“I grew up in a very small family, a very religious family. I had to suppress a lot of my feelings. Why? In the black community, a very one-track mind kind of community, the lifestyle I live is not looked highly upon, it’s a no-no. Once you state your homosexuality you’re immediately looked on as lower.” Jay Kalamba, twenty-two, of Angolan and Congolese heritage, recently swapped Tallaght, Dublin, for London in the name of self discovery. Here, he explains why.
“Growing up, I was the type of kid who used to run around with Britney Spears t-shirts on my head. My neighbour even used to take me to buy dolls on her pay-day. I used to perm [their hair], all of that. That was everything for me. So, she knew [I was gay]. Growing older, I was way more feminine and it was too much for her. People were talking and a lot of things were said. That could easily lead to depression. For me, it highlighted the fact that I’m a strong person. I definitely am.
“If you grow up in a religious family, or in a house that’s conservative, it’s difficult to learn about yourself. Before you know who you are – if you like men, if you like women, or both – you are taught ‘values’ from the bible. I was taught the negative side of the bible. On my Instagram, I post about the positive side of it. I don’t care if anyone knows I believe in God – of course I do, but it makes it difficult for someone who is black and gay to acknowledge the fact that they’re gay and to just live their life, knowing they have to abide by these values. When you think of the positive side of those values, you can still live your daily life. But not a lot of people know this. You’re at home, your parents are always talking about church and the first thing they’re going to talk about is Deuteronomy or Leviticus or Romans.
“If you want to learn about yourself and you want to know who you are, you have to take yourself away from suppression, from what’s suppressing you. With my family, the rule is: if you want to live how you want to live – then live it. But if you post about it on social media, then there’s a problem. I couldn’t make a move without someone making a remark back to my family, ‘oh, we saw Jay here’ or ‘oh, we saw Jay there’. It was very difficult for me to live my truth.
“I took myself to London to learn what I was like for myself; away from my mum, away from everybody else. You have to learn about yourself while being in a whole different country – who’s gonna buy your milk? Not your mama. I’m going to keep daily on my grind. Otherwise, that’s me giving up. I grew up with my mum having to feed us. Every time she left, she came back with something. That’s what I’ve learned: to keep going with your eyes wide open.
“[Being gay and black], it’s not easy to be yourself. You have to think about the fact that you’re black. You have to deal with that whole thing. What follows that is being gay. That’s a whole other thing, another feeling to accept. It’s every man for themselves.
“There’s a lot of people I’ve met in London who have explained to me how difficult it is for them to accept themselves because of their family. Not everyone can do what I did. I just woke up one day and said I was moving. I just needed to go. I want to tell people in the black community that it’s more important to focus on yourself. If you focus on what other people are saying, you end up not living for yourself.
“I lost myself. But one of my best mates said to me, ‘just don’t care what people are saying at all, just let it go’. It’s easier said than done, and it took me a couple of years, but ever since then I’ve been okay. People need to reflect on themselves more. Nowadays everybody is so busy doing what they think another person is doing and they follow that. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll end up being someone else who you don’t even like. Imagine being someone you don’t even like. You’d have to do everything again. And while there’s no problem with reconstructing yourself, self-destruction is not the way to go about it.”