Text JF. Pierets Photos Renate Breuer
He makes television shows for Dutch channel KRO. One of them is called ‘Uit de kast’ – Out of the Closet – in which he supports youngsters in their coming out. Striking a pose on the cover of a gay magazine is something he does without batting an eye even though he was born and raised as the son of a preacher man in a small village in The Netherlands. He preaches and parties. He’s kind and intelligent but he likes to do things his own way. Yes, there’s a lot to say about Arie Boomsma. A conversation about religion, gay icons and controversy.
When reading the above, one must think you’re quite the schizophrenic type. Yet you sound like you are completely at ease and in balance. How do you combine all these traits in one person?
Let‘s say that I love this kind of tension. I find it very satisfactory to get these contradictions to unite. It gives me the feeling that things are in motion. Maybe it appears to be contradictory but that’s not necessarily so. I sometimes find it difficult to be seen as someone who stands on the barricades while all I want to do is create programs about things that I find important. I feel it is my quest to make youngsters see that they ought to be open and free but I never felt the urge to be a taboo breaker.
You are very religious. Not exactly something you automatically connect with being biased. How come you’re so open minded?
The fundamentals were secured in my upbringing. My parents, who are also very religious, kept the doors to our home open to anyone who needed shelter. People who’d just come out of prison, missionaries from Africa or the occasional vagabond in need of a bath; they were all welcomed with open arms. My parents always said that faith is their basic principle but they also told me to check out their bookshelves and read. They knew that not everybody had the same belief and thought it very important for us to keep an open mind. For us to take a more profound look at the world around us was very important to them.
Is it very narrow minded of me to think that religious people are not tolerant towards any other range of ideas?
It remains a difficult discussion. I know a whole bunch of religious people who really think differently. But those are not the ones you hear the most. Therefore I find it very important to apply myself for a theme such as homosexuality. Because if you take the bible seriously you’ll read that it’s a command to step into the world with love in your hart and not to be judgmental.
I’m often in conflict with people who I think are abusing religion to prohibit people to do or to be something they don’t really are.
And is that the reason why you make television programs like ‘Uit de Kast’?
I want to be inspired by the things around me, by what happens at this moment, contemporary themes. Only, when it comes to sexual orientation, I’m even more motivated because I want to underline that if you acknowledge the existence of God, you know that he would never tell someone what he can or cannot do. God loves everyone and sees no difference between gays, hetero- or transsexuals, lesbians or anyone else. God makes no mistakes; he makes every person the way he or she ought to be. I would never say such a thing during the show, but I like to accentuate this vision during the promotion of it.
Sounds like you get much satisfaction from your work?
I do. Very much. I love to go out, eat, drink and party but in my work I find it very important to make a difference. To be relevant and to make a contribution, to make something right, as you like. Mind you, there’s a shadow side to the whole thing because I can feel pretty guilty when I’m not working. Then again that might be a Calvinistic motivation.
Do you feel successful?
That would be a little too easy. The second season of ‘Uit de Kast’ had about 700.000 viewers. It would be very tempting to sit back, relax and enjoy the success but that’s not my motive. Now, while working on season 3, I want to make it better, I want stories that matter, that inspire even more than the previous series. I don’t want it to end like some kind of trick, a format that works on TV. You have to watch out not to repeat yourself because it’s successful. It has to be repeated to have more impact. I want to keep evolving because even if some people think that homosexuality is widely accepted, it is not. For the biggest part it’s still something many people don’t know about. Something scary.
The core of idealism is that you should always feel that what you do is something good or that it adds something. It’s nice to get confirmation, but it’s not my first aim.
Those kids from ‘Uit de Kast’ really trust you. You can almost hear them say, “Here’s my hart, you can do with it whatever pleases you”.
That’s true. But that’s because we take our time and we talk a lot. We never give those kids the feeling that they are obliged to do anything. They are the ones that decide what will happen. We’re the happy few who can be present at this process. I’m always very proud that they want me there because there’s a lot at stake for those boys and girls. The stories they tell are real and sometimes very raw. That’s why I want a program like this on television. To show all those struggling kids out there that they are not alone. Let’s say I’m not done with trying to bring confidence and a sense of self-worth to those who need it.
‘God loves everyone, and sees no difference between gays, hetero- or transsexuals or anyone else.’
