Coming Out – Karl’s Journey out of his East German Closet
Coming Out – Karl’s story of finding his true self. Today, I am 36 years old living together with the man of my life and our tomcat in Amsterdam. I am having a rainbow family with two children together with three wonderful human beings. My parents are proud of who I am, they love and appreciate my partner and support me in anything I am doing. I have a gay brother whom I love very much. And I can see a lot of this wonderful world while supporting LGBTQ+ that are not as blessed as I am with love. But it wasn’t always like that.
My teenage years and early twenties have been all about struggling with who I was and who I want to become. But besides coming out to myself by accepting to be different, I struggled a lot with sharing my sexual orientation with my mom, my dad as well as my friends. And still, I believe, that me coming out of the closet was the best and most important thing I ever did. As part of the posts on Couple of Men about Pride Month 2020, Karl shares his coming out story hoping to be an inspiration and motivation for other young LGBTQ+ around the world who struggle with their gender identity or sexual orientation. Happy Pride and never forget to be proud of who you are!
I am happy. I am proud of myself. I AM GAY.
The self-confident 36 years old me today looks back on a complicated yet impressive first part of my life. Blessed with a sheltered childhood full of love from my parents and my (gay) brother in the East German mountains, I became the caring person and proud gay dad I am today. But to be honest with you, it couldn’t really prepare my younger self for the difficult and challenging years of my teens and twenties. In this article, I want to share my experiences with you of the years before my outing in 2003, the process of coming out of the closet to my family and friends, and the years of finding my true self supporting the LGBTQ+ community. My years of fighting and building up my self-confidence made me the person I am now. But, oh boy, those 20 years between 2000 and 2020 have been full of painful experiences, disappointments, and tears. At the same time, I learned so much from every single moment that I wouldn’t miss a single one of them.
Born in Eastern Germany close to Dresden
But let’s start right at the beginning. I was born in a small village in the eastern middle German mountain range in the south of Dresden. I was raised by my parents living the first six years of my life in former East Germany, also known as the German Democratic Republic. My father was and still is a proud forester who showed me and my two years younger brother Stephan all about how to love and respect life in any possible way. I can only remember my mother being a caring housewife with many talents and a big heart full of love until today. Our lives can be described as the perfect idyllic family scenario deeply woven in the socialist’s way of being one people, with only one choice, the party’s choice. Leaving the country was unthinkable, being different from the majority was intolerable. A piece of chocolate was something I only knew from a Western German surprise package for Christmas. Instead, I got a salty pickle that I still enjoy today.
When the rainbow arrived in the German Democratic Republic
I was 6 years old when something remarkable happened: Color! Toys in bright pink, plastic bricks, and Barbie dolls found the way into the otherwise monotonous, usually empty, and generally grey stores I knew. That was how I realized that something must have changed, unexpectedly. Overnight and actually by accident, the wall fell in Berlin and a few months later Germany had reunited again after, politically encouraged, being enemies for life, enemies separated by the systems’ wall for over 40 years. Living in a society that suppressed being free-spirited, creative-minded, and simply different from the socialist normativity for such a long time, it made an impact on many Germans, including my family and me, until today. But of course, this has nothing to do with my coming out story directly. And yet, it will be the reason for many struggles to come, especially for my parents.
Yes, I was a different kind of boy
Today, if you would prefer to put a label on it, we would probably call me and my behavior effeminate. I had more girlfriends than boys around me. I did not really understand the concept of playing war games, enjoying car races nor playing football. I loved it when my mom finally bought me my first Barbie doll and later on, even a Barbie house. That was much more my kind of playing with clothing and all that kind of stuff, although my father really did not appreciate it that my mom raised me namby-pamby in his opinion. Just a couple of years later, I must have been around 10 or 11 years old, I guess, I started to develop an interest in sports particularly of the sporty, hairy, handsome German tennis players. Yes, it worried me a little bit at this time and I kept it a secret. Wasn’t I supposed to have my first flirts with girls? But at this age, I wasn’t really aware of what was normal and expected of me. Yet. That should change soon when I was changing schools from Elementary school (German: Grundschule) in our village to high school (Gymnasium) in a bigger mountain town. The following years have been the most struggling of my life when it comes to my sexuality.
And then the bullying started…
Being different at home or in primary school wasn’t a big thing, or at least, not as much. And while I managed to be always among the best pupils in my class, even in my new school, starting with my 13th birthday my grades started to drop. I wasn’t even aware of me being different as much, but my classmates, especially the guys, made me feel it to the bone. They started calling my girlish, pussy, faggot, and all those kind of words you wouldn’t dare to call anyone else with. And I did not even know why they did. I never said anything gay nor did I had any experiences with the same sex. The only thing that gave them a cause of bullying me was my effeminate behavior, my long blond hair (see the picture at the beginning), and my interest in art and music rather than football or computer games.
