud to be gay because that’s only something that came about by itself without me contributing to it. But I am very proud that I was able to accept it, share it with my close ones, while knowing it might hurt them, fearing how I cope with life that is less conventional. I am proud of who I am, because I like it, I’m able to love people around me and I don’t have many hang-ups that would force me to judge how people ought to live their own lives. It’s an internal pride, one I don’t have to demonstrate on the outside.
Accepting that I am gay did allow me to see beyond sexuality and accept the possibility to love people on a more broad level. I think it’s a strength that allows me to be more open-minded and have a greater perspective and to tolerate differences. I myself have a story in which I don’t doubt for one second that my inner path was wrong or twisted. And I know everyone has a story like that, but we rarely take time to listen to the story-telling, rather we take assumptions and judge from our point of view. I do believe that empathy is about the ability to walk a mile in someone else shoes. If I would expect from people to empathise with me being gay and all that…I may as well try to do the same for them. So being gay made me more humble and accepting. But so did living in China for a year…
At one point I had a feeling that I have fulfilled all my life goals slightly too soon – but in a good way. For some period, there was very little I wanted further and life became slightly empty. I think redefining what one wants further is the harder part I am working on right now and that is a challenge. Other than that, I think my life path was relatively smooth and easy and I am grateful for that. Sometimes I do regret I didn’t make it harder from the start, but that’s OK as well. The other day, I was imaging how a badly simplified version of my CV would look like in a lousy magazine. It would go something like this: “He studied in Hong Kong and Denmark. Took care of Hollywood film stars and worked for a foundation of President Vaclav Havel. Then for three years he tried to help young activists in Syria and Iraq. For two years he worked in New York and travelled around the world, trying to find ways of bringing cultures together. Now he works as an Innovation Designer.” When you simplify things, they sound pretty swell and, well, simple…, but this whole path was full of both successes and a challenges and the stories behind them are sometimes pretty incredible.
I came out when I was 27 and my relationship of 7 years with a girl that was also my best friend came to an end. I have decided it is time to act upon something I always wanted to look into, but never really had a reason to. For couple of years, I was confused. It wasn’t until I realised that it doesn’t matter if I date women or men, as long as I’m able to fall in love again. And when I did, with a guy, it was all very simple. I realized that I prefer the energy of sharing my life with another gay man. All my friends and family seem to be happy when I am happy and so everyone just took it the way it was.
I consider myself to be very lucky for growing up in a bubble of the Czech Republic. Prague is a beautiful vibrant and cozy city. But coziness brings about some level of laziness as well. Still, despite Prague’s laziness to open up fully and see beyond one’s own backyard, I have never once been told into my face that being gay is a problem. There are very thin lines between acceptance, tolerance and ignorance. I still can’t see them very clearly, but I am left alone in my own peace and I am grateful for that – for being surrounded by great friends, kind family and creative witty people who perceive me for who I am and not who I sleep with. I have learned to accept that society will continue to learn and unlearn to accept diversity and the more we try to work on the learning side, the better. As for gay community – it is a mirror of that. I think we all know we swim in a tiny pond and we all know each other. Once, a friend said that Prague is a city that acts like a village. I chuckled.
(Advice to my younger self) Vaclav Havel put it very nicely: “Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.”
Daniel, in his own words:“(Being gay) is the real fact which generally covers everything I do in my life. The reality which is mostly so natural to me that I can’t even spot this hidden realness of me. But in the depth I can feel it is important to me and I am happy to be gay.
There are challenges which you have to face everyday and I try to enjoy every moment in my days the best I can. I do my best.
My first coming out was during a late night with one of my best friends. We were both pretty drunk and she was really flirting with me. I came out to my mum when I was watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she just came to my room during the scene where Tim Curry is singing the song with the pearls around his neck and wearing a corset. She sat on my bed next to me, looked at the screen and asked me “What are you watching, sweetie?” Then I came out.
I am not a community type a lot I guess, but I think (the community in Prague) is very opened and wide. You can find great gay parties with handsome guys, join a gay sports team, enjoy the atmosphere of LGBTQ movie festivals, public talks and queer art exhibitions. Prague is very tolerant.
(Advice to my younger self) You should enjoy more!”
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.”
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.”
JQr, in his own words:“There are just 3 advices to my younger self and anyone who loves ups and downs of life: 1) Worry is a misuse of imagination. 2) Exception proves the rule. 3) Light don’t owe shade shit.”