I think I echo the sentiments of many when I say that growing up gay is an experience as unique for everyone as we are as people. Even so, we find it important and meaningful to hear the stories of others, even if they are vastly different from ours. We find similarities, differences and parallels, we find comfort and support in them. So here I am, sharing my unique story with you, because I know how important it is and I know how much you need it.
Why don’t I start by introducing myself? My name is Constantinos and I was born and raised in Cyprus, until I moved to the UK to study, three years ago. If you don’t know of Cyprus, it’s a tiny island in the Mediterranean, our native language is Greek, and the society is extremely behind and close minded. Growing up, you learn by the behaviour of everyone around you that “gay” is bad, “gay” is sick and “gay” is to be ridiculed and discriminated against freely. I was a carefree kid, attending ballet classes from the age of 7, but I never dared to tell any of my classmates that I did. Unfortunately boys doing ballet meant they are gay, and you should stay away from them.
Then, when I was 8 years old, I had my first huge crush, and of course, it was on a boy from my third-grade class. At the time, me and him had a mutual friend and one day we were hiding away, and I told him, and I quote, “Hey, I’m gay and I love Joe” (the name Joe is being used to protect the boy’s privacy). Thinking about it now, I am shocked that I even knew what “gay” was at that age, but I did, and I needed to tell someone. Thankfully, my friend back then was super ok with it and he even tried to talk to Joe about me. To make a long story short, nothing happened between me and Joe and our class got separated the next year. That’s when I discovered our good old friend, internalised homophobia. I was brave enough to tell another friend of mine about Joe and she immediately reacted negatively, saying she had a crush on him too and I couldn’t because I was a boy. That’s when my 9-year-old self snapped his fingers, and the thought of being gay was shoved as far in the back of my head as it gets.
My following teenage years I spent feeling guilty for being attracted to boys, while convincing myself that I was falling in love with girls and that I would stop being attracted to boys when I finally met the right girl. It got so bad, to the point where I would google “I am attracted to guys, but fall in love with girls, what am I?”. Turns out, I was my own worst enemy, just as much as society was, and I think that is something most of us can relate to. And so my teenager experience came and went, and I was left with the same confusion and self-denial as day one.
When I finished school, I served a year in the Cyprus army at the age of 18. That was probably one of the most important years of my life. It felt like a big break from the world and an opportunity to be alone with myself and my thoughts for hours on end. That’s when I realised, I probably wasn’t straight, and I had to accept it. I had met a guy from a different military camp, and we were talking on the phone one day when he told me he was gay. I felt so uncomfortable and vulnerable when he asked me about myself and with a huge sigh of relief, I told him “I’m bisexual”, or at least that’s what I thought at first. No one knew, not my army comrades, nor my closest friends, and definitely not my family. But it was ok then, I was in the army, I didn’t have to worry about anything else.
When my service came to an end, I finally followed my dreams of moving to the UK to study Film and Media Production. I made it, I escaped the horrible prison I was in and reached the outside world! As soon as I settled down, I quickly realised that I was gay, not bisexual, and started coming out to all my close friends, which I am very grateful to say they have all been the most amazing about it. However, this brings me to present day and my somewhat double life. I am an out and proud gay man here in England, but in Cyprus, with my family in particular, I am deeply in the closet.
Having to come out to a Cypriot family, or any close-minded family, is a big struggle. On one hand, I love my family to bits, and I know for a fact that they love me more than I’ll ever understand. All my life, I tried to make my parents proud and even the slightest thought of disappointing them, breaks me. I would argue that my mum knows, and has always known, but she keeps asking me about girls every time we video chat, which makes coming out to her even harder.
At the end of the day, I try to remember that people can surprise you. I have thought of a million scenarios of how my parents might react, some good, most of them bad. Either way, I know they love me and want me to be happy. One day soon, I’ll find the courage to tell them, and show them that “gay” is good, “gay” is healthy and “gay” is worth fighting for. If you are struggling with showing yourself to the world, know that coming out is a complicated, liberating experience and only you will know when the world is ready to hear your unique story. I am definitely looking forward to it.
If anyone would like to reach out to me, don’t hesitate, my DM doors are open.
- Constantinos Christofi -