Matt, Lead Design Talent Partner at Fearless Talent, joins us for our next instalment of our Pride in Design series. He talks to us about how he was introduced to Pride through work, how his acting background led him to lead a double life, and why support networks are everything.
LB: Tell me a little bit about your experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
MK: I think my journey was a little different, because I hid it for so many years. I had friends that knew but family, no. I was a very good actor in that sense, keeping things kind of, at an equilibrium, almost leading a double life. So to my parents, or my sisters, I was Matthew. And then with my friends, I was Matt, and trying to live that kind of lifestyle. So, for me, I didn't really experience any negativity, because I didn't allow myself to get put in that situation, I very much was in denial myself. But going out with certain friends, they would experience it, and I just happened to be there. And that made me think, “Why wasn't I targeted?”, it was a weird situation. I think I had an internal kind of homophobia, because I was petrified about coming out. Never homophobic towards others, but for me, I just couldn’t face coming out.
LB: Internalised homophobia is such an interesting way of putting, where do you think that came from?
MK: I think growing up in my household, I had a British mum, and my dad being Turkish there would be the odd kind of negativity towards anything that related to being gay. Coming from Turkey, it’s something that isn’t open or “normal” over there. So I suppose his generation grew up with that, and it stuck with him. So if he saw anything on TV, there would be the odd kind of throwaway comment, switching the channels if you saw something. Whereas my mum was so open, in her workplace, Liberty’s Department Store, gay men gravitated towards her. She had a lot of gay friends. And I remember going out one night to this bar in Soho by myself, absolutely petrified, and I saw one of my mum's work friends. And I panicked, he must have seen me, and I thought, did he mention something to my mum? Next time I went into Liberty’s to see her, there was this off the cuff comment from one of her friends and I just bolted. So it's kind of a juxtaposition of my mum, having gay friends and my dad being anti, is where my internalised homophobia came from, and it was all directed towards myself.
LB: Do you think greater representation in the media could have helped and made more people like your Dad more open?
MK: For sure. I'm a huge tennis fan for example. There are no male out gay tennis players. We've only just recently had an out football player, Jake Daniels currently at Blackpool. There's the Australian player as well. But whilst there are a lot of out people in the arts, actors and musicians etc, there aren’t really that many mainstream role models in other areas, especially sports. So I still think there's a long way to go because these are the people we look up to growing up, aren’t they?
LB: What changes do you think need to happen for queer people to be themselves earlier, because you’re not alone in being someone who hid it for a long time?
MK: I think everybody's got their own journey. That's why I don't think there's a one size fits all answer. But I wish I’d maybe gone and sought some kind of support group, instead of doing it the way I went about it. Because in the long run, my mental health took a real beating because of it. Leading that kind of double life takes its toll on you.
LB: It’s lovely you had a tight group of gay friends and around them you could be yourself, how important is the LGBTQ+ community?
MK: I think it gets taken for granted how useful it can be. I've probably got about five good friends in London, and I always looked up to them because they were all out. And I was the only one that wasn't. But one of them was out from the day he was born, his parents knew they were fine with it, he couldn't hide it. Ironically, the others were kind of forced to come out, because brothers or sisters found out and grassed them up, they got confronted by their parents, and then they couldn't deny it. But in a weird way it worked, because it was a kind of therapy for that family. I wish I'd forced myself to rip off that band aid and do it myself. My friends, they were my support network without them even realising, I was looking up to them, without them even realising. And we're all roughly the same age give or take a couple of years. So that was a big help to me, because I think if I hadn't met those people, life would have been very different.
And it was pure chance meeting those friends, I went to Heaven nightclub alone. I turned up on a Saturday night, I went to the R&B room upstairs, I was dancing away, and a guy started chatting to me, and he has in turn been one of my closest friends for the last 22 years! But if I hadn't gone there that night, I wouldn't have found that support network. And looking back, I'd wish I'd sought out more connections, not even necessarily friends, but foundations I could associate with and especially when I went to drama school to study acting.
LB: When would you say you got to a point where you were fully comfortable?
