What’s it like to be young and gay in Europe

In the interest of privacy, names have been changed.
For a while now I’ve had this project in mind to try to define what it’s like to live as a young gay person in Europe. After a tumultuous summer and a chaotic autumn, I’ve finally found some time and clarity to get over the notes of the testimonies I gathered. Eight people have agreed to put their trust in my hands and have opened themselves to me. Living in France, England, Spain, Germany and Hungary, they’ve accepted to answer a set of questions related to their coming-out, their approach towards sex, their acceptance regarding themselves. At first I had hoped to get both men and women to share their stories, but it quickly turned out to be mainly women, having less contacts within the gay men community. Yet, I wish this survey to be representative of the whole of the gay community, for gay rights cannot, in any circumstances, be divided between lesbians and gay men.
In a time where gay rights are put on the front line more and more all over Europe, I am hoping this modest project will answer some of the main interrogations people have towards gays, and will show that, despite a fierce radical opposition, we, straight or gay, all carry similar claims and desires to live under the same human rights, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender.
“Since I’m a child”; “I think I’ve always been gay”; “8 or 10, maybe even earlier than that”. First thing I noticed when I re-read the testimonies of these women, is that similar moment when they’ve come to realise they were more attracted to women than men. With retrospective thinking, some of them even recognised to already bear a tendency in their very early childhood. By talking to them, I indeed quickly realised they had that one thing in common: they all became aware of their sexuality at a very early stage in life, probably much earlier than most straight people. Forget the so-called choice theory, then (unless you think a child can decide what gender to love). “This isn’t something we choose, it is something we are. Someone is straight for the same reasons I am gay: attraction and desire” says Claire, who wants to emphasize on the fact that it is neither the socio-cultural environment nor genes that determine her attraction, but simply nature.
For some of them, the ‘awakening’ was natural, logical almost. They never thought to fight it, nor to think there was something wrong with them. “My family is really open so I grew up in a very eclectic and tolerant social environment, which obviously helped me to quickly understand who I was, and to put words on it. At 16 I had my first relationship with a girl, which lasted over a year. I really don’t suffer from my sexuality, except within the homophobic perception of people, which I often associate to a lack of culture” says Alice, a young French woman. Yet, by hearing the other women, I can’t help but thinking that this example remains an exception, sadly. For Emily, a British student, the acceptance/coming-out process lasted longer: “it was quite awkward at first. I didn’t really feel comfortable talking to my friends about it at the time, as I was at an all-girls school. I only ended up telling people when I was in college, 5 years later”. For Camille, it was a totally different level: “this whole part was a really difficult moment in my life. It didn’t last very long, 6 months maybe from the time I accepted it to the moment I outed myself, but it was painful. I think I was particularly afraid of what my parents would say, which brought back on the table some delicate moments of my childhood. But in the end, you do it and you realise it was much worse before being out”.
As I keep reading through my notes, one part catches my eyes, especially. As Claire explains it, the acceptance and coming-out parts are deeply interwoven, which seems not to always be acknowledged by young gays and lesbians: “you’ve got the acceptance part, and the coming-out part. Most often people manage to get through both, but sometimes it happens that they can’t push themselves to do the second one. They start to doubt and step back deeper in the closet, thinking they’ll be safer, unconsciously sacrificing their own happiness. But both parts go hand-in-hand together. You cannot fully accept who you are until you are actually out”. As I understand, coming-out is not ‘simply’ saying to some friends that you’re gay. It implies a much more global approach: at work, in the family, with people you meet. It is somehow a never-ending process that you have to do over and over again every time you meet new people – something straight people can’t imagine its extent – simply because society has been formatted to be heterosexually-driven and led. “Yes, I have to re-do it rather regularly at work but luckily it’s never been a problem to me: as soon as I feel comfortable with a team, if I appreciate them and conversations get friendlier, I talk about it easily and it’s always been well accepted” says Eva from France. “Honestly, it was easier when I didn’t know about it; now I feel that without knowing that I am gay, people don’t know me” admits Zsofia, from Hungary. I nod. It must be somehow exhausting to constantly come out. I suppose you get used to it at some point, so that it becomes almost natural, evident. But how long does it take to reach such level of disregard?
