Ilvy Maijen Fotografie

'PROUTBOYS'

‘ProuTboys’

ProuTboys is an ongoing photo project in which Ilvy Maijen photographs gay and trans young people with the aim of stimulating and inspiring young people to be themselves and to gain more understanding through their stories in the hope of greater acceptance. During the shoot, she encourages them to show themselves and tell the story of their coming out. The portraits show both the vulnerability and the inner strength of these young people. Participate? Contact Ilvy at: 0640803645 / info@ilvyfotografie.nl or via Instagram (proutboys_photoproject). The photo shoot will take place in Maastricht.

My story
Since everyone here is so brave to share their story with me and the world so openly, I think I can’t stay behind. “I was 14 when I found out I liked girls. When I was 12 I had been in love with a boy but somehow I felt that the chance was nil that would happen again. It was then the early 1990s and there were no role models “available”. In tv-series and movies everyone was straight and at my school nobody was (openly) gay. I remember well that I had a great need for role models, for stories about how others experienced it, but also just to see how two girls related to eachother in a relationship, to see your own sexual preference reflected in society, that you are accepted and that it’s not bad or weird, that you’re not the only one. I have therefore put off for a long time to tell others. Until my coming out I lived with a big secret and was never really ‘myself’. This has had an impact on my personal development, I experience myself as a late bloomer because I feel I have stood still for years in the field of developing / discovering my identity. I was 21 when I had my coming out. In the meantime, there was more gay visibility in society, so I also dared to be open. My environment reacted very nice and accepting, luckily I have not had any negative experience. That’s when I really felt ‘free’.

Given my own experience as a queer woman, I know what it feels like to belong to a minority. What it feels like to pretend to be different from who you actually are for years. As a result, I have a lot of affinity with the LBHTIQ+ community which  basically played a major role in starting this photo project.

.EXHIBITION
From 1 to 30 September this project will be exhibited in SCHUNCK | Glaspaleis in Heerlen as part of the Limburg Pride Month. More info will follow soon!

.ON TV
L1 Limburg made a nice report of the photo project while I had a shoot with Stef. Click here to view the article and video.

.ON THE RADIO
On August 19 I was interviewed about the project prouTboys at ‘Blok & Toine’ on NPO radio 1.

.AWARD
Proud to announce that this project received a gold award at the Moscow International Photo Awards

Lucas

Lucas - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“I have had an extremely strong feminine personality since childhood, this was one of the reasons my parents left doubtful. My childhood was a lonely and often emotional time in my life. I was on the sidelines of sociality but I was not part of it. I was often the odd one out or the piss. It hurt me even more to see my parents in grief and frustration as they saw me crawling into the world through my childhood all alone. Because it was really crawling, the friends I had distanced themselves from me and the attention I received was always negative. Later when I started in secondary school I started to get to know myself better. I found myself attracted to some guys. I didn’t know what that meant or what it meant to me. But I already had my suspicions. Not much later, despite hoping it wouldn’t be true, I resigned myself to the fact that I was gay. I first shared this when I was 13. I was the showpiece in the museum, or at least that’s how I felt. Everyone came to see me as an animal in a cage. I was made fun of and humiliated. It was around this time that my mother fell ill, and I took responsibility for taking care of her and supporting the household. This was my turning point. I let all reactions pass me by. I knew I was too important to let myself be belittled. I had to be there for the people who needed me. From the moment I stood up for myself, everything went a lot easier. Despite the fact that I am now almost 8 years later, it remains a struggle to go through life with my sexuality.  But I will never again depend on people’s opinions of me because I know my worth.  And that gives me strenght”

Simon

Simon - 2020 - IMaijen - 10

“I am 20 years old and came out when I was 17 years old. All my life I have known that I like men but always tried to convince myself that it wasn’t. I used to be bullied because I only hang out with girls and because I had more feminine traits than the other boys. I came out when I was 17 because I finally accepted myself and I finally felt that I was in a safe environment. Constantly walking around with a secret bothered me so much that I had no choice but to tell it, regardless of whether the response was positive or negative. Fortunately, I have received mostly positive reactions. I’ve never been happier.”

Patrick

Patrick - ProuTboys - Imaijen
”I’ve always been a theatrical and energetic kid. I would dress up as a girl and put on my best rendition of video clips, I would make and perform my own plays and I would dance at every party until I fell asleep. My parents gave me all the freedom to discover myself and they were supportive of everything. I think my childhood was a sign of what I would become in the future: An energetic, gay performer. In my teenage years my body began to change. In
the locker rooms I would compare myself to the other boys. I also compared dick size. I was obsessed with staring at the crotches of other boys, even during lunch break I was always looking at how large the other boys ‘package’ was. It made me insecure that I lacked in this department, so I thought I was just fascinated by other boys. As I grew older, I discovered it wasn’t just fascination, but also sexual attraction.
Coming out was not a real problem for me.  There was one older guy at school I had always admired, because he could sing beautifully: He was my idol and I wanted
to get closer to him. Of course the older guy didn’t even want to talk to me and he and his buddies clearly told me to buzz off. I was really sad, but I didn’t really know why exactly. A few years later I would discover why I was so interested in the guy. He was talking to his buddies about being gay and suddenly I thought: Could I be gay? In a few hours I told my friends at school that I was in love with this guy and when they asked me if I was gay, I said: “I think so”.
That year I would bring home the first report card to my parents, but I had been busy with all the new feelings and my grades had dropped a little. My parents asked me what was going on, but I got angry and stormed off to my room. Later on my mother came inside and asked me: “You can tell me… is it about love?” I nodded but kept silent. She continued: “Are you in love with a boy?” I nodded again. Then she asked: “Should I tell your father?” I said that I didn’t want that yet. She said: “Okay, well don’t worry. Everything will be alright, I love you!” I was left confused, but the weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was pulled out of the closet by my own mother and she was really accepting. Half a year later I told my father and he just said: “It’s your life, do whatever you want. But if someone is bothering you, tell me!” In hindsight this was exactly the reaction I could have expected from both and I am still blessed for this.”

