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.