Tagged: australia

Dion, Lecturer, Melbourne, 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
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
Dion, in his own words: “I don’t have a manifesto about being gay, although I have devoted a lot of my adult life to thinking about the meanings of sexuality. I’m a gender and sexuality studies academic, or, at least, I’m trying to become established as one. I wrote a dissertation about HIV/AIDS and gay men, and I guess in many ways that whole project, which is getting published as a book soon, is essentially about what it means to be gay, and about denaturalizing some of those meanings. I write a queer column for an Australian literary journal called The Lifted Brow, and increasingly I get asked to write and speak about queer topics. So considering so much of my career has been given over to reading and writing about the meanings of sexuality, I suppose being queer to me means a lot of questioning and thinking about (and maybe sometimes over thinking!) the meanings of sex and sexuality. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

I prefer ‘queer’ more than ‘gay.’ On the surface I look like a lot of the things that are associated with the label ‘gay’: I’m able-bodied and cis-gendered; I live in a city, in a rich, privileged country in the developed world; I’m overeducated and I spend my spare money on cocktails and haircuts; I have sex and relationships with men. That’s stereotypically white gay men stuff I suppose. But ‘queer’ is a better fit with my politics and with how I feel about sexuality. It’s a better description of the people in my life and the affinities I have with them. It’s also a more honest description of what I did sexually during my teen years and early twenties, and it doesn’t write that stuff off as ‘before I was gay.’ I think ‘queer’ provides a better and more progressive account of the politics of sexuality and intimacy than ‘gay’ does, although I don’t really mind if other people use that term to describe me. Part of being queer for me means trying not to take my own or anyone else’s sexuality for granted; trying not to fall back on assumptions about what is normal.

Like being anything, being queer can be a source of frustration because everyone has assumptions about what that means. You have to situate your own desires and sex practices and life choices – your own story – in relation to those assumptions, even if the complexity and messiness of your inner and intimate life diverges from them. These days, for example, many Australians assume that all gay people want gay marriage recognized and that they themselves probably want to get married, and that gay marriage is an issue they want to talk to about. I don’t care about gay marriage or want it for myself, and the effort it takes to account for that to people is tiring sometimes. On the other hand, I’m pretty aware of how privileged that complaint is when people in my own community and around the world are persecuted daily for their sexual difference.

One way or another, queer people are always asked to explain themselves. Straight people don’t get asked that question: ‘What does being straight mean to you?’

My academic career is a constant stream of success and unsuccess. Something gets published, something gets knocked back; some promising contract work opportunity arises, but the certainty of a permanent job remains elusive. It’s always been like that: big achievements occasionally and lots of everyday failure in between. Maybe all careers are like that? A volatile, checkered story.

I went to uni on a scholarship after scoring one of the top high school grades in my state. I’d been a bookish teenager but also a somewhat undisciplined one, so that was a success nobody was quite expecting, least of all me. I loved being a student, studying literature and talking about politics, but in the background I think that big early achievement set a kind of unbeatable standard. When I started a PhD on another scholarship in my early twenties I became very depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually I worked out how to do it, and seven years later I finished it and now I am turning it into a book. That feels like success. But, on the other hand, I haven’t been able to turn that into a job… yet.

My coming out story is an ‘out and in and out’ one, although I’ve always maintained it was more of a sexually fluid narrative, rather than a coming out and going back in.

I was in high school secretly dating an older guy who was in his final year at another school. I lived at home with my parents in a southern part of Melbourne and would sneak off on the tram to visit him in the north. I was closeted and he was very emphatically out. I think it probably frustrated him that I was keeping the relationship a secret, but he persisted patiently with me.

Eventually my parents cottoned on to my dissapearings. I was doing a fair bit of lying to them about where I was at that time, and probably a whole lot of other things. One night I was at my boyfriend’s house and my parents called me there. To this day I still don’t know how they got his number or how they figured out where I was. He took me home, where my parents were fighting bitterly. They were themselves on the threshold of their own relationship breakdown, so it was an unsettled time for everyone. That night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt like a coward for not coming out, and I was worried I would lose my boyfriend if I continued to keep him a secret, so I woke my parents up at 4am to tell them I was gay.

