As part of the #beYourself campaign we have reached out to various inspirational individuals across the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans communities and asked them to share their stories. Damien shares his story below and hopefully will encourage and inspire others to be themselves. One of the most powerful ways to encourage change is to share our voices and let the world see us for who we are.
My name is Damien Ngosa Willombe and I’m honored to share a little bit about my background:
My mother at the age of 20 had chose to enter religious life and entered a convent in mother Teresa’s order in Ireland, but at the age of 23 she realized that it wasn’t the life for her. Many years later she met my father in the mid 70’s who came to Ireland from Zambia, central Africa, to study in Trinity college Dublin. After dating for some time they decided to move back to Zambia and I was born in July of ’81. After a short time we moved to Manchester where my younger brother Joseph was born and we spent our childhood years.
My parents then separated and we moved to Dublin in ’91 and my father returned home to Zambia where he became very successful working for the Zambian government. At the beginning, living in Dublin was tough as I was an extremely shy and introverted kid. I always knew I was different being gay and mixed race. Although not understanding the term gay, I knew from a young age that I was attracted to the same sex, and it felt right for me. There where not many other kids like me in my school, and I got taunted about my skin color, hair, facial features and mannerisms, and it did get me down at times for not being excepted for just being myself. I was never a victim though! I always said to my self if they only got to know me, things would be different..
As I got older, I started to think, how will I explain to my friends and family that I’m gay, will they think differently of me? Will I lose my friends ? It was an emotional period to say the least. Having returned to visit my father in Zambia in ’95 after many years, I realized that my father had a lot of children from different relationships, so many that I’ve lost count, but I’m proud of coming from such a different culture. In a lot of African countries, it is illegal being a gay person – you can face prison, punishments, even death – so for me, it was something I kept to myself and never told my family there. Obviously, being a lot older now, I don’t worry about what people may think or say. I don’t feel like anyone should have to announce their sexual preferences to the world as if it is a big deal, defines you or is something to be ashamed of.
My secondary school experience was much different. I had quite a good time. I was respected by my fellow school mates, but I still hid my sexuality until I came out to one of my best friends in school who just happened to be gay also. He has been a big support to me throughout our friendship. After completing my leaving cert, I felt free and it was then that I started to go out on the gay scene in Dublin and throughout the years have met so many amazing people and have made lifelong friendships.
I had a very androgynous look for almost 15 years and I stood out quite a lot on the Dublin gay scene. Being very into hair and having Zambian Culture, I became a professional at braiding hair at 16 years old and had very long braids myself, and back then I was told I looked like Milli Vanilli many times, which was funny, but although I loved being different and standing out, deep down i was very unhappy. I’d get the usual stares or “is that a fella or a girl” or over hearing people talking about me. It also happened out of the gay scene too so my image confused a lot of people let’s say.
I spent all my time on the gay scene single and not dating because of my looks, for gay guys I was too feminine looking or they thought I was a girl. I got all the wrong kinds of attention most of the time and fell into the shadows behind my male friends who got the attention I craved like meeting people or getting attention from other boys. Things probably could have been different if I had cut my hair and changed my look, but I felt comfortable being myself and didn’t want to conform to what I should typically look like. Being a boy, I felt I always had to explain to people that, although I look androgynous, I’m Damien and not trying to be anybody else. I felt like I was losing my self on the inside during those times.
In 2001, I started an apprenticeship in hairdressing and have been a hair stylist over 10 years now. My image has obviously changed since then but I’ve always been myself and thats how I express myself through my creative work and my image. I love photography. I love to express myself through my Instagram photos: instagram.com/damienwillombe
In Oct ’08 I met my amazing Boyfriend and best friend David who is from Madrid, Spain. We love each other so much and are so honest with each other. It’s what I feel is needed to have a great relationship, and we have been together for almost 9 years, I’ve learnt a lot of things about self worth from him over the years and have realized that you should not be ashamed of who you are or how you look. Now at 35 years old, I’m so happy and comfortable in my own skin and couldn’t imagine being anybody else; those little things don’t matter anymore, like trying to impress or please people all the time. I’m still learning to put myself first in a humble way, but being yourself is so important for your wellbeing and happiness.