As we’re all beginning to realise during these very strange times, life is far from perfect for any of us. But as gay guys in the UK, we don’t have it so bad! Sure, a lot of us still have to deal with homophobia and discrimination from time to time, but sadly there will always be weak, cowardly people who spew hate because of their ungrounded fear of anyone who is different to them.
But if we look back at all the amazing developments we have seen over the past 25 years – gay marriage, more and more LGBT+ visibility across all careers – we have to admit, life is looking a lot rosier than it used to.
If you’re still not convinced, compare how the LGBT+ community is treated in countries like Russia, Chechnya, Dubai and you’ll understand just how lucky we really are. Just this week, our hearts sunk when Poland re-elected bigoted Andrzej Duda as president for another five year term despite the fact he had run a campaign in which he pledged to scrap gay marriage and not support adoption by gay couples. He also said he planned to “ban the propagation of LGBT ideology” in schools and public institutions. In 2020, this is a pretty scary and ultimately depressing development, right?
Meet Loic Landry Tchouante, a 35 year old IT Engineer, who knows only too well about growing up in a country that will punish you for being gay. Although he now lives happily in London, the handsome chap grew up in Cameroon, a country where you can be arrested or jailed for committing ‘gay acts’. Here, in an very personal and enlightening interview, he opens up about coming out to his religious family, having his heart broken and how he dealt with the loss of his beloved mother and long term partner.
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On this day in #cameroon, 18th of March 1985, 35 years ago, I came to this world. Being impatient to discover the world, I made my first steps at 8 months (on the right). Now, 35 years later, I have travelled to so many places, and still have so much to discover. None of this would have been possible without my family, my friends, and YOU. I therefore thank you infinitely for your wishes! I love you so much and together, let’s spread love and happiness! 🤗😘😍
Loic, tell us about growing up in Cameroon…
I come from a big family. I have one older brother and three sisters, a lot of uncles, aunts, cousins and distant cousins. I was brought up very Catholic in a very religious family. I was actually very religious myself. I spent a lot of time in church for mass and I also sang in the choir. We also travelled a lot because of my father’s work. Overall, everything in life was going pretty well until I reach puberty.
At home, I would say when I am not studying, or busy doing house works, the tension, I would say it was always high. In that period, I have been thankful to have had an excellent relationship with my brother and sisters because they would calm me down when I needed it.
How is being gay viewed in Cameroon?
It is a country that does not accept or see gay men as sane humans. Therefore, many gay men are severely punished for their sexual choice. Those convicted of homosexual acts are jailed and can be given sentences varying from six months to five years -that’s if you haven’t been killed by the crowd first. It’s all very sad!
What was life at school like for you?
School was like a battle ground for me. I was bullied, called names, beaten, mugged, basically just awful things happened to me. I was the type of person who would not fight back, because I was more scared about what damage I may cause them if I did. I could not understand why I was being singled out.”Why me?”I would ask. “What was happening to me?” I had no one to turn to. All the suffering went on for many years until I decided enough was enough.
And what happened then? When did you start to work out you were gay?
When I reached puberty and my physical appearance changed which made me more vocal about their behaviour. Looking back, I think I knew as a little kid. There were games I’d play with friends. We were all kids and just innocently exploring our hidden sexual desires, like many kids do. There were other times, when I was staying with friends and we’d be sharing a bed and would kind of touch each other. It was all very innocent. But I became fully aware of my sexual attraction to men when I was around sixteen when I met a guy from school who I became good friends with.
So was this around the time you had your first gay experience?
Since we knew each other were gay, we decided to try it out. It happened at an empty stadium, in the middle of the night. Nothing sexual though, I mean, no penetration or anything. We were just two adolescent guys enjoying being gay for those few seconds we had in hand. There were a lot of kisses, lots of touching, caressing, sucking, and a lot of wanking. It was a wonderfully memorable night.
Growing up where you did, was gay something you didn’t want to accept?
Being religious and in a country that does not handle gays very well, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept I was gay. Like most African families, all of my siblings and I come from a family that takes it’s Catholicism very seriously. This means a man is expected to get married to a woman and have a lot of babies. So when all this happened, I was extremely confused because I was also sexually attracted to women – but not as much. Having heard what the term ‘homosexual’ meant, I did not want to admit that it is what I am. I was worried about disappointing my family and I was afraid that I may get killed or be put in jail if anyone ever found out. I then decided to deny that side of me almost entirely.
