My Big Gay Gypsy Lifestyle
Publish Date: 13/03/2012
There’s much in the media at the moment about the conflict between religion and sexuality and the seemingly irresolvable issues surrounding where LGBT people fit within various different faiths. However, it isn’t always a religion based community that can be misunderstanding when it comes to varying sexual identities. Cultural tradition can be as viciously unaccepting towards sexuality.
The whole country seems to be hooked on the gypsy culture at the moment and with programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding hitting our screens the focus has been shared between the hugely oversized dresses and the solidarity of the gypsy communities. But in communities where solidarity is key, anything or anyone that can upset the balance is challenged and often rooted out. This includes sexuality.
Kyle is a Romany gypsy who is openly gay, and he told me about some of the many challenges he has faced throughout his life. Kyle is 22 and now lives away from his family, but he grew up with his parents and 3 sisters and brother in a gypsy community in Britain. His upbringing was typical of that of a Romany boy, and both he and his older brother were made to go to boxing classes and encouraged to become prize fighters from an early age by their father.
“He [his father] was ok with me when I was younger because I was doing all the boxing shit, but when I got to, like, 11 or 12, that’s when you’ve really got to man up as a Romany lad, because you’re expected to be an adult. And that’s when it started becoming noticeable that I was a bit 'different' and he started giving me a really hard time about it, like he hated me and was ashamed of me”.
I asked Kyle if his brother had to go through the same things as he did and whether his father ever behaved in a similar way to his brother.
“He was the apple of my dad’s eye... everything a Romany man is supposed to be. A good fighter, masculine, like, no emotions or acting like a pussy”. That’s not how Kyle was, but did Kyle’s father invest time in trying to change him when his older brother was already fulfilling the role of the ideal son?
“He was disappointed in me, so it was more like I didn’t matter because he already had his prize”. This would be enough to make any young, influential man feel very alone, threatened and victimised, but both Kyle’s father and his brother were also physically abusive towards him as Kyle started to realise, as did others around him, that he was gay.
“The other lads would talk about girls and they’d all be losing their virginity and stuff. I was the little virgin boy that didn’t talk to girls. If you call a Romany man gay it’s a massive insult, it’s a bad thing. I always knew it was a bad thing, so when I realised that I was maybe gay, I just tried to ignore it.
“My dad and my brother called me gay all the time but I never came out. I never denied it. I just took my beatings. I think they thought they could beat it out of me”. Kyle told me he found it difficult to hide his feelings as he is ‘quite effeminate’ and a ‘terrible actor’ and as a result he would take beatings from his family members quite regularly.
“It happened quite a bit. It was like my punishment if I acted like a ‘faggot’. I was an easy target”. At the age of 13 Kyle worked with his father working on fixing up and selling cars and when I suggested that it must have been quite awkward, he told me that he actually liked it as he was good at it. “He wasn’t mad at me when I was doing things right. I was good at it so I didn’t feel so useless”.
But why would his father and brother, and the rest of the community, be so opposed to someone’s sexuality? This isn’t challenging an age old religious text which is the basis of the community like in many faiths. Kyle explained it to me like this.
“We have really strict gender expectations. Reputation is everything. When you’re a threatened culture, you don’t want people to be breaking away from the culture because it makes the community weaker. They need men to be the breadwinners and build families so the name will be carried on and the community will expand”.
At the age of 16, Kyle ran away from home and tried to start a new life away from his family. “I left because I couldn’t deny who I was. I was a bit naive. I thought I’d just get a flat and a job easily.
“I checked into a bed and breakfast and went out to enjoy my new freedom, but my uncle found out where I was and took me back home. He had a massive argument with my dad because my dad didn’t care that I had left and he didn’t want me back either. So, my uncle took me back to the B & B and gave me a couple of hundred quid and that was that. I got a little job valeting cars but I was miserable”.
Kyle has found himself in a situation far away from his family but it’s a situation where he feels unhappy. He became involved with some ‘shady’ people who introduced him to drugs and male prostitution. He admits that he needs to get clean and find a good job, maybe after revisiting an education of some sort. But the one thing that he really wants is a better relationship with his family.
“I’m trying to sort it out, but the only thing that could make it better is if my family accepted me” he admits, while recognising that the probability of that is very low. It’s a situation that he has no control over and he may have to make peace with the fact that it may never happen at all. His mother calls occasionally and they sometimes meet for drinks, but he longs to go home and make amends.
Kyle’s story is sadly not a one off case. After reading Mikey Walsh’s ‘Gypsy Boy’ (the story of a gay Romany boy, his family life and his upbringing) it is impossible not to draw parallels with Kyle’s story. Receiving physical and verbal abuse from your family and the community, and knowing that staying and trying to deal with the problems simply won’t help, is a frightening and isolating situation for any young person to find themselves in.
As the country ponders the possibility of same sex civil marriage, it is worth remembering that homophobia is still rampant in many cultures. There is still much to be done to show people that sexuality does not define a person and that people should not be judged for who they are and who they love.
Kyle, with assistance, can start to rebuild his life, but there will always be a huge hole where his family once were.