“I want people to feel relieved, to know that they are not alone. It’s okay to feel angry, it’s okay to feel alone, it’s okay to feel scared and it’s okay to talk.” Guilherme ‘Guill’ Souza is originally from Sao Paolo and currently lives in Dublin. Here, he speaks with masc about his arrival from Brazil, attending this year’s Poznan Pride as Mr Gay Ireland and how his experience of abuse and harassment has empowered him to campaign for greater awareness around sexual violence.
“I arrived from Sao Paulo four years and one month ago. I convinced my mum that it would be a good opportunity to learn English for a year and then come back and get a proper ‘grown man’s’ job. Four years later, I’m still here and she’s like, ‘bitch, where are you?’! I came by myself, I didn’t know anyone and I barely knew where Ireland was on the map. I was just like, ‘okay, let’s go for it’.
“I left Brazil thinking it’s not safe to be an openly gay man. I grew up with the fear of something bad happening. I wouldn’t hold anyone’s hand on the street, I would try to ‘be straight’ and not be as fabulous. Then I got here and saw all the [Pride] flags. Everyone wants to get to know you before what you do in bed. I got here in 2014 and in 2015 we had the referendum. As a gay man, to see that happening in a country where, nearly twenty five years ago, [being gay] was completely against the law? I cried.
“[Mr Gay Ireland] was an amazing experience. I was at Poznan Pride for Mr Gay Europe. It was scary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many police in my life – and I’ve been to Rio. It was a lot. There were people protesting against us, calling us all names, ‘paedophiles’. The usual, boring. Honestly. Get your life, mind your hole, leave me alone. But it was an important contrast to witness.
“I was there with my boyfriend and we had to leave and they were like, 'remove your sash because you can’t show that you are gay'. I was wearing a tank top with ‘we are one’ in rainbow letters, my rainbow shorts and a pink bandana – I couldn’t hide! It was intense but I had the opportunity to meet amazing people; the drag queens and activists supporting us, helping the competition go on. It was very nice, especially coming from Ireland where we have a lot of Polish people.
“Being there was an amazing experience. To be in the spotlight, to feel the love and to bring my message. My message? It’sOkay is about raising awareness around sexual abuse. In a competition like Mr Gay Europe, I needed to be myself. I needed to bring my truth. I went to some sort of scar that I had in my past: child abuse and sexual harassment throughout my adult life.
“[The abuse] was something – not once, not twice, and not by the same person – that sexualised me too early and took some part of me. It haunts you like a ghost. I hid behind being good in school and I lived in my own world. It put a kind of bubble of fear and insecurity around me that I should never have had. That bubble burst when I moved to Ireland. Coming here was freedom.
“Sexual violence can really disturb you and change you forever. It’s something that happens all the time and it doesn’t matter about the gender. I’ve been touched by straight men, by women. And on the gay scene, the parties. I won’t even mention the after parties… I also don’t feel that clubs do enough to create safer, consensual spaces.
“I feel like the more I talk, the better I feel. But we don’t talk. It’s hard for a man, for a gay man, to say it. You think it’s your fault. We feel more guilty. We have that stereotype of being promiscuous, ‘oh, but he was on something’ or ‘oh, he wanted to’. You shouldn’t feel that you can’t go out and get drunk or get high and be vulnerable or exposed. I thought I just had to get used to people touching me. That shouldn’t be the case.
“Even at Poznan, I was harassed in the toilet of a bar that was sponsoring us. A guy asked for pictures, I agreed to take a selfie and then he grabbed my ass. I was just like, ‘what the fuck?’. I couldn’t punch him in the face because I was wearing my sash. That made me realise that I was on the right path, that I needed to keep going with my project. It was shocking that it happened one day before my big day [at Mr Gay Europe].
“After so long working on myself and following my dreams, I am stronger than I thought. It’s completely up to me to make a change and I am not a victim anymore. [I] find light where there was only darkness before.
“I am a different Guilherme everyday. I appreciate my life, the amazing people I have around me, my partner, my family and my dogs. The past is in the past and now it feels like just a nightmare. Since I overcame this situation in my life, I feel that it’s time to give back to the world and help others in similar situations to find a way out from that dark place.
“Most people aren't ready to tell the world but I tell everyone that it will be okay. I believe that once one person starts talking, the movement starts to take form. It’s important that people share their experiences and support each other. That is my motivation.
“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what they have been through that has made them the way they are. Kindness is an endless circle that should be cultivated everyday, even more in our community that needs it so much. This can be our strongest weapon to change the world.”