Tagged: belgium

Henri and Maxim, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (left) and Henri (righ)
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Henri (right) and Maxime (left)
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (right) and Henri (left)
Henri, in his own words:“To me, being gay doesn’t mean anything per se, except considering my sexual orientation : I have always seen myself as an ordinary person, a human being like millions of past, present and future others, with the same potential, the same basic personality. Yet I am aware of belonging to a minority, a fact that has its positive and its negative sides. The positive side is that I got more sensitive to racial prejudice and to any form of discrimination, and that I am strongly against labeling : nobody should be reduced to a formula. The negative side is the awareness of being obliged to justify our being gay, to defend ourselves against fear and hostility.

The first challenge was to live in a happy couple, since I didn’t imagine myself remaining single. But living with someone proved not to be simple. I was not always prone to compromise, to change ideas or to accept my wrongs. Yet there we are, Maxime and I, happily together for nearly 45 years, glad to share everything that is essential to both of us, and to plan our future life.

Another challenge was to be successful in my professional life, and I was, thanks to personal endeavours but also to chance to a certain extent.

The third challenge, or was it just a wish, was to be surrounded by a web of close friends and sincere relationships. With the help of Maxime, it has been a success.

I never said bluntly “I am gay” to my parents, but they knew Maxime and understood how close to each other we were, so when I told them that we were going to live together, things were clear. At first, my father said he was concerned about the honourability of our family, but I knew that both he and my mother would never reject their son. Later, when after some years our couple turned out to be stable and happy, they showed their affection to both of us and my father supported our marriage quite willingly (my mother had unfortunately died in the 80’s). My sister and my brother-in-law were at first reluctant to accept homosexuality, but they soon overcame their reserve and have always been in very good terms with both of us. Their son has known Maxime since he was born and never questioned our relationship or our sexual orientation. Recently, during a family lunch, when he was about 10 y.o., one of his sons asked if Maxime and I were a couple, and when I answered yes, he said “then you are in love with each other ?”, and I said yes again, but he added “but isn’t that bizarre, two men together ?”. I told him that it wasn’t, the best proof being that nobody cared. He seemed satisfied, and never changed his attitude toward us.

In my professional life, I decided, without being necessarily explicit with everybody, not to conceal my private life. I think it gave me more strength to remain true to myself and proved to be the best attitude.

To my friends I decided to be completely open, and if I lost some (but none I cared most for) because I did, I decided not to have any regret.

We don’t know if Brussels is the liveliest place in Europe, but there are enough opportunities to meet people, enough cultural and sports activities for gays with all tastes, as well as bars, sauna’s or more. Some friends from abroad find people here less sophisticated than in big cities like Paris, but we can’t really judge. Belgian citizens are fairly open and being gay is widely accepted. Yet it might be a problem being gay in a very few neighbourhoods with a majority of migrants, especially Muslims. But there are certainly conservative Christian or Jewish circles where being gay is a real problem too.

(Advice to my younger self) Study hard, exploit your capacities, don’t be afraid nor naïve, act towards people like you would like them to act towards you, never fail to pay homage to liberty, equality and fraternity, be tolerant, open and respectful to anyone but be firm in your convictions, hold on to your critical sense and never let anybody nor any book tell you how you should think and what you should believe.”

Maxime, in his own words: “Being gay means being what I am and being honest about it. If some people don’t approve, sorry it’s their problem, not mine.

Of course we are lucky to live in a society where that is possible. I always think it’s so sad when we meet young people who can’t live freely, have a relationship or simply have sex because of the stupidity of the world around them.

Being gay was a tremendous opening on the world. You realize that being different can be OK and you yourself will think twice before judging other people. Practically, it gave me and my lover/now husband a life so much richer with friends from all colours and cultures. At 69, soon 70, I don’t regret a minute of my gay life. I must say I shared that life with someone I have loved for 45 years and whom I still love more every day. Some people say that love becomes affection when you get older. Maybe, but the love part hasn’t disappeared as far as I’m concerned.

