I was born and raised in a small country town called Parkes, in New South Wales, Australia. In a town that seemed to thrive on sports, I was more interested in reading than running, which meant that I didn't mingle much with kids my own age.
When I got to High School, I was of course at 'the age' and strange things were happening to my mind and body. I didn't know much, and at the same time I was adjusting to moving from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a bigger pond. Everyone has been there, so everyone knows what I'm talking about ... the sudden change from being the eldest and the best to the youngest and the least - of everything.
It took half of the first year of High School, but I finally started being part of a group of new people I could call friends. Acceptance was important. It always is at that age. I still wasn't very interested in sport, but thankfully, the group of people that I joined weren't all that interested either.
Then Health lessons started. Most of it was considered fairly lame and boring ... don't smoke, don't do drugs, look after your body, etc. Since most of us heard the same sort of stuff from every other teacher and every other adult, we didn't find health all that exciting or new. The sex education component of it was even worse.
There are many reasons why sex education didn't work for me. For a start, the teacher that we had, while she was a damn nice person whom I had a great deal of respect for, seemed embarressed about having to teach a group of pubescent boys and girls about sex, reproduction, orgasms, masturbation, and all the other topics surrounding the hormones and the crotch.
And I can honestly say that not once during the entire course was the term 'homosexual' mentioned. Nor 'gay', nor 'lesbian', nor 'bisexual'. Hell, for that matter, 'heterosexual' wasn't mentioned either. That is, male-female sex was the only thing discussed and it was discussed as if it were the only thing.
This wasn't helpful for me. Something struck me as being intrinsically wrong with what was being taught. Why wasn't I interested in girls the way all the boys in the class were? Why did the entire male-female thing strike me as repugnant?
Well, this was a fun time.
For small values of fun.
I spent most of these years in a state of self-loathing. Pretending for 4 years that I was interested in girls while secretly I hated myself for being so weak as to fantasize about guys. Everything I saw, and everything I didn't see, seemed to point out that my feelings meant that I was a perverted, sick, evil, sinful freak.
I don't pray very often any more. I don't see much need to now ... I feel that my happiness, my love for others and my acceptance of others is prayer in itself, a celebration of spirit by trying to not deny the spirit of others, and definately not denying my own.
That wasn't the case at the high school stage in my life. I used to pray every morning and night, wanting to know what I had done wrong to deserve this punishment ... wouldn't it be easier, I said to God (for strangely enough, I never really got any answers on this...) if I were just struck down by a bus, or killed by a plane dropping on my head, or accidently hit by lightening ... anything to end it so that I didn't have to be a freak anymore. I thought at the time that I was just too cowardly to do it myself and that the punishment would go on until such time as I did.
But slowly, ever so slowly (and I'm talking years here), I came to realise that there wasn't really anything wrong with me. I put my natural reading talents to use, and started to use that lump of meat in my head. I turned my brain on and my emotions off for a while and did a bit of research.
If you're gay, you know that feeling. The first surreptitious look at the definition of the word 'gay' or 'homosexual' in the dictionary. You're sure that just as you start to read soemone will look over your shoulder and expose you to the world. It's difficult to look into yourself while you're also trying to look behind you every few seconds.
So after the dictionary, I started looking into encyclopaedias. Wonderful storehouses of knowledge - they gave me a reasonably unbiased view of what a homosexual meant. I learnt that some of the fairly famous figures in history had been gay themselves ... including Alexander the Great, and Richard the Lionheart. I learned that up until the 1600's the Catholic Church was still performing male-male marriages, wtih the only real differences in the ceremony being that the rings were placed upon the right, not left hands. I learnt also that for most of its history (i.e., a period of at least, if not more than 1500 years), the biggest, most awful sin in the eyes of the church was usary - the lending of money.
At the same time, things were getting fairly stressful. My brother (older than me) was pressuring me for information about the girls that I wanted to get it on with, and my parents wanted to know if there were any girls that I was interested in.
