Part of the Home Page of
Dr. Niclas Berggren
When I think back of my early childhood,
I can remember moving with my parents and little sister to a city
in southern Sweden called Tranås. I started in a new school,
and I was fascinated, in a rather special way, by a particular
boy in my class. While my thoughts at that time were not particularly
sexual (I was nine at the time), I often thought about whether
or not I thought this boy beautiful. I had problems settling the
issue in my mind, but nevertheless, I looked at him ever so often,
and I felt pleasure while doing so.
As time went on, as I entered puberty,
I began to take a more active, albeit still very discrete, interest
in other boys. While in the locker room after physical education,
I detected that I was sexually attracted to several of the other
boys, and I also saw many boys walking around the school corridors
who caught my attention. Sometimes I looked them up in the school's
photo catalog to see what their names were, and in my free time,
I often dreamt about being physically close to them.
But during this period of adolescence,
I never really thought about what I was. All the things that took
place in the emotional-sexual realm were, admittedly, real and
concrete to me: I experienced real feelings for other boys (love,
infatuation, sexual attraction). But at the same time, on an "intellectual"
level, I never confronted these feelings, and so I continued having
them without worrying about them or trying to transform them in
any way. They just were, and that was fine with me. While some
opponents of homosexuality often claim that it is "unnatural"
(a claim which is thoroughly refuted in the essay "Homosexuality and the 'Unnaturalness Argument'"),
for me, my homosexual feelings were very natural indeed.
When I was 16, I became a Christian,
which complicated matters quite a bit. After a conversion in the
summer of 1984, during which I confessed Jesus Christ as my lord
and savior, I joined the Pentecostal Church by being baptized
on December 9. While I felt great satisfaction about being a part
of the Christian church, I gradually encountered attitudes among
fellow Christians and in the Bible which were rather hostile towards
homosexuality in any form. I adopted that negative attitude, and
I became quite a vocal homophobe.
During my years in the upper secondary school Holavedskolan,
I was well-known for being a devout Fundamentalist Christian,
with a very strict view of morality.
Looking back at this period, my feelings
for other boys were at least as strong as before, while my lack
of an emotional-sexual interest in girls continued. I was very
attracted to quite a few boys which I only knew from having observed
them around the school, and I also experienced two strong infatuations,
involving two boys in my class. Of course, as before, all of this
was kept very secret! So how can it be explained that I, who really
was gay, so strongly attacked homosexuality in different contexts?
The explanation is, I think, psychological in nature. That is
to say, I now think I was homophobic, not primarily to have people
believe that I was straight (because I never thought anybody doubted
that anyway), but to keep myself in check. I was "preaching"
to my inner self, in a way.
And I now gradually began to realize,
on an intellectual level, what I was. Why did that take so long?
I think because when one grows up and hears words like "gay"
or "homosexual", one thinks of rather horrid people,
who are disgusting, ugly, and immoral. I used to have a picture
in my mind of two old, ugly men with mustaches (which I happen
to find quite unattractive) kissing - and I found that revolting.
I thought: I cannot be one of them! And yet I was, in a way. What
I began to understand was that the term "homosexual"
really did not denote anything but a description of towards whom
a person was emotionally and sexually attracted. It did not denote
anything, in itself, regarding the looks, behavior, or values
of anyone. When I realized that gay people are like everyone else
- some are nice, some are rude, some are beautiful, some are ugly,
some are young, some are old, etc. - I had an easier time using
the term for myself.
But at this time, while I knew what
I was, nobody else knew. And it would take some more years before
I told anyone. The period that started about this time was, in
a way, a fairly unhappy one. While outwards a success - in 1988
(after a year doing my unarmed military service at a children's
day-care center in Gnosjö), I was enrolled as a student at
the Stockholm School of Economics
- on the inside, the conflict grew stronger. I now lived by myself
in a student room in Stockholm, and I had even more time to ponder
upon my life: How could I reconcile my faith in God and the Bible
with being attracted to other men?
For a long time, I thought the conflict
impossible to solve. In 1989, I began dating a girl at the School,
and she became my girlfriend in March of that year (after I asked
her at a visit to a fancy restaurant). I liked her a lot: she
was smart, nice-looking, stylish, and very kind. But I was not
sexually attracted to her. I had one primary wish: to become a
heterosexual - that would make my life perfect, I thought. And
so I prayed a lot, asking God to change me and to help me feel
lust towards my girlfriend. None of that happened, not in the
least. We remained a couple and even got engaged in 1990, planning
to get married.
But as things got more serious, I felt
that I could not go through with this. I did not say anything
for a long time; rather, I just wanted to meet her less often,
and when we met, I was cold and distant. Eventually, in the summer
of 1991, we both felt that this could not go on any longer, and
we terminated the engagement and stopped seeing each other. That
was painful, considering my motives for having dated her in the
first place, but it was also a great relief for me.
On August 7, 1998, I finally got a chance to tell her the real reason why things did not work
out between us. We had not spoken for over five years, but I found her via the Internet (listed at her job), so we met for lunch here in Stockholm. After about thirty minutes, I decided that I had to tell her - something I had wanted to do for several years. So I said: "There's something I need to tell you which may surprise you. To make a long story short: I am gay." She reacted with silence at first, so I told her that I was sorry that things had turned out the way they turned out, but that I did what I thought best at the time. She admitted that she had considered the idea that I could be gay, but she also said that she was a little shocked, since we were engaged and all. We both agreed that it was a lucky thing that we did not get married. At the end of the conversation, she put her hand on top of mine, and we went our own ways, in my case feeling contented and, I hope, in her case feeling pleased to have been informed, at last.