I’d say the main challenge has been to build a happy relationship with Henri day after day, which is probably not always easy, although I sometimes think we were meant and programmed to go through life together. Even our differences and our errors have taught us so much. Where would be the fun if we were completely alike with no flaws ?

Another challenge in my life was of course my profession but that’s not the subject. I did a job I liked and I was well paid for it. I even had the luxury to work with people from all over Europe which was another source of enrichment.

What was important too was not to live centred on ourselves and to try to add our little stone to the temple of humanity ; we don’t belong to a particular religion, but we strongly believe that it is important to have values and to fight for them at every possible level. The French motto « Liberty, Equality, Fraternity » is an ideal that should at least be striven for even if we know it will never be attained. And of course we ourselves have always shown concern about that ideal applied to gays all over the world.

I must have felt I was gay around 14 or 15, that means at the end of the fifties and at the beginning of the sixties. Things were not so easy at that time. Homosexuality was still condemned by law in most European countries. Moreover my parents were no intellectuals and were not prepared to have a gay son. Although I myself accepted the fact quite easily -maybe I had no morals- I didn’t come out at school or at the university. At least I never pretended to have girlfriends. With the exception of two minor episodes when I was still in college, my sexual life started at the university but with boys I met in bars not in the class rooms. My stays abroad, especially in Holland and in Germany (I recommend Munich), to improve my language knowledge were also an excellent opportunity to let off steam.

As soon as I started working with people who on the whole were quite liberal, I became more and more open and came out to my parents very quickly after I met Henri. That was in 1970. I brought him for lunch to my father and mother (separately since they were divorced) without making great speeches. It probably didn’t take them long to understand. Luckily neither Henri nor me come from very religious families. And after let’s say three or four years we were more and more considered as a part of the family. Since then, nobody whether it be family or colleagues would ever have thought to invite one of us without the other. The whole world around us knew we were a couple and treated us as such. Maybe some people didn’t approve but we live in a world of political correctness be it in Belgium or at our workplace and nobody would have dared to express a direct disapproval.

(Advice to my younger self) Advice? Don’t follow any advice! Think things over honestly! Live your life! And let’s hope it turns out as well again. If I were cruised by Henri in another life, I think I’d fall for him again and would be ready to start all over.”

Kristof, Designer, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Kristof, in his own words: “1. I think being gay is the pinnacle of the human evolution, no need anymore to procreate according to Darwin’s theory. I feel like being gay is being my whole self, me as an artist and sensitive being. It is the core of what I am. A kind person.

I had to deal with a lot of pain and hurt in my school years. I got bullied as the only gay kid in school. It was horrible. It stopped after school and moving to university. More freedom. Or let us say more anonymity, more people that don’t care because you are not in the same room with them five days out of seven. My successes are basically in the media. I get tons of media coverage here in Belgium and sometimes abroad. I like that, cause I need a lot of attention to feel good. I am content with that. Hopefully, more to come in the near future.

(The gay community in Brussels) can be normal. Depending on the venue. Downtown is a bit marginal, uptown is more snobbish. I don’t feel at home in either places. I am attracted to handsome intelligent funny, blond, muscular gentlemen and there aren’t any in this town…so imagine how I feel…

(Advice to my younger self) Go to South-Beach and see if you can make it there, but don’t trust people too easily. Call me if you run into trouble.”

Bram and Stefan, HR Director and Houseman/Blogger, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Bram, in his own words: “For me being gay has always been natural. I cannot remember not being gay. It’s a part of me but not all of me, definitely not the most important. I always felt a bit different from the other kids but I liked it and I still in a way enjoy being different.

My relationship is my biggest success. It has sometimes been challenging but we always found a way to deal with our differences. I met Stef when I was only 18, he was my first boyfriend and who would have known that he was the man of my life.

I waited until I left home for university to tell my parents (I was gay). Not that I wanted to hide it but there was very little chance to have a boyfriend so there was no real reason to discuss it. It was very difficult to meet young gay people living in a small town (there was no internet at that time). My parents reaction was immediately supportive and soon after I met Stef.

I have never been a big fan of the gay scene but there are plenty of places in Brussels that are gay friendly. We cannot complain about the acceptance of gays in Belgium.