It must be hard to get those stories out of your head.
In the previous season there was this boy who told me that he hated himself when he looked in the mirror. He used to call himself a dirty faggot and stated that he would give both his legs to not have to be this way. Can you imagine that? That you are so disgusted of yourself because everyone in your environment always told you that it’s wrong, that it’s not the way you ought to be. So yes, those stories keep wandering through your head while you ponder on how to make this right. Fortunately everything is becoming better. The boy and I stay in touch. He has a boyfriend and slowly he starts to accept who he is. His mother is very interested, his family is strictly orthodox but they had the strength to put love in the first place.
And what about you? Are you very influenced by your surroundings?
I’m aware of my position in society but I try not to be too influenced. Some moments are easier than others and I don’t want to be bound fighting against any form of judgment. Then again I’m aware of my exemplary function. I work with high school kids and some of them look up to me. Personally I can run around, saying I’m a free spirit and it ought to be possible to experiment with whatever you like, but I would never say “go ahead”. Because you never know what goes on in someone else’s mind.
You do so many things, yet they keep calling you a gay icon. Doesn’t that bother you?
In the beginning I was quite bothered by all those questions about being gay or not. I had to keep explaining that it’s not because you are on the cover of a gay magazine or the host of a themed television show, that you are necessarily gay. Nowadays I don’t mind anymore. I keep thinking that as long as hetero men are bothered about being called gay, well, I will keep shaking the tree. It’s very important that men like Obama or John Irving stand up for homosexuality. They should say that gay rights are civil rights, and that everyone should get over it. Those are people with a lot of influence, they could change a lot.
Your quote on Twitter says: ‘Optimism borders on irresponsibility’.
When you are optimistic, you have to be fully so against all odds. You must be prepared to see the beautiful side of things, even if it tends to be a little naïve. Being so hopeful, being so willing for everything to be fine, that it’s almost irresponsible.
Do you have it in your nature?
Yes, but it also became a way of living. People often mistake optimism for weakness but it isn’t. It’s looking at how to get out even when you are down. Like that Baron Von Munchhausen, who grabs himself by the hair and makes decisions to move on, even though it’s hard at times. It’s not in my nature to tend to the negative side of things. I see them and I’m not ignorant about them and sometimes they do kick in, but in the end there’s always something worth fighting for. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m never sad. I have my downs once in a while and sometimes I need to pull back from the world. I Draw the curtains, watch some movies and read some books to recharge my batteries. During these episodes I sometimes start to feel that the character of it all is temporary. I start to notice that the more you have, the greater your fear is to lose it all. Until now I never had any reason to be afraid. I have a lot of beautiful opportunities. I have a lot of possibilities and room to create, but because of that I also sometimes wonder what I would do if all this wasn’t happening. If I would still have so much satisfaction from what I do if there wouldn’t be any camera’s to register the act.
I don’t think so. If you want to make a difference it better be grand and impressive to have the biggest impact possible. Not in the least with an audience. Although a large audience has to be the result, not the goal.
Yet you are working for public television.
I am, but I never have the feeling they keep me on a tight leash. We talk a lot. But indeed, on the other hand I’m dependent on the space they allow me to have. Luckily that’s a lot of space.
Is that why you are writing? Because there’s a chance that it might all end?
Maybe it is. It’s indeed something I could do forever. But the biggest motivation to write is because it’s such a nice antithesis of my public life. Those quiet moments, that kind of loneliness, just letting it all out. It’s a whole different way of expressing myself.
Last question. Almost every article about you is saying how involved, kind, intelligent or good looking you are. What’s the angle?
I don’t know. Even though I am everything that I am, this keeps being a relevant question; who am I, apart from what I do as a public person? A friend of mine once told me that he had the feeling I was living in a world of illusion. People talk different because they know me from television and I’m offered free coffee in a bar. Nevertheless, considering the programs I’m making, I feel like I’m standing right in the middle of it. No illusion at all. It’s what we talked about in the beginning of this conversation; everybody captures another part of your character and it’s not always easy to keep all those facets in one person. In no way do I mean that to be negative because I love being in the spotlights, but on one hand you have to take care that everything keeps on moving fluently and on the other hand you need and anchor. You must not forget what you do and what you do it for. And yes, maybe for some people I’m all paradox, but then again… I love flirting with those boundaries.
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