Life of LGBT expats in the Netherlands, an interview with Marios Selevistas

This post was firstly published in iamgreek.nl

I know that many expats out there receive questions in (and out of) social media by wannabe expats regarding the process of moving in another country. Between those expats many Greek expats often discuss life abroad with people that live in Greece or elsewhere. From my personal experience I can tell that during the last 4 years that I live in the Netherlands I have answered questions of dozens of unknown people to me. They didn’t know me but they thought I am the right person to ask stuff. That was usually happening because they may have read one of my already published posts or from a recommendation related to me they may received. In the end, I have news from a few of these people and I really don’t know if what we discussed once was helpful to most of them. Frankly, if at least one or two of them found my information useful, then I think that we had a positive result that came up from our past communication.

During discussions that I had with other expats that keep helping a lot of people in many ways (for example the columnist and co-manager of iamgreek.nl Nadia Nikolaidou) we have come to a common conclusion. We realized that except classic questions, we sometimes receive special or original questions that we cannot easily and automatically answer. For example what someone would respond to questions like:

“How are Dutch people sexually?”

“What is going on with gays in Holland? Are they really free to live normally with regard to other countries that things are more difficult?”

Time of the truth: My beloved readers, the fact that some people have moved to another country doesn’t make them necessarily experts to discuss every aspect of the family, financial and social life of this country. Often the general impression of a subject that someone may have it’s not enough for him/her to describe the whole subject in depth. So, if we have special questions we should try to find the right people to ask. Also, don’t forget how important is good timing to make a specific question. Based on this belief, me and the managers of this website decided to publish this post which includes this really interesting interview. We hope the questions were made and the answers were received in this interview to cover most of the subject of “How LGBT expats live in the Netherlands?”.

Interview with Marios Selevistas

Fani: Good evening Marios. Should we start with the introductory stuff? Will you share some personal info about you with us?

Marios: I am Marios Selevistas. I am 32 years old. I was born in Athens. The last 8 years I live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I studied Shipping and Finance and the last 6 years I work in a shipping company.

F: How you came in the Netherlands?

M: I came 8 years ago to study here. Then I stayed to work.

F: So, in the beginning you came just for your studies. There were not any other reasons, for example personal that forced you to move here.

M: No, I came only to study. There weren’t any personal or financial reasons that influenced my decision. Of course I have to admit that I wanted to be a little more independent. I was alone with my mother at home. I had no father or siblings so I was feeling a little oppressed.

F: Marios, you are gay and you talk openly about it. Since what age you were comfortable to say it and make a discussion about it? Were you open with your sexuality in Greece or you felt more cool with it from the moment you came here?

M: Well I remember myself at the age of 23. Back then I was still in Greece and I was a soldier in the Greek army. I said it there, it was the first time. There were some other co-soldiers that suspected it and others directly asked me if I am gay. Until then I had never admitted it, but in the army I said it to some guys. Of course there were more gay soldiers that figured out my sexuality and they tried to come close to me to ask about my sexuality or even to express some more sexual behaviour towards me. The whole army experience usually helps some men to come closer in a sexual way. We have daily tasks, we stay a lot inside camps so it’s easy to flirt with other soldiers.

After 1 year, when I was 24, I came to the Netherlands to study. So, in Greece I was open with my sexuality only during the year before my moving. When I say “open” I mean I started admitting it more often but on the other hand I was not completely open about it. I was young and I had my very first gay experiences. Moreover, I should tell you that even after my moving in the Netherlands I was not so open. In the beginning I was a little more introvert due to my financial situation. I didn’t have a lot of money and I was staying a lot indoors. As the time passed I became more open to others. During the last four years I can claim that I talk openly about it. In the last two years that I am in serious relationship I think everyone knows it. In other words, people that don’t know me personally, they are informed about it (We are laughing).

My coming out happened in phases. And I think that’s good. I don’t know if expressing it at once to a lot f people is a wise thing to do. Nine years ago I was in Greece and said it for the first time. Four years ago I started being much more open and living a normal gay life. Two years ago I felt completely ready to discuss about it and everyone could be informed about it.

I want to make clear that I didn’t feel a whole new world opened in front of me exactly at the moment I landed in the Netherlands. I know that many could believe that but my experience was different. It took me quite some time to feel comfortable here. Everything came slowly-slowly. There is not a place that automatically sets you free by the time you visit it. Additionally, you cannot become open at once after years that you were closed. You cannot start your dream life just in a flash. That didn’t work for me and I think that life doesn’t work like that for nobody. You should know how to wait to make things come to you.

F: Nice, you gave me information about your life from the age of 23 and after. What was going on in your life before the age of 23? Were you in denial or simply uncertain about what exactly you wanted?

