Though we are all a part of the one shared community, the daily lives and struggles of the LGBTIQA+ community could not be more different.
Without a common gender, sexuality, attraction or lifestyle, and without facing the same issues day-to-day, the lives of the queer community don’t often follow a similar path.
There is, however, one common thread that links us all,
And that is that at one point or another we have all had to ‘come out’.
Whether it’s to our parents, our friends, employers, or the wider world,
In a society that deems straight as the norm, there has to come a time in our lives when we have had to tell them that we are not it.
I grew up hearing about homosexuality as something that was taboo,
Nothing to be celebrated, and often a cause for concern or for a joke.
I also heard discussions about my own sexuality in whispers,
So when I discovered exactly who I was, I’d begun to see it as something that I should be ashamed of.
And so, I hid myself away to do everyone else a favour.
People cared about my sexuality long before I did.
It was a topic that came up behind my back numerous times before I was even a teenager.
But people talked about my sexuality not out of concern or care,
People talked about it because, to them, it was a scandal;
An insult that they could use over and over again,
A tantalising piece of gossip to liven up conversation,
Ammo to use against me,
A smear on the name of that ordinary boy from Surrey Hills.
To them, because I was gay they were better than me.
So for most of my teenage life, that’s what being gay meant to me.
It meant being less than everybody else.
Being the person that should feel fortunate to be allowed a space in the world,
Fortunate to be allowed to exist in the condition I was in.
Like a leper who was allowed to integrate within society, who could then be outcast at any moment.
I would tiptoe through life, trying my best not to tread on any toes, or attract any attention.
Doing my best to blend into the background, so that if people spotted any signs that I was different, they might just turn a blind eye to it.
My daily life was spent holding my breath, waking up to a feeling of dread each morning.
Living in fear of the next time my mask of nothingness I held on tight may slip, and people caught a glimpse of the person I was hiding beneath.
I made my way through life, hoping I could weather the storm and get through just one more day.
My attitude began to change when, after almost twenty years, I decided I was ready to come out.
Twenty long years of lies and hiding, and I had had enough.
It wasn’t an easy decision to reach, it was one that took months of thought and preparation to get to.
Coming out took more self-assurance than I possessed, and a steadier hand than I had.
But at that time, there was no other way to go,
I was at the end of my tether.
I’d come to a fork in the road. I had to choose whether my life was going to be lived on my terms, or if I’d give up, surrendering my happiness and my life to the faceless masses that kept me hidden away.
For me, coming out meant no longer allowing other people’s words and opinions define who I was, and what I could do.
It was – all at once – an act of rebellion and an act of desperation.
Both a middle finger to those people who made me feel so ashamed of myself, and an olive branch to my friends and family;
An invitation for them to see the real me for the very first time.
Coming out wasn’t easy, it’s not something I believe should ever have to be done, nor was it something I’d ever want to do again.
And whilst the effects that finally being honest about myself had on my life down the line may have been worthwhile,
The anxiety and fear those moments brought are not something that can ever be shaken.
Coming out meant producing my raw soul to those I love, with the bleakest belief that it would be met with respect and tenderness.
There were no guarantees – it was the biggest leap of faith I had ever taken.
I had taken a dive headfirst into the dark, with no idea what was on the other side.
Knowing too well in my heart that a negative reaction from those I loved most would be the end of me.
In my story, I was met with more love and kindness than I had ever expected.
My outstretched hand was grasped by hundreds of others, and I was hauled into the light; into the next chapter of my life, with a renewed sense of hope about love, and a new spark within me, ready to blast me forward into my real life.
But unfortunately, not everyone has the picture-perfect experience that I had.
And, good or bad, coming out doesn’t just mean that the feelings of shame are automatically replaced with those of pride.
It is a moment in time, a hurdle, that all at once changes everything, and changes nothing.
The darkness doesn’t disappear, even when the light is finally shined so powerfully onto it.
There are still shadows that linger.
Just as wounds may heal but scars always remain, after two decades in the closet, and now at only twenty-seven years old, I still have a lot of growing and healing to do.
Eight years since I came out, I’m married, and have been for almost two years.
Yet I still haven’t referred to my partner as my husband to a stranger.
