Radio and online producer Mitchell Coombs on growing up queer in rural Bogan Gate and why Margaret Court has the wrong idea about Australian farmers.

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Dear Margaret Court: “the farmers” aren’t who you think they are.

I was recently at a friend’s 21st birthday party when I ran into a guy I went to school with, who now identifies as queer.

I thought, ‘Great, now we have something in common – being queer in the country and how hard that is. If I get stuck for conversation, I can talk to him about that.’

However, after we started to chat, I found out that our experiences had been completely different. As a young queer boy in the country, he had been totally chilled about it, while I was petrified.

He didn’t care who knew, while I had been paranoid. And he had stood up to the homophobia he had experienced, whereas I would have run a mile.

It’s only now after having lived in Sydney for three years that I’ve become comfortable enough to express myself – but even then, when I go back home to Bogan Gate in Central West NSW, I often find myself putting my hands in my pockets so no-one can see my painted nails.

I was totally in awe of the fact that my old schoolmate was able to live so freely and confidently while still living in a rural area.

I thought, how is that possible? Why didn’t he have the same experiences as I did?

I looked back and thought about it, and truly, I don’t have any scarring memories that spring to mind. I was an exuberant little shit who blasted Kylie Minogue songs on the reg.

When other boys were kicking footballs and playing with toy trucks, I was playing with Bratz dolls, wearing tutus and begging my sister to let me do her hair.

For the record, I recognise that not all queer people are gender non-conforming and it’s absolutely possible for a male to like ‘girly’ stuff and still be straight.

But in my case, the stereotype was completely accurate. I was FLAMBO AF and have turned out QUEER AF.

I don’t for a second think this makes me special or different – we’ve all heard the narrative a million times. But where I do consider myself extremely lucky is that I never had an adult tell me I couldn’t do those things or be who I wanted to be.

Not my parents, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends, or neighbours. And yet, even though I was raised in a completely supportive environment, I was still petrified about coming out.

Why? I truly believe it’s because other people put those doubts in my head.

The question I get asked most about my childhood is: “What was it like being gay in Bogan Gate? Must’ve been awful.”

And I get it – rural areas have a reputation for being more homophobic than metropolitan areas. There’s plenty of data to back this up and I’m not for a second trying to dismiss that, nor other people’s experiences.

I’m not about to say “country people aren’t homophobic because they haven’t been to me.”

I’m not that naive. I realise my luck in having kick-ass parents and a solid support network.

Rather, the reason I’m writing this is to urge Australia not to underestimate rural people’s capacity to be accepting and open-minded. It saddens me that farmers are often written off as bigots by default.

Many of you would remember back in May when tennis ‘legend’ Margaret Court wrote an open letter saying she wouldn’t fly with Qantas after they publicly backed marriage equality. Naturally, she copped a lot of backlash.

Appearing in a television interview, Margaret highlighted the everyday people she believed were against marriage equality, saying: “There are many people out there, normal people, farmers, mums, and dads…”

It didn’t end there.

“We do have a view and we’ve not been allowed to say why we really believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she said. “Many non-Christians agree with me, the farmers, just ordinary people.”

The farmers, the farmers, the farmers… she kept going on about them.

I want to know, who does Margaret Court think farmers are?

Is she referring to the same farmers that would ask McDonald’s to swap my boys toy for a girls toy?

The same farmers that drove seven hours to take me to see Lady Gaga live? The same farmers that wouldn’t push any further when I refused to help with sheep work, lest I ruin my nails? Soz Margaret, try again sweetie.

Also, why does she keep grouping “the farmers” in with ordinary people?

Approximately 80 per cent of the Australian population live within 50 kilometres of a coastline. Farmers are practically a minority in their own right.

Margaret Court thinks she’s sticking up for everyday Aussie battlers (chucking a Tracy Grimshaw, if you will) but she’s achieving the opposite.

My parents, for one, find it offensive that she’s implied that all farmers are narrow-minded conservatives.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you that Margaret Court is problematic as heck. Country people are not who she depicts them to be.

Aside from their penchant for unflattering workwear and general tolerance of dirt, they’re everything I aspire to be.

They’re grounded, friendly, resilient, trustworthy, willing to help each other out, and they sure as hell don’t care about the amount of Instagram likes they get.

Country people are the most decent humans you’ll ever meet. And sure, there are homophobes in the country, but unfortunately, they’re everywhere.

So please, do not buy into the stereotype.

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