M: I knew it since I was a kid. Since I was 12. But I was in denial, I couldn’t accept it, I couldn’t say it to anyone. Of course, there were some periods that I searched stuff. Not about my sexual identity but about social images, opinions of people, possible family reactions towards non straight sexual orientations of their children etc. I gave a try to sexual relationships with women but deep inside me I always knew it. Since I was 12 I had no doubt about who I am.

F: How is it to be gay in Greece and how is it to be gay in Holland? How families, friends and sexual partners react to this news in both countries? Can you see differences and similarities? Moreover, how do you experience your sexuality in a Greek and a Dutch environment?

M: You ask many things and I guess you expect some good response! (He is laughing!).

F: Yes. It is important for me to take answers from you because you are a person who has admitted who he is and you live freely your life. If someone is in denial he/she will remain in denial no matter where he/she will move or live. Someone in denial doesn’t live in sincere circumstances and that’s why he/she cannot answer to the above questions. Right?

M: Right, because if you are still “in the closet”, being to a different place doesn’t make much of a difference. The whole thing has to do with you. If you accept and admit and share it with others, then you could reach the point that no one could tell you anything negative. For me there is no difference, I am the same person in Greece and here. My family knows it, my friends in Greece know it, my friends here know it. I talk about it in a way that someone cannot say anything inappropriate or make a weird comment or judge me negatively.

Now regarding your previous question, between Greece and Holland I can see some difference. For example if you say to Greeks that you are gay you may often see some different reactions that you don’t see easily in Dutch people. Even if people don’t say anything negative or weird, you will see the eyes that are about to “explode” or their open mouths. Of course it is always possible to hear the phrase “I have many gay friends” which is used by people who want to show they are alright with who you are. This scenario doesn’t happen here because it is taken for granted that people are okay with gay people and they are indeed. If you say here “I am in a relationship with this guy” they won’t tell you that they are okay with that. They will ask you since when have you been dating with him and they will want to know what you did this weekend and if you had fun. The problem in Greece is that we have remained in the level “I know some gay people for years”. This fact says something about Greeks. Greeks seem to have the need to clarify that they have no problem with the gay subject. Homosexuality seems to remain a taboo subject in Greece and something that people don’t discuss easily. The most well-meaning people show you that they have gotten over it but real life shows that this is not true. Most of them have it somewhat negatively in their minds. In the Netherlands you can barely see these kind of negative thoughts. It’s not a big deal, that’s why people don’t discuss about it. For me this is the biggest difference I see between Greece and Holland about the gay subject.

In social life I can say that there are many similarities. In the Netherlands I have seen two men walking and holding hands. In Greece I noticed the same thing. Nowadays, in Greece many gay people admit their sexual identity to their parents and friends and talk openly about it. You couldn’t say that this was a common phenomenon during the previous years but fortunately it happens now. Here in Holland I think that every gay person admits it to their families.

F: From what you say I guess that you have never heard or seen anyone that had problems here. Is there any social racism regarding human sexuality in Netherlands?

M: These kind of behaviours could appear anywhere. I have heard about people who had problems but they were Greeks that received a racist behaviour from other Greeks. Not from Dutch people.

F: So, Dutch are truly okay with the gay subject.

M: Yes, they are. Okay, from time to time some negative facts happen here too. For example this fact in Arnhem some months ago: A gay couple that was holding hands and walking on the street and suddenly some men attacked them (Read the article here). But you saw what happened next, right? Dutch politicians and tv celebrities started walking hand to hand to say that they are against to what happened and to show they support they gay couple that has been attacked. And from what I heard it was some teenagers that attacked the gay couple and not some grown-up adults that have more clear minds.

My conclusion here is that except individual facts I don’t see huge problems for gay people. If someone is thinking to come and live in the Netherlands he/she should know that people will totally accept him/her. And it will be like that from the very first day. He/she won’t have to wait for years to experience approval as I did.

F: Is it safe to say that LGBT expats have no problem to live here and they are totally accepted from Dutch society?

M: Yes, they are even if they are not accepted in the countries they come from. Of course it is possible for someone to be accepted both here and in his/her fatherland.

F: Shall we talk about LGBT in Holland and LGBT in Greece or other countries?

M: Dutch LGBT are really liberal. Anyone who wants to say who are they and who are not they just say it and nothing happens. In general North-Europeans are really okay with their sexuality. On the other hand South- Europeans are not always okay with it. I have friends from Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and I see the differences between them and North-Europeans. Many of them haven’t talked openly about their non-straight sexuality yet. They hide, they are not open to discuss it. Fortunately day by day more and more are released and live openly. Many of them start new activities, they post stuff in their social media or they have their own websites. Through them they organize LGBT events and they gather a lot of people.

In the Netherlands it’s hard to remember a city or a town that doesn’t have a gay bar or club. Whenever you are located in the country you can find a typical gay bar to have a drink and meet people. It’s difficult for LGBT people to feel isolated in the Netherlands.

