Fans of the Sex Education star—who also appeared in Barbie and will soon hit screens as the new Doctor Who—will know that until recently he has kept quiet about his private life.
In the summer, Gatwa, 31, posed naked for the Pride Month issue of British Vogue. He explained at the time why he didn’t talk about his sexuality.
“It’s a safety and mental health thing,” Gatwa said. “After Sex Education, we all became public property, to an extent … In setting my boundaries, I knew I wanted to separate the private and public, and that I never wanted my personal life to overshadow my work.”
Then, in September, in an interview with Elle UK, he talked about bumping into another person from Rwanda at a Pride event in Manchester, England. Gatwa left the African country as a two-year-old in 1995, as a refugee escaping genocide, and settled in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I remember being at Manchester Pride, going through the streets with all my boys, shaking my cha-chas, living it up, when I saw this woman who looked exactly like my auntie,” he recalled. “She wasn’t –– but I knew she was Rwandan.
“I had never met another queer Rwandan person,” he said. “I thought I was the only one in the world.”
“It was, after feeling such fear, so easy”
After confirming his queerness to Elle, he’s opened up further to GQ for its ‘Men of the Year’ issue. He says he came out to his mom five years ago, aged 26. It was shortly before Sex Education hit screens.
To his surprise, she didn’t react badly. He mimicked the way she shrugged and simply said, “OK.”
“What?! All this trauma for years. That’s your response?!” he recalls thinking. “We’re not gonna have a fight about it?” It was, after feeling such fear, so easy.”
Gatwa also talked about studying drama in Glasgow. To help pay his rent, he got a job at the city’s famous queer club, The Polo Lounge. He worked as a go-go boy and gave out shots.
“It was very weird going from high school,” he says, “where being the queer, Black kid you were nobody’s pick of the bunch, to getting thrown into the Glasgow gay scene. I will never forget my first night out. I was in a white gay environment [and] as a Black man, I was deeply, deeply sexualized. I couldn’t quite understand the toxicity of that. I couldn’t understand that I was being fetishized. I wasn’t able to walk through this club without every bit of me being grabbed.”
The interviewer suggests that it must have been uncomfortable.
“It was weird – but fun! Very fun!” replied Gatwa.
Queer life in Rwanda
Gatwa appears to still feel discomfort at using a label for his sexuality. However, fame made it hard to stay quiet, as some people seem to think that celebrities must tell the world everything.
“What is the point of putting a label on anything? I’m not going to do that for people that I don’t know. I remember seeing stuff like ‘You’ve taken up space from an openly queer person.’”
“If you think it’s that easy, I’m happy for you. That’s a very privileged position to be in. To think that sexuality is so easy, and talking about sexuality is so easy and existing with one’s sexuality is so easy. I’m so glad that you think it’s that easy, because the world isn’t like that.”
Gatwa goes on to talk about his birth country, Rwanda. He still has family there, so coming out impacts them. He also talks about meeting queer people living in Rwanda who feel forced to live a heteronormative life. At one point, he gets tearful at how such queer people in his birth country can’t enjoy the things people in countries such as the UK take for granted, such as visiting a gay bar or going to Pride.
“They should be able to come in and have a little taste of actual joy.”
Gatwa will take on the most high-profile role of his career next month when he steps into the shoes of Doctor Who. It coincides with the BBC show’s 60th anniversary.
“I had never met another queer Rwandan person. I thought I was the only one in the world.”
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