I was getting tense, I was a coiled spring ... hmmm, that might be going too far, let's cut it back to getting tense. I was getting tense, and I felt that I couldn't hold in the fact that I was gay any longer, because it was hurting me too much. I had begun to realise that being gay was not something that could be changed, and I had even begun to think that it wasn't wrong.
I thought that I knew everything about being gay, and I tried to come out to my mother. I didn't get the response that I was hoping for. She told me that I couldn't be gay, because at the time I was child- minding my cousin, and I hadn't molested him. All gays are child molesters, she told me, I was not a child molester, ergo, I wasn't gay.
Have you ever had one of your parents smack you in the face as hard as they can, when what you really want is a hug? Life isn't always like the Cosby Show. This was an emotional slap, but it hurt just as much. It took me a while to get over this, and it saw the growth of a wall between my mother and myself ... there were just some things that I couldn't trust, and couldn't love about her anymore.
I certainly hadn't come all the way in accepting that I was gay, but I had reached the point where I wanted other people to accept that I was gay ... my family was out of the question. I was too afraid that they would throw me out. School was the only other option.
So I came out to my group of friends.
I've got to admit, another guy did some of the ground work here. He was bisexual and a lot more comfortable with it ... and people were pretty comfortable with him ... after all, he was still interested in girls. But people knew that he was bisexual, and they were pretty fine with it, so in a moment of humour, I came out. For a while, people thought I was joking. Then they realised that I wasn't.
But they were OK with it. Sure, there were one or two people in my year who weren't comfortable with the fact that I was gay, but I wasn't making passes at them, I wasn't checking them out (they weren't my type, let's face it...), so people were pretty OK with it.
I was surprised, I'll admit it. I thought that coming out would lead to ostracism. But if anything, it gave me a bit of uniqueness that made me fairly popular. People wanted to know what I'd find so good about being gay. I admit, there was a bit of a 'pet freak' attitude, but it was good natured and it helped me endure.
Looking back now, I realise that my own cluster of friends were fairly important in enabling me to come out. I wonder what sort of psychology paper could be written on the basis of people who have endured hardship are inclined to form a bond? You see, out of the twenty people in my group at High School, 10 had been raped (male and female), three or so had moved around an extraordinarily large amount, and the others were either general 'misfits' (in a good way - either intellectuals or not interested in sport) or came from ultra-religious parents (whether they be Fundamentalist Christians or Seventh Day Adventists). Overall, we were a pretty unique group.
I made the mistake of then thinking that if my friends accepted me for being gay, then maybe my family might. So I came out to my brother ... for 6 months we didn't speak. He wouldn't accept anything from me. If at the dinner table I poured him a drink, he would tip it out, get a new glass, and pour himself a drink. If we had to go anywhere together, he refused to sit anywhere near me. He wouldn't even acknowledge that I existed. I admit, I came out badly, and I didn't try to talk with him about it, I just demanded acceptance. I was too young and too stupid to know that coming out isn't about you being 100% accepted, it's also about you accepting that the other person is going to need time and help coming to terms with what you are.
It hurt my parents a lot. Then one day my brother just walked up to me and said that we should stop fighting, because it was hurting my parents. It was as close as an apology as I would ever get from him, but at the same time I didn't have to apologise for how I came out. Things were still strained for a long time, but at least we were talking again. My brother and I had always been close. He was older by 4 years, and there were no other kids, so we grew up together and always stuck up for each other even if we were fighting. That 6 months was one of the most painful times of my life, but it was also a time of growth because I came to realise that if I was going to survive, I was going to have to learn how to be independant --- to stop worrying all the time about what other people thought and started thinking a little better of myself.
It also reinforced to me the fact that coming out involved 2 people, and you couldn't just 'drop a bombshell' and walk away if you really cared about that person.
There were still times of panic during these years. My town was a town of gossip, so there was a constant fear that my parents would find out ... most of my friends' parents knew, but the news never reached my parents, or if it did, they didn't comment on it.