(Advice to my younger self) I’m happy with the choices I’ve made: be yourself and enjoy your life!”

Stefan, in his own words: “The importance of the gay part of my identity has changed a lot throughout my life. When I was a teenager it felt like a curse, the bullying at school didn’t really help. Once at university it became a positive and important part of my life and I became active in the LGBT movement. Once settled the importance became less and less as nobody made an issue about it. Bram and I are now 18 years together and we always got the support of family, friends and colleagues. Since two year we live together with another guy and it made me think more about the meaning of being gay again. His family doesn’t accept it, he still struggles with it and it now makes me more aware of how lucky I am to live my life in Belgium and in a culture, where people don’t make a big fuss about being gay.

What I consider as my biggest succes in my life so far is my relationship with Bram. I still feel blessed that after 18 years we are still so close and in love and are even able to share our love. I can’t say I had a lot big challenges in my life, my biggest challenge is my own psyche. I guess I am full of contradictions. At work I used to be always bored and in need of more challenge, but at the same time more responsibility scared me off. The day I got promoted at my last job was one of my saddest days. Now I am quite happy as a houseman, it’s nice to take care of your loved ones and to create a nice welcoming home.

The first time I told somebody I was gay was at 14. He was a classmate on whom I had a crush. He didn’t react badly, he just said he wasn’t surprised. After that it took me another 3 years to tell more people. I came out to my parents when I was 17. I struggled with it a lot and was often in a bad mood. When I had a fight with my mum she asked me why I was always moody. I just threw it out and shouted that I was gay. My mum was afraid and asked me not to tell my dad…but she couldn’t keep it to herself and told him. Once my dad knew it wasn’t an issue anymore, for him it explained a lot and since then we have a very good relationship. I can’t say I had bad experiences, except some bullying at school when I was younger.

I actually don’t know much about the gay community in Brussels. I guess it’s quite the same as everywhere else. I don’t feel the need to go out in gay places anymore. I still go to the Brussels pride parade every year, mostly to meet up with friends and enjoy the festive atmosphere and of course because I feel it is still necessary to support LGBT people in countries that are not really as tolerant.

If I could give one advice to my younger self it would be not to be so afraid and to believe more in myself. Fear has always been a limiting factor in my life. Fear of what people would say, fear of not to be able to succeed, soo much fear, shame.”

Eric and Jérémie with their son Virgile, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jérémie, in his own words:Qu’est-ce qu’être gay signifie pour toi?

Cela ne signifie rien en particulier. Eric et moi nous nous considérons d’abord comme des êtres humains, des citoyens, des personnes engagées dans la société avant de nous considérer comme gay. En Europe, et en particulier dans des pays comme la Belgique, il n’y a pas ou peu de stigmatisation vis à vis de l’orientation sexuelle, du coup, on est libre d’être ce que l’on est. Nous ne ressentons plus le fait d’être français en Belgique que d’être gay parmi les hétéros ! En revanche, nous avons bien conscience que cela n’a pas été toujours le cas. Du coup, si être gay devait signifier quelque chose, ce serait à travers les combats qu’il a fallu mener pour dépénaliser l’homosexualité et acquérir l’égalité ! Ce combat n’est pas gagné, on l’a bien vu avec les manifestations contre le mariage gay en France. On le voit dans certains pays où les gays sont pourchassés et parfois mis à mort. Nous avons conscience du chemin qu’il a fallu parcourir et nous avons également conscience de l’effort quotidien qu’il faut pour maintenir nos droits.

À quels challenges as-tu dû faire face en tant que gay ?

