In our last interview about the life of gay people in Romania, we interviewed someone who lives in a smaller city in Romania. This time we speak with Iulian [not his real name] who lives in the country’s capital. I found many of his responses to be quite interesting.
Please tell my readers a little about yourself including your name, age, and anything else you think would be helpful.
I came out more than a decade ago to some colleagues, friends, and then to my siblings. Unfortunately, to some people I still have to stay for a while in the closet because of certain reasons (let’s say business-wise). Consequently, let’s say my name is Iulia.
I’ve turned 43 this summer, I come from a poor family and I am the old brother. Despite my folks’ status, I’ve managed to surpass it, so I am a post-graduate of a Communication and PR College. I’m what Americans would call a “self-made man,” but it was God who gave me all I had to make of myself what I am.
At what point did you realize you were gay, and did it take you a while to accept it?
I knew from my early childhood that there is something (ineffable…) which attracted me to boys and men, not girls and women. During the winter holiday of my 6th grade, I had my first homoerotic experience with one of my brothers-in-law, which continued for years after with another 2-3. As a matter of fact, I’ve been strongly attracted in my adolescence and early youth by men, although I would experience heterosexual relationships until I finally realized I couldn’t lie myself and the women for good. That was when I was 31 and, eventually, even 40 (!). So, what I’m trying to say is that all the back and forth “movements” in my life between an assumed gay life might prove that it wasn’t easy at all to accept my homosexuality in a certain historical context, i.e., Romania nowadays (and all those days).
Romania is a religiously conservative country. What role has religion played in your life growing up, and what role does it play for you as an adult now?
I used to be an atheist until I was 18, when I realized that there must be something up there who helped me to be accepted into college. Nonetheless, the social pressure (i.e,. the Christian “morality”) was pretty strong, and this feeling of “something is wrong with me” and the fear that I would be eventually punished by God for being “a sinner” was kind of unpleasant, anxious, and anguishing. After the revolution in December 1989, my religious views kind of changed. I had myself a short period of attending each and every Sunday liturgy, but that finished when I crazily fell in love for the first time with a man.
Then, again, over the last years I “switched” from being a non-practicing Orthodox to living according to the Oriental / New Age philosophy of love, acceptance, and Zen mood. At least I try it every day. So, buh-bye old bullshit about being a sinner for simply being a gay!
Are you able to be out with your family members? Coworkers?
As previously stated, I came out to my younger siblings almost a decade ago and to some colleagues as well, but to those ones whom I had closer relationships with (out of office). Nevertheless, I still think my parents rather prefer to lie to themselves that I will marry a woman someday, despite knowing I used to share an apartment with my ex-lovers ever since the beginning of the 2000s.
From another perspective, if I didn’t care about my parents’ “shame in front of people,” I would come out – maybe publicly – the very next second. So, since I have to protect them, I think I must postpone my total coming out until my parents leave this (stupid) world.
I’ve read that Romanian men can be so closeted that even if you spot them making out with another man in a club they’ll deny they’re gay or bi. What has your experience been?
Happily, I have never ever been asked “Are you gay?” by a person whom I didn’t feel comfortable to say “yes, I am.” So, bottom line, I haven’t had to lie. But when it comes to finding someone in a gay place (be it a club or whatever) who denies that s/he was gay while everyone or most of the others know for sure s/he was for sure, is so embarrassingly stupid for me. Eventually, it’s so sad to accept that some are so really terrified by their homosexual status to that extent that they have to put themselves at shame by denying in so many contexts.
How difficult is it for a gay man to live in Romania? You’re in Bucharest, which is a big city. Do you feel that life in Bucharest is different for a gay person than in other large cities in the country?
Yes and no. Things are so different nowadays compared to 10 or 20 years ago. I remember how dangerous it was in the 90s (and the early 2000s sometimes) to be a gay even in Bucharest. Put aside the social pressure (which kind of condemned you to keep lying and inventing “edible” scenarios about your private life!), it was the police who made your life hard by regular raids, then the homophobic guys who would beat you in the cruising areas or, worse, in the front of “gay bars” (not that we had in Bucharest more than one), and so on. The society as a whole was not open or prepared to “deal” with this indigestible matter of homosexuality. But things have changed a lot – for the better – over the last decade(s), and people are more and more liberal nowadays. And, yes, it seems it is a bit easier for a gay to live in Bucharest than in other big cities, save the Transylvanian ones, such as Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara, Brasov, etc. In my opinion, people are smarter there and more open than in the other historical provinces of Romania: Wallachia, Moldavia, and Dobruja.
Do you ever feel concerned for your safety when visiting a gay club or going on a date? How do you deal with relationships in a place where being closeted is the norm?
