IN one of the first circus shows he performed in, Dale Woodbridge-Brown can recall hearing high school students in the audience hurling homophobic slurs in his direction.
He was playing an unintentionally flamboyant construction boy who was pretending to be a ‘ladies’ man – despite the fact his natural mannerisms didn’t lend themselves to that.
“There weren’t a lot of blackfellas in Circus Oz back then, and I was scared to do my act,” he told the Star Observer.
“But I had a queer director at the time who said to go back out there, look them in the eye, and do it again.
“So I did, and now I have a line in the show I like to use, that I’m a triple threat – I’m gay, Indigenous, and adopted.”
Despite performing onstage as an acrobat with Circus Oz for the past five years, Woodbridge-Brown didn’t develop his passion until more recently.
“I didn’t have an interest in performing until I was 20,” he said.
“My whole family’s sporty so I played a lot of sport in high school, and I was never into the arts.
“But I was a bit of a groover growing up so I gave dancing a go… I joined the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts and eventually auditioned for Circus Oz.
“I always thought I was going to be a dancer, and I was starting to get really good at it but dancing never fulfilled everything I wanted, but with the circus I get to be funny and silly and show off some really cool skills.”
Both Woodbridge-Brown’s circus team and family have both been incredibly supportive of his queer identity.
“Whenever I see a queer performer I get excited and want to work with them,” he said.
“Circus culture is quite accepting of queerness and drag and a lot of that is intertwined with the circus.
“There are probably some people who don’t like it but they’re staying in the shadows where they belong.”
When it comes to his large family – which comprises of nine sisters and a brother – he said they’ve been nothing but supportive of his sexuality.
His parents, when he came out to them at 19, were already one step ahead of him.
“My dad’s my best friend and so is my mum,” he said.
“When I came out I had a boyfriend, and I was like mum, dad, you know Paul’s not actually my ‘friend’ right?
“My parents responded by saying they were already at the party and had been waiting for me to come along.
“I have nine beautiful sisters who are all really supportive and a brother and I’m a little bit of a golden child, because I’m always doing something crazy.”
Inspired by the drag queens he’s encountered through his time in the circus, Woodbridge-Brown said he loves to experiment with his look, but said it would be too hard to commit to being one.
“Nowadays I’m onstage with a pink beard, eyelashes, and short-shorts,” he said.
“And in my hometown of Mungindi everyone loves it when I’m back in town, but if I was to go to another community as flamboyant as I am, wearing sequins as I like to, I’d probably get faced with ignorance.
“I know there are still quite a few homophobes out there, so through my performances I’m trying to make sure everyone’s okay with what I’m performing, while also informing them.”
While many people with queer sexualities face discrimination and marginalisation from the broader community, and others face this discrimination for being from a culturally or linguistically diverse background, queer people of colour face both.
As a gay Aboriginal man, Woodbridge-Brown believes they’re two separate forms of discrimination.
“I think that in my eyes [being discriminated against for being Aboriginal] would have to do with the race thing rather than the queer thing,” he said.
“We are still quite a racist country and we’re getting better but very slowly, however I don’t think gay Aboriginal people are discriminated against any more or less than a gay person or an Aboriginal person, it’s just for a different reason.
“This may not be everyone’s view but I don’t like to give those kinds of things a platform.
“I like all of the work people do to get rid of racism and homophobia but if I feel someone attacking me because of my race or sexuality, I pay it no mind… not because I’m scared, but because I think they’re living in the dark ages and I feel sorry for them.”
He recalled seeing a meme recently of an interracial heterosexual couple holding a placard that read: ‘only recently our marriage was illegal too, be on the right side of history.’
“I think we need to wear a sticker saying to be on the right side of history, and education is key,” he said.
Woodbridge-Brown is currently gearing up for a new Circus Oz show, TWENTYSIXTEEN, that will see turbo-charged acrobats bringing incredible new skills to the flying trapeze, the Chinese pole, and the unicycle adagio.
“It’s a whole bunch of people doing extraordinary things and showcasing what Australian talent can do,” he said.
“When I first started the shows I was doing were all thought out already; the themes and the set design were already in place.
“Whereas with this one we’re creating it from scratch, and it’s celebrating humans being super human.”
As someone who used to be a lot more introverted, he added that the circus has changed the way he sees himself, and helps audiences who may feel different to feel accepted and celebrated.
“Circus celebrates the freak in all of us,” he said.
“I was a shy kid and now I’m not so shy, and slowly my journey of becoming a circus performer has gotten queerer and queerer.
“I have a group of friends who are all queer Indigenous performers and we do cop a bit but sometimes if people don’t understand, they just won’t understand.”
Circus Oz’s TWENTYSIXTEEN season will run from June 15 to June 10 in Melbourne’s Birrarung Marr (between Federation Sq and Batman Ave). Tickets cost between $22 and $95, available from ticket master.com.au or 136100.