My name is Fotis and I was born in Athens, Greece in 1995. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Athens. I mean- who cares? – but I have a point to make, I promise. I think I knew I was “different” by the first classes of Elementary school and I could pinpoint that this difference was me being gay by the time I was thirteen. The point is that for all my school years I never came across two gay people kissing in real life and, until I got a Smartphone when I was 16, the only contact I had with gay images was through a shared family computer (located in the living room) which came with many hidden boners, stealthy tab changes, and a lot of guilt.

On the contrary people around me seemed to know a lot about what is gay and how gay meant being less than everyone else. Heck, I think people started making fun of me for being gay even before I realized it myself, definitely before I accepted it. As a result, I tried to hide, deny myself. It was really a painful process of self-denial that took deep roots in me and unfortunately played into developing thought and behavior patterns that I still carry with me today.

Finally, when I was 19 and into my second year in university, I went to a theatre group’s party with my then-girlfriend and a friend. As we entered the venue there were two boys that were eating each other’s faces out right there at the entrance. This was the first time I ever saw same-sex affection in public (and that was only eight years ago). Something moved inside me like a heavyweight was lifted like I got courage. The best thing is that nobody looked at them, and I don’t mean in a weird way- no one was looking period! That night was the first time I said aloud to myself that I am gay. I broke up with my then-girlfriend and spent the whole night walking around the city with my friend discussing what I had just seen. For a few years to come, when I made out with someone in public, people would often come and “congratulate” us for being “brave”. I guess I am happy this doesn’t happen anymore. In my eyes, it means that the little boys and girls and all the rest grow up seeing that being themselves is an option.

Regarding where I am now in my life, six years after coming out I am still unearthing and processing the impact denying and hiding an important part of my identity had on my sense of self and my mental health in general. Connecting with people with whom I share similar experiences has really helped me and empowered me to love parts of myself that I used to hate. Through this, I have also come to love others more. And it is really weird but the more connected I feel with others, the kinder I am towards myself and this in its turn helps me connect more. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brené Brown says that “Shame drives disconnection” and she means not only regarding others but also regarding ourselves. I hope I will keep on understanding and connecting with my past and with all the parts I might still feel I could do without, because I think I owe it to myself and the world to be proud, well, and whole.