With Antique Pink, photographer/artist Ernst Coppejans reflects on the experiences of the first gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and intersex people (*LGBTIs) who dared to openly embrace their sexual orientation. Thanks to the generation that brought about LGBTI-emancipation, the current LGBTIQA+ community enjoys a freedom that is anything but self-evident and that must be actively maintained.

Coppejans depicts the personal, inspiring (sometimes shocking – but also especially beautiful), intimate stories of these elderly LGBTI-people who have Dutch and migration-related backgrounds.

These personal portraits and stories are intended to fuel the conversation between the older and younger generations, from Pride 2021 onwards. They have been included in the Amsterdam City Archives because the stories belong to our cultural heritage.

The series, Antique Pink, consists of thirty portraits and stories of 70+ year old LGBTI-people and is bundled and designed in collaboration with the Open Mind Foundation in a traveling multimedia exhibition, a magazine and an Antique Pink program.

Jill © Ernst Coppejans

Jill, 82 years
1939 Indonesia / worked as a dancer and sex worker

‘I never felt like I was in the wrong body. It’s just my body, and I wanted to change it.’

‘I just feel like Jill. That’s it. From my earliest childhood until now I have never felt any different. As a toddler I played weddings with girls and played soccer with the boys. I didn’t choose one of the two. My parents were fine with that, I think. I went to school as a boy. It wasn’t until later in college that I went in as a woman. After the initiation there was carnival. Boys dressed up as girls and vice versa. I felt really good in my women’s outfit and everyone loved it. So I thought: I’ll just stay like this.’

Dancing dressed as a girl
‘In Indonesia, during those days, women were not allowed to dance. So at parties, boys and men were hired to dress up as a woman and they would dance with the men. From the age of fourteen I travelled with an orchestra and did that kind of work. We also had sex with the men we danced with. Paid. We never showed our penis, we gave them the illusion that they had had sex with a woman.’

Carousel de Paris
‘In 1969 the Carrousel de Paris came to Jakarta. This was a show with transgender dancers. A Canadian drag queen danced in the show, I thought she was so beautiful! She invited me to come to Paris to dance in the carousel. In my fantasy, Paris was full of castles, but I lived in a small room on the seventh floor and there was one shower for everyone.’

Doctor Burou in Casablanca
‘In Paris I first heard about doctor Burou in Casablanca. Other doctors demanded you undergo years of psychological testing before you would be offered sex reassignment surgery as a transgender. He was the only one who did it without a fuss, for $10,000. Doctor Burou was a big, coarse man but very sweet. When, after saving up for years, I lay on his operating table, he still called me monsieur. When I woke up, he called me mademoiselle. That’s how it felt for me too. I never felt like I was in the wrong body. It was my body, and I wanted to change it.’

‘From Paris I moved to Berlin where I danced in the famous Chez Nous club. There I met my husband Edward, who persuaded me to come to Amsterdam. I moved three months before the fall of the wall. He has been dead for 13 years now, he died of the disease ALS. The first night I met him I told him I was trans, that I worked as a prostitute and that I wasn’t going to stop. He didn’t mind, he had had a trans girlfriend before. He was a beautiful man, 19 years younger than I. We got married in 2001.’

Interview in church magazine
‘In the Netherlands I was interviewed in the church magazine. My whole story with a photo. After that, people said: we didn’t know you were trans. I asked: am I different now? I used to be a man and God the Lord has turned me into this beautiful woman. I didn’t really receive any negative reactions, but I did get a lot of congratulations. People liked it.’

Work in the Netherlands
‘I worked in very chic whore houses. For example on the Churchilllaan. We had a great turnout. I earned 350 guilders a night, but I had to give half to the owner. Only operated trans women worked there. One Dutch woman and otherwise only foreign women. I often secretly gave my phone number to customers so I could receive them at home. Some customers have stayed for 20 years. They didn’t just come for the sex; they could also talk for hours about their wives. Then I would say: you should talk to her, not me. They were people I really bonded with. They still come to my door sometimes. But I don’t work anymore. Also not once-off. I have an old age pension and a pension from my deceased partner. Once a month I go to church. And when the weather is good, I sit outside on the Kastanjeplein here in Amsterdam. Then all the neighbours my age come outside. There we are, all of us old biddies. Lovely. I am completely satisfied.’

