Monday, 1 November 2010

M Magazine: An open and close(t) case

Kenneth Zammit Tabona and Cyrus Engerer tell PAUL CARUANA TURNER how they came out.

23.10.10 by Paul Caruana Turner

[Posted on this website with the permission of M Magazine:; M Magazine is published by Allied Newspapers Limited and distributed with the Times of Malta.]

Coming out is the kind of almost simplistic terminology that hides the actual turmoil of recognising and informing friends of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. No matter the age of the person involved, coming out is a process where feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt, loneliness, denial and even depression can come to the fore.

The most worrying concern is being rejected by the people we love most – we are afraid that by outing ourselves we will bring great shame on our families, especially on a small island such as ours, where houses are so tightly knit together that they constitute a giant neighbourhood watch, and where religion still plays a heavy role in our daily lives.

Coming out is not one single decision or action – rather, it is an ongoing process that one must live through every day. Of course, things are easier now than they were back in the 1960s and 70s. And even if locally, the recognition of gay rights and the growth of the gay scene are moving at a pace Eric the Eel would be ashamed of, there is at least the possibility of seeking refuge, help and friendship.

Unfortunately coming out does not always end well and repercussions can be serious. I have spoken with people who have been rejected by their parents and kicked out of home. Others were sent to psychotherapists and priests to remove the ‘silly’ idea from their head

Unfortunately some people who come out cannot handle the rejection. It is such issues and tragedies that political parties in Malta need to take on while providing further education and assistance.


As Kenneth Zammit Tabona (below) discusses a play he had just watched a couple of evenings before, we seek refuge in a Sliema café to talk about another kind of drama – coming out. Kenneth recalls the situation back in the 1970s.

“Most of the people I knew would rather move abroad than go through the whole debacle of coming out,” he tells me. “Gays were not accepted at the time, and there was certainly no gay scene to speak of.

Kenneth Zammit-Tabona (Photo by Kris Micallef at

“Such was the close-mindedness of people that they either passed being gay off as a cry for attention or something people chose to do to be cool,” he adds.

Back in those days, homosexuality was taboo and although Kenneth knew from around the age of 15 that he was gay, it was when he hit the big 40 that he finally threw open the metaphorical closet door and came out. It involved a humorous anecdote he recites with boisterous laughter.

“I remember I had gone out to eat with a long-time friend. As I came out to him over lunch, he just replied, ‘I’ve known for a while’. This certainly provided an anticlimax to all the adrenaline that I had bunched up while building up the nerve to tell him. But after that episode, coming out to other people just became easier.”

Kenneth concedes that he feels that things have been made easier today, not only by the change in attitude and positive campaigns but also through the help of social networking sites which have helped people seek out direction and advice online.

Kenneth admits that he has been contacted several times through this medium by people decades younger then himself who know him as a friend of relatives and see him as someone they can trust to provide guidance and help them through the stages of coming out.

Kenneth applauds the efforts made by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, but admits that it’s not “trendy enough to attract larger numbers of young volunteers”.


Cyrus Engerer’s serious character is at odds with the rabble-rouser tag many people rush to place on him. Religion has had a heavy influence on Cyrus (below) since his childhood.

“I was a member of a prayer group, and when I first began to realise I was different, I would feel guilty.”

He admits that hewas judgemental of friends who were openly gay. Despite never rejecting them, he still felt that, “They were doing something wrong and that they should repent.” As a student of political science, Cyrus realised the potential damage that coming out could cause to his political aspirations – he believed that he would not be able to pursue a future in politics if he came out.

Cyrus admits that he has been treated differently by various factions of the PN, the party he now serves – while some people employ kid gloves when dealing with him, others approach him as their equal. Cyrus also concedes his frustration with other party members who although of the same orientation choose to keep silent in the face of the party’s refusal to take a stand on the issue of gay rights, which is yet another hurdle in the struggle for equality.

The first time that his mother confronted him about his sexuality, he denied it. Then when he began to be more open about his orientation, his mum confronted him a second time. This time around, he admitted to being gay. He has never regretted his decision to come out.


  1. MGRM needs to be a little less polite and more punchy to make an impact..Kenneth is also right when he says that it needs to be more trendy,there's a large gay crowd out there whom it's not reaching.

  2. The claim that the Malta Gay Rights Movement is not “trendy enough to attract larger numbers of young volunteers” is silly in the extreme and betrays the mentality of someone who has never been involved in gay and lesbian politics. Trendy gay men are as a rule not interested in gay politics. They are more interested in dressing up, making an impression (however superficial) and looking like muscle marys not to mention drugs and parties. Those interested in gay politics are there because they are prepared to make sacrifices. In many ways this kind of criticism is typical of that which we encountered in Australia back in the 1970s. Just imagine a group of trendy queens walking down Republic Street in a demonstration. Speak about reinforcing stereotypes. Get real Kenneth. Get involved yourself in the MGRM.

  3. "Cyrus admits that he has been treated differently by various factions of the PN, the party he now serves – while some people employ kid gloves when dealing with him, others approach him as their equal. " This is an interesting comment. Gay men and lesbians are often treated as children reflecting an attitude which denies us the right to be treated as men and women.