We are not what you think we are. We are... PINK!
By Conraad G. Jonas
30 November 2010, Pretoria, South Africa
The group models.
The Facebook-run “Support group for gay & lesbian youth; in & newly out the closet” was founded and launched by Adriaan Van Wyk. Lustralboy ventures deeper into this topic, with special extracts from interviews with Mr Gay South Africa™ 2010 finalist, Barry Meyer, second runner-up, Karl-Heinz Michel and first runner-up, André Lammers.
21 Year old Ady (as we know him), the joking ‘umpa lumpa’ you would find dancing on the tables, getting everyone to loosen up and join the party, is the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover! “My first experience in an openly gay place was at Legends. At first I felt misplaced and awkward not being used to not only gay people being openly gay, but just to see so many gay people in one place”, says Ady.
I am sure all of us have had a similar experience at our first gay venue. Walking into the club feeling “I felt misplaced and awkward” & “I was insanely nervous to go to a place so openly gay”, “being in a place where it was okay to see the couples of the same gender holding hands or kissing... It was something new to all of us,” say the three finalists. Putting this all aside after a few minutes it was as if everything fell into place: “I felt finally in a place I could belong without having to keep any sort of guard up”, says 28 year-old Barry Meyer.
Returning to Ady, not only is he a crazy, fun-loving guy but, also the silent type with talents most people are unaware off. Adriaan has many great qualities, not only as a loyal and true friend, trustworthy, caring and open minded to help out without being judgmental, but also as a brilliant professional photographer.
It was very clear from all of my interviewee’s that they knew from a very early age that they were very different: André when he was 19, Ady at age 14, Barry at 13; and Karl as young as at age 11. André told Lustralboy: “When I grew up I felt different from the other kids, not in a funny way but in a way that I looked at the world differently”.It is clear that among the younger generation of the LGBTI community, some find it easier to accept themselves as who they are and with whom they choose to spend their life, though it is still hard on the bigger group of the conservative community to accept us and our choices. Of course, many other gay youths just try to fight against their natural gay inclinations.
Breast cancer awareness photo
Although Ady was never sure which career he wanted to follow, he has always loved taking photos as a hobby since childhood. He only recently got interested in photography as a career after a personal matter in his life, as he explains: “About a year ago, when my mom found lumps on her breasts, I decided to use my skills to make a calendar for breast cancer awareness. Some of the models and other photographers who have seen it told me I should pursue it.” Ady has a uniquely creative nature, loves dancing, painting and acting, and, like all "moffies", cooking. I think his creative pictures are new take on our era.
Adriaan & Karl-Heinz
It is clear that, no matter what most parents say or convey behaviourally, somehow they always know, sometimes even before we do. “My mother apparently knew from my high school days. It was then and there she made it clear that she knew and actually could not understand why I was not just asking a guy out whom I might like. From that moment I had the most incredible support from her till this day,” reveals Barry.
Still somehow parents are always “shocked” or surprised, and often turn to use rage and conflict (some just deal with it better than others; some need time to wrap their heads around it – some need year, but in most of the cases it gets better). “Unfortunately it took my parents almost 3 years to make peace with my sexual orientation”, says Karl-Heinz. After they came to accept that this is not an illness and a situation that can be prayed better, they see this is a life choice and come to acceptance with who we are.
Most of us just need someone, a teacher, a friend or a close relative that can help us with advice as to how we approach our parents (even though no amount of preparation can truly prepare you for what their reactions could be) and to handle the situations we find ourselves in after the “coming out of the closet”! Just someone to stand by you through the good, the bad and the ugly!
Picture 6: Power of Support
I, Conraad Jonas, truly feel very honoured to be the poster boy for this LGBTI teen group. Adriaan and I met for the first time on the afternoon of the Mr. Gay South Africa™ Northern Regional Finals earlier this year. Through the day we not only had great laughs and fun filled experiences that we will always remember, but also very some serious and interesting conversations about life for the teenage community!
And I guess that is how it started for all of us. Someone we see as a role model, no matter how big or small in the community’s eyes, stays a hero in our eyes. From Charl van den Berg (Ady’s Heroe) and Pieter-Dirk Uys (Andre) to drag queens in our community like Bianca Bouvia a.k.a Miss B (Karl-Heinz) and Cathy Specific (Barry Meyer), all are playing different roles is our lives, making a great impact on us to strive for greater achievements ourselves.