Les challenges sont surtout présents et paraissent difficiles à surmonter quand on est jeune et quand on découvre son homosexualité. Il y a toujours le sentiment d’être différent d’où nait un sentiment de honte et d’incompréhension. Il faut savoir s’accepter comme l’on est pour aller de l’avant. Mais, avec l’expérience et l’âge, qu’on soit gay, gros, moche, trop grand, trop petit, roux, frisés ou que sais-je, on doit s’accepter comme on est. C’est un chemin difficile et parfois long… parfois plus long quand on est gay ; tout dépend du milieu dans lequel on grandit.
Personnellement, j’ai mis longtemps à “vivre” mon homosexualité car le me sentais coupable vis à vis de mes parents et de mes proches. J’ai parfois entendu des remarques homophobes à la maison… ça ne m’incitait pas faire mon coming-out. Puis, avec le temps, on relativise et on prend de l’assurance. Plus récemment, le plus gros challenge en tant que gay a été d’être papa… C’est un parcours difficile et long. Non pas sur le plan matériel, mais sur le plan de la vie et de la relation avec son partenaire. Nous avons beaucoup discuté avec Eric sur nos envies, nos désirs, notre futur, notre conception commune de la famille, etc… Puis finalement, avec le recul, ces challenges là, ce n’est que la Vie !

Quelle est l’histoire de ton coming-out ?

Mon coming-out a eu lieux en plusieurs étapes…. Tout d’abord, quand j’ai commencé à vivre sur Paris, je me suis rapidement fait des amis gays et j’ai commencé à aller dans des bars et fréquenter les quartiers gays. Socialement, j’étais de plus en plus ouvert et cela me convenait parfaitement. Puis, tout naturellement, je ne me suis plus caché vis à vis des collègues de bureaux, mes amis d’enfances, etc… Le problème c’était ma famille ! J’ai commencé à le dire à mon frère lors d’une discussion anodine. Ce n’était pas planifié, mais c’est sortie tout seul. S’en est suivie de longues années où j’ai beaucoup voyagé, déménagé, vécu des histoires de couples. J’étais parfaitement bien dans mes basquets partout et avec tout le monde, sauf avec mes parents. La situation était ridicule et surtout intenable. À un moment, c’était tellement absurde que j’ai pris mon courage à deux mains, je n’avais plus rien à perdre, et j’ai tout dis à mes parents. Finalement, tout c’est très bien passé. Nous en avons discuté plusieurs fois ensemble et maintenant, ça me parait idiot d’avoir attendu tout ce temps.

À quoi ressemble la communauté gay à Brussels à tes yeux ?

Nous ne fréquentons plus trop les lieux gays. De temps à autre on sort… mais beaucoup moins qu’avant. Du coup, nous sommes assez mal placés pour décrire parfaitement la communauté ! D’une manière générale, la communauté est paisible et surtout très diverse et bien intégrée. Il y a d’un côté les bruxellois qui sont nés ou installés sur Bruxelles depuis des années, il y a les étudiants ou les jeunes professionnels, toute la communauté des expatriés, des diplomates et fonctionnaires européens, etc. C’est une sorte de melting-pot. Parfois cela se mélange et parfois moins. Bruxelles est une ville très cosmopolite. Nous pensons que la communauté est à son image. Cependant, les gens sont en général ouverts, sympathiques et faciles d’accès. Les associations présentes ici semblent actives et font un excellent travail dans tous les domaines.

Quel conseil donneriez-vous à votre double plus jeune?

N’est pas peur et profite de ta jeunesse !

Comment le fait d’être devenu père a changé ta vie?

Personnellement, ça change beaucoup, beaucoup de choses. La paternité amène tellement de bonheur mais bouleverse totalement le rythme de vie. J’ai pris beaucoup de recul au niveau du travail (pour le bébé, mais pas que ça) et j’ai décidé de prendre plus de temps libre pour m’occuper du petit. Ensuite il faut gérer le rythme de vie, le sommeil et toutes les tâches domestiques. Enfin, l’arrivée d’un bébé bouleverse la vie de couple. Même si nous en avions beaucoup parlé avec Eric, vivre l’arrivée d’un bébé est tout autre chose ! Mais finalement, en discutant avec d’autres parents… c’est exactement pareil partout ! Côté social, nos amis sont tous très heureux pour nous, même si c’est un peu plus difficile d’organiser un apéro en fin de soirée…”

In English:

“(Being gay) does not mean anything in particular. Eric and I consider ourselves first as human beings, citizens, people involved in society, before we consider ourselves as gay. In Europe, and particularly in countries like Belgium, there is little or no stigma against sexual orientation, it is free to be what it is. We feel more being French in Belgium than being gay in a straight world! However, we are aware of the fact that this was not always the case. Consequently, whether being gay meant something, this would be through the battles that were needed in order to decriminalise homosexuality and acquire equality! This fight is not over, we just have to look at what happened with the protests against gay marriage in France. We see in certain countries where gay men and lesbians are murdered and tortured. We are aware of what had to be done and we are also aware of the daily effort to keep our rights.

