For the first time in his life, Louis feels accepted. As a gay Chinese student at the RUG, he is out within the LGBT student group Ganymedes, but not to the rest of the world just yet.
‘I’ve only told very close friends. There are so many Chinese students here that if I tell one person, they’ll all know. So, that is kind of scary’, Louis says.
While he may be afraid of judgment by his peers here, it’s a vast improvement over the stress of hiding it back home. ‘In China, I always felt that it was something that I could never talk about, and that made me really uncomfortable’.
To Louis, returning to China would mean going back into the closet forever. ‘I don’t want that‘, he says. ‘I don’t want to go back to China. I never want to go back’.
Never been to a bar before
Louis has been living in Groningen for five months so far, but he and Ganymedes board member Jesper Mullink don’t know each other all that well. Louis found out about the gay student group by word of mouth from another Chinese student, but Jesper admits that the Dutch students don’t exactly mix with the internationals.
‘If you’re international and you want to interact with the Dutch guys, you have to do a lot yourself’, Jesper says. Taking the initiative is tough for a shy person like Louis, but he understands. ‘I think people just prefer to speak their native language’, Louis says.
‘Especially with beers’, Jesper adds with a laugh. While going out for a drink is perfectly normal for most students, for Louis, the idea that a social life is a part of student life is still quite new.
‘To tell you the truth, I had never been to a bar before I came here. Not even a normal bar. I really wasn’t used to it’, Louis says.
‘Yeah, we noticed’, Jesper says. ‘Maybe it seemed a little scary at first, but you’re opening up and that’s good to see’.
‘I think I’m more open now, but I’m still scared’, Louis says.
My parents will not understand
Even though Louis is slowly opening up here, he doesn’t think he could ever tell his parents. He says that their generation doesn’t believe that homosexuality actually exists.
‘I know that my parents will not understand. They don’t buy it, they would never believe that you could love a boy if you’re a boy yourself’, Louis explains sadly.
Even though Jesper is an activist through Ganymedes, before hearing from Louis, he hadn’t realized just what the reality is for gay people in China. ‘Is it punishable, being gay?’ he asks Louis.
Louis explains that people can be blacklisted if they are outed. ‘If someone is an official in the government and he is found out to be gay, he would be driven out and never be able to find another job. So, nobody can really be open’, Louis says.
Louis knew that the Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay marriage, but he was somewhat disappointed that the country was still a little less gay than he expected. ‘The Netherlands is not what I imagined. I’ve still never seen a gay couple holding hands on the street’, he says.
Jesper explains, ‘Well, Dutch people just aren’t very affectionate in public. It’s very private, especially in Groningen. We have a Dutch saying: if you’re normal, you’re crazy enough’. Still, for Louis, the definition of the word ‘normal’ is much broader here and, for once, he feels like that definition includes him.
*Louis is a pseudonym to protect the student’s identity.
More info on Ganymedes