Aaron (pseudonym) grew up in a small town in the Basque country, studied politics in the UK and Spain and now lives in Barcelona. This is his story, in his words. A story of angst, pain and unending hope…..
Growing Up Gay In Spain
It’s not easy for anyone, anywhere, but I grew up in a little city of about 30,000 inhabitants in the Basque Country in a more rural and conservative area. I am not sure when I first realised that I am attracted to boys. It must have been when I was 13 or 14 years old, maybe earlier. It was difficult because I didn’t get to understand myself, I thought I was not like the others, who were talking about the girls and I just didn’t feel the same as them. I didn’t know if it was ok with what I felt.
During my teenage years I also felt attracted to girls but at the same time I knew that I was attracted to boys and I felt like I was deceiving myself and other people. It felt like a problem to me. I must say that Spain has changed a lot in recent years, especially culturally, with Spain being one of the first countries to legalise same-sex marriage. This was a big change and definitely went a long way in normalising the LGBTQ issues. Spanish society accepted the change and changed its mind. In that year I was 13 so it was right when I was discovering myself and it impacted me a lot. It was the first time I saw LGBTQ people on TV and they were shown just like normal people, as weird as that is to say. Generally gay people were previously shown as extravagant and weird people doing drugs and behaving dangerously. For the first time, I got to see non-heterosexual people in the media like that.
I never came out to my parents and still haven’t done that yet. It is difficult as my parents are quite conservative but I am sure I will do it soon as I feel more and more confident about this. I never had physical contact with other boys until I was 19 and studied in Wales. For the first time, I felt really liberated there since nobody knew me and I could act and live, as I wanted. I could act the way I was: a boy that felt attracted to other boys. It could have been in Wales or anywhere else but the important thing was to be far from home and in a place where I didn’t feel like I was constantly under surveillance. I remember before leaving for Wales I talked to my friends about being attracted to both boys and girls, which they didn’t accept. They could not understand that someone could be attracted to both genders. They turned cold towards me and somehow I lost touch with some of them because of that one incident, which made me sad but I have since gotten used to it.
Coming To Terms With My Sexuality
I was feeling guilty for being the way I was before and upon arriving in Aberystwyth I was scared about the idea of meeting a boy or having sex, as normal as these things are. To be attracted to a boy made me feel like I was hurting people and letting my family down. I was seeing both boys and girls which was at times confusing as I felt like I was betraying either side. In hindsight, I sometimes feel like I was just pretending feeling attracted to girls to cover up my feelings for the boys. The year abroad, leaving the surveillance at home behind, changed me a lot for sure.
Since then I have had two relationships, one of ten months and one of a year and a half. I think I got to a point now where I fully accept myself. Living in a big city like Barcelona, definitely helped me change and show myself the way I truly am. All my friends, both boys and girls, know about my identity and accept me for who I am. Socially, Spain has changed a lot, but still a lot remains to be changed. A friend of mine along with two other gay friends was hit in the street while walking with me; he needed hospitalisation and was later interviewed about the incident on TV. For me is my greatest hero! It is still a problem in Spain for gay people, at times. They get attacked in the streets, but it doesn’t change a thing in my life, I have decided to live my life fearlessly now.
My ‘Gay Identity’
My identity has been a bit difficult for me to discover because I have not just felt attracted to boys, which is why I struggled a bit with the term ‘gay’ before. There are still many problems to struggle with due to the widespread leftovers of Spain’s patriarchy.
I never really had many gay friends so I found it hard to find people to talk to. Many other gay people in my countryside were insulted with slang abuses for being gay, so I tried to protect myself from these problems by not coming out as much or as early as I could have. Only recently have I continued to expose my identity and sexuality. Luckily I live in Barcelona, a really open-minded city that mostly accepts different people the way they are.
Spain’s LGBT Community Today
I think the LGBT movement has achieved a great deal and conquered many hearts and minds but right now many of these achievements are at risk, given that in what is the seventh year of a very conservative government right now, there have recently been no major social advances for our community. Many LGBTQ people argue that they don’t feel represented by a good number of LGBTQ politicians. Of late, I feel saddened that there simply aren’t too many debates on social issues in Spain’s political environment, such as the debates about Catalan independence. The social process of building a new state is highly lacking a debate and discussion on social issues, which is why I don’t really feel very represented by the movement at large. There seems to be no interest in thinking about alternatives that this new state project could potentially have for social advances, which really disappointed several others and me.
Progress and Problems in Barcelona
Last summer Madrid hosted the World Pride event in the city and there was a big debate about the merits and benefits of such events, as there were large lobby-groups and for-profit enterprises behind the event. There were definitely mixed feelings about it all, as many people questioned whether they were well represented by them or if the organisers just had business interests in mind instead of advancing their community’s causes.
It feels as though the cultural, political and social life of Spain is in some sort of ‘pause’ mode, desperately awaiting a miracle. The abysmal economic situation isn’t helping either, but even in the areas that did do well economically, things weren’t much better there either. Last year, unfortunately, saw a significant growth in homophobic aggressions on Spanish streets compared to 2016.
A group of my gay friends were violently attacked while coming out of a club in the center of Madrid; and ironically, Madrid is supposed to be one of the most tolerant and liberal cities in the world when it comes to the LGBTQ community.
Getting The Youth Involved
It’s disappointing to see that despite all the progress things like this are still possible. People of my generation especially are largely free to live whatever lives they want, yet there still seems to be so much deep-rooted resentment and dichotomy with regards to being gay in Spain.
Although there remain a lot of social causes to be undertaken, activist groups aren’t exactly overflowing with volunteers. The youth in particular need to be roused and their collective energy gainfully harnessed if we wish to fulfil our dreams of a brighter future.
Written by:- Fabien Schuessler