The challenges are particularly present and seem difficult to overcome when you are young and you discover your own homosexuality. There is always a sense of being different from which accrues feelings of shame and incomprehension. Whether it should be accepted as it is to go ahead. But, with experience and age, being gay, large, ugly, too small or too large, red haired, curly haired or whatever, is we must accept things as there are. It is a long and sometimes difficult road… sometimes longer when being gay; Everything depends on the environment in which you come from.

It took me a while to happily “live” my homosexuality as I felt guilty towards myself, my parents and my relatives. I have sometimes heard homophobic remarks at home… that did not help me with my coming-out. Then, with time, we become more self-confident and see the world in a different angle. More recently, the biggest challenge was to become a dad… This is such a long and complex process. Not in practical terms but in terms of living style, having a stable relationship with the right partner. We have discussed a lot with Eric on our common wishes, desires, our future, our common understanding of the family, etc. And finally, with hindsight, these challenges are only those that everyone faces in real life!

My coming-out took place in several stages…. Firstly, when I started to live in Paris, I quickly made gay friends and I started to go out in bars and be part of the community. Socially, I was increasingly open and I was perfectly fine with that. Then, naturally, I became less and less hidden vis-à-vis my colleagues at work, old friends, etc. The problem was my family! I started to speak to my brother during a usual lunch we used to have every Saturday. This was not planned, but it went on the table naturally. Then came many years where I have travelled a lot, moved, lived love-and-failed stories… I was perfectly balanced in my daily gay life, everywhere and with everyone, except with my parents. The situation was ridiculous and particularly untenable. At a time it was so absurd that I took my courage in both hands, I had nothing left to lose, I told my parents. Finally, it went very smoothly. We discussed it several times and now it seems stupid to me for having waited for all of that time.

We no longer go into the gay community, bars and districts. From time to time we are going out, mostly with friends… but much less than before. Consequently, we are fairly badly placed to describe fully the local community! In general, the community, here in Brussels, is peaceful and, above all, very diverse and well integrated. You can see, on one hand, people who were born or raised in Brussels, being there for years, then you have students or young professionals, the whole expat community, diplomats and officials from the European Institutions, etc. It is a kind of melting-pot. Sometimes, it is mixed and sometimes not. Brussels is a very cosmopolitan city. We think that the community is as its image. However, people are in general open, friendly and easily accessible. The associations represented here seem active and are doing an excellent job in all domains.

(Advice to my younger self) Don’t be afraid, live and enjoy your youth!

Personally speaking, (being a father) changes dramatically your life. Paternity brings so much happiness but completely disrupt the rhythm of life. I took a step down at working level because of the baby, in order to be more present and take more care of him and of myself. Then you need to manage the pace of your daily life, have some sleep and do all your domestic work. Finally, the arrival of a baby also overturns the couple’s living balance. Even though I lengthily talked about that with Eric, the arrival of a baby is anything else you previously have imagined! However, discussing with other parents… it is exactly as such everywhere! Our friends are all very glad for us, even if it is slightly more difficult to organise a dinner party or to go out for drinks in late evening…

Eric, in his own words: “À quels challenges as-tu dû faire face en tant que gay ?

