uw Davies moved to Bulgaria three years ago. He saw a niche in the market and began a business furnishing homes and apartments for the influx of foreigners.
He loves the Bulgarian tomatoes, red wine, sunny weather and the good-looking people. He doesn't like the bling fashion, the potholed roads, the grey, crumbling buildings and the fact that Burgas airport shuts in the winter. Oh, and one other thing - he's gay.
“Attitudes to homosexuality in Bulgaria are similar to 1980s Britain.” says Huw. “In fact, Azis is doing for Bulgaria what Boy George did for the UK. Although Azis is not your typical gay person - he is much more extreme - he is taking the shock factor out of being gay, because he is in the public eye so often.”
Indeed, the either loved or loathed Azis appears on magazine covers every other week, is well known for his hit records and even appeared on Bulgaria's VIP Brother alongside his “husband”, Niki Kitaetsa, or “Chinese” Nick. However, when most heterosexual, stoically traditional Bulgarians, are asked why they like the gender-bending entertainer, they curtly reply that it's simply because “he is an excellent singer”. Nothing to do with his endearing flamboyancy and taboo-pushing antics, then?
The overall reason for Azis' fame is the utter scandal. Bulgarians love to gossip; perhaps as a legacy of Communism. However, Azis' style of gossip-generating behaviour is not that of Huw. “I am openly gay, but I'm not overt with it; I just don't believe in hiding anything. I often hear people saying it is something that should be kept private, but straight people don't pretend to be single, so I think it's only fair that I can talk about my partner too.”
On the other hand, this openness has lead to some negative experiences. The couple, who live in an apartment in Burgas, once had their home broken into and had anti-gay graffiti daubed on the wall. “I had to get the dictionary out to translate,” says Huw. “It wasn't the best day.”
Despite this, Huw has found the general reaction quite positive. “Perhaps it's easier for me as I'm foreign, so therefore different anyway, and I have the confidence to not worry too much about what people think. Bulgarians usually remain quite polite when I tell them my partner is he not she, even if in reality they are quite shocked or uncomfortable. There is a group of heterosexual lads here who I regularly play darts with, so really society can't be that homophobic - just uninformed.”
In situations where it's not appropriate to be completely open, such as when meeting more rural or elderly Bulgarians, reactions are fairly typical. “In Bulgaria, it's normal to be asked within seconds, whether you are married and how many children you have. When my reply is that I'm not married and have no children, the reaction is that of pity and crumbled photos of potential suitors are pulled out of pockets.”
Sofia is a city where being openly gay is certainly not as unthinkable as in smaller communities or deeply traditional villages. In fact, this was the place where a topless Azis and his, excuse the cliché, “significant other” appeared kissing on billboards - albeit for a short while - at the end of 2007. Not only are there numerous gay clubs in Sofia, but also reportedly gay hotels such as Scotty's Boutique Hotel. In addition to that, BGO Gemini (Bulgarian Gay Organisation), a group that lobbies for equal opportunities for homosexuals, has their headquarters in the city and there are even a couple of gay sports clubs, such as Fat Cat's centre. Huw agrees that the scene in Sofia is much more developed. “I've been out and about in Sofia a few times. The gay clubs there are great and the music is really good,” he says. “The community there is much more self-assured. In general though, I've struggled socially in Bulgaria. Before we moved here we lived in Amsterdam for seven years, which was a much more forward-thinking and accepting place, even more so than the UK. I am a very sociable person and I love to meet others, but find myself either meeting people who only want ‘one thing', or just people who have their sexuality in common with me, instead of actually sharing hobbies or interests.”
So, with Sofia leading the way, does Huw think that other Bulgarian cities and even time-honoured villages will follow this acceptance? “I think the only way this could happen, would be for regular gay Bulgarians to be more confident and open. The society is generally very macho, so people don't want to stray out of the norm and risk becoming isolated. Many gay Bulgarians that I have encountered don't even admit being gay to each other, claiming instead to being bisexual or experimental. Usually they are completely gay, but marry and have children just to keep their family and society happy.”
Although Huw finds Bulgaria a fascinating place, he doesn't see himself staying. “Really, I moved here as my partner's work moved here, but eventually I want to return to the Netherlands. That's where I've been the happiest.”