Tim

Tim - 2020 - IMaijen - 11

“I was 12 years old and I was in the first year of secondary school in Maastricht. Before coming out, I had a fear of my sexual orientation. I thought that because of my homosexuality, I could not have a successful career, or that I would not be taken seriously. This made me feel insecure and did not believe in my own abilities. When Ilvy asked me to participate in her photo project, I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to show that there is no need to worry about your sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to work or a career. What I want to give you is that you should never give up believing your own abilities, and that you certainly have a place in this society. And trust yourself enough to know that when something comes your way that resonates with your passion, you can make the right choice. That is why I am proud to say: I am Tim, I am homosexual, I have built up a top sports career and I help people with their personal development as a mental coach”

Ricky

ricky - IM 2020 - 1

“Coming out was a liberating moment for me, I learned to worry less about what others would think about me and therefore also started to look at myself more positively.  It’s so important that you don’t have to be tense or lie when someone asks about your relationship.  Coming out is what I wish everyone, but you don’t owe it to anyone.  It is essential that others are also aware of the environment they create and how difficult it can be to speak out for your sexuality.  Coming Out Day therefore remains important to pay attention to.  Celebrate the right to be yourself. ”

Tajae

Tajae - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“Those years of silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the strength to overcome emotions I didn’t know existed. I’m proud to say that I am a happy gay man. I am proud, happy, comfortable with myself and am very blessed to be who am”

Didier

Didier - 2020 - IMaijen - 10

“As a very young child I became aware of the fact: I was different. I discovered I experienced the world differently. At the age 12 I knew this was called ‘being gay’. From then on I represented myself that way. With this portrait series I want to make a statement. We must never forget, belonging to a sexual minority is two-sided:

ON ONE SIDE: YES I am PROUD. Like many other LGBT+ people I discovered the bright and vibrating shades of the rainbow. I picked up those colours, created my pallette, and started to wear my colours with pride. This inspires me to be the best version of the man I am; a social, soulful, creative, artistic, purposeful, imaginative and ambitious man.

BUT ON THE OTHER SIDE: this series portrays the darker sides of being gay. It’s often left unseen because it’s not always included in the rainbowsymbolism. This is why I love to see black involved as a part of it. Not only because it empoweres more people and it increases the visibility of individuals, but also because black stand for the more intrinsic feelings of LGBT+ people. The darker shades in the photographs tell the story of loneliness, the lack of role-modelsinsecurities, self-destructive behaviors and other challenges. I thank psychologist Alan Down’s from the bottom of my heart. His book ‘The Velvet Rage’ means the world to me. I came out at age of 12, but it took me 7 years to overcome the shame of growing up gay in straight man’s world, I succeeded because of his work. When I express creativity, I feel like I am embodying all the colours that define who I am, including the darker sides. Singing helped me through a period in my life when I was internally searching and questiong. The song ‘Commes Ils Disent’ from Charles Aznavour expresses everything:
‘Nobody gets the right to be – the judge of what is right for me – because nobody can tell: what makes a man a man?”

Donnavon

Donnavon - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“I have multiple coming out stories, because as a lot of people know, queer people a lot of the time have to come out multiple times. When I told my mother she started crying. She started crying because it was a shock for her, she did not expect me to be gay and she thought that the life she thought I’d have, I wouldn’t have (girlfriend, kids). She was also worried about my safety. ‘Is the world going to be nice to him?’ ‘Will people accept him? I accept him, but will other people?’ She did not know that gay people are able to have kids and when I told her more about that and that my life in certain areas is not different than the one of a heterosexual person, she got more knowledge about being gay which gave her a calm feeling. She doesn’t care whether I adopt or I get a child through ivf. Or no kids at all. The most important thing is that I am happy. My mother does not discriminate anyone for their sexuality or anything related to their sexuality. Yes, it was a little weird and uncomfortable in the beginning. It felt like there was a wall between us. I think that was because she needed time. Time to process.

Now I can openly talk about my sexuality with her or anything that has to do with that.
She supports me. She wants me to be happy. My sexuality is not an obstacle for her wanting me to be happy. I decide  for myself how I want to live related to love life and having kids and she supports that. As long as I am happy, healthy and safe.”

Ingmar

Ingmar - 2020 - IMaijen - 7

”I think I personally found my coming out more exciting than everyone around me.  What I found particularly scary is my own future.  I really want children, I still want that.  Before I came out, I thought: but when I come out, having children is much more difficult, I don’t want that.  I wanted to live a ‘normal’ life and let it run a little by the books.  On the one hand I was attracted to boys, on the other hand I did not dare to fully accept that myself.  This purely because I thought that I would not be able to meet my own expectations for the future.  On my twentieth birthday (exactly yes) I made the decision for myself and I came into contact with my first real big love, a boy.  From that moment on I knew for sure: even with a boy I can shape my future in the way I want.  It will get a little more difficult and complicated, but where there is a will there is a way.”

