Let me tell you my story about the growing up as gay in Croatia…
The story begins in 1973 when I was born in a small village in western Croatia (in a former Yugoslavia). My parents weren’t well off. My dad worked as a van driver, and my mom was a maid. Meanwhile, at home they were growing grapes, wheat and other crops that had served us for food. Dad was producing wine in smaller quantities that he was than selling to the nearby pubs. While my parents were at work, I had to watch for my grandparents (my dad’s parents) who weren’t very attached to the children. My grandfather was stingy, austere, conservative and old-fashioned man who was used to giving orders to other people and we should always be letting him have his own way. Thank God that we had lived in our own old house, separated from my grandparents. My grandma was good to me, but because of the influence my grandfather had on her, she wasn’t always showing it. According to my mother, they were very wicked., When she used to come home from work tired and hungry, they would hide their food, so that my mom wouldn’t eat it. I used to hide in the cellar and cry about it, God only knows how many times
As I was growing up, I started (under compulsion ) to learn how to cook. Being seven, eight years old, I would often prepare lunch for my parents.. Although I wasn’t making miracles in the kitchen, the meals had always been made with a lot of love.
As there weren’t many kids in the village, I mostly played alone. I used to play with imaginary toys or the ones I would had made from the various pieces of wood or pipe … My father had never bought me a single toy, and my mom hadn’t either because my dad would never allow it. He used to say that children don’t need toys, but discipline and work. I remember well when my mother and I went to a nearby city to buy me shoes for school,. As we were passing by the Department of toys., I begged her (as every kid would ) to buy me a tiny truck. She said to me with a sad look in her eyes: “Son, what would dad say if I bought you a toy? You know he would get mad! “ I realized that. Although I was only seven years old, I didn’t cry, but I was so sad.
As soon as my father would come home from work, he immediately went to the vineyard or the field, where he used to work up to nightfall. Naturally, I had to help him. He hoped that he would pass on me the love for agriculture, as his father had passed it on to him. But, because of him, I came to hate the vineyards, fields and everything that was related to it.. I couldn’t wait to go to school. I hoped that I could take a rest there from my family.
I started the first grade. My mom accompanied me every morning to the bus station. (it was a one mile long walk)
I was very excited! I thought I would finally, have a company to play with! But, my excitement was followed by another bitter disappointment. My teacher was harsh and evil. You could tell he was already tired of teaching and tired of the kids, as well. He was so harsh to us, that we got beaten by him every day.. I was very shy and withdrawn, and as such, I had never created problems in the classroom. Furthermore, I had always had excellent grades, but this wasn’t enough, so he used to beat me, too, for some imaginary reasons. As if that wasn’t enough, there were two boys in our class, Marko and Ivan, who had started to bully the weaker kids right from the start,. Naturally, I was in that group. When I got home, I used to complain about the teacher and the two bullies that were harassing and beating me. Dad said that he would talk to the boys, but he won’t do anything about the teacher, as he was allowed to do anything and suffer no consequences. The truth was that the teacher had every right to do so at the time. Namely, it was the communist era when all the teachers were members of the Communist Party, so they were truly untouchable. Mom, oh my mom, she was sad, but she couldn’t do anything about it, and neither could I.
In the second grade we had gotten a new teacher. It was a young teacher who had just graduated. She was so kindhearted and patient and never hit anybody, so going to school had turned into a real pleasure, with the exception of Marko and Ivan who had still continued to be violent and harsh. I don’t remember much of the period from second to fourth grade. Obviously, it was somewhat bearable. The only thing I remember is that when I turned ten, I got a brother Johnee. I was so happy. I finally had someone I could play with and talk to …
Starting the fifth grade was a real trauma. A new school, 12 new teachers, half of the new students,… Ivan and Marko were joined by another bully – Daniel, who was intelligent and wicked, as opposed to the other two who were just stupid.
In new school, Ivan continued to harass me, but the strangest thing was that we started to get close. Perhaps it was due to the beginning of the puberty. At the time, I liked boys more than before, although I already knew “who I was.” In such a small community at the time of conservative eighties, I didn’t even think about confiding my feelings to someone, so I was forced to act “normal”.My new class teacher was highly educated technician and physicist (now globally recognized and renowned astronomer), but he would often slap every student and of course, me as well.. (Maybe I’m a little boring and pathetic with the writing, but I have to continue …)
A new student, Entoni, had joined my new class, who I felt in love with at first sight. We became best friends. Because of him, I spent all the time at school, sometimes even after school, and mostly because we didn’t live close. He was so handsome, that all the girls were crazy about him, and he was crazy about them as well … In the sixth grade Marko had dropped class and I was no longer harassed by him during class (he used to harass me after school). However, his recent privilege had been given to Daniel (who, by the way, , has been living away from home for many years now and has also declared gay).
