Bullying is common in most high schools, and even more so when you’re gay. Joao opens up about being bullied, living with a homophobic father and the struggles it came with.
How is your relationship with your family?
I grew up in a conservative family. My father is Catholic, conservative, homophobic, racist and even xenophobic. He was never present, never had time for me. One day, we were at dinner and something about gay men showed up on TV, and all I remember him saying was: “They should gather up all the gays in a square and bomb them”. It gave me chills at the thought of one day having to come out to him.
My mother on the other hand is the total opposite - she’s always supported me in everything I wanted to do, even when I was just a child. She suffers from being bipolar, and that’s never interfered with how we felt for one another. We have a great relationship and will always be there for each other.
How were your school years as a child?
I started to get bullied in middle school when I was around 11 or 12 years old. Other kids would beat me up, I was even choked once. They just did that to me, for God knows what reason. I went through my teenage years as a lonely teenager, always staying at my house, playing videos games, eating junk food. I knew I was a little depressed and wasn’t sure why I was getting picked on by my classmates.
Were you ‘out’ at school?
No, I wasn’t out at school until one day, someone outed me. I was 16 years old and one of my classmates told one of my teachers that I was gay. The teacher then called my Mom and told her I was gay. I was outed by my own teacher, without me even knowing. Coming out to someone is never an easy process for any gay person, but this felt like a humiliation for me and was very intrusive.
How did your mom react when the teacher called her?
Later that day, when I came home, my mom asked me if it was true, to which I said it was. She was afraid for me because she thought people were cruel and would make me suffer a lot. We cried a lot, but in the end we were really supportive of each other. I was supporting her for being bipolar, and she was supporting me for being gay. I came out to everyone (besides my dad) when I was 18 years old.
Despite all this, I always had an escape route, which was dancing - since I was 8 years old. Dance really helped me escape depression because it helped me express myself and not worry about anything for a while. Sometimes that’s just enough to hang on. I know the people whom I can count on, and those I can’t.
How did YouTube help you?
The first time I watched a YouTube video about someone coming out I was very comfortable with the idea of me sharing my experiences, and be open with people. So as time went by, I started watching more videos of a lot of people and I came to a point where I couldn’t hide who I was anymore. So I started telling my friends, I started telling some of my family. Some of them left my life because they didn’t like me being gay. They were convinced I had chosen to be gay. I thought that if people didn’t accept me for who I was, it was best not to stay in touch. I really believe that in life you must choose people who are there to support you and lift you up if necessary and let go of all the bad influences.
Today, I think I still manage to be the person I am in my core because I didn’t let any of that negativity and bad stuff that happened to me affect who I am. It’s not because one person hurts me that I have to hurt someone back - that’s stupid. So I just decided to stay true to myself. But one thing is sure, being out of the closet is an extremely liberating feeling. I mean literally once you come out of the closet, you can go anywhere. It helped me love and accept myself more and I won’t let anyone take that away from me.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I finished a performing arts degree, and that’s what I want to do with my life. Whether professional or not, I just want dancing to be in my life on a daily basis. For my future I am hoping to go abroad for a year. Either to Germany or to Denmark.
What do you hope for other people with similar experiences as yours?
My message for people who are struggling, bullied, didn’t come out yet, or came out and have issues: it gets better. It doesn’t seem like it but as the years go by, it truly gets better. It’s a slow process. Don’t give up. Just stay true to yourself, have support, support others too, and have friends close by. Don’t be alone, don’t get depressed, find a hobby to forget about the bad things that may be happening to you, and that’s it. Just be yourself.