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.”Personal note from me (Kevin): Having traveled literally around the world, people keep asking me what my favorite part of the trip has been, and I’m always quick to answer.
“Denmark. I went to a tiny island in Denmark, and it was by far my favorite part of the trip.”
“Why?” They ask.
I think about it. “You know, to be honest, by the time I got to Denmark, I was done. Mentally, I was done with the project and the trip. To be honest, I was done when I went to India. And that was in April, right? End or March, beginning of April? And I got to Denmark at the end of April. I think India just took something out of me. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was because I got really sick.”
“You got really sick in India?” they ask.
“Yeah. Oh my god, I thought I was going to die.”
I think about it and laugh. “Well, I spent a week in India eating only the street food, whatever I could find, I ate, and was totally fine. Then I get to this town called Jaipur, and I was craving a pizza, and so I went to a Pizza Hut, or like a Dominos, ate a pizza and that night got violently ill.”
“Kevin, you’re an idiot.”
“Yeah, I know,” I admit. “But, whatever. I’m sitting in this shit-hole hotel in Jaipur, fucking, India, vomiting all night. Like the worse type of vomiting, and then to make things worse I start spitting up blood.”
“Oh my gosh, you were spitting up blood?” they ask. “Did you go to the hospital?”
“No, I was too scared, and it was in the middle of the night. And I was in India. I didn’t know where the hospital was or how to get there. So I did the most logical thing.”
“What was that?”
“I curled up in a ball on my bed and started to cry.” I laughed. “Like, seriously, I’m a drama queen and I started to cry. In my head I was like, great, I’m going to die in this shit-hole hotel in India and all my friends and family are going to read about it in the newspaper. Headline,’American dies mysteriously in hotel in India.”
“Oh my, Kevin, you are a drama queen,” they say.
I laugh. “Whatever, the point is,” I continue, “India took something out of me. I remember the last day in India, in Mumbai, I was like literally counting down the days I could leave and then I get an e-mail from my airline carrier. I was flying to Paris, and the e-mail is like, ‘there’s an air traffic controllers strike in Paris, your flight may get cancelled.’ And I was like, What the FUCK! I’m going to be stuck in India forever! And Mumbai was not cheap.”
“So what happened?”
“I got out. I remember I had a layover in like Qatar or something, and I was thinking, I don’t care if I get stuck in Qatar, I just have to get out of India!”
“Ha, Kevin, people dream of their whole lives of going to India!”
“Yeah I know,” I say. I think about it. “Look, I think India would have been great, had I done it alone. But to add it to an around the world trip, it was just too much. India in itself is exhausting, but when I arrived I was already exhausted.”
“So you regret going?”
I’m quick to answer. “No, it was probably one of the best things I could have done for the project. And of course, I survived, so it’s a great story to tell. AND, I photographed a gay prince in India. Did you see that?”
They smile. “Yeah I saw that. Well, I’m sorry you had such a horrible time in India.”
I think about it. “Look, my last night in India, minus the anxiety of my flight getting cancelled, was absolutely amazing. I photographed this kid in his dorm room, in this university in Mumbai, and I’m taking like a tuk tuk back to my hotel later that night. And we get stuck in traffic, so I tell the driver to let me out, I give him the rest of my Indian money and I start walking back to my hotel. And of course I’m a bit lost, and I’m walking, trying to navigate my way back to the hotel with my GPS on my phone. And I turn down this road, and I end up at this street market.”
“And you had never been there before?”
“No, that’s the thing,” I continue. “I had. But at night it was totally different. The street was shut down to any cars and it was lined with booths on each side. People selling fruit, or juices, or whatever. And I remember just walking down this street trying to find bananas or some shit, and I was literally the only non-Indian around, and it was a Muslim area so I remember hearing the evening prayer, or that sound, that chant, you know what I’m talking about? That happens at night? And I just remember thinking, ‘I’ve finally found a moment of peace.’ It just felt nice, like I had finally made peace with India after having been so miserable the entire time I was there.”
“Well, that’s nice,” they say.
“Yeah,” I continue. “But here’s the thing. I remember thinking, ‘This is nice. This is the India people love.’ Just walking down that street market. And then less than twelve hours later, or maybe like fifteen, I don’t know because of the time difference, but no more than a day later I was in Paris eating crepes with my friends in some fancy Parisian restaurant. Like one night I’m walking down some street market in Mumbai and the next night I’m chilling in Paris eating crepes. My mind couldn’t process it. Like literally, it was too much to process.”
I think about it some more. “There have been a lot of moments like that in this trip. Where I can’t process what’s happening, and then in a sudden moment of awareness I get confused. For example, I’ve been waking up a lot in the middle of the night and not having a clue where I’m at. It’s fucking scary.”
“Well you’re always on the move. How many countries have you been to so far?” They ask.
“Now? Thirty-two countries. Cities? I don’t know, close to fifty? That’s the point. I’m exhausted, I was exhausted. And by the time I got to Denmark, I was done.”
“So then why did you like Denmark so much?”
I think about it. “I don’t know, it was just special.” I give it some more thought. “Well first things first, my hosts, Jens and Hans, I didn’t know before I arrive. I had met Jens a couple years back through my blog, and they supported the Kickstarter, but I had never known them in real life. But Jens kept telling me if I came to Denmark I was welcome to stay with them, so when I made it to that part of the world I gave him a holler. But I remember, he kept telling me him and Hans lived on a rural island in Denmark, and I remember when Jens picked me up from the train station, we’re in his car, driving past like the birth place of Hans Christian Anderson, and then we’re driving through rural Denmark. And then I had this moment, and this has happened before, because Jens and Hans weren’t the first strangers I stayed with on this trip, but I get this slight moment of panic. This moment where I’m thinking ‘Kevin, you’re in a car with a random stranger in a foreign country. This is how horror movies start.'”
I continue. “But as we’re driving, this island in Denmark was literally one of the prettiest places I’ve been. Like its full of rolling hills and cottages. It’s like Anne of Green Gables. Do you remember that movie? I never read the book but I saw the movie, and this island is just like in that movie. And the sea. At times the water seems to be at the same level as the land, like if there’s just a slight rise in the sea the island will cease to exist. Of course that’s not the case, but it just seems like that.”
“And so Jens didn’t murder you on the drive to the house?”
“Nope. And then we arrive to the house, and they have this labrador retriever, and of course murderers don’t have labrador retrievers, and so all was well. And then I meet Hans, and they were both great.”
“Well, I’m glad Jens and Hans were nice.”
“Yeah.” I think about it, “But it was more than that. Of course that was a big part of it. Jens and Hans were perfect, they’ve been together almost exactly the same amount of time that I’ve been alive. I was born in August of 1982, and they met in August of 1982. So there’s something special in that. And they took absolutely amazing care of me. They fed me, took care of me, they had this amazing dog, I had my own room. It was great. But what made my time there special was this. It was one of the few times on this trip where I really could just exist.”
“What do you mean?” They ask.
I think about it. “When you’re on a rural island in the middle of Denmark and there’s nothing to do, that’s what you do. Nothing. And it was absolutely amazing.”