I wonder why he had never told me about his sexuality? Perhaps we could understand each other better and he wouldn’t had bullied me to express his affection ! 🙂
The teacher who used to give music lessons, was also giving lessons privately on playing guitar and accordion. I had learnt to play the accordion by ear when I was eight years old. I asked him if he would teach me how to play it, but he rejected it, saying that he didn’t want to teach a twelve year old kid how to play. I was ashamed to tell him I was already playing by ear. I was also afraid to say that all the students I had heard playing weren’t passionate about it at all, and that I was assured I could do better, even without notes. I was so mad at myself, knowing that my shyness prevented me from getting what I truly wanted. In the seventh grade we traditionally went on a school trip , visiting the countries of the former Yugoslavia. My parents had dressed me as well as they could, gave me some pocket-money, and my mom made me sandwiches for the journey. After two days of travelling, I felt nostalgic for my home. Perhaps I missed my mother, who had allowed me to go to the school trip, but with a heavy heart.
It was interesting to see the new world. While visiting the each city, the students were „tourist guides“ , in a way that they read papers on sights, history and so on. I was in charge of Mostar. I had forgotten my paper in my bag, which was located in the storage of the bus. When we arrived to Split, I asked the teacher if we would stop before Mostar so I could get my paper that I had accidentally left in the bag. He told me I shouldn’t worry about it, and that we would stop two more times to the Mostar destination.
But he was wrong! We didn’t stop even once!. The teacher invited me to give a speech. I started shaking, my legs barely held. My voice trembled. Things I knew about Mostar, I forgot in a second. I was angry, ashamed, miserable, and yet, it wasn’t my fault …
In the evening we arrived at the socialistic motel that was in a state of disrepair. I was in the motel room with Ivan and two more boys. Ivan and I slept in the same bed. It was obvious that Ivan had something beautifully, hidden inside of him, which we had discovered together that night, but I would choose rather not to talk about it right now, perhaps in some other post…
Gradually, we came to the end of the elementary school. Most of the students were sad for saying good-bye to that part of our childhood, but I was overjoyed and hoped I would never see those teachers and most of the children ever again.
I started high school. I enrolled at electrical engineering, in a nearby tourist center on Croatian coast. I thought I had survived the worst and that I would be able to start a new life in my new environment. … Wrong! The history was starting to repeat; only this time without the teacher’s beating. High school ended quickly, at least it seemed to me. Obviously, I was trying to repress all the bad experiences from that period.
When I was finishing high school, entering college wasn’t very popular, but I still wanted to do it. However, I realized I was in a bad financial situation, so I had to give it up and start looking for a job.
Everything was happening at the wrong time, all over again. I had a feeling that my generation was cursed by God. The war had just started in Yugoslavia/Croatia.. At the same time I received a phone call from the military service. However, they had decided to delay my entering to the service, as I was obviously “too sensitive to arrogance.” I couldn’t had said I was gay, because it was unacceptable and punishable at the time.
I lived in a neighbourhood that wasn’t caught by the war, so I found a job in a short time. I worked as a car body mechanic. I inherited my parents’ old Renault 4. My work wasn’t hard, but the salary was 100 DEM (50 EUR). It was extremely hard to endure one month with that paycheck.
As school had ended, , I no longer had to put up with the preppy idiots (at least I thought so at the time). Instead, I had slowly began to create my own company.. I surrounded myself with people in whose company I didn’t feel embarrassed by who I was. Thanks to my musical talent, I was always welcome at the parties, and I also had party organization skills. I’ve always tried to be the part of a group, but nevertheless, during all that time, I had been wanting to shout out loud that I liked guys,. However, I knew I would have to keep it to myself.
In my new company, there was Thomas. Tall, young, handsome and withdrawn boy. My heart said “that’s it.” We became best friends and we were inseparable. We had been hanging out for four to five years, and naturally, I had never told him how I felt about him. I wasn’t afraid of his reaction, because he was calm and collected, but I was afraid to lose him. How can you lose something you never had? Eventually I realized he didn’t have the same ”sexual preferences” like me, so I moved on.
When I was 23 years old, a guy named Matthew came up to me at the party. He was five years younger than me. We had known each other from earlier times. From time to time, I would teach him to play the keyboard (electronic piano, naturally, by ear). He asked me if I had some free time to teach him some more. I agreed: I’m always happy to help anyone. He brought his tape with a song that he wanted me to teach him to play. We sat next to each other, listening to the music and talking about everything. At one point my heart began to pound as if it would explode. I didn’t know what was going on! Without any shame or fear, I told him I wasn’t interested in girls. “Neither am I,” he said to me with a hug. I couldn’t believe that love had finally found me! It was the best day of my life.