It must have been hard to keep this all to yourself. Who was the first person you ended up telling?
When I was 22 and studying in Moscow, there was this handsome and very well dressed man in my class. Over time, we became excellent friends, and he was the first person I said the words “I am gay!” to. I took him by surprise, and he started to cry. Then after a few minutes he said, “Me too!”. We were both incredibly relieved, and from then on we could not stop talking about Russian men.
That’s amazing. What about your family? How did they take it?
My brother and sisters accepted me with open arms. They are happy as long as I am happy. I would have loved to tell my mother but she sadly passed away in December 2011 of breast cancer.
Oh gosh, that’s so sad. You only recently told your father, didn’t you? Why did you wait so long?
I was not ready. Now I’m 35, I’m independent and in a very happy place mentally and physically, and living my best life so far, I thought this would be the most appropriate time to tell him. So on June 10th of this year, I decided it was the day I should to tell him. It was such a stressful moment for me, but it was worth it. I can now say that I am the proudest and the happiest gay man on earth at the moment. You see, for me, next to God, is my father and my mother. I have so much respect for him, and I could not be thankful enough to him (and my mother) for the life he allowed me to have. Thanks to him, I am here in London.
Some young people who are coming terms with their sexuality tend to suffer from mental health issues. Did you?
Oh, most certainly!! It was so severe that I attempted to leave my country on many occasions. (I guess now my dad will know about this one.) At the time I had no idea what was happening to me. I was very unhappy in my skin and in the country I was living in. In that state, my mind pushed me to do things that got me caught out and saw me severely beaten and punished. They are not the happiest memories.
When you were properly out, did you throw yourself into the scene. Was it as you expected?
Once I met other gays in Cameroon, they helped me discover the secret gay life that was going on there, mostly in Douala, where I spent most of my childhood. Let me just say, there is practically no scene in Cameroon. However, the scene that exceeded and surpassed my expectations was the Moscow gay scene. It was mind-blowing for a closeted black gay man coming from Africa like me.
Did you enjoy it? Did you feel like you belonged?
In Cameroon, there was this sense that I did not belong there. As hard as I tried to stifle the attraction I had for men, it was always at the forefront of my mind. I did not want to get caught, or killed, or have my family know about my sexuality. I just wanted to leave. But once I was finally out of Cameroon and in Moscow, I didn’t have time to think about whether I belonged there or not. I was grasping at life and just wanted to discover the world and this new country I was in. I was very curious. To finally meet gay people who lived a perfectly fine and open gay life helped make me understand that being gay was actually okay and I could be a gay man living (almost) free.
How hard was it living a double life?
I have been living one for 33 years. So hiding away became normal for me, especially when I was living in Cameroon. But once I left the African continent and went to Moscow, I shed half of that second skin while still keeping everything hidden away from social media and from anyone who knows a member of my family. But I had a different mindset. I was no longer afraid that a member of my family could physically hurt me as I was so far away from them. The same thing happened when I moved to London in 2010. I shed the other half of that second skin by being more open and sharing a bit more on social media. But I realised all that brainpower I used all these years to cover things up was way too exhausting to continue, and it was tough mentally. I was always anxious about when I’d get a phone call with a Cameroonian country code. It was such a frustrating time that I would not wish anyone to have to experience that.
Once you were content in your sexuality, what weer you looking for most?
I had different stages of my life when I sought different things! Back in Cameroon, I was not looking for anything in particular. I was more driven by curiosity as I did not want to be in any sort of trouble. Then in Moscow, I became more of a sexual being. I was also driven by curiosity as I wanted to experiment and explore as much as possible, and during that process, I experienced love twice.
That’s good! How did you meet guys?
In Cameroon, through friends and then online. There was no internet at that point, so meet-ups were through other gays you’d meet. But years later, internet cafes started popping up, and the numbers of hook-up sites grew, which made meeting guys a little bit easier. However, it was also dangerous because using those same gay hook-up sites saw a lot of gays being arrested and jailed.