Gossip did reach my teachers though. A few asked if it were true. Most ignored it. One or two openly told me that they thought I was (a) brave and (b) to be admired. That really proved a boost to my ego.
But after a couple of years I tired of it. I was still stressed at home. I was still wearing a mask for at least half the day, and I was still having to 'contain' myself in front of the people that I really loved. What did I want? I don't think I wanted much. Not only that, I had a one night stand (more like a one hour stand) with this guy that I had had a crush on for years. (My own age.) I thought that I was in heaven ... I thought I had already found my life-partner.
And then I found out it was a one night stand. I was devestated. I vowed I would never love another. I vowed that my heart was broken, and that I would remain true to this guy for the rest of my life and wait for him, no matter how long it might take. I was a pretty silly child, but it took me a few more years to realise that.
The H.S.C was going on, I had been rejected by the man I thought I loved and I was pretty stressed out. Somehow I managed to get good marks, but that wasn't enough. I was still stressed, I was still getting over everything that had happened to me, and I was preparing to go to University. Finally it all exploded and I had the most incredible argument with my father, started over something minor that I completely forget. During the argument I came out, fully expecting to be thrown out of the house in an instant.
My father accepted me.
In a time and place where I thought I wouldn't be accepted, I was. At the time my father thought that it was a phase, and that I just needed to find an understanding woman, but he accepted me. As the weeks went by we talked about it occasionally, when my mother wasn't around, and we came to an understanding, some of it spoken, some unspoken: I wouldn't raise the fact that I was gay around mum, he would steer her away from talking about girlfriends, etc., and I would not bring any boyfriends home from Uni.
With that in mind I left for Uni.
The first 2 years of Uni was strange. I learned that coming out was not something that you do once, but that you do all the time, over and over again. Maybe some day in the future people won't have to come out over and over again. It'll just be a case of saying, "No, I'm gay", or something like that. But it isn't at the moment, and it certainly wasn't then, so I had to start coming out again.
In addition to still having residual pangs from the one-night stand (hey, I had a crush on this guy for years, and I had no confidant that I could talk it over with and move on), I was the only person from my year at high school at Newcastle University, so I was fairly isolated again. I was staying with a cousin, an unmitigated bitch of the highest order, who was selfish and didn't like me, and insisted that because the house was owned by her parents, I was always in the wrong about anything we might disagree with. I'm still certain to this day that she is a lesbian who can't come to terms with it and spends all her days hating herself and others for it. I have sympathy for her, but she's too educated to act as mean as she does to others. Anyway, enough said on this topic or I'll stay here for hours.
Then I met this guy. He's straight, and now, several years on from Uni, I don't have anything to do with him anymore. (Not because he's straight; just once he started living in Sydney full-time he lost his grip on reality and became a typical North Shore Sydney Snob). But for a while, for a long while, he was my best friend. When he hardly knew me, he was able to help me pull out of my depression by realising that underneath it, I was an OK person. Amazingly enough, he also made me come to like myself again. It was one simply question that he asked one day that forced me to get over a lot of self-pity that I'd allowed myself to slip back into. He asked, "How can you expect anyone to love you when you don't love yourself?"
At the start of the 2nd year of Uni, in a major family storm, my cousin and I became irreconcilably estranged (or rather, she waited for the right moment, picked a fight and refused to work it out), and my parents moved me into a flat of my own.
For larger values of fun than those used during 'junior high'.
All my closest friends knew that I was gay and had no problems with it. In a lot of ways it was just like senior high all over again. I was having a ball. I was going out and getting drunk like any person my age, letting off steam when I needed to. I was being pressured by some of my friends to let off more steam than that, but I knew that I wasn't interested in going to nightclubs 'till 4 in the morning so I kept within limits that did what I needed them to do. I extended my previous research into being gay and realised that there was really nothing wrong with it at all. Hell, I even began to see it (and still do to this day) as nature's safety valve on the population growth!
There was still the problem that I wasn't "out" at home with my family. So, they'd all been told at some stage, but it was still a taboo subject. It was as if I'd been born sans-genitalia.
