Can you remember when you became aware of gay people? Growing up in suburban Melbourne I think the first gay folks I knew of were camp English comedian Julian Clary and lesbian poster girl k.d. lang who I’d seen on telly.

As far as I was concerned, “poofs” were girly, “lezzos” were butch — but most importantly, homosexuals were famous.

I first saw a real-life gay when I was about nine years old. Dad took me into the city to watch the Brunswick St parade, a showcase of the weird and wonderful arty types taking part in
Melbourne’s Fringe Festival. Here I witnessed hairy-armpitted girls pashing as they balanced on unicycles, scantily-clad tattooed leathermen with pierced knobs, and all manner of folks I’d never met in our neighbourhood.

Not only did gays get to go on TV, they got to play dress-ups and be silly all the time! Amazing.

Because I figured all homosexuals were entertainers, I was oblivious to the fact “normal” people could be gay. In Grade Five I remember going to a kid’s place after school and being introduced to his mum who was lying in bed with another woman.

The mum quickly sat up when I said “Hi”. The kid anxiously mumbled in my ear, “When mum’s sick, her friend looks after her”. Fair enough, I thought — and we ran off to play Alex Kidd In Miracle World on his Sega Master System.

Being the little shit that I was, I occasionally called boys I didn’t like “poofter”. It had nothing to do with them being effeminate or affectionate towards each other — it was just another insult along with “spastic” and “fuck face” I’d hurl at anyone who stole my ball.

Last weekend we had a Schafter family get-together where I caught up with my gay cousin Pete who’s around my age.

Our seven-year-old cousin bounded over and sheepishly asked Pete, “Do you have a gay boyfwend?”, before cracking up and running away. His slightly older brother then enquired, “Are you a homerseckshell”?

“Yes, I am,” declared Pete. “So am I,” I added.

The two boys giggled and screeched. It’s like they couldn’t believe they were getting away with saying a naughty word.

But maybe I’m wrong. When out folks like Josh Thomas and Ruby Rose dominate the TV, perhaps our little cousins just figured we’re not cool enough to be gay.

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