Mike, in his own words: “Creating identity is the job of a lifetime. We establish a few solid building blocks in our early years, and then spend the rest of our lives cultivating our personal interests, tastes, preferences and desires. Being gay was a building block I didn’t want, nor something I wanted as part of my identity.
Given that I felt negatively toward it for so many years, it gives me comfort that being gay isn’t something I obsess over today. This is not a pernicious statement, it’s just a reflection of the person I am in this moment – a confident man, dedicated to his family and friends, who is at ease with himself. It’s taken a long time to get here, and I’m happy that I no longer see my sexuality as something I have to reveal to people. I just am.
Being printed in Hello Mr magazine will always be a very special moment for me. I had harbored a secret desire to be a writer for a long time, but it wasn’t until Ryan encouraged me to submit, that I really pursued it as something I could actually do. I’m not ashamed to say that seeing my words in print for the first time brought tears to my eyes.
A couple of months after the magazine was released, I received a message from a reader who said my piece had resonated with him. He told me his story of growing up gay, and how he had spent a lot of his childhood feeling alone and ostracized. He explained that my piece, and the entire magazine, had made him feel less isolated, and that for the first time in his life he truly felt as though he’d found his community. The experience of receiving this message changed my notion of success completely. From that moment on, I knew that if something I had written had a positive impact on even just one person, then I had produced something of value. That is what success means to me today.
I didn’t think I was up for the challenge of being a gay man. As a teenager I would lie in bed at night and pray to god to change me, to take away the feelings I had for other guys. I blamed those feelings for being picked on at school; the single difference that the other guys sniffed out and targeted me because of. By age 17 I knew that the feelings were not going away, and so the prayers changed. I no longer asked for god to take the feelings away, I simply said, ‘if I am gay, don’t let me wake up in the morning’.
When I came out at 28, none of the fears I had about being a gay man eventuated. My parents did not disown me, my sisters did not refuse to let me see their children, and my friends did not stop talking to me. I realize that this is not the same for everyone, and that I have been incredibly lucky with the people who have joined me on the journey.
It may sound cliché, but the biggest barrier to my coming out was me. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how I would manage the feelings of others, concocting speeches that would highlight how ‘normal’ I was, despite the fact I was gay. Imagining the negative responses of others always dissuaded me from telling the truth. When I came to the realization that I was only responsible for my own feelings, and in turn my future happiness, I was enabled to speak honestly about myself, and everything else just fell into place.
The gay community in Melbourne is incredibly diverse, with clubs and groups for every type of interest. While I don’t have a great deal to do with the wider community, I’m very fortunate to have a close group of gay friends – they are my community. All of my friends are quite different, and each brings something unique. I love the balance their different qualities provide, a beautiful interplay of strengths that challenge and inspire.
I often wonder; would my younger self heed any advice my older self would give? The scared young man who catalogued his words and movements meticulously so he could eradicate ones that arose suspicion would be unlikely to listen to wisdom that has taken time to cultivate and understand. I think to keep it simple I’d plant a few seed ideas, in the hope that early exposure to them might grow them faster. Here’s what I’d say:
“Be honest, even if it scares you. Know your worth. Ask for help when you need it.”