Rick

Rick - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“Coming-out was voor mij als het oplossen van een puzzel met 10.000 stukjes. Je weet hoe het er ongeveer uit moet komen te zien, maar niemand heeft een handleiding geschreven. Het gepuzzel zat hem voor mij met name in het ontdekken van mezelf. Gedachten van onwetendheid, angst, ongeloof en vooral onzekerheid spookte continu door mijn hoofd. Met momenten voelde het alsof ik er alleen voor stond. Uren, dagen, weken, jaren van nadenken, onzekerheid en twijfelen tot ik er eindelijk uit was, de puzzel was af! Ik voelde me tevreden en trots dat ik het mij gunde om mezelf te zijn, ik was homo!

En hoe trots ik was om het resultaat te delen met mijn omgeving, werd ik geconfronteerd met de maatschappij. De puzzel waar ik voor mijzelf zo hard aan had zitten werken, in één klap, van tafel.. Alles wat in theorie zo mooi in elkaar zou moeten passen, lag verspreid over de grond. Mijn toenmalige vrienden, school, en werk leken ineens allemaal een gedeelde mening te hebben: “wij accepteren dit niet”. Een jongen van 14 jaar als voorbeeld, die destijds een patiënt van mij was, pleegde zelfmoord omdat zijn seksuele geaardheid niet geaccepteerd werd. Dit voor mij was het kantelpunt, jaren heeft het geduurd voordat ik pas echt mijzelf was, mij veilig voelde en trots was op wie ik ben. Dit alles heb ik te danken aan mijn vrienden, die mij hebben laten zien dat ik er mag zijn zoals ik ben.

Iedereen heeft het recht om te zijn wie iemand wil zijn, geaccepteerd te worden zoals iemand is en daar zal ik me altijd voor blijven inzetten! Zoals de tattoo op mijn arm: “De moeilijkste weg brengt naar een betere bestemming”.

Dwight

Dwight - 2021 - IMaijen - 30

”Mijn naam is Dwight. Beter bekend als Cutshield. Ik kwam in 2018 uit de kast als homoseksueel.  Ik kwam in de gayscene tussen hele leuke en aardige mensen.  Ik woonde toen in Maastricht en ging veel uit in de rest van het land. Ik bouwde daar ook mijn leven op en liet mijn eigen omgeving daardoor een beetje in de steek. Ik begon een soort dubbel leven te leiden. Ik had het naar mijn zin terwijl het thuis zo’n rommeltje was geworden. Feesten, vrienden, plezier en uitgaan klonk voor mij niet fout. Experimenteren met drugs kwam snel in mijn leven op dat moment en dat liep flink fout. Ik was al snel alles kwijt uit mijn eigen omgeving die ik had laten stikken.

Toen ik uit de kast kwam had ik een relatie met mijn vriendin Kenza. Ik miste haar elke dag, maar ik wilde vluchten van alles wat ik hier in het zuiden had en was. Wij kwamen na een tijd weer bij elkaar terug maar dat liep niet zo goed. Ze maakte het uit en ging haar eigen weg. Na in die periode door een hel te zijn gegaan, besloot ik hulp te gaan zoeken in de verslavingszorg. Ik besloot om op zoek te gaan naar mijzelf en prioriteiten te stellen in mijn leven. Ik en Kenza kwamen terug bij elkaar. Ik bloeide op en bleef clean, maar het allerbelangrijkste van alles; ik vond mijzelf. Ik hou niet van labels of gedragseigenschappen tussen genders. Ik ben een openminded guy, die de wereld mooier is gaan zien nadat hij zichzelf had geaccepteerd.”

Bram

Bram - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“The feeling came slowly, but giving in was one thing.  Jokes were made about it and I joined in the laugh, although it felt uncomfortable.  Yet I was increasingly drawn to what I did not want, I wanted to be and stay normal. That is why I postponed the moment of telling many times.  Stories were twisted so that things wouldn’t stand out.  I started to share less and less and gave less and less openness. For me it was a quest that was not easy, but neither was it for the people around me.  But at a certain point it had to come out. Continuously looking for the right moment to communicate it, but the ideal moment does not come.  I ended up telling it at home and to my friends.  It was not easy and for the people around me to get used to. It was thought that I would change, adapt to the stereotype. That did not happen, I am still that fairly introverted boy who would rather be in the background than in the foreground.

Now, a few years later, I still find it difficult to tell everything openly and honestly.  That is mainly a feeling that I have myself, it feels a bit uncomfortable.  Fortunately, I have a lot of dear friends and a great family around me, who always support me and occasionally ask critical questions.”

