Johan, in his own words:“Ultimately I think ‘being gay’ should only come down to sexual preference, but as we all know, things are not that simple. Referring to intersectionality, to me being gay means dealing with discrimination, norms and prejudice – just like other categories: gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness and so on. Resting on this topic I believe everyone, to various degrees, suffers from a marginalized identity and I wish that people would think more holistically when discussing feminist/queer etc topics – When you speak for an isolated group of people it will very likely have an impact on other groups or movements.
In my case I’ve been, and still am,unavoidably influenced by internalized homophobia but it was more present when I was younger – I felt more constrained as a person and more prone to adhere to whatever heterosexual norms and rituals I encountered in my everyday life. Since then I’ve been trying to be aware of whatever broader contexts and social hierarchies I’m being influenced by and try not to let them have too much of an impact on my personal identity as I don’t want to be a victim or less of a human.
Having this said, being gay definitely doesn’t define me as there are many other implications to an identity, but I do think that it has an influence on my life, even on a practical level when it comes to questions like how and where do I meet potential partners? how is it to be a part of a community that I only share a few common traits with? how and should I establish a family? To whom and when do I come out of the closet? (continuously!) and much more. The path is not as straight for me in comparison to people living the IKEA life. Sometimes I see this as a blessing and sometimes it scares me.
I also like to think and hope that being a gay man means that I’m more capable to sympathize with other minorities and able to break free from general conformity, but again, being gay is just one out of many variables. I often wish that sexuality and gender were more deconstructed in today’s society but just like people have tendencies to discriminate they also seek similarity and I think that many gay people find comfort and a sense of belonging in gay subcultures so I’m a bit torn about this. Regardless, no-one deserves loneliness.
On the topic about challenges/successes in my life I think I have been quite successful obtaining what I’ve been striving for. I have a great set of friends, a decent career and two good relationships while they lasted. The greatest challenge is myself, I’m always anxious of losing these things when I have them and I’m not always enjoying the ride.
I came out to my mum when I was 18. I think she was shocked, if not, very surprised. She took me to see a therapist and I’m not sure if it was to validate the fact or just help me deal with the topic. Since then she’s been great and she’s often curious as to what’s going on in my dating life. My dad knows but I’ve never had a proper conversation with him about it.
When I turned 28 my little sister came out as queer which is great, we have a lot in common and often go out clubbing together.
I’ve been very privileged having been born and raised in Scandinavia and I think that heterosexual norms (not to mention the law) are less intrusive here in comparison to many other places. A drawback of having established laws for gay marriage and gay adoption is that we’re currently lacking a clear agenda of how to improve lives for LGBTQA people. Statistics show high numbers of suicides, young people being bullied in school and and hate crimes towards LGBTQA people, especially trans-gender.
Overall I think the LBTQA scene in Copenhagen is friendly and open-minded. It’s also quite small and I think that people seem to be look out more for other people here and it’s less extreme in many ways in comparison to London where I lived a few years back. One thing that I miss though is that the scene could be more diverse. It’s very caucasian and it doesn’t have that queer club playing the Smiths and the alike.
Finally I just want to add that I’m happy to be a part of this project. It’s great to have a medium that highlights the vast differences of gay people and have each of them tell their personal stories. This is how we deconstruct stereotypes and promote something that other people (gay or non-gay) can identify and sympathize with. Media in general is, in my opinion, doing the opposite thing.”
I’ve often said that my favorite part of my around the world trip was the few days I spent on an island in Denmark with Hans and Jens. They had been backers of my crowdfunding campaign, and had offered to house me as I passed through Denmark, and the days I spent with them were full of rest and quiet, as I was able to bare witness to the loving life that the two men had built together on their little island in Denmark. It also was quite special that they had met a few weeks after I was born, and had been together for almost the entirety of my life.
Well, it’s with a saddened heart that I share that Jens recently passed. My thoughts are with Hans, and I hope we can all celebrate their story, and the bits of love I hopefully was able to capture in these pictures.
Hans, in his own words:“To me being gay means that I am different then the majority of people in the world around me. As a young man I have had a lot of trouble accepting that, as I have a strong tendency to conform to spoken and unspoken demands. But when I was 25 I fell head over heels and quite undeniably in love with my best friend. He was straight and the situation led to the kind of drama I guess a lot of us have been through. But there was no way back for me.
