CONNECT WITH US:
Find us on Facebook
Hello Ivan. Thanks for accepting to share your story with us. Could you start by telling us something about yourself?
I am 39 and I am Bulgarian. I have been living in Germany for the last few years.
When did you first realize that you were gay?
I realized it quite late – only when I turned 23. Before that I had no idea and no specific sensations related to people from my gender. In fact, I felt no sexual desire either to one or to the other sex. When I was 23, I accidentally met a man on the street, a stranger. He stopped me and spoke. I felt a strange liking for him, he seemed to me attractive. He even touched my cheek with the words “You’ve got a stubble now, you’re a grown man.” Then we parted, I did not know his address or his name. We never met again, but I was impressed and stunned. This was when I realized my sexual identity for the first time.
Can you describe the process of understanding and accepting your sexuality?
At first, after the incident I just told you about, I felt an inner conflict. On the one hand, my inner self immediately recognized it as my own nature, without any doubt. On the other hand, morality opposed it – I could not even allow myself to think of such a life. This was a taboo, impossibility. I did not know anyone who was gay and it seemed unacceptable to my morality that I, out of everybody else, would start having a gay life.
I felt an inner conflict.
I decided that I would not give any expression of these feelings and that I would be strong enough to control them, that it was not the most important thing in life so I did not have to attach great importance to it.
I did not tell anyone what I had found about myself, it remained a secret. Gradually, I started making small steps to understand what was happening to me. I visited a psychologist and a sexologist. But there I got neither satisfactory answers, nor understanding. They claimed that I was not gay, they thought that a gay must be feminine, and just because I did not look feminine and did not have effeminate manners, according to them I was not born gay. Their proposal to meet a woman, to go out with her and try to have sex with her just pushed me away and I felt uncomfortable!
I felt uncomfortable.
Never did I, however, consider the truth of myself to be a drama, I did not perceive myself as a victim and I was not unhappy about my sexual orientation. This was so because from the moment I realized it, I immediately knew and felt that it was my nature and everything else would be unnatural for me. I have enjoyed the feelings that I am able to feel towards people from my sex and I have never wanted to replace them with those for the other sex.
Photo: © Heart2Soul
What were the main challenges that you had to face within your family and your community?
My truth was a personal matter, and therefore for me it was not important for my family and acquaintances to know. I’m quite introvert and had no problem keeping the truth to myself. I did not think that this was something that others needed to know, and I was not sure how they would react. The problem for me was that I did not allow myself and I hardly had any opportunity to meet similar people, so I only suppressed the desires that arose in me.
When did you decide to leave the country?
When I realized that professionally I could not find fulfill myself in my homeland because of Bulgaria’s economic crisis. I saw that since I did not manage to realize my professional objectives there, it was better to take care of my personal life. I met somebody who was German. For the first time I could tell someone openly and without fear how I felt, and that was very liberating for me. I decided to leave and join him in Germany, and the decision was not a difficult choice.
For the first time I could tell someone openly and without fear how I felt, and that was very liberating for me.
How was the impact with the new culture and the new environment?
The new and radically different way of viewing homosexuality in Germany helped me get rid of the moral barriers and fears that the Bulgarian society had installed in me, with its mocking negative attitudes towards homosexuals which only create barriers and inhibitions. At the new place, I realized that the most important thing was to accept yourself completely as you are. You become capable of expressing outwardly your feelings and emotions. The presence of many other people like you, who feel the same way as you, helps you to stop thinking that only you are different, and it has a liberating effect.
The new and radically different way of viewing homosexuality in Germany helped me get rid of the moral barriers and fears that the Bulgarian society had installed in me, with its mocking negative attitudes towards homosexuals which only create barriers and inhibitions.
What were the differences between Bulgaria and Germany in terms of free expression of your sexual identity?
In Germany, there is much greater understanding, acceptance and tolerance on this topic. Although there are people who are afraid to reveal themselves, for most it is not a problem. The people around them who are heterosexual consider homosexuality as normal and accept it with understanding, without creating any problems. There is no irony, no joking comments about homosexuals, they are treated as equal and with respect. There are many homosexual couples who marry.
How do you see the future of gay people in Bulgaria?
The situation for the homosexual people at the moment is much better than it was 10–15 years ago. It is a non-reversible process, as it was in the Western societies. A country which had been closed until 25 years ago, where no democratic changes had been possible, cannot overnight develop the maturity, the understanding and the tolerance of the Western countries, which had been struggling for their rights in the course of many years. But Bulgaria is on its way and things are getting better. There are gay bars in Sofia, there are gay beaches at the Black Sea coast, there are places where gay people can meet. Sometimes the topic is discussed in TV shows. Changes have been observable in the last 5–7 years. Gradually I started sharing with some members of my family and close friends and almost all of them accepted it with understanding.
Do you have any advice for young people in Bulgaria who are facing discrimination because of their sexual identity?
I personally believe that in Bulgaria it is difficult to fight against discrimination. The Orthodox Church very often vehemently opposes all kinds of events launched by the LGBT society, in this way spreading homophobia. It even tries to sabotage gay parades which have been given permission to by the state.
Nevertheless, now it is easier for Bulgarian homosexual people to meet others like them than it was 15–16 years ago when I found the truth about myself – at that time we did not have the internet. Now there are several Bulgarian websites for online dating where you can easily meet others and talk.
The problem remains though – you need to hide, to watch out not to be noticed by others. Few people dare to openly follow their true nature and live together with a partner as a couple. People are afraid about what the neighbours will think, or the colleagues, the friends, the relatives… A great number of barriers are yet to be destroyed before we reach the acceptance and understanding that Western societies already have, but as I said before, as each year passes, things are improving and there is no way back.
People are afraid about what the neighbours will think, or the colleagues, the friends, the relatives.
What is the meaning of inclusion to you?
Inclusion to me means belonging and identification, a feeling of being accepted and appreciated for what you truly are, and being able to be natural, to be yourself.
Thanks a lot for participating in this interview.
TO VIEW THE INTERVIEW IN BULGARIAN CLICK HERE: КАКВО Е ДА СИ ГЕЙ В БЪЛГАРИЯ И ГЕРМАНИЯ.
P.S. The interviewee requested that his real name would not be announced in the publication.
[Head photo: © Ohio University LGBT Center]
Blagovesta Troeva works at the Department of English at New Bulgarian University, Sofia. She obtained her first Master’s degree in British and American Studies at Sofia University, Bulgaria. While her career develops in the field of foreign language teaching, she also has profound interests in human rights, anti-discrimination, inclusion and learning difficulties. She has completed the Erasmus Mundus Special and Inclusive Education – a joined Master’s programme of the University of Roehampton, London, Oslo University, and Charles University, Prague.