I don’t hold his hand in public,
Nor since I came out, have I ever said to someone straight-up that I was gay or that I had a ‘boyfriend’.
Instead I speak in carefully worded sentences, choosing gender-neutral words to describe my ‘partner’, and what ‘they’ do for a living, until I have decided that I can trust the other person enough and ‘come out’ to them.
Call it fear, call it shame, call it what you will, the reality is that for most of the queer community, you never stop coming out, and it doesn’t always get easier.
I’m comfortable within myself, and within the love I have, but what I’m not yet comfortable with (and never have been) is the possibility that I may get a negative reaction from someone once they know the truth about me.
I’m still not ready to have ‘that look’ thrown my way, or worse yet, have someone’s opinion of me flip completely purely because of what they think about my sexuality,
Not ready to be vilified for a part of me of which I have no control.
The marriage-equality postal vote and the backlash to the Safe Schools program has shown that our world is not yet universally accepting of different sexualities and lifestyles, and I’m still not quite ready to be lightning rod for their hatred and prejudice.
From the outside, it would seem that I got out of the closet relatively unscathed.
I maintained every relationship with each of my friends and family members, in fact I actually gained stronger more loving relationships with them all, and with myself.
But on the inside, I did and do continue to live with the damage that years of secrecy, and years of intense self-hatred have done to me.
The anxiety that comes with looking over your shoulder every second of the day,
Wondering what people are thinking about you, and what they are saying about you,
The web of lies spun to protect yourself from judgement and prejudice.
Twenty years of harbouring a secret that was eating me alive from the inside has left its mark.
For some of us our biggest fear may be spiders, clowns, or the dark – mine is other people.
I know how much of my self-worth I (unwittingly) put into people’s acceptance of me, and into what they think of me.
I know it’s a bad trait, being so affected by other people, and what they say about me both to my face and behind my back,
But try though I might, with self-help books stacked high by my bedside, it seems to be something I just can’t shake yet.
Because this fear begins before I even get a chance to know someone.
My conditioned response is to assume that another person will not be ok with who I am and so my walls go up.
It seems ridiculous, to walk on eggshells around a part of myself that I can’t change,
But my brief time on earth has taught me that there are people who can, and will, treat you worse because you’re different, and will believe that they hold a right to do so because of it.
They may be the minority, but these people often wield a hatred which seems deafening when a majority chooses to remain silent.
A silence that comes when we choose not to use our voice to speak up for what is right.
In a world already so spiteful, I don’t want who I am to be a reason for people to spread even more hatred and division.
I don’t want to enflame a situation simply by showing up and being myself,
And I don’t want my walking through life to have to be a protest every single day.
I just want a quiet life, and that’s what I’ve carved out for myself,
It is up to others whether they choose to view and treat me as different.
I don’t consider myself as the type of person that goes looking for trouble, so knowing that my love is reason enough to turn people against me brings with it a sense of hopelessness that’s hard to overcome.
So when I came out, it was a catch-22 for me,
Because I knew that by coming out and living openly and happily, it would also open me up to a new world of hurt and prejudice.
It would open me up to a reality where people would be against me personally, rather than just being against the idea of me.
But I was done being the one hurting myself by hiding in the closet any longer.
I was sick of being the person that made me my unhappiest.
Coming out wasn’t the end game, it was just the start of a whole new world.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘coming out’, and what it signifies, though even today the trauma and the fear involved in both being ‘in the closet’ and ‘coming out’ isn’t always understood by those who haven’t experienced it.
I was recently walking my brother-in-law through what being in the closet was actually like.
He assumed that when I was in the closet, all of my closest friends knew, and that my sexuality was something I only had to keep hidden from my parents.
A fun teenage stage where my friends would whisk me off to a boy’s house, and cover for me should my mum ask where I was going, giggling away – as if we were sneaking a bottle of vodka to a high school sleepover.
But being in the closet was the most isolating, most crushingly lonely experience of my life.
It’s not a fun underworld with no parents allowed, or a secret whispered to friends behind our palms.
In fact, whilst I was in the closet, I firmly believed that every single one of my friends and family members would turn their backs on me should they know the truth.