Davy

Davy - ProuTboys - Imaijen

”The past few months have been hell for me, one that ultimately gave me a better life. Apparently there was still a lot of pain and fear about the fact that I am gay. This has been there for years and ultimately ensured that I just continued to cover up and over-shout in recent years. Afraid of everything and everyone but no one who is allowed to see this, never! A little bit of arrogance what I used for this, mask on and bring it on. Because this shouldn’t be there. After a few conversations, it was quickly apparent that I had created a trauma to my own way of life before coming out. My fear was everywhere. Night out, supermarket, visiting family / friends etc. Until I literally collapsed and couldn’t go on like that. After a few more conversations, my therapist came up with EMDR. Just wave a few fingers, follow and the emotional charge is off. I thought it was laughable, but this boy is also quite stubborn. After my first session, I sat outside on a bench, waiting for my mother and aunt to pick me up. Crossed my legs along a busy road, I smoked a few cigs. After about 20 minutes I realized that I hadn’t even thought for a second that I was sitting with my legs crossed, I had normally alternated with the moments when a car came by. This is because I didn’t want people to see that I was gay. Bizarre but true! This made me realize that this almost laughable method can really bring a lot. We discussed various events and had EMDR and everything slowly disappeared. It seems as if my mind has gotten the upper hand and also agrees with my feelings. I can be who I want to be. Especially myself! And that’s the most important thing there is.”

Charlie

Charlie - 2021 - IMaijen - ProuTboys -2
“In my experience, a coming-out was a kind of beaten track that you walk. Something you discovered in your teenage years. The opposite was true for me. During my first coming-out I was 24. My second, my current transition, I was 27. Growing up in a religious family, I didn’t feel the freedom to discover my gender identity. When I couldn’t get around it any longer, I decided to investigate. The process that followed was sometimes damn hard work. On the one hand, in the Netherlands you get a kind of ‘carte blanche’ (freedom to shape your transition yourself), on the other hand you have to go through all kinds of gatekeepers for approval.
This is a long and bureaucratic process. Fortunately, there is also another side of it all: a sense of liberation, open-mindedness, hope and a growing self-confidence. I am also surrounded by family and friends who support me. I wouldn’t have dreamed that when I was a teenager. I am proud of what I have achieved and I look forward to the future.”

Stef

Stef - 2021 - IMaijen - ProuTboys -13

“Ever since I was little I have known that I am ‘different’. During my childhood I felt strange and unhappy. Not realizing where this was coming from. I’ve had many moments where I no longer had any meaning in life. Because being normal and belonging is what every child wants.

In 2014, at the age of 21, I first became aware of the concept of ‘transgender’ and everything fell into place. Just days after realizing I was born in the wrong body. I came out to my parents. This was hard. A very big step. But I got so much love in return. Also for my mother, everything fell into place. From the moment I called her to say I had to tell them something, she sensed what was going on. Strange, but nice to get confirmation from one of the most important people in your life. They have supported me from the beginning and stood by my side during my transition. All of this because only one thing is important to my parents and that is that their child is happy.In the weeks after, I told the rest of my family and friends. Some needed some time to get used to it, but it was clear to all of them. I did not lose any important people, which I am very grateful for.

Transitioning was tough. Hating my own body. Being misgendered. Waiting lists. Do not dare to be in public/ social situations. People who look at you and talk about you. Do not dare to go to the public toilet. Of course there were also many beautiful moments, the moments you do it all for. The day I got my first T-shot. Causing my body to change slowly. And not to forget!! One of the best days of my life: top surgery!! Crying HAPPY TEARS and finally feeling FREE. My physical transition was necessary and important, but certainly not everything. I had to put lots of work towards my self destructive thoughts, self confidence and mindset.

Now, a few years later. I want to be different. I want to live an extraordinary life. I feel happy, strong and free. Intense feelings that I wish for everyone. That’s why I share my experiences and life lessons, to help others and show them that they are not alone.”

Sam

Sam - 2021 - IMaijen - ProuTboys -1

”If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you can’t run from who you are. I found out that I was queer 10 years ago, when I was 15 years old. I felt like a boy in a girl’s body, and felt like no one was ever going to love me if I opened up about that. I wasn’t aware transitioning was a thing, as there were not many resources available at the time. However I started to experiment with wearing my father’s clothes and hiding my long hair in a beanie. My mother found out and highly disapproved, which frightened me so much that I put the whole ‘queer thing’ aside for many years. I lived and presented as a woman, but deep down I felt the true me desperately wanting to come out and be seen. Eventually I felt like I had no choice but to give into it, I couldn’t keep living like I was. I started to experiment with clothes and haircuts again, and spent hours on the internet to find people I could relate to. Luckily I found these people quickly, as there is a lot more representation nowadays. I now live as a queer/nonbinary person openly, and hope to be an example for people just like the examples I looked up to when I was struggling.Transitioning is hard. My parents don’t approve, and made me leave the house when I wanted to start taking testosterone. I had to leave my whole life behind and start over almost from scratch. Now I’ve been on testosterone for over a year I had topsurgery in December, I made a lot of new friends and even created a trans community in Arnhem where I now live. I still miss how life was used to be, but at least I can live my own, authentic truth.”

Nadim

Nadim - 2021 - IMaijen - ProuTboys -13

“In retrospect, I think I was aware of my attraction to boys quite early on. It must have been about eleven/twelve years, at the start of puberty. At that age it was never that hard to blend in with the status quo and talk about girls, sex, tits, porn, because at that age it’s nothing but tough talk. My classmates at that age probably had as much need for actual sex with the opposite sex as I do to this day. It was nothing but a vague thought in the back of my mind, it didn’t matter because I was more child than anything else. When I got a little older and went into puberty, there were more and more small moments of concern, moments of attraction. It often overtook me. I decided to ignore it, but after a while I couldn’t avoid it. In the end I made peace with my sexuality. I knew who I was and what I wanted. Internally I was at peace with the fact that I liked boys, but I didn’t yet dare to associate myself with the word “gay” and all its stigmas. To me these seemed almost two separate things. It worried me because I was me, not the expectations people had with the word “gay”. I then thought “if only there was another description with the same meaning but without all the associations”.