Mees © Ernst Coppejans

Mees, 76 years
1945 Nunspeet / studied psychology / worked as a technician and consultant

‘I’ve come out twice. First as a lesbian and years later as a trans.’

‘The feeling that I was a boy wasn’t always at the forefront, but it’s never gone away either. I hated that in the 1960s, I couldn’t go to college or the AVSV student association in pants. Later, when I worked at an energy company and there was talk that we had to wear a uniform, I went to my supervisor and said I was transsexual and didn’t want to wear a skirt.’

Heterosexual life
‘Before I was about twenty years old, I had never considered that I was attracted to women. I had a boyfriend who was six years older than me, and I led a straight life as a woman. At one point I got a girlfriend who I really liked. She was much nicer than the boyfriend I had. I broke up with him and started sharing an apartment with her. One thing led to another. That was my first relationship with a woman. After her I had boyfriends again and also girlfriends.’

A boy
‘When I was young, there was no information about transsexuality available at all. When I got a bit older, I knew it existed. I felt like a boy, but I found it difficult to really go through life as a man. I did hide my breasts with tight-fitting undershirts and loose-fitting shirts. And I told my partners that I felt like a boy. But during the second wave of feminism, men fell out of favour with many women, especially my lesbian friends. I didn’t really dare to admit it anymore.’

Student Working Group Homosexuality
‘In the 1960s we started the student gay movement. Changing society, that was our plan with the Amsterdam Student Working Group Homosexuality ASWH. We thought the COC (a Dutch LGBTI organisation) was too inward-looking, everything had to be open. We felt that as a gay or lesbian we should not lead an isolated and separated life, we wanted to be visible. We provided information and took action. For example, we held dance events: we went to straight dance venues such as the Lucky Star, where boys would dance with boys and girls danced with girls. Sometimes they poured beer all over us. And one time the boys were attacked. We also organised parties that were accessible to everyone. They were very popular. We were so focused on mixing gays and straights that the Schakel, the COC society, became popular with straight people. What we did had an effect, but it was not appreciated by everyone. I also joined Dolle Mina (a Dutch feminist group). With our group we handed out condoms at a secondary school and the secretary college Schoevers.’

New trans
‘I never thought of transitioning. When I became older I thought: I will be an old man. But at a certain moment the NRC columnist Maxim Februari announced that from then on, he would go through life as a man. He was nearly 50 at the time. I noticed that I was jealous. I was well into my sixties at the time. Maxim made me delve deeper into it. It was 2012 then and there were loads of nice YouTube videos of guys who had been through surgery. I also met trans guys in the group Trans Amsterdam and I thought they looked so nice! More and more programs about trans people appeared on TV. That really helped and stimulated me to transition seven years ago at the age of 69. So I’m a very new trans, which is probably exceptional at my age. I asked my surgeon if I was the oldest she had operated on, but I wasn’t.’

My own path
‘Now people who don’t know me say ‘sir’ to me. The first year was hard for me because I had to constantly come out. It is visible and audible what is happening to you. The first person I told in my house was a neighbour. I had hoped she would pass it on, then I wouldn’t have to do it myself. But she didn’t. Sometimes I see a few children from the neighbourhood looking at me in surprise when their father still refers to me as a female neighbour. I let it go. I’m glad I did it. I am comfortable in my own skin.’

