Portraits of a Gay Man

By Daniel Schweitzer

My given name is Daniel. Names have always been a big part of my life, my existence, my identity. During my childhood, I had many different names both pleasant and unpleasant. Even today I have many different names given to me by my partner, lovers, and friends. 

“But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until — later of sooner — perhaps — no, not perhaps — quite certainly: it will come.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

My partner and I moved to Beijing back in May 2019. He works here and as a married couple, we are allowed to be here together. I am the happy homemaker if you like. I have my household duties, but once those are done, I create art mostly in the field of photography. But even though that is my preferred medium of expression, I will share my story with you in word form today. 

Framing the portrait 

“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world that I want to live in.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

In the heat of the 1972 summer, I was born, and in later years I would come to find out that my arrival into the world was supposed to have been earlier. That notion alone sets the tone of my life.  

My parents gave me the name Daniel. I have no idea why. 

I should ask them. The name Daniel points towards the Old Testament. My father, shortly before I was born, was called away to active army duty for 2 years, so my early years involved seeing my father over the weekend. 

Mum likes to tell stories of when I was a toddler. Often on the streets looking out of my buggy, I called everyone man passing by in a uniform daddy. Many men came up to us but would sooner flirt with my mother than with the idea of playing my “daddy”.  

I guess that upset me. Then one day I fell out of my pram straight on my head, and suddenly had all the attention. The scar is still visible to this day because I pulled out the stitches that held the wound together. 

My father’s absence during my first 2 years of childhood, partly explains the emotional difficulties between us. These wounds started to heal much later in life. It was good to know that in many families the same is true but for various reasons. There seems to always be a shortage of love, encouragement, trust, conciseness, and other forms of emotional neglect over generations. On the other hand that’s part of human existence.

Sometimes I dream of society on a different level of conciseness. Today I see myself as an explorer of human existence through my photography; the absurdity of the human ego. 

Zooming in 

“For other people, I can’t speak – but, personally, I haven’t gotten wise on anything. Certainly, I’ve been through this and that; and when it happens again, I say to myself, Here it is again. But that doesn’t seem to help me. In my opinion, I, personally, have gotten steadily sillier and sillier – and that’s a fact.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

I grew up in a socialist utopian model town called Halle Neustadt in the middle of East Germany in the early ’70s. The new town was purposely built for the big surrounding chemical plants in desperate need of labor, employing ten thousand people. The environment there was extremely toxic and if the wind changed direction, we would be hit by a cloud of toxic fumes. Many children suffered from respiratory-related illnesses. 

On the other hand, workers were handsomely compensated and many had dreams of escaping their pasts and present situations. 

On Saturdays after school (yes, at that time we had to go to school 6 days a week) my parents and I would drive to the nearby countryside where my grandparents lived. They had a big sublime old house with a vegetable garden out back and lots of different fruit trees. 

“You see, Kenny, there are some things you don’t even know you know, until you’re asked.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

At my grandparents’, I could follow my heart. My grandmother was a physically and mentally strong woman and very kindhearted. Every child from the neighborhood was welcomed. Her door was also always open to her neighbors to come for lunch. I had lots of friends and together, we started many adventurers, digging for treasures, skinny dipping in a nearby lake, building huts in trees, setting fire to the train embankments, stealing magazines, and breaking into graveyards. My mother saw our adventures in a different light and would yell at me. These two principal female characters having a different view on my upbringing would often end in arguments. What they didn’t realize was that I was a silent audience to these loud spats, a result of which would leave me frazzled. Illusive subject 

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My favorite spot was the meadow near my grandparents’ house. The smell of fresh grass and the sounds of grasshoppers and birds filled my heart with joy. After the grass was cut in high summer, straw thongs been build. 

The wooden contraction gave us enough space to crawl under. My friends and I would bring food and drink from my grandparents’ house and would have little picnics there. 