MK: That wasn't till recently and I'm 44 now. It’s really sad to say but my mum passed away twelve years ago, my dad passed away five years ago, and I think it was probably after my dad passed away that I was a bit more comfortable with it. I came out via WhatsApp to my sisters in December 2019. I feel so stupid that I had to do it via WhatsApp to my sisters, and it was this big ass long essay. And I knew what the response was gonna be. Once I'd ripped off that band aid and told them it was like, “Why didn't I do this years before?”. But Hindsight is a great thing, isn't it? So it's a double edged sword. I was never comfortable saying anything to mum or dad. If they were still alive today, part of me thinks would I still be doing this double life thing? Or they would have known? Before my mum passed away one of the last things she said to me was, “I just want you to be happy, I know. So I just want you to be happy.” They say mothers always know!
LB: Mothers instinct is very powerful. Let’s talk about Pride specifically now - did your double life stop you getting involved?
MK: Years ago, when I was a student, I had a part time job in a bar in Soho Friday, Saturday nights. And one year the boss says, “Right, we're working the VIP area of Pride in Hyde Park.” I panicked and said I wasn't told. And they were like, “Yeah, you'll be working Saturday and you'll be wearing a skimpy outfit of shorts and a vest with the bar logo on it, bit of make up, eyeliner and glitter.” And I went home and I was absolutely petrified. I was so, so worried about who I’d bump into, what if friends saw me, because obviously straight people go to Pride too, what if my mum’s friends are going to be there? But, I did go and worked the VIP bar, and made about £400 in tips. So that was my introduction to Pride in about 2002.
I haven't really participated since but that’s purely because the celebration it’s turned into, is just not the sort of thing I’m into, I'm an introverted extrovert. But I love that it’s got bigger each year, I do feel like there does have to be visibility, otherwise, if all of a sudden that stops, then homophobia creeps back. In my opinion, people find it easier to reject something they don’t understand or that doesn’t apply to them, than accept it, so that's why we've constantly got to be in people's minds, in a positive light, so that rubs off on others. Pride is a good thing.
And when it comes to Pride, if anyone gets to experience a Mardi Gras in Sydney, it’s not all about the party, but everything that gears up towards it and the community spirit. It's such a great event.
LB: Did this double life follow you through your career? A bar in Soho is quite different to the world of recruitment.
MK: I think in the workplace, it was quite interesting. A few years ago, when I was quite new to recruitment, I'd worked in such a small team that it didn't really matter, they were all very open and it was in Germany so I wasn’t around regular friends/family. Then I joined a recruitment business in London, it was bigger, about 40 people in the office, and there was this one character, she was a big personality. All the guys fancied her. And on this one hot summer's day, she was dressed quite provocatively, and I remember saying to her, “Oh, great outfit, looks really good on you.” and it was said as a compliment. Now bear in mind, I wasn’t out at work, and she turned around and said, “Oh, that's fine. You can get away with that because I know you're a homo”. And I was like, “Oh. And what does that mean?” And she pointed at one of my colleagues who was obviously straight because he had a girlfriend and said “If he'd said it, I would say he's a perv.”
I didn't know how to take it because not only had she just outed me at work, but her terminology was quite pointed. The irony was, she was fired about a week later.
But I've had some good experiences, actually one of the recruitment businesses I worked for, the founder was gay. And she was very open about it, she was married, she had a wife, and was very charismatic. And it was part of the reason I joined that company, because I felt comfortable. It was actually a bit of a lightbulb moment, because I'd had multiple offers from recruitment businesses, and I was weighing them up and even though some offered more money, I knew I wanted to be part of a business that has a leader who is openly gay, and is not afraid to show it because I knew I could be myself, well oneday!
LB: How's your experience been at Fearless?
MK: I think Jake helped a lot. When I met everybody, for the first time, face to face, I knew instantly that he might be gay. But again, I'm not wanting to make assumptions because I've gotten that wrong before! But it did make me feel more comfortable. Especially being in such a small team, being in a startup, we see each other all the time, and that definitely helped. It feels like having a sibling here, someone with that extra connection, and that’s a bonus!
We are so glad that you’ve been able to be your true self with us at Fearless Matt, and we hope you’ll save that acting talent exclusively for productions and not need it in your daily life again.