‘He was right. The kids at the local village school made fun of me, and called me a girl and a cry baby. But I refused to change my behaviour or my appearance. My long blond locks made me look pretty and there was no way I would cut them off. I took pride in the classes I was good at, like drawing and painting, and didn’t much care that these were considered unboyish.

However, as I entered puberty, the feeling of isolation became more poignant. I yearned for friendship but had no idea how to connect. Instead of expressing my sorrow, I became arrogant and verbally aggressive. The slightest thing could provoke my anger, often I would find myself caught up in physical fights. When people see you as the problem for so long, you eventually start acting like that. It was me against the rest.

To distinguish myself from my classmates, I started to dress like stars such as Harry Styles and Zayn Malik. Skinny jeans under designer stubble and wavy hair. The girls were all over me – which as a straight guy I enjoyed – but the boys were jealous and despised me even more. I was too proud to tell them I just wanted their friendship. Boys don’t talk, we just fight.

Image: Elvin Boer

Things got worse when I transferred to another school, which was being terrorised by clans of guys. There was a boy in my class who was even more of an outsider than I was, and who got beaten up on a daily basis. I felt relieved it wasn’t me and I did nothing to help him. I knew that I could only survive this place if I made myself as invisible as possible. I started to dress like the others, and hardly talked to anyone.

I never felt so relieved as when I graduated. I decided to take the plunge and move to Amsterdam. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

‘I looked into his eyes, I instantly knew that he’d also had his fair share of loneliness’

One night, in a grunge bar downtown, I bumped into a man called Johan. An attractive guy, a bit of a punker, who was surrounded by many friends. However, when I looked into his eyes, I instantly knew that he’d also had his fair share of loneliness. We started talking and when we met the next day, we both felt we had met our soulmate. We have become inseparable ever since. When I am with him, it feels safe to be myself. The other day we cried together, which felt incredibly intimate.

Amsterdam is home. I work in a hair salon and am close with my colleagues, who are all creative and in touch with their feelings. Hair for me is a way to experiment and express myself. My hair has been all different colours and shapes. Currently, I’m in my most flamboyant phase. I love my nails being polished; when Johan and I go clubbing I often wear mascara and lipstick. The combination of these so-called feminine elements with my masculine beard makes me feel very attractive.

Image: Elvin Boer

Masculinity for me is not about how you look. It’s just an attitude. It’s about being confident in who you are and not caring what others might think of you. As a greeting, most straight men pat each other on the back, which to me seems like a way of saying to the world that they are close but not gay. I think that’s pretty sad. I like to hug and hold Johan, for the simple reason that he is my bro.

‘Masculinity is about being confident in who you are and not caring what others might think of you’

Masculinity is also about taking responsibility. I never wanted to be a barber, but a hairdresser. I would hate to work in an exclusively male space, where everyone acts and looks the same archaic way. I still don’t like groups and despise their toxic codes, which are often about othering those who are different. I can’t stand injustice. When I go clubbing and encounter catcalling towards women or other forms of aggression, I always try to speak up and make it stop.

People often tell me they admire me because I am true to what I value and to what I feel. That’s nice to hear, but it is just something that has become very natural to me. I can only be myself’.

Image: Elvin Boer