Martin © Ernst Coppejans

Martin, 74 years
1946 Purmerend / ballet dancer and artist

‘My boyfriend was straight away allowed to eat at home’

‘The most cherished person in my life is Tony Engel, I was with him for 37 years. He worked as a ‘Dolly Doll’ at the Amsterdam Madame Arthur in the Korte Leidsedwarsstraat. This was the first official drag bar in the Netherlands with live shows, inspired by Paris. We met each other at the artist cafe. He was older but that didn’t matter because he looked young. And he was bronzed and blond, because in the summer he went to the beach at Zandvoort in a friend’s sports car to lie naked in the sun. Tony had the most beautiful legs in Amsterdam. When he performed a show, we said: Those aren’t women’s legs, those are men’s legs. We worked together as artists all those years.’

‘I lost him. I was angry because he had pulled the floral wallpaper off the wall to plaster new wallpaper on it. He should have left it. He became scared of me, and he ran away. He went to live on the Albert Cuyp and I still used to visit him there. I took care of his dogs. Later he moved to Almere, where he had a small garden. He would call me on my birthday but when I asked him for his phone number, he wouldn’t give it to me anymore. This is when it was really over. I don’t know if Tony is still alive. If so, he will now be 85. After Tony I had another love, Ronald. He lived in Austria. In a mansion of a house. I was with him for three years.’

Out of the closet
‘I grew up in Purmerend. I had a boyfriend early on, as a child I already played with dicks, haha. I also took them home. Later I had a thing with a bar boy from the Koemarkt. He could eat with us right away: steak. I wasn’t scared to tell my parents. How I did that? I simply said: I’m gay. My mother said it’s your own choice. In fact, she’d already seen it. And my father? Oh, he just wanted his cigarette. He was a quiet man, a gardener. He also thought it was all fine.’

Suicide attempt
‘I have had a hard time dealing with it though. I lost my way. I climbed onto the roof, and I walked around there buck naked. The police took me off the roof and brought me to Santpoort. Later I also went to the Valerius clinic and a clinic in Haarlem. Yet I have had a rich and happy life. From the age of 25 I lived in Amsterdam and earned my money as a ballet dancer. I shared my bed with Robert Long and I dated Ramses Shaffy. We had never heard of AIDS. It was a fantastic time.’

Daan © Ernst Coppejans

Daan, 82 years
1939, Zaandam / house painter and gardener

‘It was at a party. She asked me why I looked at her like that. Because she was the most beautiful, I replied. Anna sparkled, laughed a lot, was always cheerful. She is my great love. Anna worked at the Justice Department. I worked with troubled young people. It stressed me out. Later I started painting houses and I designed gardens.’

Big love
‘Anna was a really beautiful, not typically lesbian woman. The opposite of me. We met when I was 45 and we’ve been together for 32 years. Anna had two daughters. They were angry for a while. One has remained angry, she has never been able to accept it. When I discovered that I was attracted to women while I was still with my ex-husband, we told our sons. Two sons accepted it. One son has been angry until recently.’

‘I went to Portugal every year with Anna. Friends had persuaded us to live there. We tried it for a year to see if we liked it. Shortly after we decided to stay, Anna suddenly became very ill. It turned out to be cancer. She died in hospital in Lisbon within three weeks. That was five years ago.’

‘I miss Anna terribly. I cry a lot and am still in mourning. I can manage on my own, but I find it very uncomfortable. I read and I puzzle and now I have Netflix. I have square eyes. A few people drop by, thankfully. It never occurred to me that it can hurt so much to lose your loved one. You can’t imagine it.’

In love for the first time
‘I discovered my feelings for women when my husband and I were building a house in Knollendam. There I met a lady. I fell in love instantly. For the first time in my life. It was a terrible period; I didn’t know what falling in love was. We didn’t have a relationship, but we did stay in touch. She recently passed away at the age of 92. It was a platonic love. She was a lesbian and in a long-term relationship.’

Not accepted
‘During my marriage, I had a friend with whom I would head to Amsterdam. We started in the morning and stayed until the middle of the night. We went pub crawling and had a great time. During that period, I visited the COC (a Dutch LGBTI organisation), but I thought it was so bad! I thought: if this is my life, I don’t want it. At the time, I told my ex-husband. He immediately shared it with my family even though I really didn’t want that. My parents… it was a drama. When my mother came into my house and there was a girlfriend sitting on the couch, she would walk straight back out the door without saying a word. She said she thought it was disgusting. My ex and I were still together in her mind. He was in a different relationship. That did go well.’

