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N Touch
Saturday 19 October 2019
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Art of life

Mark Pereira's world as a gay man in TT

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Mark Pereria on one of his travels.
MAIN IMAGE Mark Pereria on one of his travels.

"My chosen profession allows for one to be slightly different," says Mark Pereira. "It works also for actors, those in the theatre or in the arts – there might be an expectation that they are gay, so that gives an allowance."

Surrounded by antiques and fine art by artists such as Boscoe Holder and Michel Jean Cazabon, which he's acquired over a lifetime, Pereira, an art dealer, said many of the antiques come from from his mother and grandfather. "They have been in the family for generations."

Pereira was born in TT during the mid-1950s, but his family migrated to South Africa when he was seven. It was not until he was 22 that he returned to TT, in 1978.

"It was a very different experience returning. I had lived in South Africa, then in Europe for over a year. I came back to TT and a lot of the people my age lived at home with their parents."

He explained the difference in South Africa, where, after leaving high school or doing national service – which he did, in the navy – one would get a job.

"Very few people went to university at that stage. You got a job and with your first month's salary you would go and find an apartment or a house with all your mates."

Periera found the opposite here. He returned expecting to rent an apartment with his friends or cousins, but everybody who was single – that is, not married – was still living at home with their parents.

Mark Pereira takes a selfie before heading off to another adventure.

"That was the norm, and it took me by surprise. It was as if leaving home meant you had something to hide. There had to be something sexual going on, or something with drugs or alcohol."

Leaving home unmarried was seen as something highly suspicious. He said he still sees it today, especially within the East Indian community – where a 38-year-old man still lives with his birth family.

"This man was a lawyer, and while talking to me, he said he was living at home, but was desperate for intimacy. I told him, 'No, you're desperate for therapy.'"

Pereira returned to TT with an independent frame of mind and a different set of experiences from many people here.

So, he said, "I looked at my homosexuality, as the BBC calls it, in a different light. I did not think it was necessary to apologise for it."

He said he found coming out to his parents an astonishing concept, because his parents did not explain to him that they were heterosexual, and what that meant. This, Pereira said, is his response when people asked him about the process.

"If I were going to come out to my parents to tell them I am homosexual meant I am almost apologetic about this fact.

"So I have never done it. What I did do was, when I met someone, I would go to my mother and tell her I met Jonny, and I was looking forward to her meeting him."

He said he followed the same principle as if he had met a girl named Jenny, and wanted them to meet each other.

"And my mother would have then simply said, 'Great, I am looking forward to meeting him.'"

The presentation of what came naturally to him as something natural was the approach he has used throughout his life.

"If you present this unapologetically, that is the message you're sending out there, which will be reflected back to you. I picked it up very early."

And so, he did not wave flags, nor was he particularly effeminate, but he said the style of hiding was never one he adopted – an approach vastly different from what he observed in TT, which he said was a constant reflection of what people were putting out.

"I have never suffered from being a gay man in TT. The greatest suffering I have experienced in TT was from the gay community. It is interesting to talk about apps like Grindr – they are lethal. They are agist, sexist, and racist – just vile."

The comments he's observed on these platforms, he said, include statements like, "'I hate anybody over 35. I hate anybody who is black, and fat.'

"I have never heard those words from anybody heterosexual. But that is what a gay man is sending out to other gay men on a gay app."

Pereira said preferences can be presented in a less lethal manner.

"Instead of saying what you hate, you can say, 'I like people under 35. I like Indian guys who are slim, and so on.' Where is this hate coming from? I think it comes from self-hate." This he said are the things that go on and cause much harm to people.

Asked if his lack of experience of prejudice against him may be connected to his ethnicity and the socio-economic class within which he moves, Pereira said that may have been the case. His field of work may also be a factor.

"People tend to focus on my work. They are completely comfortable with who I am because they come not to buy my sexuality – they come to buy paintings, and this is where it is available."

Asked what message he would like to pass on to young people in the LGBTQ+ community, Pereira said he knows it is difficult because of the messages passed on to children.

"Get on with your life, move out, get a home. You don't have to hide anything from anybody, but have self-respect." From that basis, he advises young people to stop seeking to resolve issues outside themselves.

"Stop looking for someone to save you or fix you."

He said people should try to meet face to face and have an organic interaction instead of using social media.

"Some may say this is a 63-year-old man, what does he know about anything?" he acknowledged. But he said after years of experience and therapy, he has learned quite a bit and can impart some helpful knowledge.

Mark Pereira said he is not at all slowed down by age. He snapped this photo while sailing during an adventure off the coast of Italy.

Mark Pereira continues to live unapologetically each day, embracing his own unique definition of what it means to be a man in 2019. He urges men from all walks of life, particularly gay men, to be kind to themselves and each other, and try to leave each person they meet better than when they found them.

"I am just proud of who I am – not being gay, but who I am, and what I have to offer to the world."

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