Personally, was love what you were seeking?
I do think that if you look for love, it will always run away from you. Therefore, I decided not to look for it, and just thought, what will be will be. So I throw myself out there, tried to meet men and if love struck, I would be the first one to hold on to it. But in the meantime, I was enjoying my life just as it was.
You did meet a guy at one point. Was it hard having a relationship in secret?
I think it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I was not good at it. Andrew, my partner, was not making stuff easier for me either especially after we got civil partnered. I lived with him for nine years and was in a civil partnership over five years of those. He kept asking me when he could see my family and I kept swatting it away. Eventually he met my brother and sisters, but I felt guilty because I felt they had to lie to our family to keep my secret safe. And that was part of the main reasons why I had to eventually come out to my father.
You lost your mother around this the time. How did that effect you?
Although my relationship with my father is perfect right now, it has not always been that way. My father was on the road for work. So my mother was the only person we all relied on when we needed most things. She was always present. Losing her in 2010 was painful. The hurtful bit was the fact that I spoke to her a day before her passing and we promised to call each other the next day. Then my brother told me of her death. I was speechless. I did not want to accept it until I spoke to my father, who confirmed the news. We were in different countries, so it was tough to process. I spiralled into loneliness. I was overwhelmed by the emptiness that my mother left.
How did you deal with it?
After I came back from the funeral in Cameroon, I felt an enormous void. Pain grew every day. I had no idea of what was happening to me and was unable to deal with it and get my life back. I was getting angrier and angrier. And things got worse and worse.
In what way?
I discovered that Andrew had had sex with someone while I was burying my mother. This is when I fell into a much darker place. I felt like giving up on life and I started to experience suicidal thoughts. You see, I was madly in love and was afraid to lose him. I became very insecure and suspicious, and I started looking for new evidence – I was constantly wondering if he was still in touch with the man he had had sex with or whether or not they were still having sex or if there were more men he had been with. I became a mess.
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Did you speak to him about it?
No. You see, after I found out Andrew had cheated on me, I did not confront him for an explanation. Instead I kept it to myself, waiting for the right opportunity to chat him about it. After a year or so, I was severely anxious, depressed and insecure about it and my mental health was horrible. Then one evening we got home after an event feeling drunk and I confronted him. It did not go well at all. He refused to talk to me because I was too intoxicated, but in my head, I understood what was what and his dismissal felt as though I was not valued enough to be even being spoken to. I was livid and reached for the kitchen knife that was just lying there on the counter and said to him, ‘I have no reason to continue to live since you do not even want to talk to me’. But he grabbed the knife, hugged me and said ‘Let’s go to bed. We will talk tomorrow’, and I passed out. The next day, we had a lengthy talk about everything. I explained as much as I could about my emotions and feelings, which he reciprocated.
So you were able to forgive him?
At first, no. It was difficult to see past what he had done. But I said to myself that in every relationship there are ups and downs, and this was one of our downs. I had to find the strength to forgive him. We started our relationship anew and enjoyed a few more years together and became civil partners.
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It is Friday, and tomorrow bars and restaurants finally reopen here in London. 🥳💃🏾🥳 . Today, I am chilling… in front #canadasdragrace 💁🏾♂️😋 . . . #unapologeticallyblack #blackandproud✊🏾 #blacklivesmatter #strongertogether #helpeachother #blackandproud #blackandhandsome #blackpeople #lifemotivation #loveyourself #cameroon #cameroun #london🇬🇧 #гей #мускулы #gayman #melaninpoppin #blackman #blackgay #gayblackman #gayhunk #scruff #blackbeardedmen #musclebeard #deviliciouslyme #happylife #fit #fitnessmodel #smilemore😊
When you were going through those dark times, how did you deal with it?
It was tough for me to know what was going on. Coming from Africa, I had never heard of depression or anxiety or mental health. Two days after our talk, Andrew convinced me to go to our GP, which was truly educational for me. He put me on an antidepressant but I didn’t like it, as it made me feel like a vegetable. I felt emotionless. So I asked for a different solution. That is when he told me about meditation, which ended up working like a miracle.
So you and your partner stayed together. Was it happy ever after?
