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How Pride and visibility helped and shaped who I am today

This story will give you a glimpse of what it meant for me to grow up as a gay person in Germany, it will show you my personal struggle and pain that came with being gay and not fitting into what society, my parents, and religion were telling me. I’m sharing this intimate story so everybody who reads it might get some inspiration, some understanding, and something positive out of it. It is important to mention that all LGBTQIA+1 people share different stories and while each story is unique, one thing we have in common is the road to acceptance and fighting what our parents, society and religion have taught us.

I’m a white cis2 gay man and because of this privilege my experience is different from the experiences of trans* people, people with a different gender3 and BPoC4 LGBTQIA+ people. If you are not yet out or struggle to love yourself, I hope my story will give you some strength and show you that there is love around you. If you’re an ally, I hope this insight may encourage you to fight and stand with me, with us, with all LGBTQIA+ people all over the world no matter the skin color, sexuality or gender identity.

I was born in Poland in 1984 to German and Polish parents. We moved to a conservative town in Germany when I was 5 years old. My parents, mainly my mother, raised me very conservative, Catholic and heteronormative. This meant going to church, being a strong man and never crying or showing signs of weakness. Men had to be strong...at least that's what my mum, society and the media taught me. This put a lot of pressure on me, especially because I wasn't able to express my emotions and talk about how I truly felt. This inability and fear of appearing “weak” held me back until I was about 28 years old. 

While thinking about my past and writing this article, I realized that in my early teenage years I had to live with xenophobia towards me and my parents. My first name back then, Blasius, also led to a lot of bullying and discrimination: ‘blas’ means ‘blow’ in German, which led to constant wordplay/gay jokes about me and my name, where even teachers laughed, when they first read it sometimes. It went to a level that I changed my name legally when I was 16. I also had friends and classmates who told me that I was ugly, that I was a Polish boy who looks taken away’ (a German joke that Polish people always steal) and many more xenophobic jokes against non-German people. While already feeling bad about being different, I also realized that I was somehow not “normal” -- that something was wrong with me. When I saw pictures of men and women I always felt attracted to men. 

Growing up I realized more and more how different I was by hearing all my friends starting to talk about women; something wasn’t right. I joined the talks about women to be a part of the group, but in my head I just wanted to talk about men and how I felt about them. Hiding my true feelings led to a fight with myself that made me more and more angry. At some point when I was 16, I just wanted to know for sure that I was gay, I invited an older guy that I met on the internet, he came to my place, when my parents were visiting my relatives in Poland and I was home alone. The guy was really nice and kind and it was really wonderful in the moment, but the second it was over I realized that I did something wrong, something bad, something disgusting and abnormal. I told him to go home. From this point on, my thoughts started to circle around “why do I have to be Polish”, “why do I have to be ugly and fat” and “why in the world do I also have to be an abnormal degenerate that likes men instead of women.” 

I didn’t really understand what gay meant; all I knew is that it was wrong. Because of the lack of visibility for queer people in my surroundings and media, the danger to be “found out” was always there and I blocked out everything that could confirm that I was gay to myself and to my surroundings. I was filled with more and more self-hatred and went through my teenage years trying to be "normal,” trying to be straight, trying to be a real man. I had no one to talk about my true feelings and my deep desire to be loved and be with a man. I had “normal” friends and had a “normal” life, but deep inside the level of self-hatred went a few times to a point where I started to have suicidal thoughts. Luckily, I was able to fight them off every time they came.

Over time, I slowly realized that I wasn’t alone by connecting online with other gay people. This process took me years, because I always felt like I was doing something illegal and wrong. But after more and more chats, I reached a point where I could not hate myself anymore. In 2007, I came out to a very good friend when I was 23. This felt liberating and freeing; finally my secret was out and I was free. Over the years, I came out to more friends, went to a few queer parties, made great new friends and lost old ones on the way. That was something I had to accept, but being out and being who I am and making new friends who loved me exactly how I was, was worth the pain that came from losing old friends.