One afternoon when I arrived there I saw two of my older friends playing with each other’s genitals. Instantly I was spellbound. They did not let me join them; they told me that I was too young for that kind of game. That upset me very much and I told my mum about it.

“Someone has to ask you a question,” George continues meaningly, “before you can answer it. But it’s so seldom you find anyone who’ll ask the right questions. Most people aren’t that much interested….”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

She, in turn, escalated the situation by talking to my friends, which in turn led to my friends calling me mommy’s boy and avoided me. But not for too long.  

A few years later at the age of 12, I went away to the Baltic Sea for a school vacation trip. 

Our group consisted of 10 boys the same age from the same town and the same background. One adult looked after us. We slept in bunk beds and I know it sounds strange that every other boy shared a bed with another. We explored each other in lots of ways. That would obviously end when the adult looking after us came into the room to check on us. 

I was very fond of a boy in my group the same height as me, with blue eyes. During that summer camp, we would even hold hands and walked around together. 

Clear field of vision 

“Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck, a good physique and not too much imagination.”
― Christopher Isherwood

My memories are a bit blurry what exactly happened but I guess looking back, someone must have talked to him about us being so close. 

So, for seemingly no apparent reason, he stopped talking to me from one day to the next. I didn’t understand his avoidance but was also in no state to go to him and ask for an explanation. I was heartbroken but put on a brave face. A bit later it occurred to me that our sort of love was not accepted by many in our society. From that time on, I kept my feelings hidden.

At school, I especially liked sport and music, and one day in my 7th grade I enrolled in the photography course at my school. 

Finally, a way to express myself without words; a whole new world opened up to me. 

At 15, many of my friends had serious girlfriends and started to talk about their adventures. I had been in love with girls but to be physical with them was something I could not imagine. In my sexual fantasies, I just saw men. That was a growing problem for my emotional well-being because I wanted to fit in and could not tell anyone about my true self. So I continued to have girlfriends as a hide. But problems would inevitably arise when they would want to get closer. 

“What it sees there isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

I cannot imagine the pain I caused those girls. My internal turmoil continued to grow to the point where I started to increasingly hate myself. There was no way out. 

At 19 the pressure inside was so unbearable so that I would have given everything to change my feelings. Could a doctor or psychologist help? I had no one that I could trust. 

My worst nightmare was that someone would call me queer and suddenly everyone would at me and laughs.

I saw it coming, it was hell inside me.

Press, click, flash! 

“They keep telling you, when you’re older, you’ll have experience—and that’s supposed to be so great. What would you say about that, sir? Is it really any use, would you say?” ― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

At night alone in my room, the images of man would return and there was nothing I could do but let my self-hate grow stronger.  

During the day my created persona would play the cool guy with a girlfriend once again. 

My inner and outer world collided to the point where I lost the power of speech, often sitting consumed with thought and isolated in class. I would have done anything to be “cured”, to have the “right” feelings like my other friends. I was even willing to take pills or undergo brain surgery to make it happen. This shame drove me to try to take my own life.  

Why me, he ask up to the heavens. Why me? 

One evening my mum knocked on my door and asked if I would like to talk. She said that she had noticed how withdrawn I’d gotten, and how I barely said a thing at the dinner table. “Would you like to tell me what the matter is with you?”  

“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.”
― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

For him it was so obvious, he thought everyone could see he is gay. Why is mum asking all the questions, about girls, school, and other things? He broke down and under suffering tears, he told her that he likes boys more the girls. She sighs. Then they hugged each other.

She took me into her arms and we cried together. “You are our son and who you love is only your concern.” It came as such a relief. 

That same night, we broke the news to my dad, and later, albeit slowly, I told the rest of my friends, and to my delight, almost none had a problem with my revelation. 

It took many more years to be fully myself and be in alignment with my true identity.

Photos: Courtesy of Daniel Schweitzer

4 thoughts on “Portraits of a Gay Man

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