Once I came out, I found it got easier every time. You’re never really done coming out. You will always meet new people and it will keep repeating itself. This way you learn to make it your own. Over the years I learned to carry it with pride, and it became a part of me. People will always have prejudices, and it’s a huge liberating feeling not to give a damn.”

Neo

Vayne - 2021 - IMaijen - ProuTboys -13

”Throughout my life I had several coming out’s, as it took me 35 years to truly be able to grasp my own gender and sexual identity. I have tried to fit so many boxes,  only to find out I couldn’t be boxed. Oh how I wanted to belong and be ‘normal’. I did need this long and sometimes thrilling yet most of the time exhausting journey, to come to terms with who and what I truly am and secretly always have been. It had to come to the point of no return, where I found myself having never been so certain of anything in my entire life yet also never have been so completely terrified. Once I revealed my true self, a whole new chapter of horror started,  where I finally saw myself but nobody else saw him yet. Barely making it through this awkward,  nerve wrecking and hopeless stage, I am now in a place where I could only dream of as a little child.

Every day I find myself in amazement that this is it, it finally happened,  I liberated myself, I set this wonderful person living inside and in hiding for so long free. When I look into the mirror I can finally relate and say: “Hey, I know this fella! I am him, I see me!” The whole covid period on one hand made it much heavier because of only being able to connect online with my queer community and having zero reference around me in real life, yet also provided the opportunity to do an important phase of medical transitioning behind closed curtains and grow strong in being true to my vonurable, gentle, colourful self instead of having society (and vumc) put me in yet another box of toxic masculinity. It has only been a good few months that I am out and about again, as my new and true self, and it is wild. I cannot put to words the euphoria it brings to be in the scene as a queer trans man, and to be welcomed, seen, and sometimes even celebrated for simply being me.

There will always be haters, but I choose to be a lover. Every single (mount everest like) step was worth it. The crushing weight has been liften of my shoulders, I do not have to play the chameleon anymore, I can now enjoy being a bird of paradise. To me everything that is authentic and brings about positive change is a form of activism, being yourself in this bizar world is the bravest thing you. It is my purpose and passion to use my life experiences to help others, that is why this project has my heart. Is life easy now? Hell no. But at least I can boldly state, it is mine.

With pride, Vayne Neo.”

Kris

Kris - ProuTboys - Imaijen

“Since my parents have always left me free in my outer expression, I didn’t have to think about myself for years.  It started on my second, “Mommy, not dress!”  While shopping for clothes, she tried a few more times to get me into a nice dress…but my will was too strong and it always led to a fight.  When Mom gave up, the battle was over.  Shopping became fun  and I was happy with the clothes I could pick out myself.  Around the age of 11 it started to slumber slightly that I might also be attracted to girls.  I struggled with that for years and on my 15th I came out cautiously.  It wasn’t until I was 21 before I met my first girlfriend.  Every now and then it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t have the right exterior…but I could always put that aside for reasons that were acceptable to me.  The last one was: I’m just a very masculine “kitty”.  (Because yes, I was definitely not a lesbian, that didn’t make sense to me…and being bi was looked down upon, so I preferred not to say that out loud then).

Fast forward to my 37th year of life.  In the meantime married to a woman and had a son, whom she carried.  Before he even knew the meaning of the words “daddy” and  “mama”, he invariably said mommy to my wife at the time and daddy to me.  This was not taught to him by one of us, he did this himself.  As if he was looking into my soul with that… I then really consulted myself and went to watch a video on YouTube, read stories on Google, etc. etc. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I was not his mom,  I was not my partner’s wife: I was daddy, I was MAN!  My ex-wife has accepted me, only she really doesn’t like men.  So the marriage has ended.  Fortunately, we get along just fine and our son’s upbringing is also going well separately from each other.  My family is proud of me, everyone has accepted me and still loves me like before.  Yes, even my grandparents in their late 80s!  I have almost never been misgendered by any family member.  Again not even by my grandpa and grandma… I haven’t lost friends, they are also behind me and think it’s great that I’ve done/still do this.  Regret not having listened to my inner voice sooner?  No, because I don’t think I was ready before.  Otherwise I would have done it sooner.  I am grateful that I was allowed to walk my path as I have walked it until now…and hope that my path still has a lot to offer.”

Jeff

Jeff - ProuTboys - IMaijen - 2021 -22

“When I was diagnosed with cancer two days before the first lockdown, both the outside world and my own came to a halt. This resulted in there not being any room for me to express my new found self, just when I thought I finally could. Everything now revolved around surviving, not around my sense of self or my identity.

When I was born I was labeled a girl. My whole life I have been both at peace and at war with this labeled identity.
After going through a social and medical transition, and living my life as a man for a few years, I came out as non-binary; my gender is Jeff.
When I found that piece of myself I started to do well. My life as an artist was going great and I was being held in high regard, I had many friends, reached my weight goal after working hard and was feeling my dreams and making my plans. And then I got cancer.