I move on to the next subject; sex. What does it represent to them? Are these stereotypes of one-night-stands and ‘everyone has been out with everyone’s ex’ actually real? “I think it is partly true; but it only populates a tiny percentage of the gay community” says Emily, who points out that she’s not particularly fan of these specific aspects, preferring to get to know the person first. For Eva, it clearly doesn’t go without feelings: “to use big fat words, I’d say it’s quintessential or transcendental or something : it’s all this affection and attraction you hold for that one person and you can’t help but being drawn to her and craving her, so you want more and you want it all ; it gets you closer to the absolute, I guess. As Hemingway puts it, it makes you ‘feel the earth move’ “; “sex is not the most important thing for me, it is something I really can do without” says Flavia from Spain. Wait, where have all the witches and spells, brooms and cauldrons gone? I had imagined something diabolically satanic, that would measure up to the fundamentalist claims. Well, nothing that differentiate them from straight people, to me. Just like anyone, they share the same approaches towards sex. Might be time for extremists to mellow things a bit? Just saying.
And how about dates, then? Is it more difficult for gays and lesbians to find dates than heteros? “Of course it is. When you meet someone you like, the probability/potentiality that this woman is gay as well remains tiny” explains Marine. “Yes, in my opinion it’s much more difficult. There aren’t as many places to meet other gay people, other than in places like LGBT societies or gay bars, which isn’t somewhere I would personally imagine finding the love of my life” recognises Emily. Tricky, indeed. I suppose you often hit on straight girls and get rejected, then. “Well that’s where you’re wrong. More often than you’d think, straight women are open to it. We lesbians may even have more success than a typical ‘lambda’ guy who would behave like a typical lambda guy. To me, it confirms my saying that it has nothing to do with gender but really is about the person per se. It all depends on how you behave with the other; and in this case, lots of women won’t even care whether you have a penis or not, but will be attracted to the way you act towards them”, Alice tells me. That reminds me of a placard I saw during a pro-gay-marriage protest a few weeks ago in Paris, saying the following: ‘The lesbian threat: they will marry your daughters, sisters, wives… and even your dog‘. That sums it all up. Beware of casting the first stone to lesbians though, for I doubt there exists a ‘deviance virus’ that would contaminate straight women at all.
When asking about gay rights, especially with what’s going on in France with the pro and anti protests at the moment, Eva perfectly summed up what the other women said in their testimonies: “I think it’s one of the great civil rights battle of our time. And it’s only fair! To me it’s about equality. I want to be able to get married like my brother, like my friends and family before me, and I deserve the same civil representation for that union. I want to be able to have a family like anyone else; that’s something I want to be able to offer to my partner. And I want this family to be acknowledged as one, I want my children to get the same legal protection as other kids, should anything happen to me or my wife. We just want equality; and that’s about rights, but duties as well – I don’t reckon we’re asking for any special treatment. I really don’t understand straight people who think we’re taking something away from them; our being able to get married and have kids doesn’t affect their marriage or their kids in any way! Why on earth wouldn’t I deserve the right to start a family and raise my children peacefully?” One very inspirational speech, and some food for thought, for sure. I don’t even feel the need to add anything, for it gave us a great lesson of tolerance and love, beyond the borders of an artificially constructed gendered society.
As this survey comes to an end, one last question yet remains. What does it mean ‘being gay’? Does it mean anything, actually? “It implies a lot of questions, which constantly give me the power to get to know myself better. It’s another way of approaching things and people. Accepting and outing myself has impacted my life on many other aspects, and I now feel I am more in harmony with my self”; “it’s being different, a little bit like an outsider looking through a window. Inside, everyone is having a party but outside you can see some things that people inside can never see nor feel”; “liking other women? Not a lot. I don’t really see it as such a big thing. It isn’t what defines me, and I wouldn’t want it to be”; “this question is never asked to straight people because ‘what does being straight mean to you?’ seems just dumb; well it doesn’t make much more sense to me the other way around. Honestly we’re the same, we just don’t sleep with people from the other sex and that’s all!”; “to me, it means taking a route that hasn’t been pre-designed for us. If it were given me the choice between being straight or gay, I wouldn’t change a thing”; “this isn’t a question we should ask ourselves. There will come a day when the notions of homosexuality and heterosexuality will become obsolete. I’m proud of who I am because I am part of an evolution; that’s what’s important”.
