Category: City: Brisbane, Australia

Beau, Administrative Assistant, Brisbane, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Beau, in his own words: ” Being gay to me means that I’m a dude who likes dudes. To me it’s a small part of who I am. Its like having brown eyes or red hair – it can help define you – but in reality it’s just a small part of who you are as a person. When someone asks me if I’m gay I will always ask them why. Why do people need to know such an intimate detail as in its more a question about who I sleep with rather then who I am as a person. But I always say after I answer “know you know just a little bit more of who I am.”

I regard three points in my life as my success stories: the first being when I won student of the week in grade 2. After a really bad week at school me and mum had a talk and she told me if I was really good at school she would get me a suprise. So that week I convinced myself that my vitamin C tablets would make me concentrate and make me be good and I took one every morning and snuck one in the afternoon so I could do my homework and on Friday after morning tea my teacher gave me the award and I was able to put my name up on the board with all the other kids. The second time was on Australia Day when I won my award for “the betterment of the region” and listed all of my achievements over the past 12 months and I was so pleased with myself and even more pleased that my grandfather was telling everyone that’s my grandson and all of the older people came to shake my hand and afterwards mum let me hang the award in the hallway so as soon as you came into the house from the backdoor you would see my award hanging there. The third time I felt successful was when I took my partner to my brothers partners parents house for Christmas to meet all of my family – it was the first time my parents had met a boyfriend and I just felt so proud because I was so scared of what they would think of him and me but my dad shook his hand and my mum gave him a hug and it was just like all the times my sister brought her boyfriends home. It felt great.

Like most teenagers I was bullied horribly. I was concussed three times in grade 7 and pushed down a stairwell because I was “a faggot” but after primary school it got better and I have moved on from caring what most of them thought of me because I know now that it’s up to me if I let their words hurt me and sometimes they do but mostly they don’t which is good.

My coming out story begins in grade 8 when my teacher gave us an assignment on two weeks with the queen – a novel – and we had to write letters from one character to another describing what is happening and how they felt and when I handed in my first draft he said to me why don’t you change who is writing to who. Why don’t you try the gay couple in the book and write about them. The gay couple are in their thirties and one is dying of AIDS. I told him I didn’t know anything about gay people and he told me to google coming out stories and start from there. That weekend the family was out and I googled coming out stories and reading every story was like looking into my own mind and connecting the dots as to why I was different. It made no sense to me before that and now I had a word to describe my feelings and I felt so grown up but I had no one to tell. A few weeks later I went to my local youth group camp and met a wonderful girl who was a few years older and she was the first person I told. We would email each other ever day and it was nice to have someone to talk to. My mum got worried and thought this older girl was taking advantage of me and asked my youth group leader to talk to me about it because I wouldn’t talk to them. And then I told him the truth and it was awkward and I asked him not to tell my parents and that I would so that afternoon I told my mum because dad was at work and what I remember most was I was standing at the sink and I drunk a cup of water after each sentence I said. And then she sent me to my room and her and dad talked when he got home and all I heard from their conversation was as long as he is happy. That made me smile.

The gay community in Brisbane is small but very diverse. It’s well represented of all the different colours of the rainbow but everyone knows everyone and most won’t let you forget if you slept with their ex. In the six years I have been in Brisbane now things have changed a lot but the people stay the same and I find that comforting as you will always get a hello down at the pub.

What would I tell my younger self? I would tell me not worry. The people who make your life hell now will not always be around and you will get to choose if and when you speak to them when your older and when they request your friendship on Facebook you will smile and accept knowing that it was them who wanted your acceptance and not the other way around. The second thing I would tell myself is it gets better and you will make so many new friends you won’t remember all of their names but all you have to do is say hi first.”

Adam, Student/Activist, Brisbane, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Adam, in his own words: “(Being gay has) never really been a huge part of my identity in terms of how I express myself in this world but I can’t deny that it is a big part of who I am. Being gay to me means more than just being attracted to men. For example being gay gives me the freedom to reject dominant constructions of masculinity which I feel is liberating, you know, to just genuinely be myself. Being gay feels almost like an act of resistance, sometimes I really love that I am different in a world full of conformity/sameness. But then again I am a contradiction, the difference bothers me sometimes too, I guess my feelings towards it are contextual depending on what physical and mental space I am in at the time and who is around me.
The difference unfortunately means a certain level of alienation from the wider community and this can often have some negative effects. In Australia I feel like there are still a lot of conservative homophobic spaces and it can be difficult living in a heteronormative society as a gay man. I also feel alienated within the gay community because I don’t feel like I express my sexuality in the same way as most gay men. I don’t identify with many of the gay stereotypes so I sometimes feel I am not gay enough to be included in the gay community.

On a more positive note, the experience of being in a minority group has made me a better person. To experience this kind of oppression has opened me up to empathise with other minority groups. I think in this regard it has actually influenced my career choice, to become a social worker, I think my passion for social justice has come from my experience of being different in society that normalises heterosexuality.