I guess coming out to myself was the hardest part. Coming out to parents, brothers and sisters and friends was easy in comparison. I experienced hardly any negative reactions. The worst were the comments of some of my so called progressive friends. They said I shouldn’t label myself in such an old fashioned way and that we should transcend the dichotomy of straight and gay. Just the kind of rationalisation I had been using to deny my own sexuality. But the large majority was very positive and accepting, my mother said that she always had known….
The struggle between the wish to conform and the inability to do so because I also need to respect my own individuality, is one of my life’s themes. My coming out has helped me to become a much more free and nonconformist person then I would have been without this experience.
Sometimes I can still surprise myself by finding traces of homophobia in me. Jens and I have been living together for over 30 years now, and we have been married for more then 8. But I still find it difficult to call him my husband, especially when talking to people who don’t know me. I guess that in a way my coming out process will never stop. But then nobody is perfect. Not even perfectly gay!”
Jens, in his own words:“I’m 59 years old, Danish and married to Hans, who is Dutch, we have been together for 33 years in September.
I came out when I was 19, just before I turned 20, on Feb. 9th, 1976. I had been very depressed for a long time, felt wrong, didn’t know what was the matter. But from the moment I came out, it has been great, I have never had a negative experience being gay, never heard anything negative about being gay. I think Im very lucky being gay. The only issue has been the fact, that we didn’t have any kids. We really wanted to, we tried several things, like I tried for 2 years to have a baby with a woman, she got pregnant but lost the child. So that was not what life had for us, unfortunately, but now with what I have now, I feel Im very blessed with ‘my boys,’ the young gay guys I’m close to now are my children and I love them very much.
Hans and I met at a conference in Copenhagen in August 1982, on Friday the 13th. We spend 3 days and 4 nights together before he went back to Amsterdam. It felt so right, like coming home. Two days after he left, I called him and suggested to him that I came to Amsterdam, moved in with him. He liked the idea very much. But we agreed to talk again a couple of days later to see if we still liked the idea. We did!!! So I packed my stuff and three weeks later I left Denmark and moved to Amsterdam, one of my favourite places in the world.
That was one of my biggest successes in my life, getting out of Denmark and moving down to Hans in The Netherlands. It was hard in the beginning, very hard. I didn’t have my friends, didn’t speak the language and I was used to fucking around a lot and now I was living with Hans and had to behave, which was very hard. I didn’t have much money, had just finished my bachelor in Psychology and didn’t have a job. But I managed to earn a bit of money and later got a scholarship to start my masters in The Netherlands. Now it sounds crazy, move to another country, give up everything and start all over again, but it was great. I loved living in Amsterdam and even we had a lot of fights, it was so right, it felt so right and Im very happy and proud that we did it.
We are soulmates, from day one and still are. We don’t fight much any more, we have learned how to cope with our life together. Actually we we are together 24/7 and have been like that for 7 years, because we both stopped working early. By respecting each others differences and different wishes on what to do, we are able to have a good time. We kinda split the house in two, Hans spends his day mostly downstairs and I’m mostly upstairs all afternoon. We eat breakfast and dinner together, but not lunch. It turned out that that works better for us. We meet in the afternoon at 4 PM for an hour together, to talk and be together, share how we feel, talk about whats going on and if something is wrong we try to repair it then. On Sunday afternoon we have a relationship afternoon, do something together in the garden or the house. Afterwards we drink a beer together. It’s always very nice.
Being gay and later being with Hans has been a very important part of my life. Maybe the most important. I didn’t finish my studies, instead I started my own company, but being a business man was not very important for me and I didn’t become a psychologist, so I’m just me, a gay guy.
But I made a lot of money with my company which I sold 12 years ago, so we are able to live off our money and don’t have to work, another huge success in my life. I can do what I want to and have done so for the last 12 years.
