For many gay men, younger years have been tough. Being gay and growing up can be hard. Being different can lead to feelings of isolation, confusion and, for some men, depression, anxiety and even suicide.
In many ways, my younger years were wonderful. Sure, I had a few issues, but to be honest, I have been fortunate. Growing up in a suburban middle class family I was lucky to have few worries.
Like most kids of my era I grew up with Mum at home, Dad at work, one sister and a dog. My memories of home are happy ones. I felt safe, which is something some children cannot say.
From a young age, I was different. Short-sighted, I needed to wear thick glasses which certainly were not the fashion when I started school.
I started school early, at the age of four. Being younger than my classmates, I was socially behind the eight-ball, still learning about friendship and social interaction.
As I was incredibly shy, I tended to play by myself, though over the years I developed some close friendships.
Sadly, in Year 6 I became the victim of bullying. Each day I would vomit before school, mostly due to the extreme stress and anxiety at the thought of another day of being beaten up.
I also hoped this demonstration would allow me to stay home, avoiding the torture. Sadly, it seems that once word is out that you are an easy target, other bullies are happy to join in the fun.
This was a low time in my life. Making it worse was that teachers, whom you think could be held up to protect vulnerable students, actually supported the bullies and actively participated.
While I never was so low that I wished I was dead, there were times I would have done almost anything to get out of that school. One day I even tried to force myself to look into the sun, thinking that if I was blinded, I would need to change schools.
Mum and Dad were worried and one tearful morning I finally admitted what was going on and why I was so reluctant to go to school. I am grateful that they listened and acted.
I was withdrawn from the school and transferred to a new school. My mood picked up, I made good friends and I was able to leave that awful chapter of my life behind me, at least to some degree.
While I lived my life in fear, sexuality was the last of my concerns. That said, I do have faint memories of Mr Keith, my swimming teacher, his sexy red speedos and the wonderful triangle of fur just above the band where the cords playfully poked up, teasing me.
I was about 12 when my hormones started to kick in and I started to realise that I was more interested in guys than girls.
On my entry to high school it quickly became evident that I needed to be a little discreet in my enjoyment as I was singled out as the faggot. This was probably not due to me actually being gay but more to do with my total uncoordination and passionate dislike of all things sport.
Through high school I had crushes on guys, but, sadly, as many gay men can understand, these feelings were suppressed and hidden due to the risk of being outed.
This places young gay men into an almost forced ‘asexuality’, delaying the joy and discovery of sexual expression until after high school when it can be done without the risk of taunting, bashing or worse.
After leaving high school, I talked with a mate, both of us drunk outside a nightclub. We came out to each other that night. It was a relief to know I was not “the only gay in the village” and to also hear about who was doing whom at school. I was shocked and sad I had not been part of the fun!
Unfortunately, my good mate Mark was not as careful with my confession as I had been with his and he outed me to my past classmates. This quickly spread like wildfire through my university friends, one of whom just happened to be the son of my father’s co-workers.
Word spread to this family and soon my father was being teased at work for having a faggot son. This kind of removed my concern about having to come out to my parents. Dad asked me one night if I was “a member of the homosexual community”.
I was glad he asked, it allowed me to feel more free. I didn’t have to hide any more. It took some time for my parents to come to terms with this, and there was a lot of teaching I had to offer my father.
After I told him I was indeed a “member of the homosexual community”, his next question was, “How long have you been HIV positive?” I was shocked! Did being gay instantly mean AIDS to my father?
It took a long time and Dad had many discussions with close friends, but over time he’s learned a lot about having a gay son. He now understands that not all gay men have HIV infection, and not all HIV-infected people are gay. He’s come a long way.
Looking back, I can understand some of Dad’s concerns. I was young and I was finally able to enjoy my teenage years. I was hitting the nightclubs almost every night, I was rather camp and my university studies were not going well. It’s not easy to get to 8am prac classes if you have been out dancing till 3am.
Talking with Dad years later, he shared that his biggest concern was my lack of direction.
Thankfully, when I was 24, a wise, older gay friend sat me down for a chat.
He too was worried about my lack of direction and he suggested I pull my finger out and just finish my degree. I respected this friend and I am forever grateful for his advice.
Finishing my science degree led to me studying medicine, a career I love that has offered me many fantastic opportunities.
In many ways my early years as a young gay man had been without too many problems. I was lucky. Some of my friends had been kicked out of their homes. One friend was bashed, kicked and pissed on by his classmates at school camp.
Another attempted suicide after extreme bullying that lasted his whole time at high school.
Is it little wonder that gay and lesbian teenagers are at almost four times the risk of suicide?
Now as an older gay man, I often wish there was some way to offer support to young gay people. When I learned about the It Gets Better project, I was excited. Here were thousands of videos created by people like me sharing with gay youth that yes, life does get better, and perhaps even more powerful. You don’t have to live in fear.
By DR GEORGE FORGAN-SMITH
An excerpt from Dr George’s blog the healthybear