After the experience with my girlfriend, I was determined
to go on living single, in celibacy, and in that way, I could
still be accepted by God. However, I had casual sex a few times,
and I felt very guilty about that. I prayed to God for forgiveness,
and felt better after that. This was not a sustainable path for
me - I think no one feels well with such an internal conflict
raging on the inside.
My "release" came during a
year in the U.S. In 1992, I began my graduate studies in economics
at the Stockholm School of Economics, and during 1993-94 I was
visiting The Center for Study of Public Choice
at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. While there,
I lived with four conservative Christians, but once a week, I
drove into Washington, D.C. to be by myself. There, I saw movies
and found a gay bookstore called Lambda Rising. Some of the books
which I bought there were to revolutionize my life. (I was careful
to hide them from my roommates.)
Most important was a book by John Boswell
(actually, his Ph.D. dissertation in history) entitled Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
(University of Chicago Press, 1980) in which he showed that the
conservative interpretation of the passages in the Bible dealing
with homosexuality was probably incorrect. This formed the basis
for a new phase in my life, where I thought homosexuality and
Christianity compatible. I still adhere to that view, although
I am no longer a Christian.
This intellectual conviction made life easier for me, and I was
finally at ease - around the age of 25 - with being gay. I still
am, by the way.
Before going to the U.S., I had gotten
a few close friends who were also gay, and I kept in touch with
them during my year abroad. They were - and are - very supportive,
and we have inspired each other to lead good, fulfilling lives
as young gay men. They are good examples of people who are altogether
decent, and talking to them also helped me develop. They kept
telling me that it was destructive to cling to Fundamentalist
Christianity, and although I rejected their objections for a long
time, I gradually came to see that they were right. Generally
in my life, my friends and the books I have read have influenced
me the most, in all areas.
Anyway, when I came home from the U.S.,
I had decided to tell my parents. I had planned to tell them on
a Friday in May of 1994, but during that evening, I did not have
the courage to tell them. I remember sitting in a couch at their
house, watching some nonsense on TV, while thinking all the time:
"I must say it now, or else it will never be said!"
But nothing happened. The same thing on Saturday. But on Sunday,
the day before I was going to go to Stockholm, I thought to myself,
"Now or never!" And so, while I and my parents were
sitting in the living room, I said: "I have something I must
tell you. I am a homosexual."
They looked at me and were quite silent.
I had planned what to say, so I told them a little about homosexuality:
that it is not a choice, that I am happy being gay, that I am
not therefore immoral, that I have many gay friends of high quality,
that this changes nothing in our relationship, etc. My mother's
first comment was: "Have you met someone? If not, how do
you know?" And I replied, "No, I have not met anyone,
and I know myself well enough to say that I am attracted to men."
My father's first comment was, "Be careful, and remember
that many people dislike this." And I told him that I would
consider his advice. Since then, my homosexuality has been totally
unproblematic as far as our relationship is concerned. They have
loved me and treated me in exactly the same way as before I told
Why did I feel it necessary to tell
my parents? Up until I was 26 years old, I had remained convinced
that I simply could not tell them. I just couldn't imagine saying
something like that to them - mainly because I feared that they
would find it vexing. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize
how easy it is to build up an unsubstantiated idea that being
honest about who one is could result in quite horrible reactions.
One imagines that people will hate one too easily - when, in fact,
they love one, no matter what!
Anyway, I felt that I had to tell them
because I needed to be honest about me. I was gay, and
that was an important fact of life. I did not want to hide my
books with the word "homosexuality" in the title when
they came to visit; I did not want to lie about who my friends
were and where I went during weekends; I did not want them to
falsely believe that I would marry and have kids; and I did not
want to hear questions like "Is there no girl that you find
interesting?" all the time. Quite simply: to sustain a good
relationship with my parents, I felt - finally - that I had
to tell them. And it was a virtuous thing to do.
Later on, in 1995, I told my little
sister, Malin, during a car ride in the country. She laughed a
little and said that she had not suspected it - but that she
had no problems at all with it. And our relationship has also
continued as before. I have also told many of my friends, and
no one has reacted negatively. The same goes for my colleagues at work. I have not told my religious grandmother,
and I think I may not tell her. It is always a balancing act: while I wish to be
open about who I am, I realize, like my father, that some people
might work against me, if they knew. But this home page is one
part of being more open than before.
Today, I lead a rewarding life, both
professionally (as an economist) and privately. I spend a lot
of time with my steadfast circle of gay friends (we have dinners,
go out together, talk on the phone almost daily, etc.), and even
though I disagree with the French philosopher Michel Foucault
on many counts, I find his view on friendship in line with my
own, as it is described by Edmund White in his book The Farewell
Symphony (London: Chatto & Windus, 1997, pp. 457-458):
"Inspired by the ancient Greeks, whom he [Foucault] was studying,
he'd developed a cult of friendship. He thought that we had nothing
else to value now; the death of God had resulted in the birth
of friendship. If we could no longer enjoy an afterlife earned
by our good deeds, we could at least leave behind a sense of our
achievement, measured aesthetically, and the most beautiful art
we could practice would be the art of self-realization through
I am happy to say that I now view my
homosexuality as enriching. I hope to be able to influence
people towards more of tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality,
and I think the best way to do that is to be yourself and be open
- then, people will be able to see that gay people aren't really
different, except in one little area.