Gender is a fundamental part of who you are. And yet I’ve felt that It can be a secondary thing whenever your body cannot deal with how it should look or be dressed, and can only focus on staying alive. Until recently I tried to get back to that old me. The one who felt good in their own skin. But they’re gone. Instead there is a new me, carrying sadness, grief, fear, knowledge, wisdom and nearly 10 more kilos as part of their baggage, but this new me is free.

It’s because I set gender and gender roles aside when I realized I was non-binary, and because I wasn’t able to deal with them, that I automatically landed within myself.
I am now free of boxes and of expectations I may have for myself. I am beautiful with all my baggage. And I’m alive. I carry out my gender by being human and by being Jeff. And I’m alive.”

Jeroen

Jeroen - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 6

“As a child I was never concerned with gender, I was not necessarily aware that there was a difference between boys and girls and that this would be a problem. This made that when I entered high school and these differences suddenly became very clear, for me it was a bit like a children’s song for children: “Help I get tits?!”.

Girls around me started wearing makeup, earrings, heels, nail polish and were talking about guys all day (which I thought was kind of stupid). I joined them in order not to get noticed, but I knew all too well that makeup didn’t make me happy and I wasn’t interested in guys at all. Ignorant as I was I came out as a lesbian, because I liked women and I was a bit more masculine than the rest of the girls, 1+1=2, I thought at the time. Still, something didn’t feel quite right. When I saw a documentary about transgenders everything fell into place. I took a long time to be sure, and fear made me keep it to myself for years. Only after about 6 years I dared to tell family who were close to me about what I felt, people who were further away from me received an app with explanation.

I have been going through life as myself for 4 years now, with only people around me who accept me and stand behind me. I also have a dear girlfriend who treats me with so much respect and love, sometimes uncomfortable but I am very grateful for this, a huge boost for my self-confidence too. All in all, I am very happy with how my trajectory has gone and how far I have come.”

Hendrik-Jan

Hendrik Jan - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 11

“My childhood took place in a strict reformed family in “de Randstad”, where I grew up without radio, film, television or the Internet. I entertained myself with my own fantasies, was always a bit of an outsider, artistic and within certain frameworks always a bit rebellious. The urge for the world, which took place far from our bed, was great.

At 21, most of my peers got married and had their first child. I had known for a long time that something was wrong with me, but wouldn’t give in until I fell madly in love with a boy. Even before I came out, I moved to Utrecht. There we could see each other, out of sight of my family.  My coming out, which happened right after, was a big shock to my environment, something they still have a lot of problems with after 10 years. There is love, but also inability, because for them religion and homosexuality are incompatible.

Meanwhile I discovered the world. I bought a television, joined an artists’ club and studied ‘theater’ in Amsterdam.  Eventually I ended up in Maastricht, where I studied at the art academy.  All this allowed me to live more freely and created a new foundation.  The distance from my family was good for me. I felt safe and I felt at home. Ultimately, it turns out that it is possible to create your own happiness.”

Joshua

Joshua - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 8

“When I was 3 years old I told my parents I wanted short hair like other boys and that I didn’t want to wear dresses anymore.  I just wanted to wear cool boy clothes.  One birthday my uncle was looking for me.  He found me in the toilet and saw me standing in front of the toilet and trying to pee like a boy.  At the time, my uncle was like, “Here’s something that isn’t right with her.”

As I got older, my parents noticed that I was getting worse and worse.  I often said “I don’t want to be a girl, I want to be a boy”.  In the end, my parents went to get help.  They had seen that the hospital in Amsterdam had a gender outpatient clinic. My parents signed me up for this.  I was about 9 years old then.  I had to go to the gender outpatient clinic every month for conversations with the psychologist.  Here they finally diagnosed me with Gender Dysphoria.  From that moment on  they knew I was born in the wrong body.  Once I was diagnosed, I could start on the puberty inhibitors. I was about 11 then. The puberty inhibitors would ensure that I would not go into puberty. I never started the puberty inhibitors because I was terrified for injections. Then I have tried to live as a woman. This was very difficult especially when my breasts started to grow. I have often thought in the shower to cut off my breasts with a knife. When I first got my period I was very angry because it meant that I was now a real woman. As I became more and more unhappy I thought “I have to do something to be happy”.  I was 21 years old and I registered again at the gender outpatient clinic in Amsterdam. From this moment my journey began.  Every month I went to the hospital in Amsterdam with my parents for conversations with the psychologist and I got all kinds of questionnaires that I had to fill in.  I was eventually diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria again.

Denis

Denis - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 8

“Mid-90’s gays did not seem to exist in my own little world. Dutch TV presenter Paul de Leeuw was on the television with his show “De Schreeuw van de Leeuw”; peoples said that he was gay, but I did not know what that was or meant at the time. The word “gay” did not have any meaning to me yet. In the last year of middle school in Belgium, where I grew up as a Dutch child, I remember that for the first time ever I thought: “Why do I not see what other boys see in girls? Why do the other boys get all crazy about the girls in our class after Summer break?” I was green as grass, and I could not make sense of it all.

Too modest, too green, too timid I entered high school in Maastricht where teachers were spoken to by their first name, fellow scholars chilled in malls while smoking cigarettes or weed during breaks, and I was made fun of time and time again. Numbed by the Belgian school discipline that I was used to, I was so lost on a social level. I did not get it at the time, but I was a very easy target for bullying, because of the earlier mentioned reasons, but also because others seemed to know a thing about me sooner than I did myself. The bullying, and subsequently my loss of interest in school, caused me to change schools; luckily I went to a socially more open school.