And now let me tell you about gay pride. Here you will find much more liberal people than in gay prides in Greece. First of all here you will see also straight people, young families or old people in gay prides. They think it’s a big feast and they celebrate it.

In Greece I have been in various gay prides and I can tell that only a few straight are joining them. Considering this fact you realize how Greeks accept some things and how Dutch accept differently the same things. Here a gay pride is a normal event like many others. Greeks have made some basic steps, things moved a little bit further but gay pride is still a huge subject. Greeks claim that they accept things but they are not there yet, it’s not a discussion that’s finished.

F: Thus, from what you say people who live in the Netherlands and they are “different” live more freely here than in a Mediterranean country. Do you believe that LGBT have a better life quality in Holland than in Greece? In the term “life quality” are included factors as personal life, professional life/evolution, political and legal rights, social relationships. For example Greeks LGBT claim that they wouldn’t openly share details about their sexual identity and behaviour with colleagues or people that have professional relationship since they feel that this information may cause problems to them. Also, let’s not forget trans people who claim that job market doesn’t accept them easily and some of them see prostitution as the only way to earn money in order to survive. How do you see things here? Better?

M: More or less, yes they are better. But I want to be optimistic that also in Greece things are not so bad and someone will find his/her own way. If you are open, you know who you are and you accept yourself then sooner or later you will have support from your family and your friends. In personal relationships I believe that you could have amazing relationships with people both in Greece and in the Netherlands.

Certainly I can see more problems regarding the work domain. In some professional sectors like shipping I guess that a lot of LGBT would avoid to share details about their sexual identity. I know people that they haven’t done it. And some professionals that have to look “macho” men could face a difficulty saying openly who they are. I guess that police-men, professional soldiers, security men and similar professions would feel that it is much more difficult to talk about it.

F: Have you read this interview of this Greek guy (Read the article here) that came out as the first Greek policeman that admits openly his sexual orientation? That was a really brave confession/ statement from a Greek police officer, but one day we should just stop call it “brave”.

M: Of course but on the other hand it is also understandable why it’s brave. Even a class teacher or a University professor could hesitate talking openly about his/her sexuality. All the time he/she may think that reactions of parents of students won’t be so positive and maybe his/her statement would be a future problem to his/her job and career.

F: What could some parents think? Could they judge professional ability with regard to teacher’s/professor’s sexuality? Or could they think that a straight educator is moral instead of a gay educator that is immoral?

M: Maybe they will think also in this way. Obviously a homosexual educator is not paedophile or immoral. But a parent could react negatively by seeing his/her 17 years old son/daughter having a good closed relationship with his/her gay professor.

F: This way of thinking leads to many other hypotheses. For example: A straight male teacher shouldn’t come really close to his/her 17 years old female students.

M: Yes, right. It’s the same thing, either the educator is straight or gay. But in Greece I think that some parents won’t think rationally and clearly when they will talk with a gay professor. They will accept more “mistakes” by a straight professor than a gay one.

F: So you say that in the Netherlands things are cooler also in the professional domain than in the Greek job market?

Μ: Yes, the acceptance of different sexual orientation of colleagues is a subject that needs a lot of work in Greece. I also see some professional limitations related to an individual’s sexuality. For example a gay man is more acceptable as an employee to a hair dresser’s salon, to a bar or to an artistic team than to a military school.

F: Marios, where do you imagine that you will be in some years from now? Do you want to return to Greece or do you prefer to remain in the Netherlands?

M: I am in a relationship for 1 ½ year with a Dutch guy. I dream my life with my man and I guess this is a good reason for someone to start a relationship and try for this relationship. I want to share my life with my partner. No matter where I am going to be, here or in Greece, my man will follow me. We will live together. We are an openly gay couple here and we will behave the same also in Greece.

F: So, you can imagine yourself returning back in Greece?

M: Yes and I think that my partner will like it too. He wants us to open a bed & breakfast hotel or to start another business in Greece and live there. He loves Greek weather, he is crazy about Greek food, he likes Greek people and their hospitality. Additionally, it’s important that my family and my friends know about him. They have met him. They accept him, they cook for him every time we visit Greece, they talk with him through Facebook or what’s app when we are back in Holland. So, our relationship is not in any way a boundary to our decision to come and live in Greece.

F: What is your advice to LGBT people who are thinking to live their lives abroad and maybe in the Netherlands?

M: You are a psychologist so you already know the answer! I believe that before someone moves and lives in another country he/she should firstly see inside him/her in order to realize who he/she is and what exactly he/she wants. If he/she accepts himself/herself then wherever he/she is, he/she will be fine. If people with different sexuality are okay with themselves then they will be fine in North Korea or in Arab countries. However, Holland always is better because here a person won’t be punished or even worse be killed because he/she is gay.

F: That’s so true!