In terms of success, I think what I am most proud of is somewhat strangely my past relationship. It was a long term relationship of almost five years that ended last year. I loved the life we had created, what we achieved together, how we learnt from each other, the personal growth we both experienced and the dynamic of the partnership between us. Obviously it did not work out the way we both wanted it to in the end but I really admire that we loved each other enough to know that ultimately we had to separate in order to be happy. We did this in a very respectful and thoughtful way and again I am really proud of that. It was hard to give up on the comforts of such a strong connection but it has been the best decision for both of us and I feel like we are going to be great friends for life. The love will never really be lost, it has just transformed into something else. What I can know for sure is that I am a better person for having been in that relationship.

I think my greatest challenge has been to accept who I am and to learn to love myself, to find confidence and value in who I am. Up until recently I have struggled with a quite a low self-esteem, the genealogy of which is really quite sad. This coupled with an uncertainty about my place in this world. I am in a good space now. I am really proud of who I am and what I have to offer but it has been a long and treacherous journey to get here.

(With regards to coming out) I was in a relationship that was getting quite serious. My partner was already out so it wasn’t fair on him to have to keep our relationship a secret. We went travelling through Europe together and got married in the UK. We returned to Australia as husbands. We made a pact that I would tell my family within one month of being home. I couldn’t bring myself to actually tell them in person. The idea of that confrontation freaked me out too much so I wrote a letter. To my surprise my parents were really supportive and I consider myself very lucky. Since then I have always been able to be open with them. They not only accepted my relationship but they celebrated it and did many thoughtful things for us over the years. I love my family very much.

Sometimes I feel like (the LGBTIQ community in Brisbane) doesn’t really exist. I wonder if maybe the idea of a collective LGBTIQ community is actually a falsehood. There appears to be a lot of tensions between different members of the LGBTIQ* spectrum; it’s not necessarily a harmonious group. Some community events are not inclusive and they create new divisions in what is supposed to be a community that is bound by a sense of solidarity and a celebration of diversity. Even within one category, like gay men, there is a lot of pressure guys place on each other to conform to a particular ideal body image, as well as judgements around sexual activity. Rather than being united we are objectifying each other in sometimes harmful ways. People expect so much from an LGBTIQ community but community is not an independent fixed structure. My idea of community is more of a process characterised by individual participation acted out collectively. Your sense of belonging to it comes from your participation in it. Sadly I feel like there are not many people around my age actively contributing to building or maintaining an LGBTIQ community in Brisbane, at least not in sense of working together to achieve social justice aims. Perhaps there is more of a social community, collections of friends that party together and support each other through close friendships. I guess I am just not connected to that.

I wouldn’t want to say anything (to my younger self). My mistakes have been character building so I wouldn’t want to change anything. The times I have been hurt the most or have found myself in the darkest despair have made me who I am today. So I feel like I wouldn’t want to give myself any advice, I would rather let myself make mistakes, to find things out the hard way and grow from those experiences.”

Matthew, Teacher, Brisbane, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Matthew, in his own words: “I think all gay men grow up under a shadow. There’s always that fear of not fitting in; not living up to expectations; of being different. It doesn’t matter where we grow up, the fears are the same and they come to define us. This is our shared heritage and I think it alters our lens for viewing the world. We understand discrimination, because we live it. We can put ourselves in other people’s shoes, because we’ve had to wear them to go unnoticed. To me, being gay means having a broad-spectrum understanding of the human experience.

I think my greatest success has been coming to know my place in the world. I spent much of my childhood feeling different, but not being able to explain why. But as I grew up, I found my tribe. I think gay friendships can feel more like family than family because that desire for belonging often underscores our youth.

The challenge for us, as a community, is ensuring that we don’t become too complacent. There are still political battles that need to be fought in Australia for LGBTI people. I take heart when I hear my students’ unanimous support for marriage equality. For them, marriage equality is about love. For me, it’s about that kid in the class who needs to know she’s not alone.

I never really got the chance to come out, my parents just sat me down after valedictory speech night and asked me outright. Mum was prepared. She had spoken to some PFLAG volunteers and they had sent her a bulging manila envelope full of brochures. It lay in the centre of the table throughout the whole conversation, while I texted updates to my not-so-secret boyfriend on my Nokia 3210. Mothers truly do always know.

Brisbane used to have a reputation as a bit of a conservative backwater. If you grew up gay in Brisbane, you escaped to Sydney the moment you could. But I think the push factors have dried up these days and we’ve come into our own as a city. People don’t feel compelled to leave the way they did. But after losing generations of gay men to other Australian capitals, the scene in Brisbane is young and still defining its own identity.

I think the best advice I could give my younger self is to be patient and to stop worrying about fitting in. After all, no-one who succeeds at fitting in has ever really stood out.”