Trigger Warning: Contains Discussion of Suicidal Thoughts.
Being different from those around you is something that many people feel. When I was younger I used to have thoughts that I was taught to think were wrong. I spent a lot of time in my own mind trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted. I kept my emotions locked inside a jar which sat in the pit of my stomach, glowing a faint orange colour in the darkness. I was afraid of what might happen if I were to open the jar. At times, I would be filled with huge amounts of anger and sadness, maybe because the jar was so painful to keep inside of me. It weighed me down and made it hard for me to think of anything else. The jar was a huge burden that I felt I had to endure.
I have always been different from my family. When you grow up in a small town, you don’t really understand just how insular life can be. People live their whole lives inside the 150 kilometres that makes up the Capricorn Coast, the area in which I grew up. I lived in the small-town of Yeppoon with a population of 10,000 or so. The culture in Yeppoon was, I’m sure, quite like most small towns in Queensland – scenically beautiful, yet the people were generally small-minded. The population was mostly made up of Caucasian heterosexual families, with a trades-working father and a stay-at-home mother. The small-town society was very heteronormative. Many facets of the culture in Yeppoon were very sex based. Women were mostly stay-at-home mothers, nurses, receptionists, and other stereotypically female-gendered jobs; whilst men made up the vast majority of the labour and mining workforces.
“What the fuck are you wearing?” said my brother Rhys.
“They’re skinny jeans, everyone at school wears them,” I replied.
“Skinny jeans are for fags,” my brother said.
A survey conducted by Headspace of 1749 same sex attracted young Australians in 2004 found that many young people experienced homophobia, it manifested through verbal abuse (44 per cent) and unfair treatment on the basis of sexuality (38 per cent). The most common site for the experience of abuse was within the school environment (78 per cent). Those from rural backgrounds reported feeling less safe at social occasions than those living in cities.
The school system was quite gendered throughout high school. Socially, there were clear divides between the boys and the girls. I was a boy whose friendships were mainly with girls, I was often antagonised because of this. My best friend was a girl, and people often asked us when we would be getting married; as if to say that if a boy and a girl are best friends, they will be overcome with heterosexual desires for each other. I was subjected to taunts and ridicule, being called gay and one of the girls – as if being gay or a girl was a bad thing.
I was in my legal studies class in grade twelve. My teacher was standing at the front of the class saying something or another about being a man. He turned to me and with a grin on his face said: “But you wouldn’t know that would you Kyle, you’re one of the girls.”
A study conducted by Beyondblue into the mental health of LGBTQIA+ youth in Australia, released by Beyond Blue in 2015, has come to some worrying conclusions. It found that teenagers, especially boys, are engaging in homophobic bullying at an alarming rate. Twenty per cent said they find it hard to treat same-sex attracted people the same as others. Sixty per cent said they had witnessed people being bullied for their sexuality first hand. Forty per cent agreed that they felt anxious or uncomfortable around same-sex attracted people. Twenty-three per cent think it’s okay to say something they don’t like is ‘gay’. Young LGBTQIA+ people are already three to six times more likely to be distressed than their straight peers, such distress has a strong link to depression, anxiety and suicide.
“Why were you singing in the shower?” asked my brother.
“Because I felt like it,” I replied.
“Singing in the shower is gay,” he said.
Born into a large family, I have three older brothers and a younger sister. I often wonder where I came from. Whilst I am a politically left-wing thinker who has pursued tertiary education, the rest of my family have quite conservative views. They support Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and they all dropped out of high school to seek employment or a trade. I often wonder whether their views would continue to be so conservative if they had finished school and attended university.
“I have something to tell you,” I proclaim. I let the statement linger in the air a little, which was a terrible idea because in those few silent moments my throat closed with nervousness and I began to stumble over the two words that I have been waiting for the right moment to get out. My dad looked at me with a grin on his face and, mimicking me, said, “I’m gay”.
When I discovered I was homosexual, I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with my sexuality. My own idea of what it meant to be homosexual was quite skewed. At first, I was afraid of being gay. I didn’t know any gay people in my hometown, and only really knew about homosexuality because of vague representations on television and in movies. In school I received a sexual education consisting exclusively of a very short video in grade six and a video about giving birth in senior years, neither of which contained anything about homosexuality. I was quite nervous, but eventually became comfortable with who I was, and could share that with the people around me.
Homophobia has a significant impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
I was walking through the CBD of Brisbane with two friends. We were on a street I disliked because it was frequented by teenagers who were prone to verbal aggression. “I don’t like this street; people always call me names,” I said.
“That’s absurd,” my friends said.
We continued to walk, and after a couple of minutes a young boy called out from behind us: “faggot!”.
Homophobia has a significant impact on young people’s health and wellbeing, with an increased likelihood of self-harm and suicidal behaviour. Young people who are LGBTQIA+ are at higher risk of experiencing mental health concerns due to the difficulties associated with disclosure and community attitudes.
Over the course of my life I have dealt with depression. I often found it extremely hard to open up about the way that I was feeling, especially while I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I would hide my depression from those around me because I didn’t want people to question why I was feeling the way that I was. For years I contemplated ending it. I thought about it multiple times a day. I thought about the different ways that I could do it. Walk into moving traffic; jump from a building; run a nice hot bath, light some candles, enjoy the warmth of the water as I open my wrists and slowly ebb into the warmth of the abyss. Gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to be diagnosed with major depression or panic disorder, especially those experiencing social withdrawal, isolation and socioeconomic hardship according to Touch Base.
I was walking down the street, on my way to a friend’s house. As I came to a set of traffic lights. I pressed the button and waited for the green man to signal. I crossed when prompted and stopped in the middle of the street as a car hurdled through the red light and watched as the car filled with middle aged men in suits approached with various limbs hanging from windows. I met their stares as the man in the front passenger seat leaned his face out of the window, cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “faggot!”.
My sister recently came out to my parents, and it was a lot easier for her to do so. Both of my parents called me for advice. I told them that they had to accept her for who she is. I said that she’s still your daughter, that you need to love and support her. Young LGBTQIA+ people are so much more likely to face discrimination and you must be there for her. I think my parents were surprised, but after years of dealing with my sexuality, it was a lot easier for them to come to terms with hers. Society is slowly moving towards complete acceptance, due to more representation of homosexual relationships and more visibility.
We are moving towards a time of acceptance and equality.
I was walking to the bus stop in Brunswick, Melbourne on my way home after work, waiting to cross the road at a busy intersection and the traffic had come to a stop next to me. A man looked out the window of his car and sneered at me, “fag”.
Of course, there will always be random people who feel the need to shout discrimination on the street, but I believe that we are moving towards a time of acceptance and equality. Last year, the move to have a plebiscite to change the definition of marriage had hugely negative effects on the LGBTQIA+ community, those who have faced discrimination and distress their whole lives were affected by the negative campaign. Same sex marriage now exists in Australia. While there will always be some discrimination against homosexuals, if people are better educated, there will be less of a platform for people to express harmful views about the LBGTQIA+ community.
For a long time, I felt that I was different. I felt that there was something wrong with me. I was so afraid to accept myself for who I was that I was ready to kill myself. My father once asked me if I was sure that I was a homosexual. That life is so difficult for “them”. That “they” face adversity and discrimination. That “they’re” teased and tormented. He asked me if it was really what I wanted. But being gay isn’t something you choose. It’s who you are. That jar is still inside me, but it’s not as full now. It is slowly becoming easier to endure. One day I know that it will cease to exist. No matter who tells you otherwise, being who you are is the most important thing that you could ever do with your life.