When I was 14 I first told a group of classmates that I was into boys. It felt right, and I just said it plain and simple during a break. Not one of my classmates was particularly interested, in the positive sense, so it was just fine. It has to be around that same time that I told my oldest sister during a dinner in Maastricht, and a couple of days later I told my parents. Nobody seemed surprised, they already knew. It was what it was, nothing changed. No weeping parents, no hugs. Without any further ado. No frills. Just going on with our lives as before. Although I was bullied a lot, and this most definitely had, and still has in a sense, some impact on my life, being gay never felt as a burden to me. It is something that grows on you as you get older. It really does get better. Being gay has nothing to do with gay pride for me personally, it is more about “being Denis” for me, and that is pride as well. Carry yourself with dignity, and do you. Develop a good relationship with yourself, because that is the most important relationship you will ever have. Feed your soul. Be motivated. Be inspired by life itself. Of course there will always be people who will try to put you down, and yes, some of them will use the fact that you belong to the LGBTQ+ community to do so. But there is reason why these people, bullies, if you will, do they do, like jealousy and discontent about who they are themselves. In the end it is all about “being strong”, because that is a skill that will bring you far in life, since you never know what cards life will hand you. For me becoming a person that is strong is a thing that 1.001 rainbow flags cannot realize for you, it is a thing you need to do out of self-love and self-respect. Social change needs to start somewhere, so why not start from within?”

Laurens

Laurens - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 5

“‘Coming out’, I am now experienced in that. It was not a quest that quickly led to a suitable label, but a long road to who I am, instead of accepting what the outside world thought would fit.

‘Bisexual – lesbian – non-binary – straight trans male – bisexual trans male’, back to the first one, but from a different perspective.  I sincerely hoped that every label was ‘far enough’ and would fit. The more steps I took, the happier I became.  And when you suddenly see your happiness on the horizon, you can’t help but run towards it (and in between being stopped by the gender outpatient clinic with waiting lists, but that’s another story). My environment also noticed my moments of happiness and indicated that they found each step very logical. They saw that I was becoming more and more myself and that I dared to show that.

As a bisexual trans man, I will continue to have “coming out” moments for the rest of my life. To new friends, future partner(s), colleagues, etc. And that’s okay, I don’t want to withhold or conceal things.  I am who I am and I am proud of that.”

Dylan

Dylan - ProuTboys - Imaijen - 5

“I came out at a very young age, namely when I was fifteen. I am really lucky, I had an easy coming out. My friends and family accepted me right away. Of course, there were situations at school that I struggled with, but I was never alone.

My own thoughts were mainly the problem. Can I still get married? Is it still possible to have a child? Will people still see me as I am? As I got older and learned to deal with these thoughts better. I also learned that despite my coming out my desires were allowed to be there and all my wishes were still possible. I am who I am and my coming out does not determine who I am and what I want to become. Boxes are not for people, I don’t want to be put in it.”

Florian

Florian - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -14

“For many people I know, including myself a few years ago, discrimination only exists when it is an action towards you. It is only ‘real’ when somebody calls you a slur, when you are discriminated by law. In the last years, however, I learned an important lesson, namely that discrimination is also what is not said, what is not taught, and what is not done.

Growing up queer, you learn close to nothing about your love, about how sex works – and what is of importance. You don’t learn about the great number of beautiful members of your community, who passed away in the late 20th century. Most notably, who passed away without recognition, without help by any government, ostracized and alone.
However, another lesson I have learned is even more important: The queer community means safety, it means caring for one another. It means to not let each other down, even when the whole world sees your death as an acceptable loss. All we have, in the end, is each other, for we see each other as equals, and equally worthy to live how we want to. That is why we need queer spaces, why I need them: To live without danger, without eyes staring and thoughts so loud you can hear them, even if it’s just for a short time.”

Levi

Levi - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -8

“My name is Levi. I am 22 years old and I like the same sex. In other words: as a man I like men. Does that make me who I am? No, I’m just Levi. I mention my sexual orientation as that’s the first thing I hear when I’m being scolded or checked: “gay, faggot or niece”.

Am I different from others? I used to think so. As a 13-year-old teenager I felt different from the rest of the world. I was insecure, quiet and I soon found out that one day getting into a relationship with a woman would not be for me. Don’t get me wrong: I found them very nice and sometimes even stunning. But no .. nothing for me, that could be my friends. For example, according to my younger self, I would one day marry the girls from K3.

That I liked boys – I never doubted that.  What I doubted was ever telling anyone about this. Not so much because I necessarily had the idea that the important people around me would react badly to this, but more because of the fear of the ‘big bad world’: violence, hatred and discrimination.  It wouldn’t have been the first time I was called gay.  And could I stand this?  Did I want to be different from ‘normal’? I think any teenager would honestly answer ‘no’ to this.

Yet one day, now as a 17-year-old teenager, I took that step to tell ‘it’. What a liberating feeling without that great secret. I was lucky that a large part of my environment reacted positively, but there were also the less nice reactions or those who no longer saw me as ‘just Levi’. In short: sorry. I didn’t take it that way then, of course, but I do now. I’ve learned to put myself first: after all, it’s about my happiness.  My sexual orientation does not define my personality, qualities and/or flaws.  I’m just Levi, just like you’re just you..”

