‘Family is everything to me. My kid brother and I enjoyed a blissfully happy childhood, and we were doted on by our parents, who are still together to this day. All our family members were close and lived in the same Dutch town. We would come together on Sundays and indulge in homemade Indonesian food.

We never asked our grandfather about the horrors he must have experienced in the concentration camps during World War II, back in Asia. We knew we would not get any answers. Like most Indonesian immigrants, my grandparents did not talk about the pain of the past. Expressing your emotions was seen as something that keeps you from moving forward in society; at an early age, we learned to close ourselves off from what we felt.

Our time on earth is limited, so you better enjoy it. As a teenager, school never interested me much. Instead, I immersed myself in playing soccer and flirting with girls. These were the years of ultimate freedom; together with my friends I would go to huge parties where I would dance and drink the night away. I have always had a big circle of friends, and until this day, I love to surround myself with people.

‘The only way I knew how to express myself was through my appearance. My beard grows unapologetically out of my skin and is part of who I am’

Image: Elvin Boer

I have always had relationships, and not just because I love women. The idea of dying alone freaked me out, so I would jump from girlfriend to girlfriend. In every relationship, I automatically assumed my partner wanted me to adapt to her lifestyle. As a result, I would erase myself completely and stop going out with my friends. It never crossed my mind that I could express my needs or emotions. The only way I knew how to show myself was through my appearance.

My family always wanted to blend in. But me – as soon as I could, I grew out my hair and cultivated an exotic black beard. My classmates called me Pocahontas, which I took as a compliment. When I was seventeen, I shocked my teachers and classmates by getting a tattoo, an alien. I got piercings and more tattoos as an adult. Most of my stomach, arms, feet, and legs are now covered. It is the ultimate sign of autonomy. And my beard? It grows unapologetically out of my skin and is part of who I am.

Image: Elvin Boer

It took me over five years to leave my ex-girlfriend. For a long time, I had a bag with a toothbrush and some underwear waiting for me in the corridor. But I could not do it – I did not want to give up the fight, fail as a partner and, more importantly, as a father. Leaving your child is the hardest thing there is: you don’t know what the damage will be, how it will impact his future.

The memory of the night I left seems to be blocked from my mind. I only recall standing outside with my bag and realising there was no way back.

For two weeks, I shut myself off from the rest of the world. Literally. I stayed in and did not let anybody see me. The only thing I did was listen to the music of my youth – Pearl Jam and Nirvana – and cry nonstop. It was overwhelming, but it was also liberating to finally get my emotions out. I realised that for practically my entire life, my fear of loneliness had prevented me from being myself. I decided to be alone for a while.

‘Leaving your child is the hardest thing there is. You don’t know what the damage will be, how it will impact his future’

But life works in mysterious ways. Not long after, on an ordinary day, my son and I got a haircut. I remember sitting in the chair and looking in the mirror. The barber – a beautiful woman with a gorgeous smile – was grooming my wild beard. Because at the time neither one of us was looking for a relationship, it took at least six months before we saw each other again. We became friends with benefits; the sex was amazing. And so was the company. Soon enough, we fell in love. I had found my soulmate.

She is a kick-ass lady who you don’t want to mess with. Unlike my previous partners, she lets me do whatever I want. Freedom and mutual respect are the basis of our relationship. Although expressing emotions is still hard for me, when I am with her, I feel safe enough to do so. She makes me stronger. My friends tell me that I have become more open to the world around me since I met her.

We are expecting our first child together. My son often stays with us, and I feel blessed and grateful to be able to give him a baby brother.’

Image: Lisa Ronde