M: Yes. Moreover, I want to emphasize that moving to another country is a decision that someone should take after some mental preparation about this big life change. No one should go unprepared to another country. Holland won’t fix you as a person, you should have done some work with yourself previously. Also, nothing changes from one day to another just because someone moved to a different place.

And now let me give them the more juicy information (We are laughing). Here LGBT individuals will have more chances to meet liberal people, to live sexual experiences, to choose from a variety and a big number of people. Either someone is a person that prefers one night stands or relationships he/she will have more options and alternatives here.

In Greece many LGBT people see their lives evolve slower than they would evolve if they were living in another country. Most of the time it happens due to family or financial reasons. Maybe some Greeks LGBT take really small steps regarding their personal lives because in Greece there is this secrecy about everyone’s sexual orientation. For example here someone could keep his/her sexual identity as a secret for months but in Greece it takes years for someone to express his/her true self because of the fear he/she will lose many things in his/her life.

F: What is your answer to the cliché that says Amsterdam or Berlin are places for oppressed LGBT people to escape?

M: My answer is that it is true. In liberal cities like Amsterdam or Berlin many LGBT people could evolve quickly and reach more easily their goals. They don’t have to lose time in unnecessary or pointless discussions or situations. They don’t have to clarify or to make statements the whole time about who they are, as probably they have to do in Greece. They don’t have to convince anyone that they are as good as straight people. They should take what they deserve in life.

They will see a big difference also in their personal lives. It’s different to be related to people that know who they are, what they want, what are they are looking for. In Greece two young LGBT individuals may have a problem to have a successful relationship if both of them have no idea about what they want. It’s good to meet someone, to try to learn more and understand slowly this new person. The slow discovery of a person makes a relationship interesting and more stable in the future. On the other hand I see here how fast you could have a chance to understand if you have a match with a person or not. It’s important to stay with a person because you like him/her and not because you feel there are not many other options for you or even because you want your sexual identity to remain secret. You should know that there always options, alternatives, that you can leave from a relationship if it is not fun any-more.

F: If I understand you completely, you talk about this opening that LGBT people could have if they go abroad and the great need to remain open if they return to a more conservative country regarding LGBT rights, for example Greece. You suggest them to remain open even if they return home and leave from Amsterdam or Berlin, right?

M: Yes, for their own good.

F: But there are LGBT people that left Greece and “changed” during their stay abroad but when they returned to Greece they were “transformed” to the straight son or daughter they were in the past, right?

M: Yes, I know people who live like that. They do exactly what you just described. At the beginning it was more easy for them to pretend that they are someone else. They were still young and they could do it. But the years passed and they got older. One by one started realizing that plain, non deep and non meaningful discussions with their people from home don’t cover their needs. For how many years someone will talk with his/her parents only about the plans of Christmas vacation or the Greek Easter lamb? All these people ended up wanting some true and meaningful conversations. In other words, sooner or later no one could survive by saying nothing important or true about themselves. The time will come that you will want to talk about yourself, deeply and honestly. To say things that matter and are related to you. One day you want to stop playing the role you created for yourself so the others will like you. If you don’t do it you will never stop suffering and you will not make any progress to your life. Basically you will have a life without meaning. So, if you are about to get open you shouldn’t take it back later. Otherwise, you will see yourself going back home and feeling like a trapped animal inside a cage. You will end up not wanting to go home because you will feel that there you are not yourself. So, every time you will be with your family you will want to leave them and go to a place you are really you.

F: The general conclusion here is that if we set ourselves free we don’t look back. When we find ourselves we should try not to lose them again.

M: I agree but let’s not forget that we don’t talk openly about ourselves to every person we meet. We don’t introduce ourselves always in the same way and in the same mood. Even a straight couple won’t say to an 80 year old grandpa that this morning had sex on their bed, their kitchen, their shower and their living room floor. Similarly, a gay couple doesn’t have to give details to everyone about their sexual life. After all we should stay smart. We should try to understand people and realize who is in front of us right now and whether we could share personal information with this specific person. So, when I say to people that they should live freely, I don’t mean they should forget their manners and behave irrationally. Every condition asks a specific behaviour. Moreover, LGBT don’t have to behave badly every time they think that someone behaved in a racist way towards them. All of us – straight or LGBT – should adapt with regard to who we talk each time.

F: Marios, are you willing to answer to questions if some LGBT people from Greece or other countries want to talk with someone that lives in the Netherlands and has similar experiences with them and understands them?

M: Yes, they can contact me and I will respond to all of them. One thing I want to clarify is that I am not a psychologist or a social worker or any other similar specialist. I won’t pretend to be a mental health specialist and I won’t give professional advice. So, people who may contact me should see this communication as a simple exchange of information through a gay blog or something similar.

F: Marios, thank you so much for this interview.

M: Thank you too.

You can contact Marios Selevistas through Facebook

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