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“I might still be in the closet but I’m living my best life. I’ve met a lot of people from different backgrounds and now I’m really enjoying myself. I feel very included and very safe. I know I can always rely on people if something was to happen, no matter what it is. I can rely on them, I can talk to them.” The subject of this story has been anonymised to protect their identity and the identity of their family members. Here, they talk about their journey travelled so far and finding contentment in the closet. 

“I have a Congolese father and a Belgian mother. I was born in France and at around the age of six or seven, my father decided we were going to move back to Africa. Every summer we would come back to visit my grandparents who were still living in Brussels. Coming from a mixed background, I feel a little bit from everywhere. I don’t really feel like I belong to one place, I belong to several places at the one time. I don’t like to say, ‘I am this’ or ‘I am not that’. 

“When we lived in Congo, I remember my mother had a gay uncle. He wasn’t really welcome when he was coming to visit everybody else. Not that it’s illegal, compared to other countries where you literally have the death sentence. Being gay is tolerated up to a certain level. It’s tolerated but ‘as long as it’s in the neighbours house, and not in my house’. 

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“Not that I want to sound pretentious or anything, but because we were a little higher up it would be tolerated less. And when you have a father who is in politics, it makes things complicated. If I was to come out, that could be the end of his career. I made the choice. Maybe because of him. I cannot come out because of him. Maybe in a few years. I can’t predict. The church also had a lot of influence around where I live. Where people think that gays are evil, that they will go to hell. I had to grow up with that too. 

“At the beginning [when I moved to Congo] it was fine, I was young. But when I awoke, when I realised I might be gay, I think part of me mourned a little bit. I foresaw what was going to happen to me in the next few years. I would never be like my siblings who are bringing their other halves home. That will never be me. My parents might never talk to me again. Or my friends – but should I really call them friends?

“And I had no role models around me. I envy a child who is born in Ireland and who has open parents. Someone from our generation, whether my son is bringing home a boyfriend or a girlfriend – I won’t care. And I envy them because they will have plenty have role models around them. Even when I was eighteen or nineteen I was still in a circle that was homophobic. It wasn’t until I moved out and lived on my own, when I started making my own friends, that’s when I started to get role models and live my life the way I really wanted to live my life.

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“[From Congo] I went to Belgium. When I arrived there I was in the closet still. I was living with my grandparents and studying engineering. I decided to drop out. That’s the part of my life where I felt I was ‘on hold’. I would never go on a date, or even talk about being gay to someone. Even when I was in university. I never made a proper connection around my sexuality. It was always on hold and I even tried to convince myself that I might be straight. I think it was maybe one of the things that made me leave college also. At some point you just want to break free. I didn’t want to stay unhappy for the rest of my life.  

“Arriving in Dublin, I enjoyed not knowing a lot of people. Ireland is my second home. I get excited flying back now, when I see the Pigeon Towers I think, ‘I’m home!’. I enjoy having the Irish Sea, the UK, and the North Sea between me and Belgium. It’s reassuring because I can live my life without breaking any bond or causing any drama in the family. Because sometimes that family lives for drama. I enjoy being here and living my own life. 

“I go and see everyone once in a while even though the big question now is, ’when are we going to meet your girlfriend?’. It’s catching up. I have cousins - girls - who live in Dublin. One of them came around to the house and I had four friends who are gay here. I just told them, ‘guys, my cousin doesn’t know I’m gay – will you play it straight for the night?’. They were very bad actors. One was making compliments about her fur coat, the other was talking about his ex-boyfriend. Eventually, as my cousin was leaving, she was like, ‘we should go to the George one day’. I think she is expecting. Maybe she doesn’t want to push me, thinking, ’I will give him his own time’.”

Jay Kalamba

Jay Kalamba

Philip Connaughton

Philip Connaughton