I told my family I was gay seven months ago; recently I let my wife know. I have always known that I was attracted to men and knew what that meant; nonetheless, I was determined to be heterosexual.
Looking back, my reasons are typical: a lack of confidence, a strong desire to fit in, and the belief that homosexuality was wrong. Ultimately, I refused to believe that being gay could be something positive.
Two memories stand out that help to explain how I came to view my sexuality in such a negative way.
I was about seven years old and up one night watching SBS with dad. Suddenly two men were kissing on screen, causing Dad to cry out, That is disgusting, as he quickly got up and changed the channel. I remember sitting there thinking, No, it isn’t.
I can’t remember if I had any concept of homosexuality at that age though I do think my response was made free of all the negativity that I would come to associate with being gay. What a shame it took me another 20 years to again accept that two men kissing was not disgusting.
Another memory I have is at the age of 16. Dad and I were on our way back from a hunting trip and we’d stopped to have dinner with a friend. Over dinner Dad said in passing, I’d rather have a drug addict for a son than a homosexual. Dad’s logic was that he could help a drug addict while a homosexual was someone he couldn’t help.
While I remember this incident clearly, I don’t think it bothered me too much. I had already decided that I didn’t want to be gay and Dad gave me another reason/ excuse to deny my sexuality; I’d be heterosexual to protect my parents from the shame they’d experience if they had a gay son.
I grew up in a close family of five in the Blue Mountains. My mother was a school teacher and Dad was a probation officer. My parents devoted themselves to their kids, bringing us up in typical Catholic fashion. I was lucky to always have both parents around me, taking their job of raising a family seriously.
We always ate together at the table -“ something at the time I wished we could have done in front of the television -“ listening to Dad’s stories of what his customers -“ read criminals -“ had been up to: what they did, where they were now going and for how long they’d be there. We all found these stories fascinating.
My teenage years were not a struggle. I avoided gay taunts and other forms of bullying at school as I didn’t fit the camp stereotype and excelled in sport. I was kept busy with extra-curricular activities at school and spent most of my time outside of school competing in various sports. I wonder now what my peers would think if they knew they’d elected a fag as their school captain, twice.
While I thought of men most nights and being gay was often on my mind, it didn’t really weigh heavily or cause much distress. I believed that if I was determined and applied myself I could overcome my homosexuality. And I thought I was.
My determination to be heterosexual was ironically at odds with what I was being taught at my Christian Brothers school. I remember sitting in a religion class where we watched Ian Roberts come out on television. Afterwards we spent the rest of the period talking openly and generally positively about homosexuality as an identity.
I sat there staring at the carpet and didn’t say anything, not wanting to participate. Instead of feeling empowered and that it was okay to be gay I couldn’t get past my belief that homosexuality was wrong.
Looking back it all seems very disappointing that I could have felt this way given the profile the gay community had at the time and the relatively positive gay images in the media. While I had no notion of the efforts people had gone through to win various rights for gay people, I could have benefited from these yet I didn’t. I cringe at my self-righteous determination to deny my sexuality.
Thankfully things were changing. Travelling overseas as much as I could before, during and after university, as well as living away from home while I went to university gave me space to get to know myself better and meet other gay people. I used to take my Lonely Planet for my next destination to lectures, perfecting the art of reading the guidebook, listening to the lecturer and taking notes at the same time.
I would read the gay and lesbian traveller sections over and over again, fantasising about what the clubs mentioned would be like -“ even if I had no intention of going to that particular city. These small sections in the guidebook really made an impression on me, making me realise that homosexuality was a viable way of life for people all over the world and could be for me too.
While it was still some time before I would tell my family that I was gay, I was beginning to accept who I was. Nonetheless, thinking I could be happy and make it work, in 2004 I got married. The experience made me realise the seriousness of what I was doing: the deceit that went along with denying my sexuality was hurting myself and people I cared about.
By the time I finally told my family -“ helped with a not so slight nudge from a friend -“ being gay had become less of an issue for me. I was so caught up in my own feelings, I hadn’t thought it would take a little while for others to come to terms with the news.
Mum’s reaction is something I’ll never forget. I prefaced the announcement with, I’ve got something to tell you that you’re not going to like. I could see that Mum had tears in her eyes and I figured she already knew what I was going to say -“ I hoped she would put me out of my misery and say it for me -“ so I asked her what she thought I was going to say. You’re moving out, she said. Suddenly, at least for Mum, my outing took on extra bombshell proportions.
Dad, I later found out, had known for about a week, reading an email I had sent to a friend that I left sitting in his sent box.
Seven months on, my family have proven to be more supportive than I ever imagined, and I’m grateful for the way in which they’ve come to terms with having a gay son or brother.
Once the hurdle of coming out was over, it was time to know everything I could about what it meant to be gay. I found a gay Catholic group, Acceptance, on the internet and went along one night to Mass, extremely nervous and excited. What I found was a welcoming group of men who have given me the opportunity to mature considerably as a gay man and reconcile my religious beliefs and my sexuality.
My parents have come along a few times to show their support; we’re learning at the same time.
Thankfully I’ve met people who are eager to show me the ropes, making my first seven months as an openly gay man much easier. I’ve been told that I’m busting out of my closet, probably true, but as far as I’m concerned I was in there for far too long. I find myself fascinated by everything, be it a club, beach, bathhouse or book on gay culture.
I listen with not a little regret to people telling me how things were better before, how I’ve missed the golden age, not to mention the best drag acts. The pessimism of a golden age lost makes me regret even more that I waited so long to experience gay Sydney.
Thankfully everyone seems to be a little hazy on the dates -“ making sure that they were around to experience it -“ so I’m happy believing that for me my golden age is now. My boyfriend tells me jokingly that my golden age began when I met him; I don’t disagree.