Kristian Ivanov won the title of Mr Bear Belgium in October 2018 as part of the Belgium Bear Pride celebrations. He reached out to us wanting to tell his story…
My name is Kristian, I am thirty-seven years old and I was born and raised in Bulgaria. I have been living in Belgium for the last two years. When I think of the most personal story I could tell, it has to be about my sexual orientation. I only recently stated openly that I am gay and wow… what a relief, a relief that comes with a heavy burden, but will not get into this now. I think it would be a good idea if I lay down some of the basic details which could come handy later.
I was born in Varna where I lived 29 years, there I studied in three institutions – the technical school, the economical universities and the naval academy, but I ended up only with a master’s degree in navigation from the naval academy. I worked one year at sea on different vessels and five years as a port agent.
At the age of 29, I moved to Sofia where I started working and studying in the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts. I worked there for five years and graduated with a master’s degree in management in screen arts. I also worked two years in the cinema industry in various positions. I love music, cinema, photography, cooking, dancing, singing, nature, animals, art, books, extreme sports, meeting people and having fun… of course!
If I have to define myself with one sentence I should say – A Jedi who’s sexually on the dark side! If you want to know why, then we have to go more personal. Since I was little, I was a gay cliché – dancing, singing, playing with dolls… you get the picture. Due to that, I was branded as an outcast that was good for nothing. It was at this early age when someone first called me a fucking faggot… it was older sister! My parents were very simple people – a nurse and a seaman, my father was never home, my mother always at work. So, hell at home and at school… oh I am so happy those days are over! At school it was even worst – I was the fat kid that everybody makes fun of and later on when I had hair on my chest so many insults, so much shame… for what?! I will not get into the details as I do not want to turn this into a story with the bitter taste of drama… it is all in the past and it made me who I am so let’s try and look at it from the bright side.
Bulgaria is a country that was on the wrong side of the iron curtain. Before the Berlin Wall fell, if you were homosexual it was straight off to the concentration camp with almost no chance of coming back. So, not one of the most gay friendly places to be… the magic of the Balkans! Even today, being gay is dangerous and you should be ready to physically defend yourself at any moment… And there I am a lot of shit happening around me, my family is breaking into pieces – yes my father left us when I was thirteen and he left us after beating my mother several times, school was a constant hell, the world was changing and I was there all alone being different in a society where different means broken.
At the age of 7 my dream was already to leave… anywhere but there. The only joy I had was movies on VHS, video games and music… it was television and movies that took over almost all the parenting functions. I was oppressed by the circumstances in a very unpleasant way but after all it is exactly that what helped me… nobody cared so I was free to do whatever I want, to make all the wrong choices and decisions.
I started following my curiosity trying to adapt myself to the surroundings in order to survive. What helped me in those years were the movies and the music. For almost 25 years I have never left home without carrying either a Walkman, a Diskman or an MP3 player in my pockets. Ok, maybe it wasn’t only that, I think I developed a little bit of a masochistic nature in order to survive all the bullshit. Because I was considered to be good for nothing, I ended up becoming quite self-destructive. I find it important to mention a bit more for my music preferences as that is and will always rest a part of me. What started with Queen, slowly went to Nirvana and from there on to skate punk. The death of Kurt Cobain was a painful moment and it was resonating well with my inner world. Being a masochistic, self-destructive, punk rocker that has nothing to lose is a funny combination. I could talk a lot about suicide but will say only one think that helped me not to go that far… and it is and was first the fear of doing it and second the question “Why should I do it when instead I can do everything I am afraid of?!’’.
I entered into the subculture of skate/punk and I was hiding my true self with an image that is already rejected by the society. I started drinking, going to concerts all around Bulgaria, skating, snowboarding and inline roller skating. With the power of alcohol, I managed to overcome the fear of my sexuality and at the age of 19 I had my first sexual contact. My God, my God… I still remember it as it was yesterday, hidden into the darkness of the night, behind an old bus stop… near my old school. And I think I never shared with you that I always liked men of certain age?!
