Words byHayley Hayley

One of the best weekends of the year in Amsterdam is Pride. The streets are packed with people celebrating love and individuality and each other. It’s moving and beautiful but also happens to be a damn good time. We spoke to some of our proudest instructors about what it means to be themselves, what pride means to them and the importance of love.

What does ‘being yourself’ mean to you?

Luuk: For me, being myself means accepting all the parts that I carry within myself, both the good parts and those you don’t necessarily like. It has everything to do with acceptance for me. So accept the way you are, and you’ll spread that energy. I’m sure about that!

Tiela: Having the freedom to express yourself from inside out without allowing the thoughts of others’ perceptions of you inflict your confident self-awareness.

Jeff: “Authenticity is the greatest currency one has” – Unknown Author. This is my favourite quote. To be me means to practice authenticity. Authenticity is making the conscious choice and having the courage to be open, honest and vulnerable; to live a life nurturing the connections with those that surround me; to love wholeheartedly and unconditionally; and to move through the ebbs and flows of life.

]Dennis: To me, being yourself means that you don’t feel the need to adjust yourself to be accepted. I don’t mean this in the way that you have to be arrogant and only do the things that you want to do but that you feel comfortable that being you is enough. I sometimes catch myself saying or doing things because I think that’s what I should say or do in that situation, but in the end, when I look back at it, I think, ‘Why did I say that? Why did I do that?’ That’s not me or something that I would say or do. Feeling comfortable with yourself and not being afraid to show your true self is the ultimate meaning of being yourself.

And how about pride?

Jeff: For me, the word pride connotes feelings of success, warmth and acceptance. It’s about embracing and honouring the similarities and differences that exist between individuals, groups, communities, etc. Pride is to aim for solidarity, to be proud of oneself and also those around you for being their authentic selves.

Dennis: I look at pride in two ways. In one way I LOVE IT!!! Everyone is happy and showing themselves and is partying for the freedom of being yourself. And I like any situation where you can dress up over the top and put on some glitter. But on the other hand it’s also kinda sad that we need a special day to pay attention to being yourself. In an ideal world, it would be pride 365 days a year. Don’t get me wrong – I love the fact that we celebrate pride and put focus on it. Because for some people in our society it’s still very hard to be yourself. But ideally it would be possible to have that all year round.

Tiela: Liberation. Unity. Community. Growth. We have older generations of the LGBTQ community to thank for getting most of Western society to change lawfully and lift the stigma that the community once had. Pride is a celebration and a statement that our predecessors and activists alike have allowed us to unify and continue onto the greater good. For my generation, it’s the time we have been granted by such key figures like Marsha P. Johnstone, a Stonewall pioneer; we celebrate in living colour with the ever-growing acceptance of our community.

Luuk: Pride is about feeling f*cking proud about who you are! Let’s stop with this bullshit of only seeing differences between people. Let’s look for what we all have in common. You might be surprised how much you’ll like people you didn’t like before when you give it a chance. Life is short, so remove the restrictions. Nature is made for options.

Can you tell us about a time you made a mistake or were vulnerable but overcame it and used it to drive you and make you stronger?

Jeff: Although I was excited, I was quite nervous to uproot my life from Toronto, Canada and move to Amsterdam, a city where I didn’t speak the native language, knew only one person and was unfamiliar with the ‘blunt persona’ the Dutch are known to embody. During my first week here, I comforted myself with the series Suits, stroopwafel and my bed. After binge watching the first season and not being able to stomach another stroopwafel, I took a leap of faith and landed a job at The Cold Pressed Juicery. I was hesitant while applying, mainly due to my inability to speak Dutch, but I knew I had to trust my ability to easily connect with people and my prior knowledge about cold-pressed juices after having been a store manager for a juicery in Toronto, Canada. Moving was scary and nerve-racking, but I proved to myself I can do it and would do over time and time again.

Dennis: I think the biggest mistake I made in my life was not being myself from an early age. When I went through puberty, I knew I was gay but didn’t accept it yet because it made me different from everyone else. I tried to fit in as much as I could and be as manly as possible. When I started college, that’s when I started to feel more comfortable being myself. I would never want to go back to that situation when I felt I couldn’t be myself. And when I look back at it, I wonder why I was afraid of showing my true self. I learned that the biggest fears you feel are fears that you create yourself. Because I know that if I would have had the courage to be myself during puberty, I would have had so much more fun during that period of my life. And no one would have cared if I would have done things my own way. I made myself believe that fitting in would make me happy. But in the end, when I felt comfortable being myself, I felt sooo much better.

How have you seen ‘love is love’ manifested in your everyday life?

Tiela: My partner’s profile picture on Facebook is from Gran Canaria Pride 2017 with a random lady wearing a ‘love is love’ t-shirt. This message is enriched by the idea that love has no boundaries. I am not quick to judge people and will never see love as black and white, as some people still do. Through the power of social media, I see the most beautiful and inspiring videos: trans women having children with trans men, countries allowing gay marriage. We still have a long way to go in other countries that take up most of the world. Change is now!

Dennis: ‘Love is love; is something that I don’t even think about in my life. Because love isn’t something to think about or something that you can define. I don’t see why there can be only one kind of love between people. Love isn’t something that you can define or something that has to go a certain way. Love is something that is for you. It’s nothing more or less than it is. Every person that’s in my life is connected by love. It can be a friendly love, a passionate love or a family love, but it’s all love.

Luuk: I have to say we are so blessed to live in a city like Amsterdam. I feel so accepted here, and I almost take it for granted. However, there is still a long way to go. We all hear these awful stories. And sadly love is love is not everyone’s motto. Let’s keep this subject open and try to inspire each other.

Jeff: I see it in the everyday random acts of kindness. Exchanging smiles with strangers, sharing laughter with friends, waking up and falling asleep to “I love you” messages from my partner. Love is everywhere. You just have to be open to receiving it to feel it.