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    That’s the threshold, cross it!

    Interview in Hungarian gay monthly Mások (1999/1, pp. 16–19)

    Zoli’s new life began at Christmas, or rather, that’s when his old one ended. In a single shirt, without money, in the icy winter night. He lost his family at the holiday of love, and didn’t seem to find a new one ever again. A new family, a new friend, a new aim that can keep him alive.

    Mások: It’s obvious that you didn’t change your life of your own motion, but you were forced to do so by the circumstances. Did your being gay come to light by chance, or you disclosed it yourself?

    Zoli: I was caught due to a letter. I was invited by my friends from Hungary to their Christmas party.* The invitation, which was opened by my mother, was signed by two boys. When I got home, my mother received me by saying “Your lovers have written to you”. And she just poured out her curses, like “that’s what you’re doing in Hungary, you’re a whore, you’re infected with AIDS…” and things like this.

    M.: How old were you when this scandal broke out?

    Z.: Twenty-one.

    M.: Did your whole family turn against you?

    Z.: At that time, only a younger brother of mine lived at home. During the big quarrel, my father and brother turned up: “Look at your brother,” my father said, “he’s fucking with boys in Hungary. He’s playing the whore. Because of him, your honour before the girls has been endangered in the village. You’re going to be disgraced because of your faggot brother.” My brother phoned our eldest brother at once, who arrived in a moment, and without saying a word he began thrashing me like anything. Neither my mother nor my father rose to my defence. In the end, the neighbour came over and saved me out of their hands.

    M.: Was that the minute when you escaped leaving all your belongings behind?

    Z.: Not yet. My father took the phone and called the police to report me. Luckily the wire went down (which often happened), and he couldn’t get a line. He threw on his coat to present a report against me personally.

    M.: Would it have been a sufficient reason that you are homosexual?

    Z.: In those years, homosexuals were put in prison in our country, in Romania, under paragraph 200. I saw it with my own eyes that somebody was beaten black-and-blue by the police, due to that. He remained in custody, and he got such a hiding that they had to send for the doctor because he lost consciousness. I dreaded the policemen’s brutality.

    M.: It’s understandable if you fled at that moment, leaving all your things behind, as if you were a criminal.

    Z.: Maybe I wouldn’t have left even then, but my mother opened the door and said I had five minutes to leave the house. In a single shirt, in a single pair of trousers and with a passport in my pocket, she put me out in the two-foot thick snow, on the night of 23rd December. I asked her twice: “Mum, have you really thought your words over?” But she was relentless. She said: “That’s the threshold, cross it. From this day on, you’re not my son.” The railway station is 3 miles away from our place. That’s where I washed the blood from my face with snow. The first train came at dawn which I could take to Nagyvárad, and there I could at last get an overcoat from my acquaintance and as much money as I was able to come over to Hungary.

    M.: If they hadn’t found out, due to an accident, that you were gay, would you have told them about it sooner or later?

    Z.: I’d been waiting for an occasion for about one and a half years, for an intimate moment when I could be frank with them. But I didn’t expect such a bad welcome. I felt we were dependent on each other, we could not exist without each other, so we had to accept each other as we were. Especially on my mother’s part, I didn’t expect her to turn against me. I was her pride and joy, and yet she started the avalanche under which I was buried.

    M.: Going back to the story: you arrived in Hungary on Christmas Eve.

    Z.: I went to Szeged, to the couple whose letter had fallen into my mother’s hands. They tried everything to cheer me up. They bought me presents, they invited a bunch of friends, they fawned over me. But whoever I looked at I only saw that everyone’s face was beaming with the cosy feeling of Christmas Eve; joy and love. Incessantly my mother’s face came to my mind, full of hate, showing me the door. Nobody could heal the wound that my family had inflicted on me the night before. – I spent New Year’s Eve in Budapest, in the middle of Margit bridge. I was out of sorts so much that I wasn’t able to bear people’s company. No man can fall any deeper than that. I came through the deepest depths of hell. I was swinging my legs over the icy Danube and was waiting for a voice to say “just jump, why wait”. It was the night of New Year’s Eve. People were walking behind me in crowds. They were happy, clamouring, blowing the trumpets, and nobody noticed me. Eventually a young woman came along with her daughter. The child stood behind me and asked “Mummiiiie, what’s that man doing theeeere?” As long as I live I won’t forget that question. I thought she would tear my heart out. Her mother was hushing her and tried to pull her away, but she was unswerving. She didn’t go a single step further. Then I turned back and took her in my lap, by which she was frightened and began crying. I think it’s her that I can thank for my life. I cried too, the child cried too, and her mother stood, looked, and couldn’t decide what to do. In the end, we began chatting and I told her everything that had happened. I just couldn’t resist, words just poured out of me. She invited me for dinner. Her husband looked at me a bit strangely, but when the woman told him the story of our meeting, he became friendly as well. They were so nice that I almost forgot about my sorrow for one hour or two. That night, I slept at their place.

    M.: Did you have a job in Budapest?

