People...there’s an important day coming up. No it’s not my birthday, you’ve already missed that (asshole). The 17th of May is the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Obviously this day is about bringing awareness to an issue that is near and dear to my heart. To help highlight the importance of this day I’m going to share a story with you. And you’re going to love it, because it’s all about me!
When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends that were boys. In fact I don’t think I had a boy as a friend until I got to university and...well, I’m still dating him. I did have a lot of female friends however, and from a fairly young age I started experimenting with girls (and not in a science lab, wearing white coats). At this point in my life I didn’t know what gay or straight was. I didn’t know the words for any of the things I was doing. I had a sense that it needed to be kept secret, that if anyone knew what we were doing with each other, we’d probably get in trouble. But that didn’t stop us from doing everything we could think of.
As I got older, I started to learn more about these experiments. I learnt the names of some of the things I was doing. Then I learnt what “gay” and “straight” meant. Being given the definition of homosexuality filled me with panic. That panic lasted for several long years. I knew I liked girls. I liked them as friends and I liked them as “girlfriends” (although we had never said this out loud, since there was no one we could say it to). But the idea of being only with girls for the rest of my life terrified me. How would I get married? How would I have children? I wanted to know what it would feel like to kiss a boy and...goddamnit, I wanted to know what a penis looked like. How was any of that supposed to happen if I was gay?!
What terrified me the most was the deadline. I didn’t know when I had to make a decision by. If I said I was straight, because I wanted to know what it was like to be with a boy, but then I tried it and I didn’t like it, could I change my mind? Or was that it forever. Could I keep being with girls until I turned 18 and then say I was straight, so at least that way if I ended up being miserable for the rest of my life I would at least have several years of good times to think back on. You might think I’m being hyperbolic here. I’m not. I was genuinely terrified. I didn’t know how sexuality worked and I honestly believed I had to pick a side and that there was a definitive date I would need to declare it by.
Then one day, everything changed. A film came out called “There’s Something About Mary”. It remains one of my mother’s favourite films. I no longer care for it, but I will be eternally grateful for one throwaway line. Cameron Diaz tells Ben Stiller that she’s bisexual. It’s one sentence and is immediately revealed to be a joke, but it was enough for me. I was lucky to be sitting next to a wonderful woman, who later guided me through a lot of my sexual queries and questions, and I turned to her and whispered “what does bisexual mean?!”
“It means you like both.”
This was a thing?! I COULD HAVE BOTH! I didn’t have to decide! I couldn’t make a wrong decision.There was only one other time in my life that I had been more relieved (and that involved my grandfather and a plate of steamed beans, so it’s not really relevant here). I spent the rest of that film with tears running down my face because I realised I actually had a chance to be happy.
As with many things, once I knew the word I started hearing it everywhere and one day my mother used it to refer to a family friend. I’m not sure if she noticed my sudden curiosity or not, but when I pushed her on it she loftily informed me that bisexuality “isn’t a real thing. It means you can’t decide.”
I was pretty crushed. I tortured myself with this information for a few years, but eventually I decided that my mother didn’t get to decide what it meant. I would find out from other people and the internet. Other people proved fairly unreliable and tended to corroborate my mother’s opinion, but the internet provided me with enough porn to convince me that there were indeed women who liked both sexes (it still hadn’t occurred to me that men could be bisexual and pansexual was a far and distant thing).
By this time I was now attending boarding school and was terrified that someone would figure out my secret. My school wasn’t especially homophobic, but equally no one had been brave enough to actually come out. I was fairly confident that I was already the weirdest kid in the school and so despite being obsessed with sex I made a conscious effort to make myself as unsexy as possible on the off chance that it gave away the fact that I was trying to attract both sexes. But by year twelve, I decided that I’d be at university soon and I should start building the identity that I wanted for myself, and that identity didn’t involve being in the closet. So I chose a friend to confide in.
I chose poorly.
I had inadvertently chosen to confide in the biggest homophobe in my friendship circle and when I blurted out my confession she started at me in silence until I awkwardly retracted it.
I spent the next few months debating whether to tell anyone else and then decided to suck it up and tell my two more liberal minded friends. Both of them had the same reaction which was basically a shrug of indifference followed by “As long as you’re not attracted to me, that’s fine.” I’m not sure if I have to explain to you why this was actually more hurtful than an outright homophobic response or not, but I’m going to. Homophobia is devastatingly hurtful and comes from a place of fear and ignorance. It’s not okay and it should be educated out of the global population. However, what hurt me more was the fact that two people I thought cared about me, treated one of the biggest moments of my life with casual indifference followed by conditional acceptance. I didn’t understand why they weren’t happy for me, or why their first response was concern for their well-being while around me. It hurt me more than I realised and their reactions tempered my expectations for everyone else.
There was one other girl that I came out to while I was at school and looking back on it now, I wish she’d been the first. We were walking along the road by the beach and I tried to mention it nonchalantly, so I could brush it off if she didn’t react well. Instead she pulled me to the side of the road and gave me a huge hug and told me she was so happy for me and she was sure I would find some wonderful people who would fall in love with me once I left school and entered the big wide world. I didn’t cry in front of her, but I sure did later. She was the first person who made me feel not only accepted, but loved for who I was. And though we’ve drifted apart as friends now, I will always remember that kindness.
Once I left school, I kept my promise to myself and I never hid my sexuality from anyone. With one glaring exception. I never told my family. I spent nearly fifteen years convinced that if I opened up to my mother she would tell me that it was just a phase. I was confident that my extended family would take it as just one more sign that I was a depraved, mentally ill screw up on the path to rack and ruin. So I kept it from them until I found myself in a poly relationship with another woman. Then I realised that if my family didn’t care about my happiness, then I didn’t really want them in my life. And so I came out to my mother, more than ten years after I came out to the rest of the world. I don’t know if it was the ten years that helped, or if it was the fact that I was prepared for a fight, but my mother said exactly what I wished she’d said years earlier, “As long as you’re happy, then that’s all that matters.” Until the words left her mouth, I didn’t realise how unimportant they were to me. I didn’t care what my mother thought or felt about my sexuality, because I knew she loved me as a person and as her daughter. She might have misgivings about my life choices and my identity, but she’d always love me and that was all I needed. As for the rest of my family, the few who know are amazing and those who don’t, it’s not really relevant to. I am fortunate to have reached a point in my life where I know who cares about me and I know who doesn’t. The people who don’t care about me don’t matter and the people who do only want me to be happy.
So what I would ask you to take away from this is a sense of how big your impact can be when it comes to a person’s identity. We forget how little information kids have access to and how quickly they pick up on tidbits of data and then apply their own logic to it. All these parents that are opposed to gay marriage because they think it means having to explain gay sex to their children...no. It means you have to explain that your child has options and they shouldn’t be terrified if they wake up one day and realise that they don’t want the same things all of their Disney heroes want. We forget that homophobia can come in all different shapes and forms, some of them more hurtful than others. I know that most of the people who played a part in this story have probably forgotten their role in it, but it will stick with me for the rest of my life. When someone tells you something about who they are and how they see themselves, remember that they’re telling you because your words carry weight to them. What you say next can shape their lives. It’s a big responsibility, but I know you’ll do the right thing.
That is all.
You may go now.