Je dois avouer que je me considère comme un privilégié quant à mon homosexualité et ce qu’elle a pu impliquer dans ma vie jusqu’à présent. Je n’ai jamais ou quasi jamais été confronté à l’homophobie jusqu’à ces dernières années, ma famille et mes parents plus particulièrement sont des gens ouverts sur le monde et qui ont accepté mon homosexualité avant même que je fasse mon coming-out, je vis dans des pays où, comme le disait très justement Jérémie, les choses sont plutôt simples à ce niveau… Donc je n’ai pas eu de gros challenges. Évidemment, j’ai eu une période vers les 20 ans où j’ai dû admettre, après quelques échecs avec les filles, que j’étais homo, et ce cheminement m’a pris environ 2 ans. Le seul gros challenge a été, vers l’arrivée de ma trentaine, de me dire « tu es pédé, donc tu ne seras pas papa parce que les pédés ça fait pas des enfants ». Ça a été très long et douloureux pour moi d’admettre ça… pour finalement me rendre compte, suite à ma rencontre avec Jérémie, que je n’avais pas abandonné et que les choses sont parfaitement possibles. Et aujourd’hui, nous sommes papas et c’est génial.

Quelle est l’histoire de ton coming-out ?

Il a été long même si ma famille ne me posait pas de questions et que je me doutais bien que ma mère avait compris. Mais comme dit avant, admettre au grand jour mon homosexualité, c’était aussi envoyer à mes parents le message « vous ne serez pas grands-parents ». Alors pendant plusieurs années j’ai vécu cette double vie. Pendant 2 ans même j’ai vécu avec un mec et quand mes parents venaient me rendre visite, il devait sortir, cacher ses affaires. Lorsque nous avons rompu, je me suis dit que je ne pouvais plus continuer ainsi car c’était cruel autant pour moi que pour les autres. J’ai donc décidé de le dire à ma mère que j’ai invité à déjeuner. Je n’ai pas eu besoin de finir ma phrase qu’elle me disait déjà qu’elle savait depuis que j’étais petit et que, si au début c’était dur, aujourd’hui elle était parfaitement en harmonie avec cela et qu’elle était soulagée que je le lui dise enfin! Elle m’a poussé ensuite à le dire à mon père et un dimanche, au repas de famille, elle m’a balancé tout tranquillement « au fait, je l’ai dit à ton père puisque tu n’arrivais pas à te lancer ». J’ai failli tomber de ma chaise. Je suis donc allé voir mon père et avant que je dise quelque chose, il m’a pris dans ses bras. Et voilà, mon coming-out était fait.

Quel conseil donneriez-vous à votre double plus jeune?

Tu es ce que tu es, alors sois fier et avance!

Comment le fait d’être devenu père a changé ta vie?

Disons que c’est comme une explosion nucléaire dans ta vie. Tu as beau être préparé à ça, c’est incroyable le bouleversement que ça produit aussi bien dans ton quotidien, ton rythme de vie, que dans ce que tu peux ressentir intérieurement. J’ai le sentiment que toutes mes émotions sont décuplées, les joies comme les stresses ou les difficultés. Être père est le plus grand bonheur de ma vie, un bonheur qui se renouvelle dans chaque sourire de notre fils. Ça donne aussi un sens nouveau à la vie, une nouvelle façon de voir l’avenir mais aussi de relire le passé. J’ai l’impression que tout prend son sens finalement, que le passé prend un sens. Et si ça rend le futur plus flou parfois je trouve, ça le rend aussi plus optimiste, plein de vie, d’espoir, d’envies et de motivation. Devenir père m’a rendu encore plus humain au sens de « je fais partie de la communauté humaine avant de faire partie de la communauté gay ». Je suis fier d’être gay, mais je suis encore plus fier d’être papa et (futur) mari de Jérémie.”

In English:

“I must confess that I consider myself privileged with regard to my homosexuality and what it could have meant in my life so far. I have never or almost never been confronted with homophobia until recent years, my family and my parents in particular are open to the world and have accepted my homosexuality even before I made my coming-out. I lived in countries where, as Jeremie said previously, it’s fairly straightforward at this level… so I did not have major challenges. Of course, I had a period around my 20’s where I had to admit, after a few failures with girls, that I was gay, and this process took me about 2 years. The only major challenge has been the arrival of my 30’s, when I said to myself “you’re a fag, therefore you will never become dad because gays don’t have children!”. It was very long and painful for me to accept that… ultimately I realized, thanks to my relationship with Jeremie, that I had not abandoned this idea of being a father and that things are perfectly possible nowadays. And today we dads and that’s just great.