Two years ago I started a blog on tumblr, a blog where I wanted to help young gay guys. I had found out that young gay guys are having as many problems as I did when I was young, are feeling as lousy as I did when I was young especially before I came out. I always thought, that now with internet that it was easy to be gay today, but it’s not, its very hard especially for young guys and especially for guys who live outside Northwestern Europe where I have spend most of my life. So I try to support those guys I talk with, help them with whatever they are struggling with. Mostly it’s about being gay, many are lonely, many don’t get the support from their families or friends they deserve. They can’t tell that they are gay, so they can’t share their life with anyone, the good or the bad stuff that happens, which is very tough, so they do that with me. Some guys have become very close friends, we talk a couple of hours a week. Others I speak once in a while, some I talk with only a few times. Whatever a guy needs, I try to give it to him. It can be talking about sex or often about the wish to get a boyfriend, but also about studying or finding a job or a place to live. Some are very, very lonely, so its not important what we talk about but that we talk. That they have someone who cares for them, accept and respects them as they are (gay) and who want to hear their story.
I feel that I have had a very good (gay) life. When I was young, I had a lot of boy friends, fucked around a lot, partied, having fun. Then I met Hans and kinda settled down even it was still a bit wild in our first years together. Then we became a couple of boring, hard working guys. Now being gay is not important for me, in my own life, only in my talks with ‘my boys’. Personally it’s about being with Hans, having a good life together.
I always wanted a life of good quality, thats what I fought to get and I feel I got it. I’m still enjoying myself very much and hope that Hans and I will get many more good years together. When we were together for 30 years, we agreed to go for another round of 30 years together.
To my younger self or to all my young gay friends I want to say, that it is gonna be ok. So many worry about if they will find a boyfriend, be happy as a gay guy. Well, you will. If you go for sex in your (gay) life, you can have a lot of that, but not necessarily love, but if you really want love and thats what you go for, you will find it. Of all my friends, gay guys my age, who wanted a boyfriedn, they all found one. Just focus on that, go for it and you will find it. Its possible to be happy and gay, and you can find a boy friend. The problem is that you never meet or see older gay couples, so you think its impossible, but thats not true, we are there and we are a lot, but you just never see it. But look at Hans and me, you can have the same if you want to.”
Peter, in his own words:“Growing up in a small town as a teenager in the 80’s and 90’s, exposure to the gay side of life was extremely limited. The occasional sex education book at the back of the library, a gay phone line to call where I was often too shy to talk, a bisexual porn movie rental or a drunken kiss with a friend were pretty much it. It wasn’t really until I moved to a bigger city in Denmark with one gay bar and with the introduction of the internet that I fully discovered my own sexuality. It was like a whole new and exciting world opening up to me. I believe all these experiences or a lack thereof in my teens have also formed my perception on what being gay means to me today. I view being gay as only one part of me as a person. In a few ways it defines me, in most others it couldn’t matter less. What being gay will always mean to me though is that I’ll always, in one way or another, belong to a minority with all of its good and sometimes bad sides.
Living one part of my life outside of the societal norm in a somewhat parallel world has given me some amazing experiences and insights in life that I doubt I would have gotten otherwise. In that way I feel lucky and grateful. It is also a doubled-edged sword to me. At times it has given me a very special and positive sense of belonging to a unique and spectacularly diverse community with so much to offer, while at others, frustrations over the lack of acceptance and often stereotypical judgements within the community itself have been prevalent.
What being gay also means is that I actively have to keep defining myself as different. Every time I meet a new person I have to decide whether to tell the person in front of me that I’m gay, whether to wait or to just not say anything at all. It’s a choice I have to make which in Denmark isn’t a huge problem to make, but nevertheless life as a gay man easily becomes a never-ending life of coming out which I sometimes find a little straining and stressful. Furthermore, an invisible hierarchy also seems to exist in society with respect to which values or lifestyle choices have the most meaning or are the most correct. I find that as a gay man I am more often forced into defending or at least explaining my choices such as more partying or not having kids, amongst others, than my straight counterparts. On the positive side, I believe that also gives me easier access to defining my own life as I’m less pressured by general societal expectations.
I think being gay has also given me a thicker skin. On a daily basis I read articles or headlines that promote hatred, discrimination and the death of homosexuals. I hear about people being attacked in hate crimes, others jailed, discriminated or bullied because of their sexuality. Fortunately I have been spared from much of this but I do find it harsh, tiring and discouraging to constantly be on someone’s agenda only because I want to spend my life with a person of the same gender. I would honestly like to think that the world has a few bigger issues than who I bring into my bedroom.