It wasn’t something I’m glad I’ve been through, nor something I believe to be a necessary ‘rite of passage’ for queer youth – it’s something I hope will be eliminated from our society soon enough before the damage it causes claims even more victims.
Whilst we may tell our friends and family in one go or in one period of time, we come out again and again each day, simply by going through life.
When we tell the hotel that my ‘friend’ and I will in fact be sharing a bed, signing up for a duo membership with my husband, not my ‘brother’, or explain to a colleague that we have a boyfriend not a girlfriend,
We come out to new people every day, and it doesn’t always get easier.
Whilst coming out stories can often be ‘feel-good’ stories in this day and age,
It’s still a very real fact that we live in a world where people fear for their lives and their livelihood should they choose to live openly about their sexuality.
Coming out for some people can often be more dangerous than being in the closet.
When people open up about themselves, they are often met with slammed doors, rejection, and isolation.
Fearing not only judgement, but very real physical and psychological harm.
Whilst it may no longer be illegal to be a homosexual in Australia, with 2 in 10 LGBTI Australians experiencing physical violence in their lives, and 60% experiencing verbal homophobic abuse1 – we are still far from breathing a sigh of relief in the safety of our own country.
We have marriage certificates, we have Anti-Discrimination Acts, but until we have true, deep, societal change, nothing will be different. There will still be those that are treated as lesser, just for being themselves.
It’s a hard question to answer: ‘where do we start when we want to change the world?’
We can’t force people to be accepting, just as we can’t force people to act with kindness and with respect.
But we can tell our stories, and we can listen to the stories of people around us.
In the hopes that by being ourselves, and showing support for those both inside and outside of our communities, we can build strength and confidence, and create change as we celebrate how necessary and beautiful difference and diversity is in our world.
I’ve learned that anyone, at any time, can find an issue with anything you do in your life.
Whether it be your sexuality, the colour of your skin, or your ancestry – there are countless differences that people will use to create a divide in our world.
But at the end of the day, we are who we are, and we can’t spend our lives apologising for it.
We can instead choose to be the ones who are open, who lead with love.
We can choose to reject the shackles of fear that other people try and put onto us when they choose to prolong a culture that keeps us in the closet.
Underneath our labels we are all the same – though as a world, we just refuse to ever believe it.
It’s stories and pride that have paved the way for social change before, and they will continue to be some of the strongest tools we have in shaping our world into a kinder, more inclusive place.
I’m tired of being angry, and of living my life in fear.
So I’ve chosen to try and replace those feelings in my heart, and lead instead with love and kindness, regardless of what the world may hold in their heart for me.
Life is too short to live leading with anger, and with division.
Wasting each day on a battle of whose hatred can reach out the furthest,
Spending all our energy on creating problems for problems sake.
Choosing to make someone’s life harder because we feel they aren’t living it right.
We’re all here on our own journeys on this one planet –
And it’s about time we found our way back to one another, because this ‘me vs you’ narrative clearly isn’t working.
The cycle of hatred in our communities, in our countries, and in our world is spinning out of control, and there isn’t a single person who is immune from its wrath.
But we have the power to stop it, because we are the ones who fuel it, and keep it going.
Disagreement and difference need not lead to division,
We are all born equal. The hatred and division we bring to our lives is learned, and is a choice we make.
So we can undo it at any time we please.
Only then can true change be made, only then can we stop the cycle of pain for everyone here,
Only then can we come together as one, and begin to heal from within,
And focus on the real issues facing our world,
And who you love is not one of them.
We need to not just hold open the closet door for the next generation, we need to take an axe to the closet, smash it to pieces, and throw it out of our homes, our workplaces, our society, and our world, and allow people to be who they are without having to wait for permission, or acceptance.
I got my first tattoo when I was eighteen, two years before I came out. ‘poursuivez le bonheur’ on my right arm – it means ‘pursue happiness’. I don’t know if I knew why exactly I got it back then, because at that time I was probably at my unhappiest. I had made it through high school, but I then faced the painful realisation that the outside world could be so much crueller. But I got it, and without knowing it, it took me on a new path in life. One where I would begin to shed the ideas of what I needed to do, and start to do what I wanted to. It was only then that life seemed to have hope, and have meaning. Happiness is a journey, not a destination – and coming out was and is the most crucial step I have taken on my trek.