… and continued until I started playing Volleyball
My self-esteem went down to the bottom since I wasn’t able to stand up for myself. Together with a group of girls, I became the queer outsider and was not welcome in the guys club – only when they needed someone to slap, kick, or verbally insult and offend. By entering the 7th grade – around my 13th to 14th birthday – I wasn’t at the top of my class anymore. At home, I spend the most time with my brother, who was my best friend next to two girls who lived in the same village. I became a huge fan of the boyband Take That, loved to make friendship bracelets, played the piano, and turned into a pretty good dancer due to years of practicing Latin American dances in a dance school for children and youths. While writing all this, it really becomes clear to me why my classmates bullied me of being gay. But who gave them the idea, that behaving manly is the right thing to do for a person with the gender label male? Why is being different from the hetero normativity a valid reason to bully, offend, and insult a young person? Because what they actually meant to do: they punished me for being different.
The sport started to change my life
It must have been around the same time when my father came home one day telling my brother and me about a new Volleyball team for guys that was just about to start to assemble. We loved the sport from school already so we just joined the training of the SVV 1990 Glashütte-Schlottwitz e.V. for a trail. As it turned out, my brother and I were naturals with a Volleyball in our hands. And with the best Volleyball trainer, we could have wished for, our connection to the sport grew rapidly. Just about a year after our first training, we won, together with our friends and team members, second place in the state-wide tournament for pupils in our home state at our age level. Additional to this success story, I gained self-confidence, my body became stronger and I was not the little fag queer anymore slowly turning into a respected athlete. Of course, that doesn’t mean all the bullying stopped.
Help for LGBTQ+ People
- The TREVOR Project: Trevor Support Center >
- Ditch The Label: Coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual >
- The NCOD: National Coming Out Day >
- Internations: Coming Out Abroad >
- Stonewall: Coming Out as an adult >
My first fight: The inner Coming Out
Since everyone was always calling me out for being gay – which was true but I couldn’t even admit that to myself, yet – I started to have girlfriends. “Just give it a shot” was my self-motivation. Well, and I did just figure out if it was. “Maybe it is actually just a phase that lasted for years already.” To be fair to myself and the girls: I believe, besides my inner feeling of attraction to men, that there was affection, maybe even the feeling of love between my first girlfriend who was so much more self-confident (and two years older) than me. But more than just holding hands and kissing wasn’t going on between my first girlfriend, and my second, and my third. My first girlfriend will tell me later that she always knew that something was different about me that she specifically appreciated about me. Back then, you know, I was happy about to finally fit it. Even my mother stopped asking me the question if I was gay or when I finally would have a girlfriend. Being a Volleyball player and having a girlfriend, the guys who bullied me at school started to focus on another classmate who has been effeminate similar to me. The classes started to mix up every year so I wasn’t the focal point of bullying as much anymore.
Thinking about Men during Sex with Girl
Here is the thing: No one knew, that I actually felt a growing attraction to men, later on including some players of my Volleyball group. Yes, becoming part of a Volleyball team and actually growing into the role of a leading player helped me developing self-confidence that I could really use for hiding my sexual attraction to guys, especially when we all went for a shower after training. Nothing ever happened between any of the guys and me, although I wished. But instead, I turned 18 and I had my first sexual intercourse. And yes, with a girl. As I like to put it, everything was functional, but something was missing. And as much as I tried not to, I had to think about men while having sex. The first time, however, I was still convinced that I had just some starting problems.
The more I tried, the clearer it became for me
And I am thankful for the girlfriend I had back then, who trusted me and who understood it when I came out to her some years later. But the last time we shared a bed, I had one of these AHA moments when something suddenly becomes crystal clear to oneself. Well, I was gay and: I want to try it with a man. And despite all the magazines like BRAVO with their help-section for sexual questions of teenagers that told me, it could be a phase, I wanted to try the other side of the rainbow. Luckily, 2002 was the year, the gay dating app PlanetRomeo started its service in Germany. I was still living with my parents in the mountain village. How the heck should I have met otherwise another gay guy out there? But then, I had my first date with a couple living in Dresden. One thing I learned that night: Yes, I am gay. But what should I do now?
For a long time, Karl has been struggling with what’s the best and safest way to share our rainbow family happiness with the world. The main motivation for this article, his outing as a gay daddy, was the opportunity to answer the many questions from family and friends, and to support more rainbow families out there.
