Why does a 34-year-old gay man from Portugal decide to compete against men as old as 70 for the title of Mister Senior Netherlands 2018?
My name is Miguel and this is my story.
My neighbors predicted I would turn into an alcoholic
I was born in a small village in Portugal. Things were not easy at home. My father used to have a drinking problem, which he managed to conquer recently, and my mother was the only income provider.
I grew up in extreme poverty. Our main concern was where to find the money for our next meal.
But even more painful than that was the fact that I could hear some of my neighbours say that when I grew up I would be just like my father. They said I would drink, I would have no job, and I would be a nobody.
This, believe me, can break a child. But I was no random child.
I went door to door telling people God rejects homosexuality
Since I can remember, I never felt like I belonged or like there was a place for me. I always felt like an outcast. While my male friends enjoyed playing soccer or with cars, I preferred playing with dolls.
And all that felt perfectly fine, until people started telling me that dolls were for girls and I should be playing with cars like the other boys. That’s when for the very first time I asked my mother to give me a car for my birthday instead of a doll.
All of a sudden, everybody started giving me cars. I tried my best to enjoy playing with them, but with no success. Cars tended to kill my creativity.
It was also around this time that I noticed that, unlike my friends, I felt more attracted to boys than to girls.
As a young boy growing in a small village in Portugal 20 years ago, I had to keep those feelings to myself. I could not talk about it to anyone.
And when I became more religious at 14 years old, I was taught that being homosexual was wrong and condemned by God.
Not only did I believe it, I even went door to door to share my beliefs with other people as an attempt to save them and myself.
During those years, I fought those feelings. I was never with another boy, I didn’t even dare to think about it.
I was so afraid to step into my first gay bar
But three years later I eventually fell in love with a man. And that’s when I couldn’t take it anymore.
It wasn’t the physical aspect that I couldn’t handle. That was perfectly under control. What I could not handle were my emotions.
I didn’t abandon religion to be with him. In fact, I actually never saw him again. I abandoned religion because that internal fight with myself was too painful and more than a teenager could handle.
In the meantime, I turned 18 and moved to Porto to go to university.
In Porto I went to a gay bar for the very first time. I remember how afraid I was to go to a place like that. I had no idea what to expect. It felt like my nerves would devour me.
Surprisingly it went well. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone or like I had anything to hide. I could be myself.
I eventually found the strength to accept myself as a I am and to share it with people around me. It turned out that people around me loved me for who I am. Everybody that mattered supported me.
I regret the fact that it took me so many painful years to accept me as I am. I realize now that I was my worst enemy.
Their harsh comments have made me succeed
In 2005, against all odds and with a lot of perseverance and hard work, I managed to complete my studies in Modern Languages and Literature.
I was the first person in my family to ever achieve something so grand. Now I am very respected by all the people who used to say that I would be a nobody.
I’ve got to say I must thank them for those harsh comments. Those comments encouraged and gave me the strength to prove them wrong by showing them that I can be whoever I decide to be.
At that time, there were not many job opportunities in Portugal. So, one year after completing my studies, I decided to move to The Netherlands to look for a job and a better life.
After a few less interesting jobs in Amsterdam and in Leiden, I eventually found my dream job as a medical linguist in Maastricht.
I have a good life now, and I can ensure that my parents are not starving anymore. Apart from my job as a medical linguist, I have also been working for two years as an actor and commercial model in The Netherlands and in Belgium.
What is Mister Senior Netherlands?
As a means to make myself better known and get more work in these fields, this year I applied to the Mister Senior Netherlands competition.
Mister International Netherlands is a pageant show, now in its fifth year. The winner from the main competition goes on to represent The Netherlands in the worldwide contest next year.
However, Mister International Netherlands is only open to people aged under 30.
As a response to that, Mister Senior Netherlands was added as a new category this year, for men aged over 30.
This is not a gay competition, but it is open for everybody regardless of sexual orientation.
So why did I decide to take part?
Well, I wanted to champion a pageant where winning is about more than looks.
When I saw the slogan for it is ‘More Than Beauty’, I knew that joining this competition was the right thing to do.
From our first audition, we were encouraged to be ourselves. They wanted us to not only look pretty and own the catwalk, but also to bring brains, kindness, and inner beauty to the competition. They were judging us regardless of our age or the amount of muscles we have.
I don’t think that I am the most gorgeous finalist, but they believed in me and gave me an opportunity. And I intend to make them proud.
Being over 30 is ‘old’ on dating apps
I also feel it is an opportunity to tackle ageism. And let’s face it, that’s a challenge a lot of gay and bi men come up against.
For many years, I tried to find love or at least friendship in dating sites, both straight and gay. But I realized that in general people were not really interested in getting to know me as a person. They would decide whether or not to meet me based on my photos or my ‘stats’.
And sometimes being over 30 is more than enough for people to tell you that you’re too old!
Nowadays, I don’t have any dating app profiles. I realized that I feel much happier without them. I have been a happy single for several years now. If I meet someone, I want it to be a real person in real life.
I hope one less kid will get bullied or feel suicidal
Mister Senior Netherlands is admittedly a way to build my modeling work. But, more importantly, I want to use this visibility for something greater than myself.
Of course, I will try to own that catwalk. But on top of that I always try to be the change that I would like to see in the world, and this is no exception.
I wish I had someone there for me when I was growing up, struggling with my feelings, and not being able to talk to anybody.
My hope is that one more kid will get help so they don’t get bullied or don’t feel the need to commit suicide. I’m painfully aware of how often that happens. And if I can play a part in stopping it, I will feel like my mission is accomplished.
Jung said: ‘I am not what happened to me. I am what I chose to become.’ This is my motto! And it is also the best advice I can give to anyone. Be yourself! Believe in yourself! You have the power to be whoever you want to be. Do it with kindness, and the universe will return it to you.
You can find out more about Miguel Martins and his bid to become Mister Senior Netherlands here.