An evolution. Maybe that’s the one word we ought to remember. An evolution of culture; of society. An evolution that would lead us to think and act beyond sexuality. An evolution that would shape a heterosexualised-free society. Big words, indeed. Paving the way for this evolution will be one of the great civil rights battle of this time, as Eva put it. But a battle that will last much longer, I believe. “Will I ever be on the same level of equality before the Law as my sister?” asks herself Claire; “honestly? I doubt it will happen in this lifetime”.
The Living Interlace wishes to thank the interviewees for their kind contribution and reliance on this project. 
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Summer project: questionnaire

You want to participate in the summer project: “what’s it like to be young and gay in Europe” and wish to share your experiences as a young gay living in Europe? Then download the following What’s it like to be young and gay in Europe word document, take your time to answer all the questions and send it back to me at thelivinginterlace@gmail|dot|com! Feel free to spread the word around you, the more people participate, the more accurate the survey will be!
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Summer project: what’s it like to be young and gay in Europe

For several weeks now, I’ve been working on this new project to find out what it’s like to live as young gays and lesbians in Europe. Some digging has previously been made on the subject and it is now time to conduct interviews. I am hoping this will take 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how many people will be willing to share their experiences with me. Dear Reader, don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to take part in this project, and don’t worry, your details will not be made public!
Stay tuned for more information soon!
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Out for O.

Usually I wouldn’t praise America for its tolerance, so when something so big happens across the ocean it becomes almost my duty to talk about it. This time, the breakthrough favours all gay and lesbian Americans, for they have got their own superhero, at last. No no, not openly gay Marvel’s Northstar who got married to his longtime partner in the latest comic book issue, which was quite a astonishment I must say, but a real in the flesh one: named Barack Obama.
I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago, at about that time when US Vice-President Joe Biden officially announced he was pro same-sex marriage, and we were sharing our thoughts on the matter, saying that Obama would never take a stand, by fear of losing votes. So imagine my astonishment, coupled with great joy, when on May 9th I opened the Guardian Internet page only to discover the news that was already being relayed all over the web: Obama making history by becoming the first US sitting President to back marriage equality. However great this was, I didn’t think one bit it’d bring so many changes, as Obama had clearly stated in his interview that it was his own personal evolution and accomplishment that has brought him to “affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married”. Hence my surprise when it quickly turned into a highly politicized move that was to direct his campaign on a totally other tangent. Sure, somehow it was in a way obvious that Obama was backing marriage equality for political purposes, however I’d like to see it also as ethical, just, and the “right thing to do”, rather than purely campaign-driven.
But never mind the reasons for his support, the effects worth much more. Quickly after this historical interview, Obama Pride, a specific campaign targeting gay voters was launched, in a bid to mobilize the whole of the LGBT community and to raise awareness among people living in red-led states, and especially in states where being gay is still considered as wrong and where bullying is common figure at school. A few days ago, Obama Pride released a short documentary summing up Obama’s fight for gay rights since he got elected President. From repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to showing his support for the “It Gets Better” project, the documentary presents the process in which Obama came to his decision to politically back marriage equality.
But will this change anything? On a global scale, it will obviously take time before all generations accept the existence of sexual differences and admit that sexual orientation can’t be a simple question of norms. It will also take time, if it ever happens, before gay couples can hold hands and kiss in public places freely, without having to face glowers and stares.
On a local scale however, it gives legitimacy, hope, and strength to gay and lesbian Americans living in conservative states to defend their rights and fight against a bigoted heterosexually-driven society. It also provides young gays with a more acceptable and livable environment in to which they grow up. Moreover, it shows heterosexuals the kind of issue gays and lesbians face everyday, which might help them acknowledge and measure the whole extent of freedom they blithely enjoy: not having to look around twice before kissing in public, not having to face the recurring “do you have someone?” at work, and most importantly face the eternal dilemma (to tell the truth or not to tell the truth), and so on and so on. Yes, this might seem insignificant to most people, but it is nonetheless these tiny “insignificant” rights that the LGBT community fights for everyday and that are denied from them. So what a push has Obama given to them, what an amazing push.
