Celebrating Individuality: Matt's Story

My name is Matt, I’m 32 a-year-old from Canada.

Although Canada is mostly considered a progressive country, I was never exposed to any positive representations of LGBTQ+ people in the suburbs where I grew up. I was a shy kid who focused on trying to fit in at school and follow what I believed to be the script of a "normal" member of my family and community. I was also an elite athlete, and the sporting world was generally hostile to queerness. Being in the spotlight as a member of the Canadian national swim team, I was constantly concerned about other people's opinions of me. All of these factors made it difficult to navigate my confused identity and prolonged my journey to self-acceptance. It wasn't until I quit swimming that I finally felt free to come out as gay, opening up my world to incredible friendships and experiences.

While I felt comfortable to live authentically in my personal life, my professional life was more uncertain. I moved to Asia to become an international school teacher, and worried about exposing my sexuality, aware of the more traditional values and the prejudice against gay male teachers. While teaching high school in China, I was outed at a bar one night by a drunk colleague, and I was terrified that I could lose my job. I'm still troubled by the thought of conservative parents stigmatizing me.

There have been other scary moments. I was walking home late at night in Toronto and was followed by a car full of men yelling slurs out the window. Another time in the U.S. I was hit in the face for the way I talk. But overall, I've been lucky to experience very little adversity or discrimination in my life for being gay. My family has embraced me. Today I live with my husband in Taipei, one of the most accepting places for gay people in the world, and one of the few places where I actually feel comfortable holding his hand in public.

His name is Julien, and he is 31 years old from France. While growing up, he faced difficulties in finding his place as an Asian. Later in life, when he started questioning his own sexual orientation, he felt that he couldn't safely be his true self due to the way society perceived and treated members of the gay community. Additionally, he faced challenges due to the more traditional Asian mindset within his own family, where discussing sex is considered taboo.

One of the most traumatizing experiences he shared with me was back in 2012 when he started and opened his first business, a retail women's clothing store. He was working in his shop when he overheard people in the street saying out loud, "Let's not go in this store; it seems like it's owned by a gay Asian man." After this incident, he decided to be very quiet and discreet about his personal life and be extremely careful about how people perceived him for almost 8 years in his own hometown because it could have a negative impact on his business.

Today, since he left France, he feels more like himself and happier in his daily life. He feels like he can finally be the person he always wanted to be, not only with his group of friends but also at work. Together, we have decided that we are allowed to live our lives LOUD and PROUD.

We can’t imagine how difficult it must be for LGBTQ+ youth growing up in places that violently criminalize homosexuality. While many countries have become much more open and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people over the past few decades, most societies around the world still have a long way to go. By sharing this story, we are hoping that we can help, inspire and also educated people for a better future.