So to my question: “Adriaan, what or who inspired you to create this group?” came an answer that astonished me: “ I, Adriaan van Wyk, was inspired by Conraad Jonas to start a support group on facebook for gay youth in and newly out of the closet. We all know all too well that being gay is not for the faint of heart. Living a life in the closet, or coming out can be life changing for most teenagers. Sometimes better in the long run, sometimes not, and unfortunately in the worst case scenarios, can even lead to suicide. I want to give our youth in the gay community the opportunity that most of us never had. I want to give them someone to listen, someone to look up to, someone who can give them advice when they truly need it and most of all, just someone to be there for support in tough times who won’t judge or listen to what you have to say, just to get in your pants.
Adriaan with a guy
“Coming from a small town, I grew up in a world where I thought I was the only gay kid around and being surrounded with homophobic family and friends, I did not have an easy time coming out and accepting myself. So I even had a few suicide attempts [myself]. It was also before Facebook, and so the only place I could go to for advice, was unfortunately a gay chat room filled with men who only wanted to get in my pants.”
“I chose you [Conraad] because of what you said and stand for: ‘I want to impress upon the LGBTI society the value of monogamy. Being a role model – especially to the gay youth of South Africa – to show that ‘we’ are more than just “twinks”, and can achieve great successes with monogamy and the right partner at your side.”
Adriaan van Wyk and Dana Cato
Ady created the support group withhis “darling sister Dana Cato who is my business partner for Blah-Blah Photography and helps me edit the photos I do for the group, and my dear friend Conraad Jonas who I made the face of the group and helps me run it. I believethis group can make a difference”. He chose Facebook as most people use it on a daily basis. Anyone can join, in or out the closet; Gay, Straight, Confused, Curious or Bi. Here they can chat to likeminded people to find support and help in a safe and healthy environment. They canfind someone they feel they can relate to and inbox them privately for advice and help.
Everyone we have thus far interviewed or talked to about this group thinks it’s a “phenomenal” idea as “This group offers sanctity for the gay youth of South Africa, a place of solitude and a place to turn to in times of need”. Karl-Heinz continues: “I never had any gay role models growing up, nor was I aware of any support structures available to me to seek refuge. But now things have changed, thanks to inspirational people like Adriaan and Conraad.”
From gay youth support group: "Attempting suicicde."
Adriaan stated that he is pursuing this goal for the youth of our country: “About one in three teen suicides is by a gay or lesbian teenager. Since homosexuals represent ONLY about 5% of the population, gays and lesbians are way too OVER-represented in these statistics for my liking.
“I would like to make this group a big success by having group discussions and getting them involved by debating on all the subjects teens wonder about, from things like first lovers, and monogamy, to drugs and safe sex, and to create awareness amongst teenagers about homophobia and what steps to take in more complicated cases with contact details to SA GLAAD, if needed.
“But most of all, our biggest goal, is to target the suicide rate amongst gay teenagers.”
Inspirational words of advice from our interviewees:
“Never change who you are for someone else. You are the one who has to live with yourself your whole life. You deserve to live a happy life as well. Also never ever, ever, stop believing in yourself.”
“Always be true to yourself. Be comfortable with who you are, and no matter what, love honestly, loyally and truthfully. Always look towards a brighter future for yourself and those around you, and wear the rainbow flag’s colours with absolute pride!! We are gay, proud of it, and we ain’t goin’ nowhere!!!”
“Everything in life starts with a choice. We can choose to strive for a life filled with love and every experience we want, it’s just for each one to stand up look at them self and decide. Make the choice to write the story of the life you want to experience, not what society or others want you to have.”
“Learn from who you are to help others. We cannot stand together if you can't keep yourself together. Be kind, helpful and at the end be you. Cause you want to be no one else. “
Out off all my interviews that I did, one thing is very obvious: no one would ever want to go back and change their mind about the decisions they made. Everyone took something different from the experience, but they are all proud of having become ambassadors for the gay community. May they continue to be the great role models that they are!
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Cover photo of Facebook group: "Self-acceptance."
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