Daan from Belgium

When I finally felt confident enough to come out at the age of seventeen. I couldn’t imagine a better reception.  My friends didn’t exactly fall out of the sky and there was no problem in the family either.  Including grandparents, something I thought was very special at the time: “We are happy when you are happy.” When I look back on my childhood now, there was little that put me in the stereotype ‘straight’ category.  Picking flowers during football training, show dance lessons, dressing up as a granny and K3 all over the place.  Well, I was finally out of the closet.  Life could start, from scratch.  That I could start from scratch after my coming out was an illusion.  In hindsight, I was a bit stupid too.  Though naive might be a better description.  

I had a wonderful childhood.  A fantastic environment, loving family, annual holidays and lots of GREAT food.  Yet from the moment I came out I was the definition of a fallen bird.  If I’m honest, I still AM now.  No matter how loving my immediate environment was.  As a young gay man there is little that can protect you from the public opinion.

 I think I was about 13 years old when I was first called gay.  Despite the fact that I had already noticed ‘special’ feelings in myself, I was still far from the acceptance phase.  Let alone appreciation.  So I couldn’t predict what this word would mean to me.  Homo, gay, faggot, potter or janet.  I’ve heard them all.  Some words I no longer hear after all these years.  Some words still come in like someone stabbing you in the back and giving the knife a good spin. 

I could fill books here with examples of homophobic behavior.  Not necessarily with the biggest earth-shattering events.  Denigrating someone to something small is often about something very small.  And I have often felt very, very small – despite my 1.96 m tall.  Dirty looks at a Chiro party, 2 people whispering on the bus, cafes where the bouncer clearly has a judgment or an effective slap after the Antwerp Pride.  Over the years you learn to deal with this.  Each in his own way.  In my case, that’s humor.  If I ridicule, laugh or denigrate myself, someone else is less likely to do so.  As a young gay you are obliged to teach yourself ways of dealing with people and their opinions.  My ‘problematic target audience’ was – and is – mainly straight men.  I still find it very difficult to enter a ‘straight’ cafe alone until today.  My tips and tricks?  I change into the fierce straight forward extra flair gay.  Not because I’m always like that, but because I know that that version of myself usually works well in a group of straight men.  If I got a dollar for every time I heard “I don’t normally like gays, but you’re really okay”, I already would have a really nice savings account.

“I’m not normally into gays, but you’re really okay.” 

I am now twenty-six years old and I am feeling better and better in my own skin.  I increasingly dare to show that stereotypical feminine side that I tried to hide for years.  Some days I even dare to let it shine.  Where I used to adapt to society as quickly as possible, I find myself shouting “fuck you” more and more.  In other words, I am becoming more and more myself.  Not the imposed forced straight version I tried to convince myself to be for years. Time to be myself, I’ve been someone else long enough.