I guess that in the end being gay to me is for better or for worse, as with everything else in life. Nevertheless I’m proud of being gay and for who I am as a person today. I’m proud of being part of a community with such a rich history of fighting for equality and acceptance. I’m grateful to those who started the revolution in 60’s and 70’s and made life easier for the following generations and I’m proud of the everyday heroes who are standing on the battlegrounds today as equality and acceptance still have long way to go in too many countries worldwide. Huge challenges in my life haven’t been major. Of course I have struggled a little during the formative years trying to figure all this gay stuff out but generally I would say everything in life has seemed to fall into place just nicely without too many headaches along the way. Trying to build a life where you feel happy and loving yourself on a daily basis is a continuous challenge, which is one that I feel I have successfully achieved.
Despite past relationship failures, bad dates, awkward encounters and long periods of being single, I definitely consider the ability to stay optimistic and continue to believe in love one of my successes. Cynicism seems to be always lurking somewhere in the background within the community, both due to the openness and directness of the sexual side of being gay but also due to the ever-ongoing youth obsession and hunt for fresh meat. Lasting relationships can be tough to find especially when younger, where the level of curiosity is at its peak. I’m happy to say though that love once again has shown its beautiful face and with it an even stronger feeling that the years of waiting and sometimes frustrations were absolutely worth it. In the big picture I’m a fortunate man and consider myself extremely lucky having a loving family, a wonderful group of close friends and the most amazing new boyfriend.
The above mentioned move to a bigger city is also part of my coming out story. Very few people knew about my sexuality at the time and it wasn’t really a big deal to me. I was in my early twenties when I met my first boyfriend. Though we didn’t live in the same city he was the one that opened my eyes to life as a gay man. After a while together I came to the realization that people should actually know about the happiness I was feeling, who I loved and also more generally know about this side of me. In other words, I wanted to share my happiness with the people who were the most important to me in my life. I guess on some level he gave me the courage to fully come out not only to friends but also to my family, something which I will always be grateful for. Friends gave me hugs, mom cried a bit followed by hugs and kisses, while dad was more the strong silent type in the beginning but eventually understood what I was saying. I have never expected anyone to accept it right away as coming out is something you as a person have had years to think about before saying it. However, there was generally acceptance, understanding and support from all sides which made it a big relief in some way. It’s sometimes strange how many different worst case scenarios you have playing out in your own head before the otherwise simple words ‘I’m gay’ actually come out of your mouth. In almost all cases these scenarios are unfounded and a waste of time but still serve as a good learning process for the future.
I believe Denmark has always been considered a liberal country when it comes to sexuality. The worlds first national association for gays and lesbians were founded in 1948, the first gay bar opened more than 80 years ago and in the fight for equality the country saw its first recognized same sex partnership in 1989. Although the city is small and no Berlin for sure, I do find the community quite mixed with options catering to most interests. When it comes to nightlife, I think that Copenhagen has all the usual different types of bars with different parties on the side. The general openness means that almost all venues are mixed which sometimes makes me miss the all male parties you see in most bigger cities around the world. In my opinion the biggest downside of the bars though is that they seem to be quite old-fashioned and provincial. The main music consists of old classics and Eurovision songs mixed with a few popular tracks in between. I really would like to see the scene develop and reinvent itself, especially music wise!
On the healthier side I’m really impressed with the local LGBT sports group here. They are doing a great job now offering more than 20 different sports and I can say joining one of them is one of the best choices I made, when I first moved to Copenhagen. As a new guy in town it was a great way for me to meet people outside the bar scene and a perfect way to build lasting friendships.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” as the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said. Giving advice to my younger self though would mean having a lot of things I wish I had done differently. I don’t believe giving advice in hindsight serves much purpose as each and every experience I have in my backpack are important and have helped me become the person I am today. Instead I’ll say that no matter where you are in life my advice to anyone would be to be true to yourself, don’t delay things, follow your intuition and not least never forget to cherish the good and learn from the bad.”