Yeah… what I find sexy – intelligence, dressed in maturity, with a hairy outlining of salt and pepper or white hair mmmmmm! For years I had to fight with the fact that I am not only gay, but a gay that likes mature men. Before the introduction of internet in Bulgaria, I thought I am the only one that is so broken. And no, I do not have daddy issues! Just to enlighten this issue – in all the relationships I had, the age difference with my partners was more than 30 years. Now for the first time the age difference with my partner is less than 30 years, it’s 29. My first crush was Sean Connery in Highlander.
I think I’ve started spilling a lot of personality in this story and as I do not want to make a mess, so I will try to summarise. At the age of 19 I started my sexual life and of course my first relationship… but with a woman. Yes, I have been with a woman, I believed I owed it to myself at that point of my life in order to be sure of who I really am. After 5 years, when everyone was expecting a marriage, I ended the relationship.
My gay life started at 24 with the desire to find that special someone with whom I would be able to share everything. Well good luck with that as many would say, but I am still that naïve and I believe that love is the last living wonder on earth – it can make you reach the unreachable and at the same time it can make you redefine misery.
For the next period of my life in Bulgaria I had six serious relationships, all of which were very sexually charged, from mild to very, very wild! The one common thing in all six was that I was nothing more than a dirty little secret. In the beginning I was alright with that as I knew nothing else, but in time the situation started getting really annoying and impossible for me to cope with. It was then that I decided to leave my country.
Good or bad, Bulgaria was and is my home country and I love it. Yes, I had to go through a lot of difficulties but again… it’s exactly that what made me who I am! Not being able to be who I am and to live how I wanted forced me to leave. I will not tell you exactly how I decided to come to Belgium but what I will tell you is that I fucking love it! It’s such an amazing country, with beautiful men and friendly people. La vie est Belge!
My life changed completely after I moved here, it wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t, but I am proud to live here. My French is quite decent, and my Flemish is basic, but improving. I learned so much about the life in Western Europe, about the culture and the differences, about how much people do not care if you’re gay or straight… just like in the movies! I am mentioning again the movies as the world I saw there was the world I was made for and although all my “friends” and family always thought I am crazy and that this world is not for me and I can never be a part of it… I made it and I feel more alive than ever just by being who I really am, and it feels incredible.
I evolved enormously, and last June I told my mother I was gay… the poor woman, she wanted me to go back to Bulgaria and find a doctor to cure my homosexuality… oh yes and to never tell that to anyone! I owe a big part of getting through that to my lovely partner who showed me that everything is possible.
I also managed to put my photography projects in motion and am developing my skills… what a pleasure that brings… I will start the end of this story as it’s getting long and maybe a bit heavy. Last year, I spontaneously, and to be honest without very serious intentions, entered the selection for Mr. Bear Belgium 2019 and serious or not, I was one of the three contestants.
Two days before the actual elections I saw on Facebook that it was International Coming Out Day and voila… I said to myself “if not now… when?!” And I did it… on Facebook. I do not know if you could imagine the feeling of freeing yourself after many years of hiding in misery, pain and lies. There I was for the first time being nothing else but my true self, ready to pour my heart out at the competition and I did it, I won!
For the first time in my life… I was a winner. And what does a winner do?! Well don’t ask me, it’s my first time… Me personally what I would like to do is to give a good example and try to do all I can for the community. I believe that due to the many problems I’ve encountered and the situations I’ve put my self through I can give a new and different point of view to certain problems… in my opinion that’s already something?!
I will state what I stand for and it is equality… for me gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, religion, nationality, social status, all do not matter to me, it’s all about if you’re a decent person. Treat people with respect, be kind, caring… we can add a lot more qualities, but I think you got the point.
Since being elected to represent Belgium as Mr. Bear Belgium 2019, I have focused on my internet presence with photos and international representation at different events. I am the author of all the photos I post, and it was something I could’ve never imagine… to post photos of myself, but even if it was hard in the beginning, I am enjoying it quite a lot.
There are two small projects with big potential and two really big ones lurking just around the corner, so keep an eye on my Facebook to keep up all my news!
If you got all the way down here… congrats, thank you and I really hope you’ve enjoyed it! If I should make my personal conclusion it would be… if I can do it – everybody can! Follow your dreams and don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can not do.
And as it was in the song… “You may say I am a rimmer, but I am not the only one…” ooh or was it a dreamer?!