Rick

Rick - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -7

“Coming out to me seemed like a very daunting task at first, but once I told the first person I was in love with a boy it became easier as I went. Nowadays, I don’t feel the need anymore to explicitly mention that I am gay, as I have become comfortable with that part of my identity.

Before coming out, I had the idea that queer people were not normal and would not succeed in any area of life. They were not fulfilling the cisgender, heteronormative stereotype which was something I grew up with. Popular culture, that being anime, tv shows, movies, songs, toys – everywhere it was about a boy and a girl in love. A role model was lacking, if you will.

A couple years after I came out, I discovered that in academia, it did not matter whether one had a different, not-the-norm identity. What mattered, was how solid one’s arguments were and if they were presented correctly, or how well you were able to defend them. I met some of my role models and decided that from then on, I would not apologise for my identity anymore.”

Amin

Amine - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -12

“Born as an old soul in a young body is a challenge… But then also living in Maastricht, being a Muslim & add Queer to that, then we can admit that these are quite sharp cards to get in life!
From a young age I have always been an outsider.  I was fat, had glasses, crooked teeth, no friends and of course I was always bullied because of this!  At school and at home by the way…
Because my family was more interested in drugs, fame & wealth, I was allowed to skip my childhood and I took over the responsibility as a father/mother for my brother, nephews & nieces.
My “coming out” was, as expected, another difficult milestone in my life…

Around the age of 15 I had told one of my nieces in confidence that I might be interested in both boys and girls.  She apparently thought it necessary to immediately tell the whole family about this and since Maastricht is “we know us”, it didn’t take long before I was called a faggot on the street.  How abruptly your life can change in one go! My whole family was against me, I was suddenly the Devil reincarnated.  Because of all the aggression and fear for my life I fled to the north of the country where I finally dared to breathe!  It was such a relief to be free and to experience myself as a Queer person!

Today, all my misadventures have transformed me into a sympathetic, emotionally intelligent young man with an amazing talent for communication and togetherness.  Through all the pain I would never want to change my life!
Be proud of who you were
Be proud of who you are,
Be proud in who you are going to be!”

Marcos

Marcos - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -20

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Germain

Germain - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -8

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Caden

Caden - ProuTboys 2021 - IMaijen -5

“My name is Caden, I am 21 years old and I identify as a non-binary trans man. When I was 10 years old, I told my grandma I was a boy for the first time. At the time I didn’t realise what this would mean for my future, but I knew it wasn’t “normal”. When I was 14 years old, I told my parents I was trans and that I wanted to change my name. They told me I wasn’t a boy, they told me it would pass and that I was “just a tomboy”. The years that followed consisted of sadness, anger, guilt, confusion and fear. I tried to deny my identity, I tried to make myself small enough to fit the box others had created for me. I struggled with who I was, what masculinity meant to me, what genderroles even meant in general. I tried to be a woman, and I was terrified that if I failed, I would lose everyone and everything.

Right now, I’ve made it to 21. I have been on testosterone for 2.5 years, I’m 8 months post-op and most importantly: I’m happier than I ever thought I could be. And part of my fear came true, I did lose a lot of people and opportunities, but I gained a partner who loves me unconditionally, I’ve gained a chosen family who I love dearly, and I’ve truly found myself.

Being trans has never been easy, and I don’t think it ever will be easy, but when I look into the mirror I finally recognise myself, and that is worth every struggle and every setback. I now see how my trans identity makes me beautiful and how it helped me grow into the person I am today, and for that I will forever be grateful.”

Roel

Roel - ProuTboys 2022 - IMaijen -3

”Born as a deaf person, I started my life less privileged. In order to be accepted by people I had to work harder as others. Since lack of knowledge a lot of people didn‘t talk to me (not knowing how to communicate in sign language). Being excluded because of ignorance was my first step into the world.

When I got older I started hearing and finaly got accepted by the world untill I had my coming out. Eventhough coming out was an easy step for me it was painful and scary to not be accepted by people, AGAIN. Coming out of a chain of ignorance and lack of knowledge is one of my proudest achievements in life.

I’ve learned that nobody makes mistakes, we all make choices. And choosing to include and accept people in any form is what I wish to give to a world that just needs a little more happiness and togetherness.”

Teike

Teike - proutboys - 2022 - IMaijen -9

My name is Teike, I am 20 years old and came out when I was 18. I’ve subconsciously known that I liked boys ever since I was a small child, in elementary school I used to feel something special when I would look at some boys but didn’t think much of it. These funny and unexplainable feelings went on until early puberty when I started developing sexually and began gaining real interest in boys.

Coming out was something I didn’t think about at all for a long time and when I did I would think of it as something stupid. I’ve always seen coming out as something that shouldn’t exist, why would you need to confess the way you love? I’ve been fortunate enough to have grown up in a accepting environment and for that reason I had the privilege to see coming out as unnecessary. My plan was that I would one day come home with a man and that’s it, my big reveal! Unfortunately that moment has not happened yet and I told my inner circle directly (most of them already knew) that I like men in my later teenage years.

Present day I mostly answer with a simple ‘yes’ when someone asks me if I am gay, I don’t make a big deal out of it because I believe it shouldn’t be and I do hope that eventually it isn’t a big deal for anyone or anything on our planet. It is a part of me but so are many other things, love them and most importantly love them all together: yourself!

Mees

Mees - proutboys - 2022 - IMaijen -14