Karl’s ‘Outer’ Coming Out
After I dated one of the two guys for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t hide it from my parents anymore. They already had become suspicious about my behavior since I stayed away overnight and just seemed happier in general. One day, my mother, with whom I had a very close relationship, caught me on the wrong foot and put myself to the speech. With tears in my eyes and what was probably the greatest fear in my heart that I ever had towards my mother, I told her that her worst expectation was actually true. We both cried for some time. And although I didn’t have an answer to her question “why you”, we assured each other of our love and support. I was out, out of the closet, at least to my mom.
We agreed to not tell my father right away. But although that seemed to be a fair decision at this point, just a couple of days later, my mom begged me to tell it to him as she otherwise could not handle it anymore to lie to my father. I agreed and made an appointment with my father the next day. I have to add the information, that my father and I did not have the closest relationship at this time. I assume I was simply not the son he expected me to be as his first-born, not manly enough and not interested in typical stuff for guys. But it was time for me to be honest with him, too. The moment he entered my room, I started crying. And until today, I am not really sure why, but I couldn’t stop crying the whole time he was in my room just sitting next to my bed waiting for me to be able to talk. Under tears, and the moment I could calm down for a second, I told him in one sentence that I was gay before I started to cry again. He was just about to leave the room with a petrified face without saying a word, he turned around and said: “You are my son. I was there when you were born and I will be always there for you, gay or not.”
With my friends, it was a totally different story. The summer before I came out of the closet, I went on a camping road trip to the Baltic Sea with my, back then, closest friends. One of them in particular got my attention as he was somewhat flirting with me when we were alone but returned to ‘business as usual’ when we were together with the others. But my attraction to him was for some of them still too obvious so I shared my feelings for the first time with them. Especially the girls supported me trying to understand what was going on with me. Unfortunately, some of the guys who I called friends back then, really could not handle me being interested in the same gender. They even told me, that they were afraid of me that could touch them or make them gay too. How this would be even possible. They all kept it a secret until I came out to my parents. Later on, I was self-confident enough to handle any cynical comments and allusions. It actually turned into pride to speak out openly about my sexual orientation. This was me from now on.
My motivation to support other LGBTQ+
It still is interesting to me, that I did not feel safe enough to come out as gay when I was at school. I always use to say, that even in sex education classes we only mentioned being gay without making it into a topic. Many questions are not answered and therefore left open to interpretation, assumptions, and prejudices. The newly out gay man I was, did not want to swallow the fact, that pupils are left alone at school without a safety net or an educated and supportive class around them. I contacted my former teacher at my school and set up educational courses for all grades. And the response was unbelievably positive. So many questions, so many interested pupils, but, oh boy, so many prejudices. Actually, it happened twice during my courses that a pupil came out in front of his class. Amazing. But I did not have the education to continue this voluntary work. I lived in Dresden already by that time and got in contact with the local organization for the LGBTQ+ community, called Gerede e.V. Dresden. I found a home there working together with like-minded people who were professionally organizing school projects, advice, and guidance services and are involved in planning the annual pride parade, called CSD Dresden. All this turned out to be the beginning of my life and work as an LGBTQ+ activist and gay travel blogger.
How I am handling being gay today
Today, being gay and living a life as a gay cis-man is what I call “normal” because that is who I am. And I do not regret the steps I took to come out to be different from what I was expected to be. I am also not hiding it to anyone I am meeting, be it professionally or personally for that matter. My motto: If you don’t accept me for who I really am, then I don’t want to have anything to do with you either. Of course, I’m not just going to give up without accepting the challenges to educate these people and change their opinion. I think every person who ultimately decides for equality is one less homophobic person on this colorful earth.
Coming Out: Karl asks for your support!
What I would tell my 16 years old self? In 20 years you will be happy and all struggles you are going through now and in the coming years will be worth it. But to be honest, I was still very privileged with my coming out story. Many lesbians, gays, transsexuals, intersexuals, and queers suffer enormously from the reactions of family and friends and even at work when they profess to be different. This happens not only when they are young. Coming Out as an adult is for many affected LGBTQ+ people connected to huge troubles since some of them have already children or even grandchildren. Their choice to now come out as LGBTQ+ when they were younger is a sign of how our societies are developing in a direction that young queers in our western society face fewer problems even when they come out at a younger age.
Let’s support this development. LGBTQ+ Pride events are still necessary. Why? Just have a look at what is currently happening in the USA with an administration gradually withdraw achievements of the LGBTQ+ community of the past decades. We are stronger together, black, queer, or whatever is meant to be different, now more than ever.
Karl & Daan.
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