In-app operations manager David Venon opens up about the darkest time in his life and who he finally found happiness.
Sometimes life really can feel like it’s getting us down. So much so that we think there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no way out of our deep and dark funk.
But no matter had bad things get, life does get better. Honest!
Meet the handsome David Venon, a 37 year old French guy who has lived in London for thirteen years. A successful in-app operations manager for gay lifestyle app Blued Community, he looks as though he has lived an easy life. But like so many of us, he too has endured his dark times
Here in a brutally frank interview David opens up about his troublesome teen years and how times got so bad as he tried to come to terms with his sexuality that he tried to take his own life before finally managing to turn a corner and find happiness.
David, let’s go back. When did you realise you were gay?
This may sound cliché but I think I’ve always known. I had a big crush on my teacher when I was seven (there may have been daddy issues involved obviously), and I remember being ten and thinking I should tell my parents I was bi because it would at least be fifty per cent OK for them to deal with. It’s a bit early but I guess the point is that, somehow, even when I didn’t have a word for it or understand the implications, I knew I wasn’t like the other boys.
Was it something that you kept to yourself?
Yes, I was 16 when I came out to my best friend who incidentally, was the ONLY friend I had, as I had zero until I turned 16, You see, I was fat, poor, gay, I had everything going for me basically… So there was a lot of pressure for me to not damage the only friendship I had. She reassured me very quickly with one simple sentence: “You know me, I love everyone”. Happy days.
And when did you tell your parents?
It took another two years before I came out to my mum and other people. I was scared to tell her because I wasn’t suee she would understand. But as it turned out she was the most understanding, reassuring she could have been. She even told me she had fancied her boss who was a woman when she was 20, so she understood. You can never know what people will say I guess.
Was your father just as understanding.
No. I’ll never forget when I came out to him. We had we never really had a strong relationship, so me telling him – when he was drunk – was more for me than to get his approval. But when I did he said to me “I guess it’s better than being a terrorist”. Sums it up really.
When did you have your first gay experience?
I was 18, and it was with a friend’s boyfriend, in his car, in the middle of the night, near the river (In Bordeaux, France). It was as exhilarating as it was sordid.
Heavens! Did you embrace being gay or was it something you found hard to accept?
An enormous part of my life was spent hating being gay, what it meant for me at the time, which was a lot of bullying, a lot of loneliness. Even within the gay community, I felt pretty much alone and unwanted. I was also surrounded by straight friends, all in couples, which I think gave me a false sense of expectations of what happiness should be, and how central being in a relationship was to that.
So which kind guys could you aspire to be?
When I grew up – in the 90s – there weren’t any real gay role models. You were presented with two options: be an over the top comedy queen, or be a lonely man dying of HIV. It sounds harsh but that’s exactly how it felt to me, it was all we were exposed at the time. No in betweens, no role models to follow. As a young gay guy, it was pretty upsetting for me to think about the future.
What was school like for you as you battled your feelings?
School was pretty traumatic, I attempted suicide twice throughout my studies and got faced, very early on as a kid, to how cruel people can be.
What was it that made you have such dark feelings?
My parents got divorced when I was five, and me and my mum went to Live in Bordeaux after that. I gradually lost contact with my dad, who was a drunk and had very clear ideas on homosexuality, so we never really bonded or built any form of relationship as a result. My mum and I had no money. I was chubby, very insular and shy and so obviously gay (or at least obviously different until I could put a name to it). And i would say I was very overprotected by my mum. This was not a conducive way to make friends, so I didn’t make any until I turned 16, and got heavily bullied throughout my childhood as a result. My first attempt was at 14, after yet another terrible day at school. My mum had cut my hair (it was cheaper that way) and bless her, did not do a great job. I saw my classmates slowly laughing one after the other during class, and passing around a little paper note. It eventually got to me and it had some pretty nasty comments about my hair on it and everybody laughed out loud when I read it. Because life isn’t like a Carrie movie, all I could do was run away and cry. Even my teacher at the time, who COULD have stopped this there and then, was dismissive of it and almost blamed me for being so “too sensitive”. No-one got told off, no-one got suspended. So I went home, took a knife, and slit my wrist.
Were you able talk to anyone?
Not really, my mum called a doctor. Thankfully I had done a bad job of it and he tried to talk to me, but I kept quiet. All I could think of about was that no-one wanted to do anything, no-one cared, so why talk about it? It would not change anything and would make things more difficult for me at school. I believe something many bullied children think.