Final year Uni, my brother got married. He proved to me that everything was all right between us again when he casually mentioned that he would have invited me to his bucks night except there was this slight distance problem and that if there was a stripper, it'd be female, not male. Being a groomsman at my brother's wedding was one of the proudest moments of my life.
That spurred me on to come out to the people from my Uni course that I hadn't previously told ... and in doing so, I became closer friends with them, because when you don't tell someone that you're gay, it denies a certain level of closeness in the friendship.
Then I got a job, just as I finished Uni...
Sigh, coming out again. A bit hesitant at first, then it was like slipping on an old pair of gloves. (Maybe they're boxing gloves!) The people that I work with now know that I'm gay and they don't have any problems with it. Indeed, sometimes I'm still surprised at how accepting the various people at work are.
After I met Darren and became fully wrapped up in a relationship, I came to the conclusion that it was necessary to force the issue with my parents. My parents knew that I had a 'flat-mate', but I was tired of all the hidden messages and taboo topics, and felt that I finally had the emotional support I needed to confront my parents and live with whatever resolution occurred.
Yes, I agree, I needed the emotional support in order to do this. My parents had always had a very strong emotional tie to me and I'd always thought that half a relationship with them was better than none. With Darren though I knew that I could weather the storm, should it erupt. Yes, one reason that I didn't confront them while at Uni was the fact that I needed their financial support. Now some may claim that I was cowardly, and looking for excuses, but sometimes practicality must play a part in your life.
I resolved one night while Darren was at work (funnily enough!) to call my parents and confront them about it. They weren't home. My parents, the two people who you could be guaranteed would be home at any time, were out. The next night I again plucked up the courage, but again, they weren't home.
This was becomming a joke! The third night, they were again out, but determined to do it anyway, I decided that possibly the best way to talk to them about it was through a letter anyway. So I sent them the letter that changed our lives.
My parents and I up until that stage had a fairly simple way of talking to each other. Each Saturday afternoon, one of us would ring the other. (My parents still live in Parkes, I in Newcastle). I determined after sending the letter (and knowing postal times) that I'd wait for them to call.
At about 5pm that afternoon, my mother rang and she talked for about five minutes or so, mostly about golf, when in the middle of one sentence, she stopped almost as if it were an afterthought and said, "Oh, we got your letter, but we already knew. It's OK."
Yes, I knew they already knew - I'd told both of them ... it was the need to have them come to terms with it though that the letter was all about.
For years I held the image in my mind of people pulling down the Berlin Wall - that vast monstrosity that embodied fear, loathing and human arrogance. Well, the simple way that I was told by my mother that it was 'OK' was like half a wall tumbling in.
It's now been a couple of years since that happened. Darren and I regularly visit my parents and my family as a whole has no problems relating to us. My father, the hermit that he is, doesn't visit us just because he doesn't visit anyone. My mother on the other hand has visited us a couple of times and loved each visit, and there are plenty more planned.
My mother has become a regular advocate. Women at golf regularly ask her how I'm going and she pulls no punches to reinforce the fact that I'm gay. She outed me to the entire women's golf club one day when a woman asked her when I'd be getting married. My mother replied, "Preston won't ever get married." (Well, Darren and I do intend to, when laws change!) The woman replied that she used to think that about her son, but he eventually got married, so there was no use thinking thoughts like that. Mum replied, "No, he won't get married, he's gay." According to her you could hear a pin drop and there was utter silence in the room for about 5 minutes ... but the women didn't really have a problem with it ... I think they were all just stunned to encounter a mother who had no problems with it any more.
Coming out is not a once-off process. Until such time that non-heterosexuals have exactly the same rights as heterosexuals and people aren't bigoted, there will be a continual need to come out. Not all situations require you to come out, and there are some situations where it may be too dangerous to come out.
But coming out, should you choose to do it, is something which is never done once. Life is continually expanding, and each time you expand your field of focus, there are others to come out to, others to make aware.
(C) 1996-2000 Preston de Guise