His re-election will therefore be crucial, for some gay and lesbian Americans, those who live in states where it is legal to get married, could lose precisely these rights if Romney were to be elected, as the latter wants to define in the Constitution that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, thus making all previous same-sex marriages illegal. The choice that will be given to Americans on November 6th should therefore be really easy to make, one would think. But I suppose we wouldn’t have to face these issues, then.
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Why Hollande will bring winds of change across Europe

17 years; that’s the time it took for France to elect a social democrat President. 17 years of right-wing ruling, to only finish with five years of measures benefiting the rich and most favoured, together with an undeniable rise of harsh-stand policies against immigrants.
6th May 2012 will remain imprinted on everyone’s memories. Not as the day France stood still, but as the day the people took their future in their hands and rejected the austerity measures former President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have so far dictated, set against a crisis background whose biggest financial institutions blithely pull the strings.
Of course, it logically led to a foreseeable decrease of the Euro, and to even more predictable criticism from the pro-Sarkozy and European rightists. Yet, I was surprised to see that most European newspapers backed Hollande’s election so as to even call it a stunning victory that will reshape Europe’s politics. And if we dig a tiny bit deeper, we can easily understand why.
Separating himself from Sarkozy in pretty much every aspects of life, Hollande seduces a new generation of French people with his ordinary appearance, which quickly gave him the label of Mr. Normal. Far from the image “bling-bling” Sarkozy fatally tagged himself within hours of his election in 2007, Hollande preaches for a new kind of President: not a “President of the rich”, but rather a President close to his people and ready to give a hand to everyone, immigrants, women, and the poor included.
Hollande also opposes Sarkozy in how he wishes to get over the crisis. Rather than backing up the austerity measures that Sarkozy and Merkel are desperately trying to stuff inside Europeans’ mouths, without much success though, Hollande calls for an end to austerity and the re-establishment of a real growth along with job creations. It will of course be a highly difficult job for him, especially as Sarkozy leaves France cribbed with debts, but at least I believe it is worth trying another solution, as the first one didn’t benefit anyone, except maybe the financial oligarchs.
But Hollande also distances himself from Sarkozy in the way he approaches the social aspects France has so much trouble to deal with. Whereas Sarkozy clearly and shamelessly attempted to grab votes from the far-right and promoted a France free from the surplus of immigrants, Hollande called for unity and equality among all people, advocating an efficient use of French multiculturalism and giving immigrants rights in the local elections. He also officially supports gay marriage and same-sex adoption and plans to make them legal as early as 2013, thus becoming the 7th country in Europe that has legalised such rights.
Surely, things won’t be as easy as I seem to picture them. Hollande will undeniably face tough challenges and strong opposition from the right parties in France as well as in Europe. One of his first moves will then probably be to maintain and work on his relation with Merkel’s Germany so as to preserve the entente cordiale between the two countries. Yet, after so many years of policies benefiting only one side of the society, I truly can’t think of anything else worse than what we’ve had until then. It only remains to Hollande to prove that he’s the man France has been longing for.
Posted in European Union, France, Politics, Presidentials | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

French elections: the outcome of the debate

Debate, debate. A word that was on every French’s mouth last Wednesday night, as around 20 million citizens watched the presidential duel, seen as to be the most aggressive and brutal debate in several decades. I’m going to spare you the suspense, Hollande shone way above Sarkozy. And I couldn’t be happier.
To those who said Hollande was a “softy”, the debate showed them the exact opposite. Confronting and pushing Sarkozy in his corner, the socialist candidate proved he has what it takes to be the next President. Opposite to him, Sarkozy almost seemed like a contestant rather than a sitting President, losing patience and calmness, calling Hollande a liar and an arrogant, and using words as he sees fit, thus making confusing and often false statements.
But Hollande, far from losing it, fought back at every bullet Sarkozy shot and managed to dominate in the most important confrontations, taking the words out of Sarkozy’s mouth, leaving him speechless.