Do you think you actually wanted to take you life or was it a cry for help?
I think, in hindsight, it was probably more of a cry for help, but I remember that clear feeling of “I dont care if I live or not anymore”. That feeling stayed with me for most of my teenage years.
Did people start to care more?
Not the first time no. It kind of got discarded, mainly because I refused to pursue anything. I really feel for anyone who has had to deal with a similar situation and did not receive the support they should.
What led to the second time?
By then I had my best friend, which was a game changer at school. We were unpopular TOGETHER rather than alone, and I didn’t need anybody else’s approval. It was however a difficult time for me coming to terms with sexual preferences which had been very clear to me since I was a child, but had never been expressed or experienced. I had a friend’s friend who was gay. His family was also pretty wealthy, and he was very vocal about how successful he was with boys, and how much stuff he was able to buy. Unwillingly, I started comparing my own situation, and my inability to find a boyfriend. This fed my “I’m worth nothing” mentality, which had been happily entertained all those years. I did not see a future, certainly not a happy one, and I had no idea how to sort that problem, so I swallowed lots of pills.
Did you seek help this time and try to sort out the problems?
That time, I got asked if I wanted to go away from home to think and talk to someone, so they sent me to a centre for teens with problems. I spent two weeks there, got over my emotional feelings, spoke with a therapist, which to be honest, did not really help me much, and went on with my life. When I came back home, my mum could not help looking at me with fear, and would worry everytime I even went to the loo. As much as I understood where she came from, it made me realise if I ever wanted to build a life for myself, a happy one that is, I had to remove myself completely from any guilt and emotional reaction, and start my life again, this time on my own terms, with no obligation or overprotection, making my own mistakes and owning them, and use them to learn how to be a better happier person. So after a few years, I left France and came to London.
How have you freed yourself from those dark feelings?
I cant remember exactly what did it, although I can name a few people who were key to me changing my “nature” as a person. My best friend in France, my best friend here, his mum, people who accepted me as I was, but also could sit me down and tell me that I was being selfish. It sounds weird I know, but I somehow needed to be told this.
Was it a sudden change?
One day, I woke up and my entire outlook on life, my own worth, and what I wanted out of life generally had changed. I realised that what defined me was NOT what people had said about me, or my failures, or the body that I hated, or anything else. What defined me was that despite all this, I had survived, got stronger, made a life for myself. I had not not become a nasty human being as a result, and basically could survive anything. From that day on, I only sought happiness. Now those feelings of wanting to end my life feel so distant now it almost feels like that dark time happened to a different person. In a way, I guess it did.
Did you embrace the gay scene?
Coming from feeling so insecure, the scene was a revelation: I reveled in that “being fresh meat” feeling, I enjoyed the whole gayness of it and went in head first. It was fun and exciting and I felt like I was part of the “in” crowd, which had never happened before.
Have you had your heart broken
Thank god I have, it shows I was alive and in love! Have you ever fallen for someone and they’ve not been into you? That summarizes my first 25 years of existence.
Do you think there is too much pressure on finding love?
Totally. I was so focused on happiness being a result of being in a relationship and quickly realized that happiness comes from within, the small pleasures in life, close friends, and doing something that makes you happy. The rest is just bonus really.
Did you experience any homophobia as you grew up?
I got beaten up out of the blue when I was in my early 20s. I was very “obviously gay”, and these two guys just got out of the car, beat the hell out of me, and left me there. They were never caught, and when the police came, they were more interested in the attacker’s ethnicity than the hate crime aspect of it. I got lucky, some people haven’t been. I think it’s got better nowadays, but we’re still not there, there are still people being attacked for who they are. Of course, you re-evaluate your own situation and privileges when you hear about other countries like Chechnya for example.
How do you normally meet guys?
I don’t anymore, as I have a lovely boyfriend, but I used to meet guys mostly online yes. I’ve had my fair share of dating disasters, Enough to write a thick book! (which I may or may not do).
Have you always been wary about safe sex?
Yes and no. I was very aware of HIV when I was young, then went through a stupid self-destructive period where I didn’t care. I then met a lot of my friends who were HIV positive, and out of respect for them and me, I couldn’t possibly carry on taking risks, it just felt wrong and disrespectful. My life has been very eventful, but I look back and see that I have learnt a lot and that every good and bad thing that has happened has made me the man I am today.