(Coming out) had been long, even though my family did not raise this issues and despite the fact I was thinking that my mother had understood. However, as said before by Jeremie, accepting yourself as gay was just to send a negative message to my parents: “you will never be grandparents!”. Then, I lived for several years this double life. For 2 years I lived with a guy and when my parents came to visit me, he had to leave, and get rid of his stuff and hide it. When we broke-up, I said to myself that I could no longer continue to live in such a way because it was as cruel for me than for my friends. I had therefore decided to speak to my mother and I had invited her for lunch. I did not need to finish my sentence, she told me that she was aware since I was little and, of course it was hard for her at the beginning, but now she was perfectly in harmony with it and she was relieved that I have finally come out! This encouraged me to speak to my father and on a Sunday family lunch, my mother just said ‘Oh, by the way, I told your father since you were not able to do so!” I was just close to fall out of my chair. Later on, I discussed with my father and before I was able to say something, he took me into his arms. And here was my coming-out.

(Advice to my younger self) You are what you are, then be proud and go ahead!

Let’s say that (being a father) is as a nuclear explosion in your life. You may be prepared for this, it is an incredible change in both your lives and what you can feel deeply. I feel that my emotions are increased tenfold, it is the same with my joys, my stresses or with my own difficulties. Being a father is the greatest happiness of my life, happiness to be boosted in each smile of our son. It also gives a new meaning to life, a new way to see the future but also to refer back to the past. I have the feeling that all happened to me, finally, makes a new sense. And when it makes the future more blurred sometimes I find it makes it also more optimistic, full of life, hope, desires and motivation. Becoming a father has made me even more human at the meaning of ‘I am part of the human community before being part of the gay community’. I am proud to be gay, but I am even more proud to be daddy and (future) husband of Jérémie.”

Henri and Maxime, Retired, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (left) and Henri (righ)
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Henri (right) and Maxime (left)
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (right) and Henri (left)
Henri, in his own words:“To me, being gay doesn’t mean anything per se, except considering my sexual orientation : I have always seen myself as an ordinary person, a human being like millions of past, present and future others, with the same potential, the same basic personality. Yet I am aware of belonging to a minority, a fact that has its positive and its negative sides. The positive side is that I got more sensitive to racial prejudice and to any form of discrimination, and that I am strongly against labeling : nobody should be reduced to a formula. The negative side is the awareness of being obliged to justify our being gay, to defend ourselves against fear and hostility.

The first challenge was to live in a happy couple, since I didn’t imagine myself remaining single. But living with someone proved not to be simple. I was not always prone to compromise, to change ideas or to accept my wrongs. Yet there we are, Maxime and I, happily together for nearly 45 years, glad to share everything that is essential to both of us, and to plan our future life.

Another challenge was to be successful in my professional life, and I was, thanks to personal endeavours but also to chance to a certain extent.

The third challenge, or was it just a wish, was to be surrounded by a web of close friends and sincere relationships. With the help of Maxime, it has been a success.

I never said bluntly “I am gay” to my parents, but they knew Maxime and understood how close to each other we were, so when I told them that we were going to live together, things were clear. At first, my father said he was concerned about the honourability of our family, but I knew that both he and my mother would never reject their son. Later, when after some years our couple turned out to be stable and happy, they showed their affection to both of us and my father supported our marriage quite willingly (my mother had unfortunately died in the 80’s). My sister and my brother-in-law were at first reluctant to accept homosexuality, but they soon overcame their reserve and have always been in very good terms with both of us. Their son has known Maxime since he was born and never questioned our relationship or our sexual orientation. Recently, during a family lunch, when he was about 10 y.o., one of his sons asked if Maxime and I were a couple, and when I answered yes, he said “then you are in love with each other ?”, and I said yes again, but he added “but isn’t that bizarre, two men together ?”. I told him that it wasn’t, the best proof being that nobody cared. He seemed satisfied, and never changed his attitude toward us.

In my professional life, I decided, without being necessarily explicit with everybody, not to conceal my private life. I think it gave me more strength to remain true to myself and proved to be the best attitude.

To my friends I decided to be completely open, and if I lost some (but none I cared most for) because I did, I decided not to have any regret.

We don’t know if Brussels is the liveliest place in Europe, but there are enough opportunities to meet people, enough cultural and sports activities for gays with all tastes, as well as bars, sauna’s or more. Some friends from abroad find people here less sophisticated than in big cities like Paris, but we can’t really judge. Belgian citizens are fairly open and being gay is widely accepted. Yet it might be a problem being gay in a very few neighbourhoods with a majority of migrants, especially Muslims. But there are certainly conservative Christian or Jewish circles where being gay is a real problem too.

(Advice to my younger self) Study hard, exploit your capacities, don’t be afraid nor naïve, act towards people like you would like them to act towards you, never fail to pay homage to liberty, equality and fraternity, be tolerant, open and respectful to anyone but be firm in your convictions, hold on to your critical sense and never let anybody nor any book tell you how you should think and what you should believe.”

Maxime, in his own words: “Being gay means being what I am and being honest about it. If some people don’t approve, sorry it’s their problem, not mine.

Of course we are lucky to live in a society where that is possible. I always think it’s so sad when we meet young people who can’t live freely, have a relationship or simply have sex because of the stupidity of the world around them.

Being gay was a tremendous opening on the world. You realize that being different can be OK and you yourself will think twice before judging other people. Practically, it gave me and my lover/now husband a life so much richer with friends from all colours and cultures. At 69, soon 70, I don’t regret a minute of my gay life. I must say I shared that life with someone I have loved for 45 years and whom I still love more every day. Some people say that love becomes affection when you get older. Maybe, but the love part hasn’t disappeared as far as I’m concerned.

I’d say the main challenge has been to build a happy relationship with Henri day after day, which is probably not always easy, although I sometimes think we were meant and programmed to go through life together. Even our differences and our errors have taught us so much. Where would be the fun if we were completely alike with no flaws ?

Another challenge in my life was of course my profession but that’s not the subject. I did a job I liked and I was well paid for it. I even had the luxury to work with people from all over Europe which was another source of enrichment.

What was important too was not to live centred on ourselves and to try to add our little stone to the temple of humanity ; we don’t belong to a particular religion, but we strongly believe that it is important to have values and to fight for them at every possible level. The French motto « Liberty, Equality, Fraternity » is an ideal that should at least be striven for even if we know it will never be attained. And of course we ourselves have always shown concern about that ideal applied to gays all over the world.

I must have felt I was gay around 14 or 15, that means at the end of the fifties and at the beginning of the sixties. Things were not so easy at that time. Homosexuality was still condemned by law in most European countries. Moreover my parents were no intellectuals and were not prepared to have a gay son. Although I myself accepted the fact quite easily -maybe I had no morals- I didn’t come out at school or at the university. At least I never pretended to have girlfriends. With the exception of two minor episodes when I was still in college, my sexual life started at the university but with boys I met in bars not in the class rooms. My stays abroad, especially in Holland and in Germany (I recommend Munich), to improve my language knowledge were also an excellent opportunity to let off steam.

As soon as I started working with people who on the whole were quite liberal, I became more and more open and came out to my parents very quickly after I met Henri. That was in 1970. I brought him for lunch to my father and mother (separately since they were divorced) without making great speeches. It probably didn’t take them long to understand. Luckily neither Henri nor me come from very religious families. And after let’s say three or four years we were more and more considered as a part of the family. Since then, nobody whether it be family or colleagues would ever have thought to invite one of us without the other. The whole world around us knew we were a couple and treated us as such. Maybe some people didn’t approve but we live in a world of political correctness be it in Belgium or at our workplace and nobody would have dared to express a direct disapproval.

(Advice to my younger self) Advice? Don’t follow any advice! Think things over honestly! Live your life! And let’s hope it turns out as well again. If I were cruised by Henri in another life, I think I’d fall for him again and would be ready to start all over.”