    Z.: Yes, I had, there was no problem with that, and I had a little spare money in a bank here. But I couldn’t keep my mind on anything. I was always thinking of my past life: the family, driving me away from home, my mother… Everyone saw that there was something preying on my mind, but I didn’t open myself up to my fellow workers. I felt I was totally dependent on myself, I stood alone in this world. As soon as the working hours ended, I went straight to my lodgings, and I closed the door behind me. I asked myself every day: Why live any longer? What is the sense of my life?

    M.: Didn’t you have any gay friends, or didn’t you wish to go to any gay places to meet someone?

    Z.: I had already had two or three one-night stands, but I wasn’t so familiar with gay life. At that time I didn’t know of the gay bars, I only went to the adult movie in Hegedűs Gyula utca sometimes. But I needed support. Someone I can turn to any time, who can give me advice if I’m in trouble. I felt this way for quite a long time, maybe for one year and a half. I was always tormenting myself that my parents and brothers were alive but yet I didn’t have them. If I saw a family window-shopping or eating ice-cream or walking in the street, I always saw mine in them.

    This could not go on forever. Bit by bit, I began making new acquaintances, I talked to others more and more, and my wounds slowly began to heal as well. Yet, the basic turning point was when I met Peti. With him, I felt I could start my life again, with an entirely clean slate. I tried to forget everything, erase the past – as far as it’s possible –, and I looked only forward. I wanted to feel like a baby when it comes into the world. Of course no matter how one struggles, the past cannot be erased. If I meet a compatriot of mine, my first question is by instinct “how are things going with my family, do you know anything about them?” But deliberately I only think of the future. I have strange dreams, and I believe very much that the sky will always remain sunny and the clouds won’t ever come, there will be no suffering or pain any more. I’m trying to be in control of the situation, and I won’t let the past get the upper hand over me.

    M.: Can it be learnt how to control one’s thoughts, whisk away depressing memories, and view the happy years to come?

    Z.: These experiences were good for me to learn by. I think going forward I could also bear tribulations harder than that. When my memories come upon me, then I begin doing something at once that engages me fully. Something that I like and which distracts my thoughts. The past attacks me the most when I’m alone. For example, cooking is a very good diversionary manoeuvre.

    M.: Is it possible that the family you lost, apart from love, binds you to your boyfriend with another bonding, as you are looking for them in him? Is it possible that this relationship means more to you than a gay partnership in general?

    Z.: I think it’s right. Beside most people there’s not only their mates but their families, their relatives as well. I receive all the love, emotions and care from Peti and his people. I can also give the love piled up in me to him only. I don’t depend on him financially, I’m not ill, I can look after myself alone as well, yet I am aware that he’s the only one I have, no one else, and I need this relationship as much as the air to survive.

    M.: How long have you been living together?

    Z.: In spring we’ll have lived together for two years.

    M.: Did your boyfriend’s family accept you?

    Z.: His parents don’t know the true relationship between us, but his mother was very nice to me already at first sight last Christmas. She said, “my dear son, you’ve come to this house like home”. I was entirely moved at once, and I could hardly regain the control over my emotions. It’s his younger sister who’s known the real nature of our relationship for the longest time, but I have already cleared it up with his younger brother. First we said I was living as a tenant at Peti’s, but when he was to our place with his wife, they saw the way we lived beside each other, the way we spoke to each other, the way we looked at each other. They guessed it was not simply room-mates’ company. But they didn’t initiate talking frankly, they left it to us when we wanted to come out. So not so long ago, we told them the truth: We told them that we are linked to each other by love, and his brother was grateful to be let into our lives. They were both very tolerant. They said they loved us even more than before and they wanted to treat us as members of the family.

    M.: Since the time you were cast off by your family, a few years has passed. You have been to your village in the meantime, as you needed documents, certificates and diplomas. Has nothing changed? Are you still treated with hostility, as a stranger?

    Z.: I’ve been home several times, but I only met my father and mother, not my brothers. I haven’t ever spent any more time at the house than one or two hours. Their stance is the same, nothing has changed. They don’t inquire how things are going with me, how I live. It is as if I didn’t exist.

    M.: If time could be re-wound and you found yourself again at that evening before Christmas when your being gay came out, and if you were aware of the undying hatred of your family towards homosexuals, then what would you do? Would you undertake again running the gauntlet, or you would try to manoeuvre silently so that the truth should not turn out about you?

    Z.: If things hadn’t come about like that, if they had tolerated me at home to some degree as a gay, then I’d have had another attitude to gay life. Maybe I’d have had one-night stands which I’d have experienced ashamed and secretly, but by no means would I have consented to an emotional relationship of full value. This way, however, being cast off, I didn’t have to reach any compromises, I could entirely accept myself, my emotions and my desires. I could give myself a clear run, I could be fulfilled. That’s what I am.

    László Láner

    * Note: Zoli is a Hungarian man who was born in Transylvania, a part of the neighbouring Romania. – the website editor back

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