Kissing in women’s bars
‘Before Anna I had contact with women. We kissed a bit in women’s bars such as Het Schaartje, Petit Paris and the Women’s House in the East of Amsterdam. That was very nice. There were all kinds of groups that I joined: Man-Woman Society and ‘Baas In Eigen Buik’ (a pro-choice group in the Netherlands). We rose up against injustice.’

‘At the time, I had a good friend, a very delicate man who eventually transformed into a woman. She also wrote a book “I Monique”. I had nice conversations with her. In the end she took her own life. She would sit in the tram and her beard would be growing and she would be yelled at. I joined gay demonstrations. Once in Amersfoort it turned into a hell. They threw rocks at us, really horrible. I was taken to my car in a police escort. Those poor boys, I heard them screaming. They got beat up so badly.’

New girlfriend
‘I would still like a girlfriend, but I have no idea how I could get in touch. It would be nice if something came out of this.’

Vivian © Ernst Coppejans

Vivian, 71 years
1949 Paramaribo Suriname / nurse and therapist

‘Casa Maria was a local pub where we blacks were allowed to enter. It turned into our living room.’

‘I’ve always loved boys. As a child I didn’t find that difficult. It came naturally. Everyone at home knew it too, I didn’t secretly talk about it. I do have a son. When I was seventeen, I had an encounter with a lady and she fell pregnant. My son is sweet and he takes good care of me. I also have four grandchildren.’

‘Teachers at school thought I was strange. They said, don’t be so effeminate. Or: go find a girl. There were also teachers who liked to touch me. One of them had kicked me out of class when I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was sent to the back of the toilets. The teacher went there, pressed himself against me and played with me. That man got so aroused that he came. I was about 16 years old.’

Different lovers
‘I worked in psychiatric care in Suriname and had several lovers. I made good money for an eighteen-year-old boy. When I was about twenty my father sent me to Holland. I immediately went to work in Bennebroek at the psychiatric hospital in Vogelenzang. I shared a large villa with twelve boys. There I was free. I was able to receive my lovers.’

‘Jan was a big, red haired farm boy. His father had a large farm in the flower bulb region. I obviously stood out as a black boy in Haarlem and Heemstede. One day I had missed the bus. He cycled past and said: jump on. But he didn’t take me back to my house but to the bushes. Geez, Jan really made love to me that day. Not what we practice now, but real romantic lovemaking. Very caring. Jan and I stayed in touch for a long time.’

‘I’ve never experienced bullying. Or at least, I didn’t notice anything. But now when I hear things on TV about discrimination I think: ah yes. At work, I was often blamed for mistakes. Or I had to do the shitty jobs. But then it didn’t hit me. I was from the colony and had learned from my dad: do as you are told.’

‘The COC (LGBTI organisation in the Netherlands) and gay café Bonaparte didn’t let us black guys in. Only if you arrived with a white man. We lived in the Bijlmer and had to wait for the first bus home. I’m going to tell you something that’s very painful. There was a group of black guys, they were studying at the university. They were with white men which gave them a certain respectability. They looked down on us because we hadn’t studied. But they were boys from my neighbourhood in Suriname.’

House parties
‘Because we didn’t get in anywhere, we held rave parties, house parties. It was fun, dancing, eating, joking and we fell in love. We wore beautiful clothes. Just imagine 60 or 70 people, and everyone fit in. They sat on the stairs, they sat outside. The whole neighbourhood joined in. Those parties lasted for three days.’

Left over
‘I’m a left-over. Everyone in my gay network has died. Also my great love who I lived with. We were together for about 12 years. I met him at Casa Maria. The owner, Maria, had let us in because we couldn’t get in anywhere. Casa Maria became our living room, a black gay café that enjoyed popularity in faraway places such as America. COC set up Strange Fruit. This was a separate section for the blacks. But I was over it, I had Casa Maria.’

