The other day someone asked me how I felt about Iceland and especially the gay scene. “Acceptance” was the first word that sprang to mind. “Why?”, you might be asking. Well to explain I have to tell you the story of how I settled in Iceland early 2007 not knowing anything about the country nor any Icelanders 5 months earlier. But before we get to that part, let’s back a bit and then slowly move forward.
I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, which is a solidly southern part of the US with all the religious and conservative attitudes that implies. Son to a southern baptist minister, I attended private religious schools my entire childhood. This and with no openly gay role models to look to – I only knew that Ellen DeGeneres was a lesbian and that was a bad thing – had the effect that I didn’t become fully aware that I was gay until around my 20s.
So I spent most of the time that others might have spent dating, on my computer learning to be a 3D artist. My first jobs took me all around the US and it was finally in Austin, Texas, that I got to stretch my legs into the gay community. But I still did not feel comfortable being out to everyone, especially at work. My internalized homophobia and guilt whenever I tried dating guys for longer periods also meant I never gave myself a fair shot at relationships. After a few dates I’d feel so bad I would consciously or subconsciously find reason to end those relationships.
This and the fact I fall quite left on the political spectrum, which made living stateside increasingly frustrating, led me to think I wanted to emigrate to another country. Since I had traveled in Europe I made plans for Germany, France, Switzerland, Finland and wanted to visit more as well.
As I began planning my departure a popular website I knew mentioned Iceland as an interesting vacation destination. I had forgotten there was even a country up there on the map, let alone knew anything about it, but was intrigued so I did a bit more research. On gayromeo.com I searched for guys my age in Reykjavik and one of the results was a red-haired guy I had seen before when browsing the site. So I wrote to him mentioning that I might visit and was hoping to make friends to go dancing with while here.
I have a thing for accents so after our first chat I asked if I could call. He gave me his number thinking I would not call, but five minutes later we had our first „actual“ conversation. It only lasted a few minutes but I thought he sounded so cute and friendly. We started emailing daily, chatting on MSN and calling frequently. This was pre-skype so I ran up quite the long distance phone bill.
After about a month I decided to book tickets to Iceland so we could meet. I made it my first stop, with my time in Switzerland and Germany immediately after. As the date approached, I wondered how much time he would want to spend with me; a single evening, several times? About a month before my trip he told me I could stay with him the whole time if I wanted. My excitement levels rose, but having experienced so much disappointment, I didn’t let myself get too invested.
I remember touching down in Keflavik, seeing vast lava fields covered in moss as the plane got lower, like an alien landscape and thinking: “will this ever feel like home in the
future?”. When I left customs the cutest guy was waiting for me with a sign. He was both shorter in person than I expected and more handsome. We hugged and he led me out to his car where we had our first kiss. After so many long months talking it was so good to be with him in person and just share the same physical space.
The ten-day visit was a whirlwind of tourist sites, meeting his parents, watching the fireworks from a golf-course, and a new years party that would have seemed lame and overpriced in any other setting but became a memory I cherish since it was our first time dancing together. I even managed to cook american style dinner for his family, who were incredibly welcoming, which was such a change from how my parents would have reacted, had I been out to them at the time.
Afterwards I went to Europe for my planned stays which were fun but zoomed past as I missed my Nordic cutie. Thankfully he asked me to move to Reykjavik and having no other plans and at the prompting of my best friend I flew back. Because of my previous work in 3D I quickly got a job at CCP, a game studio in Iceland and that‘s how I got my visa in the beginning.
It was in Cafe Cozy, a now closed gay bat/coffee shop in Reykjavík, that I first outed myself to a random stranger, a friendly woman who asked who I was there with and I made the leap to say “my boyfriend.” She simply smiled and asked which one he was. I remember thinking how amazing it was to live in such an accepting environment.
Since then life has dramatically changed for me. I soon after came out to my immediate family with a letter telling them that I had someone special and they needed to know this part of my life I had been hiding. According to dad my mom cried upon reading my letter, but to their credit they‘ve made a complete turn around. They visited Iceland which I think helped them see how healthy and normal my relationship with my husband is (we married in 2009).
Today my mom loves my him, wants to always be kept up to date on our lives and we have even done a family vacation with both sets of parents to a beach house in the states. My younger sister also came out to my parents so they’ve had some practice in acceptance.
After moving here I have lived in 3 different apartments, gotten a cat, moved to Germany, moved back (without cat), bought a house, got a dog, worked on a kid‘s TV series and feature-length animated film, started a bakery and a small app development studio. The only thing that might have been possible for me stateside is the cat bit, and sorry cat owners, but that was the least exciting part.
Looking back this is an experiences I never even dreamed about as a kid. I feel so lucky for everything, from being able to afford a house in a city with jobs (a rarity stateside for someone younger), to equal legal rights. This is the kind of life I wish for everyone on earth, especially because we have a long way to go globally. Even if the weather is not always perfect, or a glass of my favorite beer costs a bit more I am so grateful to live on this island paradise.
– By Ben Chompers