Experiencing social and gender norms in Cyprus

Vassilis is an openly gay man from Cyprus, where he volunteered and worked for the Cyprus Family Planning Association (CFPA).

Vassilis is an openly gay man from Cyprus, where he volunteered and worked for the Cyprus Family Planning Association (CFPA). Conservative values have a significant influence over public opinion in Cyprus when it comes to LGBTI rights. Vassilis is an intern at the IPPF European Network office.

“I’m Vassilis, a 28 year old gay man who was born and raised in Cyprus. While I was growing up, my country had no legislation whatsoever to protect LGBTI people, and although there has been some progress in recent years, there is still a long way to go. During my youth, the word ‘gay’ was often combined with other discriminative words, attitudes and sometimes bad actions.

There were also strong social gender norms that said boys and men must do specific things, must act in specific ways. Social gender norms surrounded me from my early childhood – I was supposed to like football and play sports with the other boys in the neighborhood, I was supposed to interact in certain ways with my dad, I was supposed to express myself in specific ways.

Of course, things got more complicated when I was at school. As you can imagine, social gender norms were sometimes stronger there than at home. I didn’t like football, didn’t talk about girls, or tease others in boyish ways. To cut a long story short, I didn’t fit in the ‘box’ of stereotypical gender behaviours… I was a bit different!

Years passed and early adulthood found me ever so slowly ‘entering’ the gay community. That meant that I slowly started coming out, building first friendships with other gay men and women, going to gay clubs and bars, flirting with and dating other men. Fitting in with gay norms was another challenge. What do I mean by that? Well, within the gay community there are also a lot of social norms (trends, habits, and behaviors) that are “good” to follow if you want to fit in more easily. And I was following them, and to be honest, sometimes I still do.

At the same time that I was entering the gay community, I started getting involved with some groups, including the Cyprus Family Planning Association (CFPA). Through CFPA I gained knowledge and skills on sexual rights and gender-related topics, but I also had the opportunity to learn about other organizations that were safeguarding and promoting LGBTI rights. The knowledge and skills I gained helped me to shape my personality and identify both as a person, but also as a proud gay man.

Over the years, I have experienced that in some situations it is not always easy to have a sexual orientation or expression of gender identity that is different from the ‘norm’. I feel proud that along the path from childhood through adolescence and to where I am now, that I managed to remain true to myself, but also uniquely different!”

The Cyprus Family Planning Association (CFPA) was founded in 1971. It runs a clinic in Nicosia, providing a range of sexual and reproductive health services, including HIV testing. Young people provide peer group counselling, and also run a telephone helpline and workshops on sex education and sexuality awareness, including LGBTI-related issues. CFPA played a central role in the drive to decriminalize homosexuality.