My journey as Mr Gay Ireland started in July of 2018 and it’s been nearly a year of learning, self-discovery and acceptance since. I opened my eyes to many things that I did not care about before and I overcame fears and insecurities that had been following me for decades. I’ve learned how to love myself more, how to open up about my feelings, how to deal with my inner saboteur and, most importantly, how to give back to my community all the love that I’ve received.
One of my biggest inspirations is my sister who is a carnival queen in Brazil. I’ve been watching her compete in many pageants my whole life and now, by destiny, it was my turn. I must say that I never expected to get to this position but I am glad I did, not just for me, but also for her.
Once you become a ‘Mr’ and the representative of a whole country, you are in the public eye and setting yourself up to be judged for everything you do. You are automatically set up as a ‘role model’ and the pressure is real from all sides; the public, your producers (people who own the rights for the Mr’s competitions around the world) and the harshest critic - your self.
For some people, it can be a nightmare, with a list full of ‘You can’t do this or that’. For others, such as in my case, where the producers aren’t as hands-on, you’re free to live your own fantasy, under your own rules and guided by common sense. Don’t get me wrong, having a producer can be very positive as they are experienced in international competitions. Some of them are very influential, they know where to get sponsors from and how to prepare the delegate, which can really help in the competition. But they can also be so focused on moulding the perfect delegate that it can lead to a lot of pressure and anxiety on the competitors. I’ve seen it in person and it’s difficult to watch.
My first challenge as Mr Gay Ireland was to prepare for the Mr Gay Europe 2018 competition in Poland. It was a rollercoaster of emotions before the competition. Firstly, I only had three weeks to prepare, the pressure was real and time was against me. It was like an extra job, something that was very time consuming considering that I was already working two jobs and I was a full-time marketing student. 24 hours in a day was not enough but I had to make it work.
When I met all the delegates, I realised how prepared they were and what great causes they stood for. Mr Gay England is a HIV advocate, Mr Gay Denmark was the first transgender man to enter the competition and Mr Gay Wales brought LGBT+ awareness to sports. They were all true to themselves and they were fighting for something that they believed in.
I knew I had to step up if I wanted to have a chance so I decided to open up about my childhood traumas and create a platform where the conversation about sexual abuse was open. It was very difficult to talk about something so personal but it was something that I needed to do sooner or later. I created my #ITSOKAY project and it changed me in ways that I couldn’t imagine. Nobody wants to talk about sexual abuse, sometimes especially if you are a man. Toxic masculinity is still blinding people but it only takes one person to start the conversation and I believed I was following the universe’s call by sharing my story and making an impact.
During the Mr Gay Europe competition in Poland, I made some amazing friends. The group was very small but diverse and I was one of the youngest delegates. I had the opportunity to join the Pride Parade in Poznan which was an unforgettable experience. Poland isn’t the most accepting country for the LGBT+ community and this was very apparent at the parade. There were lots of aggressive protesters shouting hate at the people marching. But there was also so much love and hope from everyone taking part and taking a stand against hate. From the top of the float, I could see the difference between hate and love, ignorance and respect, grey and rainbow. That was definitely one of my richest memories from my experience there, the love that we received from the Polish LGBT+ community was amazing.
Back in Ireland, I had more time to prepare for the next challenge - Mr Gay World 2019, to be held in Cape Town, South Africa. For this one, I could breathe and plan everything that I wanted to bring. I was lucky to get GCN and Penneys to sponsor me and help to make my fantasy become possible.
Mr Gay World is very different from Mr Gay Europe. The platform is larger, the competition is more organised, the number of delegates is four times bigger and there are sponsors to support the competition.
Getting to know the guys was one of the best parts of the experience. There were 22 LGBT+ men from all around the world all with their own stories to share and amazing projects going on. Some delegates arrived with dozens and I mean dozens of producers, some with a few and some with none. Some came from countries with very little LGBT+ rights while others came from a more accepting environment. I’m so lucky to live in such a progressive place like Ireland, while others came from the extreme opposite where they are hunted for being themselves. Mr Gay Namibia comes from such a dangerous environment but has done and continues to do such great work for the LGBT+ community over there.
Mr Gay World had a full itinerary of events, activities and trips all around Cape Town. We volunteered in Khayelitsha -an underprivileged town where we helped the community paint their houses, we dug and planted an organic garden and we also brought presents for the children in an art school.
We visited the LGBT+ shelter in Cape Town, which apparently is the only one of its kind in the whole of Africa. The visit was very emotional, meeting the people who are living there and hearing their stories. From family rejection to corrective rape cases, once again, the human side of this experience opened our minds and brought tears to our eyes.
Revealing my national costume was the moment I was looking forward to most. As I mentioned before, my inspiration comes from my Brazilian carnival background. I knew I also wanted to represent my new home too, so the challenge was to combine both cultures in one and deliver the gag of the competition…which I think I succeeded in. The reveal of my St Patrick inspired look with a shamrock covering my modesty got the biggest reaction from the crowd at the live final. It might have been a bit controversial but no one ever got anywhere by being basic. The crowd loved it, the judges loved it, I loved it and the critics... Oh well, let them talk.
I got to represent this amazing country where I feel at home...
Now, after all the competitions, my project #ITSOKAY being known internationally, all the people I’ve met, all the friendships I’ve made and all this experience as Mr Gay Ireland has made me a better version of myself. It has helped me to overcome so many things that I struggled with before. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and I am so happy that I’ve had this opportunity. I got to represent this amazing country where I feel at home and I was able to be my unapologetic self and succeed doing it.
People will criticise, judge and underestimate you, but only if you allow them to. The power is in your hands to decide where you want to be and the fantasy is all yours! Make the most of it, always!
MASSIVE THANKS TO PENNEYS FOR SPONSORING ME ON THIS JOURNEY AND GIFTING ME SOME OF THEIR AMAZING FEELING PROUD COLLECTION. THE COLLECTION IS ON SALE NOW WITH FUNDS GOING TO ILGA WORLD TO HELP WITH EQUAL RIGHTS FOR LGBT+ PEOPLE.