Big love
‘I didn’t know he was infected when I met him. He himself had a lot of issues with it. When it turned out that I was not infected he became aggressive. I cared a lot about him so that turned into a blow to the jaw. He visibly deteriorated. I finally took him to the hospital, where he died. That was 30 years ago. He would have been 64 now.’

Advice for the younger generation
‘I would say to young gay men: go to therapy. So that you know who you are and what you want. I have given therapy for years. It doesn’t have to be a hundred conversations. But it will help you with your coming out.’

Gloria © Ernst Coppejans

Gloria, 71 years
1950 Paramaribo, Suriname / scientist

‘My drive and desire for autonomy stem from being a lesbian.’

‘I didn’t always know. First, I had relationships with men. I was with a woman for the first time when I was 28. That was a revelation. I’m not, so to speak, a diehard dyke. Later in my life I also had a relationship with a man. For me, sexuality is not like: that’s just how you are. I can actually go either way. But I find it more fun and more exciting to be with a woman. It feels more intimate and it empowers me.’

Family acceptance
‘When I introduced a girlfriend to my father, he struggled. My mother had already died by then. He was very proud of me. After graduating, I landed a job at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. He spoke to his friends about what I had achieved from a social point of view. But he didn’t talk about my personal life. I didn’t think that was acceptable, that he chose only what he liked about me, and not the whole package. I said: you are proud of me for what I have achieved, but what I do is only possible because I am a lesbian. That is where the drive to be autonomous and the urge to follow my own path originate. He took that conversation to heart. My brothers and sisters were also a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, but they have accepted it.’

Maggie, my great love
‘In 1990 I met my great love Maggie in Suriname. She was a nurse and worked in Suriname for 16 years. Under very simple conditions. I found that interesting and cool, I like cool. We’ve been together for 28 years. Her sudden traumatic death is mitigated by the fact that I am very aware of how happy we were. I’ve been so lucky with her. In April 2018 she died of a tumour in her heart. But she is still very much present.’

Research into mati
‘In Paramaribo it was not problem at all that we were together. I did research there and wrote a book about mati. Mati refers to both men and women, who have intimate and sexual relationships with people of both sexes. I don’t call it bisexual, because it has very different cultural and historical roots. They are ‘matis’, ‘friends’ with benefits. The mati women form a subculture in Suriname. It is mainly Creole working-class women who often have children with a man and at the same time have a fondness for women. Their sexual relations are not seen as part of their identity, but as part of their behaviour. It’s an activity. It is a very old phenomenon that already existed during slavery. I think it is an important institution that people have brought with them from Africa which they continued and built up in Suriname. It occurs in many parts of the black diaspora. Maggie and I hung out in mati and lesbian circles. It was the best period of my life.’

Racism in the women’s movement
‘In the 1970s, with a South African friend, I founded Sister Outsider, a group of black lesbians. We had separated from the white women’s movement and the white lesbian movement because of the prevalence of racism. In history, as it is documented, you will find very little black activism. I find it so crippling when I watch documentaries or read studies about the seventies and eighties, that they only deal with the white women’s movement and the white lesbian movement. We were present too. Only recently has that started to change, now that younger people are writing about it.’

Relationships with others
‘Maggie and I have had a rich life. Our relationship was a safe haven from where we could explore relationships with others. I was more at the forefront in this respect than she was, but she did this too. It was an enrichment of our existence. I’ve never been in favour of ‘gay marriage’, I find that pledging your undying allegiance to one person is so implausible and so crippling really. Some relationships were shorter, others longer. Most of those people still play a role in my life. I really want to advocate for an existence as a gay or lesbian that is not a goodie-two-shoes, boring lifestyle.’

Discover many more Antique Pink heroes and their stories on Ernst Coppejan’s website, including some great video interviews. If you are in Amsterdam, be sure to visit the outdoor exhibit in person — it’s a powerful experience. And for your library, buy the magazine!