Dan grew up in South East London. Soon after he was born Dan’s Mother was seen as ‘unfit’ to take on the task of mothering. She was fighting her own battles, suffering from a life of hardship and abuse.
Dan was put into the care of his father who verbally and physically abused him. He escaped and lived with his grandparents but things were not much better there. Angry and confused at the hand he was dealt Dan became violent and turned to alcohol to soothe and fuel him. This lead to more violence, gang related fighting and inevitably more drugs. To top it all off the environment in which Dan lived was sexist, racist and homophobic. Dan’s strength to accept who he was as a gay man despite the non-acceptance of his peers is a testament to his quest to find his truth and to align himself with his spirit.
To me Dan is the real spiritual gangster. He has the insight of an enlightened human ready to lift up those he can through his past experience, through his saviour (fitness) and his learned self awareness. Yet he has that South East London accent, tattoos and ripped physique so you feel you really don’t want to mess with him.
Now Dan guides those who are willing to bring forth their own truth. He does this through fitness, through passion and through the lessons he has learnt along the way, but don’t expect sympathy or to be let off the hook. Dan knows only too well the hurdles, the doors that are closed tightly shut, the strength required to overcome your fears and the passion it takes to create dreams then make them happen.
Dan said to me when I was training with him….. ‘Pain is where the change happens’ and I have not forgotten that.
What do you remember when you look back on your childhood?
I was angry and blamed the world for what had happened to me. I moved about from place to place in the care system. No one really wanted to look after that angry person. People just wanted to push me on to someone else and on to someone else. That’s why I moved around a lot.
My mother was not fit to be a mother. My father was a lorry driver as far as I remember. He would leave for long periods of time. So we were left with my mother who would just leave us in a dark room until my aunty (who I introduce as my sister because she looked after me like a sister) would bunk off school and change our nappies and feed us.
You mention your Dad was abusive. You must have felt so lost without a mother or father.
When you are young and the person who is supposed to look after you ,love you and defend you…..your Dad you know? It’s like this person is not meant to be hurting me. . . what have I done? It just becomes internalised. Dad was physically and verbally abusive. He’s still around. He has other kids. I tried to reach out to him. He didn’t respond, he knew I was trying to get in touch but I know he was ashamed of what he did.
You decided you’d had enough of the care system. Where did you go and how old were you?
I was probably about 15 when I decided to get out of the care system. I lived homeless here, there and everywhere. Then I started doing scaffolding through a family friend. I was earning a bit of money and I was still angry and young so I spent that money on drugs and alcohol as an outlet for how I was feeling.
What were some of the hardest parts of growing up in that environment?
Well I soon realised that my sexuality was different. I knew I had to come to terms with the fact that I was gay. I lived in a homophobic, gang culture driven environment. So for a long time I had to cover up being gay. I had girlfriends.
How did people take it when you told them you were gay?
I remember being attacked in the streets by the same people I grew up with just because I was ‘different’ and because they didn’t understand……I put it down to people being scared, being scared of gay people. They were not educated around it. Guys, it’s not contagious (laughs).
So you moved away from the estate to start fresh.
I needed to surround myself with better people. To be honest this was scarier than anything else. Moving away from everything I knew to go and start something fresh was a scary process. I soon realised (when I moved to Central London and started working in a restaurant) the way I was acting and behaving wasn’t appropriate. It was like a big slap in the face.
It was really hard and even though I knew it was a step up moving away it wasn’t great and I got deeper into drugs. I could be who I wanted to be as ‘Gay Daniel’ but there was still, for me, a lot of negativity I carried a lot of shame. Drugs and alcohol were a way for me to be able to be with a man without having that shame and guilt.
I have moved away again from those people and have surrounded myself with new and even better people but at the time it was better than where I was.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about shame and guilt not only when they are different to societal norms but when they have been abused. Placing the blame on themselves…..
Yea for me the shame came from the social pressures and the environment that I was in. I mean I grew up on a poor estate that was very racist and very homophobic. It wasn’t accepted. One of the sayings around there was ‘If it’s not white it’s not right’. I mean, not everyone from that estate was bad but a huge part of that area wasn’t accepting. It made me feel as though I was dirty ,I was bad and I was diseased and I was wrong.
What about these days here in Australia?
It’s changed a lot nowadays even more so in the last couple of years it’s kind of cool to have a gay friend when you’re in the younger generation but for my generation there is still this shame and guilt that hangs around and for the generation before me. We have done so much with gay rights and marriage equality but there is still this stigma and negativity associated with being gay. We still have a very long way until we even get close to equality.
So even though marriage is legal here now you still think there’s a long way to go before it’s just openly accepted?