He also ensured to point out Sarkozy’s mistakes, some of which were quite shocking. Among noticeable treats from Sarkozy, it’s worth remembering his close-to-far-right speech on immigration, mixing up the latter with Islamism and religious fundamentalism, thus preaching for an even more harsh-stand policy on the issue. Jumping on the confusion, Hollande quickly reacted, asking him why he makes such a comparison between immigrants and Muslims. Quite logically, Sarkozy avoided to give a clear answer.
Although I don’t think this debate has done much difference for the voters as 80% of them had made up their minds already, it is worth noticing Hollande’s lead narrowing, just two days before the big night. But let’s not panic, Hollande still has a comfortable lead: indeed the last polls give him a 52,5% win, against 47,5% for his opponent.
So let’s keep our fingers crossed until Sunday night and until then, don’t forget to go cast your ballot!
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Indifferent youth no more!

As we approach the election year, Pakistanis seem to be harbouring a range of mixed emotions. Uncertainty and doubt, like always, are very prevalent but on a surprisingly happier note, a sense of hope is also emitting from some quarters. The urban youth, albeit a minority, is heavily charged in favour of Imran Khan, former cricketer and the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). For years this country has suffered corrupt politicians and a power hungry military. These factors have given birth to a generation of people who have mostly been hopeless and then indifferent. Imran Khan has at least changed the latter.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Though still disillusioned with both the democratic and the dictatorial process of government, the youth is now beginning to show signs of life. Score one for Imran Khan! He has single handedly changed the way political rallies and campaigns are run in this country. More youth targeted with slogans of not just righteousness but hope, really has uplifted the spirits of the young. His political processions have seen the largest number of youngsters in recent memory. Interestingly, unlike ever before, most of these participants are urban, educated kids with a striking inclusion of mass numbers of young women. With a legion of fans which include a lot of musicians and sports celebrities, he is set to conquer this and next generation’s hearts.
What has worked in favour of this young, inexperienced politician has mainly been just that: his inexperience. His idealism acts as the catalyst that this nation needs. With his charisma infectious and his stance revolutionary, he is what the youth of this country have dreamt of for ages. He is well known for his philanthropic work, work that is already very transparent and effectual. He also had an unblemished cricket career as the only captain to have led the country to victory in the World Cup; these factors have only added to his credibility. And obviously good looks, charm and an Oxford education have lent a helping hand too.
Lately there has been so much emphasis on his political aspirations that half the urban population is hell bent on bringing him to power. Their main argument being that the guy has never been given a chance unlike every other politician. I’d say that is a great step forward. After all, what else does saturation of power mean? It is only this that can bring true democracy to our political shores. His popularity is also in his cry for political accountability for all – the answer to every pro-democracy pundit’s prayers.
But then, there is the other side too – some political analysts, other political parties and the self-proclaimed liberals. Their criticism is simple: the man is too religious for their liking. True, that his stances have strong religious overtones, but then he is the same man whose ex-wife, with whom he has excellent ties and who happens to be his staunchest supporter, is the British heiress Jemima Khan nee Goldsmith. He is also the same man who has the largest support from the liberal, modern urban men and women. However, there is no denying that he shares a comfortable relationship with some of the religious parties of the country.
Many critics laugh at his foreign policy ideals; he does not want to bow to the US needlessly and talks about negotiating with the Taliban. Correct me if I am wrong, but is this not exactly what America itself is now opting for? In recent interviews, he has clarified that he is not anti-US but in fact wants Pakistan to stand its ground when need be. Other political parties allege that he is being supported by the establishment behind the scenes – well I wonder who exactly were they supported by when they came to power and why only talk about him being an ‘agency’s man’! In a county where establishment rules the day, the rumour mills are run by the agencies themselves who benefit from the political rifts more than anyone. The fact that the establishment is aware of the nation’s fear of their involvement, it could be argued, that they themselves fuel the rumours more that Imran Khan’s also in their pockets.
I am not saying that Imran Khan is our answer to all the problems, but there certainly is no harm in giving him a chance. Having tried everyone several disappointing times, it is time to move forward with an idealist. The urban youth’s interest is a huge step forward and if one man has garnered this support then true democratic principles demand that we adhere to the majority’s say. In all fairness, true democracy will only flourish if all participate and if their vote is for Imran Khan, then so be it.
Posted in Pakistan, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment