This week I had the pleasure of spending an hour with some babes chatting on Joy 94.9 – Australia’s only LGBTQIA radio station – about growing up and coming out in a rural town. We talked about how our childhood may have shaped us and whether we could actually see any positives in the towns we’ve since left but continue to call home.
The truth is, my childhood was filled with swimming pools, sharing icy poles with my labrador Babe on a backyard swing set and praying it would rain so that it wasn’t so fucking hot. We rode our bikes around the neighbourhood, ate mangoes as soon as they fell from the tree, went to parties in cane paddocks and skipped school to hang out at Crystal Cascades. It was simple, easy and although boring as absolute shit sometimes, we managed to make our own fun.
Now, I’ve talked a lot of smack over the years and promised never to return to the town I once called home. I’ve rolled my eyes at the countless fb updates from friends and family who still live there about how hot, wet, humid, boring or far away Cairns is from everything. This is all very true but no matter how hard I try, I will always have a soft spot for the town that raised me. The town that made me tough enough to be proud and strong wherever I chose to live.
The year was 1999; Lou Bega had a number 1 hit with Mambo #5, every kid and his imaginary friend had a Game Boy Colour and I kissed a girl for the first time.I didn’t think about it being weird, different or odd, I just did it. She looked like a fairy princess with her strawberry blonde curls, big blue eyes as deep as the ocean and a cute crescent moon scar on the tip of her nose. She smelled like fairy floss and patchouli; I was clearly enchanted. It never bothered me that while most little girls were daydreaming about kissing the dudes from Hanson, I was sitting around drooling over Jo from S Club 7 and Sporty Spice.
In the same year, I also had a crush on my 4th grade teacher Ms. Brown, every girl (and boy with long hair) who played for my local soccer club and my best friends Mum. I saw beauty in humans who were strong, passionate and wild. I found myself noticing masculine women, feminine men (and just androgynous humans in general) and being attracted to the ambiguity that surrounded them.
I also began to notice children and adults make fun of anyone who wasn’t like themselves. The boy with the dark mullet who loved to write, had an incredible imagination and spoke softly was a called a faggot. The PE teacher who rocked a short haircut and footy shorts was instantly labelled a lesbian. Make no mistake people, something happens within your spirit when you see and hear people being put down, people who are just like you.
It may seem hard to believe because of how outspoken I am about queer life but it actually took years to stop being ashamed of who I was, to be proud and stand tall. It wasn’t until 2004 that I found the courage to come out and it is mostly because picking someone you feel safe and comfortable enough around to come out to is hard work. It is especially hard when you have no idea how that person is going to react.
So maybe you’re the parent or the friend of a queer person and they have chosen you to be the first to be open and honest with… Condragulations!!!
Be open and understanding. It has probably taken them a while to feel confident enough to share this information with you and although it may take time for you to understand, this whole thing isn’t actually about you. Let your ego and fears take a back seat to the love you have for this person and be present in the moment.
Be respectful. Unless you’ve been given permission to share the information you’ve just heard, please don’t blast their identity or preferences around. This means no billboards, no full page spread in the local paper and no 30 second ad to be played before the Bachelorette on Wednesday night. Coming out is hard enough without a million people bombarding you or feeling as though everyone is talking about you behind your back.
Ask questions. What can you do for your little unicorn to make things better or easier as they start to feel more comfortable with themselves? Everyone is different, they may not know what they need or want right so just be patient. Knowing they can come to you is the most important thing you can do for them.
Language is important. Perhaps you’re struggling with pronouns or just the idea that your little sparkly baby is queer but words do actually matter. Put-downs, even if they aren’t directed at your loved one can hurt. Be aware of what you are saying and how it can be interpreted by anyone who hears it. I’m not talking about taking political correctness to a level of stupidity, I’m talking about being a decent person who thinks before they speak.
Be brave. You are going to have people who will share their thoughts with you and it is a fact of life that it won’t always be positive. As someone who loves and cares about a member of the LGBTQIA community it is up to you to stand up against bullying and discrimination, whether it’s against your unicorn or someone elses. Kindness will always outshine ignorance and you can make a difference.
I was lucky to experience mostly love when I came out 13 years ago in my little coastal, country town and although I could spend time focusing on the negativity and the awful things that people said, what good would it do? I had wonderful teachers, great friends and a family full of people who loved me, for me. We are, after all, all the same; just a bunch of humans, being.
Yes, Cairns may have been quiet and the most fun you could have was playing in the dirt and rain but I wouldn’t swap it for the world. Cairns fed the dreamer in me, nurtured my imagination and gave me the ability to make my own fun. It helped me to prepare myself for the adventures I’ve been on and those I’m yet to have. I’m thankful for every moment I spent in The Tropics and for every single lesson growing up with 100% humidity taught me.If you’re struggling with finding a safe space or person to reach out to, I promise you are not alone. Finding community can seem impossible but there is always someone to talk to. Whether you are growing up in Malanda or Melbourne, let your love shine. You don’t have to like everything about where you come from and by all means, get out – explore, find your people but chances are after you leave, you may just remember why you loved it.
For more information about coming out or being supportive of someone who is, please check out Reach Out, Safe Schools and LGBT Foundation. Also, if you want to hear my voice on the radio you can find it at Unicorn Youth. Thank baby cheesus for the internet.