Not anymore when it comes to going to “the only gay club in the village (of Bucharest!)”, but “yes” if it was about a date, precisely what they call “public display of affection”. It is – sometimes unbearably so – frustrating for gay couples (esp. men) to be out of home and having to refrain from going hand in hand, not to say caressing or – God forbid – kissing. So, unfortunately and unhappily, provided you don’t want to be spit on or even beaten in the street, you’d better postpone your tender gestures for home or for hidden places. All over Romania.
Do you find it difficult to find men to date? If you and a partner wanted to live together, what precautions do you feel would be necessary?
Oh, no, finding plenty of men to date (I’d honestly, rather call it “getting laid”) is so easy nowadays thanks to the Internet and Information & Communication Technology. Of course, it is a matter of personal taste (I am not at all a fan of virtual meetings and hook ups), but it is better than nothing.
On the other hand, it seems that in Bucharest and big cities it was pretty simple, safe, and usual for two men to live together ever since the last decade or a bit earlier. I can remember that I started to share an apartment with my first BF in 1996 or so and apparently nobody complained. It was first because esp. the students used to do it, and – ironically – for such a conservative society like the Romanians used to be (and still is), it was understandable and acceptable because of pecuniary reasons.
Nonetheless, some precautions would be necessary when a male couple lives together, and especially regarding their families first of all and then the colleagues, who are both very curious and inquisitorial.
According to some surveys, Romanians dislike homosexuals only marginally less than the Roma. What has been your experience?
Well, I hope your (open-minded) readers would find this story as funny as I remember it. It was this break between two courses when I was a student, and during a small chat one of my colleagues asked, rhetorically: “I wonder how does it feel to be a Roma, a gay and a Jew at the same time.” And I had to say – unfortunately just to myself at that time – “Damn it, if I was a Hebrew, I would have said to him “Ask me!”
To be more precise, I am a Roma, and being also a gay was sad in the beginning, but at some point I chose to turn it to laughter and make fun of it. Yes, it was a burden for a while, but it’s not anymore. And I know for sure I was lucky, because not so many Roma gay people could “afford” such a (relaxed) attitude.
What advice would you give an LGBT foreigner who wanted to move to Romania?
First of all, I would recommend him or her to be very selective when it comes to coming out. Basically, s/he should give himself/herself time enough to get to know the “friends,” the colleagues, the next-door neighbors and even business partners. And then to come out only – and I mean only – if this personal, intimate aspect of his/her life is relevant to the others or beneficial for the relationship itself. Of course, if he was a drag queen or a very effeminate man, or if she was a butch, question marks might arise from the “environment.” In most of the cases nobody will ask you questions, but you never know: the old lady or – surprisingly – the younger one living next door might be intrusive. To avoid that, you’d better keep smiling and saying “hello” every day, but that’s all, folks. And, by the way, it is not that Romanians are repulsive, but it’s just a cultural difference: expect them not to smile or express happiness in case you show up on their front door with “a little something” when moving in next door. Some might refuse you because it never happened to them before.
Then, again, the Romanian society started to change for worse ever since the 1990s, and I mean we became more and more… Western or, pardon my French, alien. What I’m trying to say is that – esp. in the blocks of flats – people rarely know the neighbor next door, seldom interact one with each other and so on. Consequently, one should not be afraid of being gay or having a same-sex household anymore. However, there is a good part of the “Americanization” of Romanian society, which consists in the fact that since the Romanian John Doe had the opportunity to watch so many movies, soap operas, sitcoms and you name it, he had more chances to be more and more aware of this little thing called “homosexuality” or “being gay.” All of these kind of forced him to approach reality from different perspectives and – eventually – become more open-minded. Or not.
Last, but not the least, he (cause it doesn’t necessarily apply to women) should be very careful and rather restrained when it comes to – yes, you’ve already guessed it – the public display of affection. It’s sad, but it’s true. No country is perfect.
When you have a partner, are you able to be open about it with your family? Do they accept him in gatherings, for example, or is he “just a friend/flatmate”?
I used to take my partners to my parents’ place ever since 1993 when I got involved in my first gay relationship. Unfortunately, despite my parents liking them and knowing we (my partner and I) lived together all the time, I never told the naked truth. As I said before, I think my parents are not ready or willing to face the truth that their oldest son is gay. I’m pretty sure they would love me the same way they do now, but they never showed a “sign” of being open and/or intersted to approach the matter. Yet, my siblings kept inviting my partner and me to their places and vice versa ever since.
But I ought to say that – happily – I know some luckier (or braver?) guys who, once they came out to their families, their folks were pretty open and accepted the gay couple into their family to attend the gatherings, the Sunday lunche,s and so on. At the other end of the scale, I have heard of unfortunate guys who were almost literarily thrown in the street right after they came out to their parents. I also have close friends who live a secret life to their parents and/or entire families, lying to them all the way. Even my partner keeps pretending in front of his mother that he is in a relationship with a woman!
What are your thoughts about the life of gay people in Romania?