I GUESS it’s always difficult to begin these kind of things as the journey of sexuality and coming out never really ends.
As a kid, I always hated being outspoken and avoided conflict at all costs. That said, there were more than one or two tantrums come Christmas time when mum would attempt to force me into a dress. Though, if they weren’t too frilly or pink, she won.
I guess you could say that I was a massive tomboy during my childhood, and in that sense, my gender and sexual identity never seemed to matter. As long as I could have my short hair and beat the boys in soccer, who cared?
It was near puberty, that things started to be different. I became scared about the change in expectation that I would have to be more feminine and like typical girly things, like make-up, dresses… and boys.
I became so focused on coming up with ways to preventing the inevitable, I never really acknowledged my feelings for girls, although looking back on it my love for Hermione was probably a little bit more than fan-girl admiration.
At the start of high school I became really worried about how people perceived me. After being a tomboy for so long, I had realised that masculinity as a girl, wasn’t considered “attractive”.
By this point, the only exposure I’d had to any homosexuality in my everyday life outside of media stereotypes and Ellen was in PD/H/PE class ,where my teacher stated: “It’s okay to have abnormal or weird thoughts like being attracted to your friends of the same-sex”.
It was seemingly common knowledge that girls could like other girls and have a simple “girl crush”. Being gay was just a big deal, such an “out there” idea, I never associated with it. I was just me.
At this time a group of boys in my class had labelled my group as “the lesbian crew”, and while most of my friends kind of laughed it off, it made me feel really scared and defensive.
This was because I had really started to develop feelings for a girl in my group and while I wasn’t too sure of what was going on, I really needed to tell someone.
I eventually told my best friend and after several deep breaths, I explained how much I’d appreciate her maybe finding out more about my crush’s sexuality, explicitly stating that I didn’t want my name to be involved.
Naturally, within the next few hours, not only did my crush know, but so did my entire school group.
Lunchtimes became incredibly awkward. I felt like I had some sort of contagious disease, some people stopped talking to me while others didn’t associate with me at all. I really felt like it was my fault for being different and making everyone else feel uncomfortable, so I began to withdraw from a lot of my once-considered close friends.
During this time, I talked to my crush online over Facebook where she unleashed the ultimate friendzone line: “I’d date you if you were a boy.” Well, that hit the nail right on the head. I really started to feel like I would never find someone who I loved that loved me back for who I was.
I also began to receive messages online from her best friend calling me a “bitch” for how much I’d “confused” her friend.
Outside of schoolwork, I found solace in sport but eventually decided to move schools for the start of year 10. I told my parents it was purely for academic reasons.
Despite the newfound diversity of my new school, I desperately wanted to maintain this new image of myself and start afresh. I became a living metaphor and “straightened” my hair. I found a new boyfriend, wore make up, etc — but I became so obsessed by maintaining this image that I began to feel really conflicted about who I was. I eventually developed an eating disorder having the mentality that “if I can’t be who I want, I could at least control how I looked”.
This lead to me becoming too sick to do sport or attend year 11 camp. At this point I decided I needed to address how I was feeling. I told a few friends and my boyfriend that I was bisexual but took to researching and finding comfort in LGBT groups online, knowing that it was probably more than that. I literally Youtubed and Googled “how to know if you’re gay” and had a checklist to see where I fit in.
At the end of year 11, I kissed a girl for the first time and there were fireworks. I was like “yessss I knoowww” and “shitttt this isn’t good”. I was still really scared of being alone.
But then I went to Mardi Gras. I was in year 12 and I was just in awe. Amongst the intense atmosphere of the crowd and all the glitter, I realised that this wasn’t something to be ashamed of. There were literally thousands upon thousands of people who were so diverse in sexuality and gender, and in that moment, I felt like I could never be alone.
I came out to friends within the next couple of weeks and they were nothing but super supportive. But I wasn’t going to tell my mum until I had a girlfriend, or a reason to tell her, but she kept pestering about what “boy I liked” or “who had stolen my heart”, and so I sat on my bed and said “mum, I don’t really like boys in that way, I like girls, I’m gay”.
I knew that her reaction wouldn’t be good but I hadn’t prepared myself for the disappointment. It was the combination of the blood draining from her face and her shocked silence that made me acutely aware of the words that I’d said and their profound change on my life.
However, during the time of my mum’s shock and attempt to understand, there were some great lines such as “what are you going to do now?!” (er, go to school, do my HSC?) and “please don’t come home with someone with a shaved head and tattoos!” (hmmm, I don’t think so.)
It did take my mum a few months to get used to the idea, but I can honestly say that she and my family are now one of my number one support networks.
That year at school was phenomenal for me. I had finally found friends that had given me a voice and celebrated who I was and by the end of the year, I had even gotten myself a girlfriend.
What was interesting to me was that my second school, while having a very tolerant and accepting environment, still refused to set up a legitimate LGBTI group due to one of the head teachers viewing that “homophobia doesn’t exist as an issue” there.
That to me, addresses one of the most profound issues for LGBTI teens — that the challenges of sexuality are, a lot of the time, internal and that is why even subtle homophobia or intolerance can make such a difference.
During high school I never felt like my sexuality was something that I could talk about with either teachers or my friends. I couldn’t even imagine how incredibly powerful and helpful it would have been to have had something like this in my school.
When you are trying to figure out who you are, there is nothing worse than feeling like you can’t ask for support, or that being who you are means having to be thrown in the spotlight as someone who is different, or just not normal.
Support networks like these have made me see that being gay is something that doesn’t have to define you, nor should it be something that you hide.
And with that, I am very proud to be me.
For details on the Safe Schools Coalition and how to get your school involved, visit: safeschoolscoalition.org.au
(Image credit: Safe Schools Coalition Australia)
Was your school inclusive and supportive of its LGBTI students, or were you a victim of direct homophobia and bullying? Take this quick survey to help schools improve the support they provide. It’s quick, free, anonymous and open to all: https://www.esurveycreator.com/s/547d319
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