We were five years into our relationship and married for two years when a doctor told us that Andrew had cancer. It was stage four cancer – which is the final stage – when it was.discovered. Sadly he lost his battle.
How did you deal with his death?
Losing him was much harder than losing my mother. I saw life slowly leaving him as he took his last breath on July 18 2017. I was at his side, holding him in my arms whispering that my mother would be welcoming him despite the fact they never met. I felt incredibly thankful to have been there when he died, and that helped me manage his passing better than I expected. I think from that date, my outlook on life has dramatically changed from what it was before his passing.
Did you have people around you to look after you?
Yes, I had an army of people supporting me after they heard about Andrew’s death. I could not be more grateful for the support all of those friends gave me.
You say people say you are now full of joy – how have all the events in your life given you that optimistic outlook on life?
They simply made me understand and learn so many things. I have learnt to control of my emotions. I have learnt to accept who I am mentally and physically. I have come to realise that life is short, and that I must live in the present. I know that I should always be myself. I have learnt to accept all my flaws, have empathy and work to every day to become a better version of myself. As a result all this at the present moment, I have never enjoyed my life as much as I do.
Is it hard to stay happy?
Now that I have control over my emotions, I think it has become easier to stay happy. Because now I have so many ‘happiness triggers’ which significantly grew, especially when we were going through this Covid-19 and quarantine period. There was a day when I went out for a walk with my dog recently wearing a purple top. The sun was shining brightly and we walked I came across a bush of purple flowers that matched my top. I could not believe the coincidence and the joy that came over me was just incredible. Then, when my dog went on to pee on one of the purple bushes, while I was taking a selfie, I just couldn’t stop laughing. You always have to find little things that can lift your mood, even when you are going through a tough time like I did recently when I lost a dear friend of mine.
What advice would you give someone who has gone through as many hard times as you?
If the person is still in the dark, I would recommend the person to start meditation immediately. It helps control your emotions, sharpen your awareness, and give you a clear and stable state of mind. Be aware that doing one session of meditation will not make a big difference. You have to have multiple sessions. Until today, I have meditation sessions at least five times a week.
The world is changing so dramatically following the disgusting murder of George Floyd – how did you feel when you saw the footage?
I was mortified. It is awful that this is still happening in this 21st century and it makes me sad. But I am very grateful that the world has woken up and come together to fight for the black community.
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Dear George, We collectively laid you to rest today and your spirit remains within us. Your death broke us, but your life was a gift that can never be measured. We will treasure you, honor you, and vow to transform because of you. You have changed us forever. Rest in Power, King. We got this. #blacklivesmatter #georgefloyd #restinpower @nikkolas_smith
As a man of colour, have you experienced racism in the street or at work?
Oh many times, especially when I was Moscow. It was always on the tube, mainly when I would sit next to an older lady who would immediately get up and change her sit or stand. I have tried to shield myself from that type of behaviour. So I just swatted it away all the times when it happened and did not allow it to get under my skin.
You must be thrilled to see so many young people coming together and finally understanding what happened to other people of colour in the past?
I am over the moon. It means those young people learned their history and their friends’ history, and do not agree with what has happened in the past. I hope they will not stop fighting until there are significant changes in the black community.
Local councils are being urged to remove statues of people who had links to slavery – as a gay man do you think we should do the same with figures who were homophobic – should Margaret Thatcher statues be removed because of Clause 28 in the 80s?
I think the statues should stay in place, but the engravings – or the statue’s description – should be changed to emphasise the homophobic remarks. For the statues with links to slavery, the same thing should apply and perhaps place a distinctive tag or logo that will not be missed on the description plate or the engravings of the statues so everyone would know those people were linked to slavery or were homophobic. And all should be available and be easy to locate on every online map.
What have you discovered about yourself during lock down?
This lockdown has been hard on every one of us. I live alone, and I have time to continue to understand and learning more about myself, and one thing that has been on the fore front is patience. I learnt how to be patient.
What would you say to your 12 year old self?
Things will be tough, but you must reach to your siblings because you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Be yourself, and always remember that your family and friends will always have your back.
If you have been affected by this story, call The Samaritans at any time, from any phone for FREE. Call 116 123.