My Coming out as a Lesbian Story

23 Apr

I suppose the key element of my growing up as a lesbian was the concept of ‘lying low’. I knew from around 14 years old that I was a lesbian, even though I knew I was ‘different’ from a very young age, when I wanted to be friends with the blokes and wear a bow tie – but I didn’t plan on letting anyone else know I was gay until I had escaped the oppressive exclusive all girls’ private school and the one-pub hick inbred town I grew up in, and ‘found a girlfriend’. Apart from all the conservatism around me, it seemed a bit pathetic – and, well, just not very thorough – to ‘come out’ without ever even having kissed a girl.
So I waited and waited and waited… I kept a scrapbook of Kate Winslet pictures – with whom I had become obsessed since seeing her in Heavenly Creatures – and wrote a diary every day about how alienated I felt and how disgusted everyone would be if they knew I was gay. It was also filled with questions about how you even knew if you were gay. I mean, I didn’t want to have sex with girls or eat them out – I just wanted to kiss them. Was that gay enough?

And I clung to any and all pop culture references i could find – which was hard in that small town, before the Internet. There were a few films on SBS, like ‘Go Fish’, some references in tv shows… but that was really all. A bit of gossip mag stuff about Madonna having a girlfriend, and rumours that some sitcom star in the US was a lesbian. But that was it – no role models, no peers, no way I could make that mental leap from being alone in a country town to having a settled life as a lesbian in the real world. I was scared. And there was no one I felt I could talk to.
I was determined to wait until the end of my final high school exams before I did anything about being a lesbian. Except for the fact I had a debilitating crush on a classmate. A convenient choice, because rumours were rife that she was a ‘lezza’. Accompanied by copious ‘ew’s and a titillated sense of scandal. She looked like Pamela Anderson but was sharp and smart and gorgeous and dangerous. Of course, as one of the smartest and most diligent students in our year, I was too shy to even talk to her, let alone do anything more. She starred in my daily diary but that was about it.

Finally, at age 18, a few weeks before the HSC – final high school exams – I couldn’t take it anymore; I got so miserable with my simmering secret identity that I broke down one day and told my mother. We cried together and she told me I would have a hard life. She wasn’t wrong. But I wish she’d lied.

I asked her not to tell anyone, but she secretly told my dad. She confessed later on but I had already tweaked when I saw the terrified look on his face one day when my grandmother was saying something homophobic. He kept looking at me like he wanted to protect me, all panicky; I was used to it, though – my exclusive private school education had provided me with daily training on combating the slings and arrows of overheard homophobia. I had learned to steel my face so as not to give anything away. But my insides weren’t yet made of steel.

So it stayed that way for a year or so until my sister tricked me into coming out to her; she asked me one day over a casual bowl of coffee at the Green Iguana in Newtown – Newtown! Finally! the Mecca of the lesbian! – whether I preferred Johnny Depp or Kate Winslet. Then my brother invited me out to lunch and over a chili basil chicken at Peppermint Thai in Newtown said in his understated country drawl, “So, Mum says you’re gay, Taz.”

And that was how it was with most people – they all knew I was a lesbian and had been just waiting for me to say it. Kind of embarrassing, really.

Next I came out to a couple of my best friends who were living in the UK at the time. I told them I was queer and that I understood if they didn’t want to be my friend anymore. They did, and said I was an idiot for thinking otherwise.

But then one of the friend’s mothers rang my mum to tell her I was a lesbian. Mum had the privilege of saying, “Yes, I know – I was the first person she told.” And that was my first taste of the world’s entitlement to intermeddle in the life of a lesbian. I can’t just ‘be’, for everything I do must be performed under the auspices of other well-meaning people who concern themselves with my conduct. Like the trusted friend spilling the beans to her mother, who immediately rang mine. Like governments, religions, societies, workplaces, strangers – they all have something to say about my being gay, even though I never asked them, don’t particularly care, and would rather just get on with it, as everyone else gets to do.
Still, I don’t recall my mother ringing my friend’s mother to intervene when I told her she was dating a violent coke dealer.

By this stage, all my friends now knew I was gay, said they had always known, and were fine about it all. But what I have never figured out is why they were such homophobes in my presence if they ‘knew I was a lesbian’ – they terrified me and prevented me from confiding in them. And before long, almost everyone I had gone to school with had had some kind of three-way or at least kissed a woman. Many of them had kissed more women than I had. I had never been a risk taker or an exhibitioinist, and it struck me that this was what their ‘experimental behaviour’ really was about. It wasn’t about their identity, it was about having a good time.

I also felt my school did not do enough to pave the way for me. The fact is, some people will end up being  gay or already know they are gay whilst at high school. Throughout my entire childhood and teens, it seemed everyone just supposed every person would be straight, including me. Why was this? Why not at least make statements like “some of you will be gay – and that’s fine”. We never once had a morning presentation at school given by a gay person saying, “I am gay – it’s ok, and some of you will be gay, which is ok too. If you need help, do this.” The issue was totally ignored by everyone in my life, until I was forced to break down in tears and confess it – with shame and fear.

I still have to come out fairly regularly – in work situations, to clients, to people in shops, to landlords or handymen or real estate agents. But now I am fully galvanized – inside and out. I am more certain in my identity and I certainly don’t feel fear or shame. At best it is pride and at worst a frustrated indignation with which I proclaim my gayness.

I am getting married in New York this year, as a fatigued advocate of marriage equality in Australia. I have finally reached that settled lesbian life I couldn’t even begin to imagine as a teen. And I think the world has changed for the better – or is that just me?

One Response to “My Coming out as a Lesbian Story”

  1. davo September 5, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    Somehow this story was much more interesting because you mentioned the HSC and Newtown :). It never occurred to me how the lack of gay role models made it difficult for people. It’s tempting to trivialize or think that tv shows are being trendy when they include them but as it turns out… it’s actually quite important.

    Moar recipes plz 🙂

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