I had my first boyfriend when I turned 24. He took me to my first CSD in Cologne (Cologne Pride5 2009). Initially I didn’t want to go because I thought we should not be too open, we should not act different or be different to not offend “normal” straight people and just be happy that we can do what we are doing... live under the radar, which was the reason that our relationship didn't last very long in the end. Luckily he persuaded me and we went to Cologne. When we arrived in Cologne and walked towards the starting point of the Pride march, I started to cry and almost collapsed. I was overwhelmed with positive emotions, not only had I my first boyfriend, I was surrounded by other queer people. I finally felt normal, I wasn’t alone; there were thousands of queer people and they all were proud, happy, celebrating, demonstrating, and not hiding!

This was the moment that made me realize how amazing our community is, how much love it has, and how much we must fight to be who we are without any fear or thought of being wrong, acting “normal” or flying under the radar. This Pride showed me how important it was: it was a safe space, a space filled with love and a lot of queer people. Back then I definitely knew that I wasn’t alone anymore and from this point my journey to accepting myself 100% without any doubt took me until I was around 28. Over the years, I learned how important Pride and every safe space is; these spaces and events are a safe haven for all LGBTQIA+ people who think that they are different and broken. It is important to show and reach everyone who is in the process of finding out who they/he/she are and it is important that that person sees and feels, it's fine who you are and who you love, because you are loved and have a strong and supporting and more and more visible community behind you.

The fight for equality is not over. Even today at almost 36 years old, when I kiss a man in public, I sometimes notice a distant thought slipping my mind that it could make someone uncomfortable, be offended or give this person a reason to harass me/us. I also don’t travel to certain places and countries to avoid being bullied, hated, or even killed. I say that even though I have the privilege of not seeming “gay,” for what ever that means. This shows even more how important visibility, pride, and education is today. It is still a fight for our rights, but now there are more and more people joining us and helping us to be visible and want us to be who we are! I support and defend this fight with every atom in my body. I support every fight against any kind of injustice towards people no matter their skin color, religion, ability, gender, or sexual orientation!

This fight and the need to truly be myself led me to join Thoughtworks. After working in environments where I always had to hide a part of who I am and what I stand for, I was sick of not being able to raise my voice against any kind of injustice. Equality is not a private matter and any kind of hatred has to be fought. Thoughtworks as a company encourages all of us to be outspoken, be who we are, and discuss topics that drive us towards a more inclusive and respectful world.

After joining Thoughtworks in October 2019, right from my introduction to the culture my confidence started to grow more and more and my need to fight against any kind of injustice wasn’t just my private fight anymore: it's a collective fight. I'm surrounded by amazing people with amazing stories and mindsets who want to learn, be better, grow others, share their experiences, and lend their voices to people that have no voice on their own; people who want others to lend them their privilege and be heard. I’m in a relatively safe space for all no matter the skin color, religion, nationality, gender, ability or sexual preference. Everybody can be who and how they are and no judgement is passed. Both the Global and German Diversity & Inclusion councils are not just saying that they are diverse and inclusive. Thoughtworks is continuously growing, teaching, and learning in every aspect of this matter. I joined the D&I council and myself and colleagues founded QueerWorks, which is designed to work alongside the council to drive LGBTQIA+ topics and change in our company and everywhere where we can make an impact.

If you are still in the process of finding out who you are, try to connect with queer people online, find friends, and find communities and safe spaces. There are a lot of great people out there who will provide love and support. If you want to become (or already are) an ally, you can participate in or support pride, educate yourself and others around you, and make a positive difference. And if you see someone's voice being silenced, help this person have a voice by lending them yours. And most importantly: listen to what we have to say.

  1. LGBTQIA+: L, Lesbian. G, Gay. B, Bisexual. T, Trans. Q, Queer/Questioning. I, Intersex. A, Asexual/Aromantic. + And many more.
  2. CIS/Gender: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender
  3. BPoC: Black and People of Color
  4. Ally: https://guidetoallyship.com/
  5. Pride: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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