myGwork sat down with Camille François-Nienaber from Criteo to talk about biphobia, coming to terms with her identity, and the importance of staying on top of our mental health
BY MYGWORK, IMAGES BY CAMILLE FRANÇOIS-NIENABER
Camille’s story begins with an international background. “I was born in Singapore, and raised in the Philippines,” she recalls, “before moving to France to spend most of my childhood there being raised by my mother, who is South African.” In her eyes, it was this blend of cultures and experiences that shaped her upbringing and led her to feel attached to no specific background – rather, partaking in a mix of identities. Whilst Camille was grateful for the circumstances she grew up in, she admits that in some aspects there were restrictions. “In terms of sexual orientation, it was very binary living in France at the beginning of the 2000s. I never grew up with the feeling that it was okay for me to be me.”
This led to feelings of shame – Camille shares that her first romantic experiences were with girls, and yet she felt the need to bury it; that it was something wrong that had to be pushed away. At the same time, a lack of bisexual representation meant she also felt isolated from the gay culture in her life. “I couldn’t look up to the gay people around me because I wasn’t gay. I liked boys – and therefore, I must be straight,” she says. When she tried to expose herself more to LGBTQ+ content, she felt the need to have to suddenly “purge” it with other content instead, to escape what she had exposed herself to because of the shame. This continued through her teenage years, until her early 20s.
The shame, combined with other factors, led Camille to enter a period of depression just after she turned 20. “I was learning all these different things about myself”, she tells me, “and I reached a point during the depression where I realised I wanted to live life for me.” She took a break from her studies to focus on herself and took a job at a bar. This was to prove a Damascene moment for Camille: serving a girl one day, she describes how they immediately connected. Sharing numbers led to going on a date, at which point the girl asked her about her sexual orientation. Camille responded that she was straight, but that she “had always had an interest in girls”. The girl responded that she was a bisexual, and this began a journey for Camille towards accepting her identity, and her bisexuality – coming out to her friends (“they responded by telling me they already knew – so I had to ask them why they hadn’t told me sooner”) and herself.
At this point, I stop to ask Camille if she reckons that biphobia – both socially, and internally – is what led to her suppressing this part of her identity for much of her life. Responding that she had never really thought of it in that way, she attributes it to simply the factors of the environment she was in: “I never really understood bisexuality. I never internalized it as something that was a possibility for me. I think the stigma around bisexuality – that you’re confused, or more likely to cheat – led me to internalise that phobia.”
Camille now identifies as queer. “I will forever be grateful to [the girl from the bar] for being the first person to help me come out. It was a little weird – she had the same name as me! But I will always be grateful to her for providing that safe space. I moved away from the bisexual label and now identify as queer. I thought, let’s explore.” Exploration, and self-discovery, are highly important to Camille. She asks what the point of living is, if not to discover ourselves and explore. Constantly working on herself – self-love, self-awareness, and self-care – is what she attributes as success. “The first step into success is a success itself.”
These mantras of the self – love, awareness, and care – are part of how Camille keeps on top of her mental health. “I was unhappy with myself, I engaged in self-loathing, I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t know what I was doing with my life” she recounts the steps leading up to the period in which she entered a depression. “And when something devastating happens to you on top of that, you break.” Camille finally reached rock bottom, when she realised that she couldn’t keep digging – despite her best efforts. The only direction left to go was up, which Camille admits was a process, marking her progress day by day and accepting that some days were going to involve going down again, just as much as coming up. Accepting who she was and her identity went a long way to helping that journey, but this went hand in hand with working on herself. “It’s a continuous journey”, she says “that never stops. It never stops, and whilst you may occasionally take a break to ask yourself whether this is worth it, it ultimately always is.”
In her professional career, Camille is an HR Analyst at Criteo. Whilst this is her “day job”, her “gay job” is as Global Co-Leader of Criteo’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) which she has been involved with since her first day at the company. Taking the lessons of her youth with her, Camille’s focus is to ensure it is a safe space for people with questions, a point of contact, and a network for those who need it. It’s important to her, and Camille believes that whilst some people view Diversity & Inclusion as a cliché, it serves an important function. “Consider it scientifically – when you have too many of the same cell, they grow weaker. But, a diversity of cells, in the long run, will be stronger and more effective.” In the workplace, this translates into diversity of thought, of background, of identity, to enable people to learn from one another. “We’re not just one single story, there are so many aspects to us to celebrate” points out Camille, highlighting the importance of representation in sharing these stories and building our collective strengths. Whether it’s helping others to accept themselves, as once Camille herself was helped, or finding links between communities: she’s come a long way to being proud of herself, proud of her work, and proud of her community.
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