Yea for sure. I had this interesting conversation with this guy I was trying to get on board as an ambassador for WOD OUT. He told me that it was just ‘too gay’. It interested me as a gay man how can it be ‘too gay’ ,like what does that mean? he said that because of the other sponsors he works with. He was worried about how they would view him. There’s still this kind of fear….. what if people know I am gay, how are they going to judge me?
What’s your next goal Dan? Your next move?
My big dream going forward is to have WOD OUT recognised as an independent charity, where we are using fitness events and apparel to make a difference by funnelling the money we make straight back into the community to help others with the big issues we are facing today.
For those who don’t know what WOD (work out of the day) OUT is could you please sum it up for us?
WOD OUT a crossfit community LGBT+ initiative, that uses fitness to promote a healthy lifestyle through crossfit fitness events while raising money for charity.
Can you talk about the crossfit community and what impact they have had on your life?
Cross fit community (for those of you like me who don't know anything about crossfit, it's a fitness workout whereby the intensity is high and the work out varies. From my own experience it's very hard but it provides amazing results!) is unique in the way that it can be as much of or as little of what you want it to be. Some people call it a cult and that people have drunk too much of the Kool Aid but what cross-fit has offered me is a network of people who are truly trying to improve themselves on a daily basis while living a healthy lifestyle and creating a family bond. That is what it has been for me. A space where people can come and not be judged and just be themselves. I would say to anyone who doesn’t experience that from their community they are probably at the wrong gym.
It has been such a long journey for you to get where you are today. What motivates you?
Growing up I realised I wanted better for my life. I was on a fast road to nowhere, life in and out of prison or death through drugs. Having destroyed so many relationships and opportunities I really did hit rock bottom and I realised I didn’t want this for my life. I had to go through the things I went through to realise what my purpose was which is what I am doing now. My motivation now is my family, my partner Mark, Spike (our dog), the life we live in Australia. I feel I can’t have any of this unless I am doing what I am doing. I want to be better for Mark. He inspires me to be better everyday.
A little while ago you said you found it hard to kind of identify with being gay. Is this because of the ‘stereotype’ or label you feel you have to be boxed in to?
I struggled with identifying as being gay because of the environment I grew up in, the shame I had as a teenager. I never gave myself the opportunity to be who I wanted to be when I was living in London. Moving to Australia has moved me away from that environment and has allowed me to be open to who I am. My first ever boyfriend back home was kicked to death for being gay. They followed him home from Central London and then outside his house attacked him and kicked him to death. By the time the ambulance arrived he was dead. The guy stood up in court and tried to accuse David of trying to rape him. David wouldn’t hurt a fly. Man, he was such a gentle guy.
I’m not ashamed of who I am but I still don’t go about telling everyone. It just shouldn’t be a thing you know? Who cares?I don’t want to be known as Daniel the gay guy from WOD OUT. I want to be known as Daniel the coach who does a good job. It’s like saying James the black guy who lives down the road. Instead of just James.
What role did love have (when you got that glimpse of it) in getting you through this difficult time?
Love scared the fucking shit out of me. I craved love. I wanted to have a loving partner and a nice house and that life but when I met people I would do anything in my power to destroy it. I felt that way it was under my control. That went on for years. I would then lose that person, I ruined those relationships with those people because I was scared. It was like I had this belief for myself that I did not deserve it. Which I can see now was a limiting belief for myself so that I could be in control of who was going to hurt me.
Getting clean from drugs and alcohol let me see what love felt like properly, to know what that actually felt like. When I split up form my ex-husband it was the first time I allowed myself to feel truly heart broken even though I was the one to walk out. Now love for me is the driving factor that keeps me going.
When you felt you had nothing how did you move forward?
I don’t know. I guess in the early stages when I was coming out as being gay and using drugs and alcohol there was a select group of people who were really supportive and I guess they pushed me to be who I wanted to be. That was the first thing that kind of pushed me in the right direction.
Meeting new people in Central London despite being a functioning addict allowed me to see how others lived. I could see that there was more to the world than my concrete jungle. If I wanted a good life I could have it but I could see I’d have to change everything. Also, lots of gay people are over achievers. We feel as though we are ‘less than’ so we have this inherent thing in us like we need to be great. I could see that if someone else could achieve something I could too. Yes it would take a lot of work and sometimes I felt like burning the world down but it pays off.
What gets you through the hardest of days?
Family and friends, people I have around me. For anyone that is going through some shit the first thing you need to do to create change is check the people around you. Are these people bringing you up or bringing you down? Are they motivating you or keeping you stagnant?.