We had been hanging out for a year. We would had often broken away from everything, in order to be alone together. I was so happy that I wanted to shout to the world: “I am free!” But this had also come to an end. After a year, he said to me he no longer wanted to continue with our romance, because he was a Christian and his obligation was to like women. I will never forget how his words made me felt!
The time has come to enter the military service. The most difficult three months (except two days) of my life. All that inconvenience and harassment that I had already experienced in childhood, was a piece of cake compared to the army. I was a 24-year-old guy surrounded by eighteen-year-old teenage boys and mentally disrupted military officers. Before entering the military service, I was afraid of how I would feel naked in the shower with 20 other guys. Due to all the stress, being naked was the least problem.
I had once heard the story that if you were a “fag”, then you get released from the service. I thought I had nothing to lose. I decided to take a shot. I complained to the commander that I needed to see a doctor.“My stomach hurts,” I said. In the ambulance I asked for an interview with a psychologist, and the doctor allowed me. The psychologist was a woman in her forties, very polite and pleasant. I was honest and told her what was bothering me, and everything that I was hiding inside. A month later, with her help (I am eternally grateful to her) I was finally released from the military service and returned to my “normal life.”
As I came home, I got hired. I worked as a service manager in a used cars company, and guess who was my employee? – Matthew! I didn’t know whether to be delighted or start to cry. Honestly, it wasn’t easy to work with someone who you were in a relationship with for a year and who you were still in love with, but you knew that there was no hope for the two of you. What a stress!
At the same time I was working at a local night club as a DJ. The job at the disco gave me more satisfaction (but lower salary ) and less stress. That’s why I had decided to stop working in the cars company. It was hard for me having to go to work every day and to look at my ex. I knew I had to put an end to that agony.
At the disco I was adored by both the girls and the boys. It was a real pleasure going to work and getting paid. I was secretly hoping someone would come and recognize my talent and take me away, so I could finally start a new life somewhere else, but these were only my fantasies. . In reality, everything was quite the opposite.
One evening, I was approached by some jerk. We got drunk and we were hitting on each other. The next day he began to spread rumours that I was a “fag.” These rumours had began to spread very fast and instead of living my life, I had to rebuild my reputation, in order to calm everybody down. However, it was to no purpose.
The owner of the discotheque, that was at its peak during my DJ-ing, had decided to sell the company after three years. The new owner had changed employees (besides me), as well as the methods of doing business. He had destroyed the facility and lost all the clients in a short time, so I had to leave this job and save my reputation.
After a while, I got a job at a friend’s audio and video service in the new environment (40 km away), which was known for its tolerance towards the gay community. The friend took me for the first time to a gay beach. I felt uncomfortable. He knew I was gay and loved me as his best friend. I wasn’t embarrassed by him, I was embarrassed by all the people who were there. I had the feeling that everyone was staring at me. I wanted to escape. Later on, I returned alone to the beach and I literally escaped. I couldn’t had stayed there any longer. Even now, I don’t know why I was so embarrassed.
In 2005 I had started my own business. I had been doing business with computer sales and and servicing and creating web pages. I worked alone,. I didn’t have enough work to hire someone else, but I was making a living.. In 2009 there was a global economic crisis, which had affected my business. Instead of closing the shop, I had opened another one in a larger city in order to maintain the financial situation, but, by doing so, I confronted with even bigger problems. Loan by loan, problem by problem. In 2012 I had finally opened my eyes and closed the business. My parents landed me the money to pay the tax debt and suppliers. Besides that, I still had my loan that I had been hiding from my parents, because I didn’t want to bother them with my problems. I was hoping that I would somehow solve the debt.
I got a job in a new company as a consultant (commercial manager). In my spare time, I continued to repair computers and creating websites. I was able to pay a small part of the loan,. However, the company where I was employed, had stopped paying off, and after three months of bargaining, I was forced to quit. Fortunately, at the beginning of this year, with the help of my parents, the loan has been paid in full (my heart aches because they had paid my debts, and I don’t have the opportunity to give them back).
Two years ago, I met a lovely Scottish couple who live near me (Bruce and Beitris). We became best friends. They gave me a plane ticket to Edinburgh, so I went with Bruce in Glasgow for seven days in April, this year (2015). I fell in love with this city! The freedom that I felt there was indescribable.
They aren’t even aware of how much they have helped me to get out of the depression and the daily routine that was killing me day by day.
My wish is to have a normal life. I’m not asking for wealth, peace and freedom are all I need!
Well, this is my story of growing up, in short words…