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.

  • reba

    i broke free shall we say as i wanted to go to school and learn ! it was so hard for us then back then to what it is today , im still not aloud to forget it to this day and im now in my fortes , some things get better with age and time i hope one day that it dose for you to i understand how hard it is , my best friend is gay and non gypsy , hes never been able to come to my house and never will , i have to be very clever how n where we meet as i cant go to his flat , i do hope you can stop the drugs the issue is still there and you have done the hardest part by being proud of who you are please dont let them win by putting you in that gutter any more you are worth so much more , you owe it to yourself that sometimes and things are ment to be that way for now ,sending you my wishes

  • Jhim

    To the person who asked "how can i become a gypsy", it's as easy as becoming an Asian. Just have Roma ancestors. We're not a club, we're an ethnicity. Growing up in the US to a father raised by his Gadje mother, I thankfully haven't had to deal with the homophobia first hand, however being that I am currently planning on working more with the Roma communities in eastern europe when I graduate college, I know that it will come. We just need to, as gay Rom, show that it's OK. Remind our ancestors and families that, just like we couldn't stop being Rom during times of heavy persecution, we can't stop being what we were born. It will take time, but compare to the machimo latin culture where same-sex marriage is starting to become recognized, and you can see that it just takes time, effort, and yes a few martyrs, but I know we can get there

  • Roma777

    Nothing surprises me with the Gypsy culture. My name is Ashley Roma Lee. I was born into a Romany family & like kyle it was not hard to see That i was not like the rest of the clan. It is true that there is a way in which the Romany men have to act & be the big I am. I was never wanting to be like the others & I hated it when I was around my family. They will turn on you for being gay. The Romany traditions of big families & providing for family is a big set theme. The way of life is very hard when your growing up & have a complete different Identity. I was often knocked & beaten about by my brother who often also commented on me being a gay. There is this big macho personality that goes with the Roma Boys ego. I hated every bit of it. I did not pretend to be something I was never going to be or even want to be. It seemed like a mass bread of dogs being taught how to be or how to act. I used to think why would I ever want to act like this? There is no escaping when your family is so big that they are spread out among the UK. No matter where I went I would see family that I knew to keep away from as I was rejected from them & would not waste any time in jumping you. Many of them cousins that I grew up with or that Of my brother who used to beat on me so much that it was A joke. Often I was reminded that i was nothing like a Romany & that I needed to still get my self a girlfriend? The word I found for them was ignorant, Not to say that all of them are the same I still Have some family that it does not bother them what I am. The rejection is painful & the need for that family you miss, you know deep down you will never have. Like kyle I escaped that of my family & ran around like crazy trying to hide who I was. No matter where I went I was often bumping into or having family member drive in their trucks screaming \'\'queer\'\' Faggot, I also have had eggs thrown on me orange-peal all sorts. There was never a day that went by that i was often being confronted with abuse from cousins & other family members. I was later chased away from the town I lived & was born in. The pointing of fingers the laughter in my face. The worse part was my Roma cousins & other family members who would get the other lads to do there dirty work for them. I was a victim for both being a Romany & for being gay, so it was double trouble. My life from start to the point I am at now can be described as torment & hardship. I was lucky enough to be born with the gift of Clairvoyance & Fortune Telling, which funny enough was only what the Roma women would do. This has helped me a lot over the years while struggling to be given work or to be able to be accepted somewhere. My own personal story is almost finished & I hope to have it published one day. The only other thing I can say is. We are all human at the end of the day. Sometimes others do need to get a grip. My message for kyle is that don\'t hold out for the family who even though will speak to you will soon turn on you even quicker. I know its hard & I know it hurts. They can never compare to the heart that we have & the people we are. Because there is more Real Roma in us than most of them put together.

  • Bob

    I often watch the Gypsy wedding programs done both in GB and the US, and have often thought it must be very difficult for young gay Romany men and women. Thank you, Kyle, for sharing your story and God bless you for being a real stand-up man. I am 75 years old and when I came out 55 years ago, it wasn't easy but things got better for me and I am confident they will get better for you. Please, above all else, love yourself, love who you are, love others and don't ever believe that you are "less". You are a child of God, a beloved man and someone who deserves a good life.

  • Fuzzyducks

    Having sat through a 40 minute lecture from a member of the gypsy council, I feel I have learnt a huge amount about the traveller community. The problem for me as a gay man in a civil partnership was that gays in Roma communities are expected to live the life of a woman and are not allowed to spend time with children who are male (coz obviously every gay man is a paedophile?!). Those dubious assumptions aside, I truly believe that I was born for traveller life. I am from South Wales originally but I have lived in 24 towns and cities since my 19th birthday and I still have the itchy feet to move on. How can I become a gypsy and how do I get passed the gay thing...I ask because anyone expecting me to wield broom over a rugby ball will get a kick and a fist to the groin.

  • Rufus

    Thanks for this article. I've not watched a lot of the Gypsy wedding programmes but it occured to me that it would be a difficult culture to be gay within. It's a reminder to us all of our obligations to support one another

  • Katisha

    I hope Kyle can view this. My heart goes out to you, Kyle. You're in a bad situation right now, but I hope it will come to pass for you that 'It Gets Better'. Thank you for sharing your story with us all. You have my admiration for being brave enough to be true to yourself and I am sorry for what it has cost you. You will be in my prayers. Blessed be,