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Growing Up Gay In Germany: How LGBT+ Are Linked Worldwide

Growing Up Gay In Germany: How LGBT+ Are Linked Worldwide

More than you may think, for starters young LGBT+ students struggling for acceptance.

Growing up gay in provincial Eastern Germany makes you doubt if anything could be worse. The entire hetero normative environment suggests that you’re some kind of freak; fellow students bully you from dawn ‘til dusk and you feel like there is nobody you could possibly talk to.

To be constantly judged for the way I walked and talked, having my interests labelled as ‘gay’ and shown no kindness from other students shaped every day at school. Having virtually no one for years to talk to about all those innermost thoughts and struggles going to each and every one adolescent critically shapes their personalities and has the power to traumatise, the consequences of which are still felt by me years after today.

Fabien from Germany: Growing Up gay in East Germany
Fabien Schüßler

This happened to me despite living in one of the most ‘liberal’ countries in Europe if not the world, leaving me to search for a community in the next big city: Berlin.

Fabien photographed at the age of 14, on a family holiday to Paris.
Fabien photographed at the age of 14 on a family holiday to Paris.

Most of my friends when I was 18 were fellow queer students in what I perceived as Germany’s shiny, liberal capital, at least from my provincial perspective. Apart from them, I didn’t have any straight male friends and only a few female ones, the same I observed with most other gay friends of mine. It just seemed easier that way, there was no need to hide or to explain, no awkward moments or misunderstandings. Whenever I stepped outside of this bubble and had to return to my sad provincial hometown in our sad and grey commuter train, my mindset seemed to change as well.

Fabien with his best friend during summer 2014 at the CSD 'Gay Pride' in Berlin
Fabien with his best friend during summer 2014 at the CSD ‘Gay Pride’ in Berlin

This perspective significantly changed after studying in the United Kingdom. Luck had it and I ended up in yet another small town in the middle of nowhere, but the university atmosphere and open-minded community of students from around the world open my mind up to what could be possible even in such small towns.

Fabien pictured in the UK in Autumn 2012
Fabien pictured in the UK, 2012 during his 2nd year in university

An LGBT+ student group hosted frequent events, nobody seemed to mind my sexuality and most of the time, no questions were asked and no explanations were required, it was a highly unusual feeling of ‘fitting in’ and ‘being the norm’.

Full of newly gained self-confidence and pride in who I was, it was easy to forget that this was more of a fortunate exception than the widespread norm, thanks to an academic environment and a dominating amount of students in town.

Fabien in Wales, UK, 2013
Fabien in Wales, UK in 2013

After my studies ended, I embarked on a year of teaching in China, which was quite the opposite of the happy days in the British countryside. At work, I couldn’t let anybody know about my sexual orientation as ‘being gay’ was by many regarded as ‘being a pervert’. My work contract stated I was not allowed to discuss any kinds of politics, religion or anything to do with sexuality.

Talking to the myriad problems and worries of the many queer people I have met in China made me realise not only how ‘limited’ my problems growing up in Germany were comparatively.

Fabien photographed with his students at Foshan Tongji Elementary School in Guangdong, China
Fabien photographed with his students at Foshan Tongji Elementary School in Guangdong, China

It moreover made me realise how large and diverse the sphere of sexual minorities in our world is and how different affected people’s goals, problems and solutions are. Surely the concrete situations in many countries and regions may largely differ, but the basic features of the daily struggles and hopes of LGBT+ people are indeed very similar: to find acceptance, to lead a normal life and to love and be loved freely.

Fabien with his boyfriend, Alex photographed during their travels in Southern China, summer 2015
Fabien with his boyfriend, Alex photographed during their travels in Southern China, summer 2015.

No matter where you life and what your life looks life, I have never met or heard of anyone who said that his coming out was easy or that growing up gay did not pose a personal struggle for him in some way or another.

That’s why I want to help raise awareness of this diverse global LGBT+ Community and its problems and worries by contributing with interviews of different people and their stories from a European perspective. By showing the individual challenges and living arrangements that many people have chosen or were forced to choose I hope to shade light on Europe’s stark divisions but also to show the similarities to people all over the world – also to India.

I think such comparisons and insights into the lives of people in similar situations in different places can help to foster a truly global and more interconnected queer community thinking and enable more cooperation, particularly between Europe and India. By learning from each other’s paths and decisions, this could expand the long history of relations between these two regions into the LGBT+ sphere and our global struggle for equality and acceptance.

Written By Fabien Schüßler

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