It was a pretty angsty, melodramatic coming out scene! Strangely though I stopped seeing the guy after that, and later that year, after the trauma of coming out died down, I fell head over heels for a new girl at my high school, and we started dating and sleeping with each other. When we finished high school, she went overseas for a year, during which time I missed her and pined for her – and also for my first boyfriend. There’s a label people use for that: ‘confused.’ But I also remember thinking about how I wanted them both, but that somehow a choice had to be made.

At the end of the year I met my high school sweetheart in Europe and we went travelling together and spent a month disagreeing and fighting and having angry sex. After that I came home and thought: I am totally into boys now. Eventually, when I found a new boyfriend and decided I wanted to take him home to my mother I felt as if I had to come out to her again, since my last relationship had been with a woman. It was pretty un-cataclysmic this one. I told my mum ‘I’m seeing someone, his name is…’ and she asked, ‘Is he Jewish?’

Melbourne’s queer community is cosmopolitan and urban and gentrified. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect many queer Melbournians increasingly aspire to a house and kids and to a comfortable life in the suburbs. I guess it’s much like any other metropolis in the developed world: New York, Manchester, Amsterdam. Gay men are more visible than lesbians; poorer queers are invisible. I don’t know. People lead quite comfortable lives here. There isn’t so much of a gay or queer ‘scene’ as there are multiple scenes. I gather that’s the trend now in a lot of cities. I’ve made it sound pretty bleak, haven’t I? It’s a very cool city to be queer in. It’s just hard to describe why without using clichés like ‘vibrant’ and ‘diverse.’ It can be a very sexy city sometimes.

My advice to my younger self would be to stick with your art classes, go back to drama school and go on a date with the guy from the pie shop.”

Phillip, Student Services Administrator, Sydney, 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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Phillip, in his own words: “Being gay to me is about being happy and proud about who I am and living life accordingly. It also means not being straight which I love. I think that for some gay people it is important for them to get married, have children etc but I am not one of those men. I have no desire to get married or have children and relish that difference from straight people. I think this whole idea of conforming to a “straight life” is really unappealing. Having a gay identity means being slightly different which I think should be celebrated.

I have had a number of goals in life, to find a job I enjoy, to travel and live overseas, to buy my own apartment which I have achieved. I guess the one success I feel was the most important was moving to London when I was in my mid 20’s. It enabled me the freedom to become more comfortable with my sexuality but more importantly it gave me the confidence to become the happy gay man that I am today. The experience of living in London really shaped me and I think sometimes people need to leave from where they live to grow, develop and work out who they want to be. The biggest challenge I have had to face in my life was when my father passed away when I was 16. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a defining moment in my life. It took me a number of years to deal with the grief and really recover from this event. I guess the challenge I am currently facing is trying to meet someone whom I can share my life with. This is an ongoing challenge but I am hopeful that I will meet the right guy soon – not that I want to get married or anything!

For me coming out was a very gradual process, I came out to myself when I was in my early teens and then went back in the closet only to come out again in my mid 20’s to my friends. I think the reason it took me a while to become comfortable with my sexuality may have had to do with my traditional Italian background. In reality I was fooling myself in thinking I could be straight. I always remember in high school being picked on for being gay. I think the fact that I was made to feel “different” from an early age has had a huge impact on the way I feel my gay identity. Telling the family took a a little bit longer as I was living in London – it meant I had to do it on one of my trips home to Australia. I was in my early 30’s and they were all very supportive. I still have not come out to my mum and that is something I contemplate on a regular basis. She is from a different generation and I struggle with what might happen if I do tell her.

The gay community in Sydney is pretty much like any gay community in a big city. There are the various “gay tribes” like the bears, the Muscle Mary’s, the twinks etc and I feel very comfortable in not belonging to any of these. I think having a clear idea about my own indentity is much more important than belonging to some clichéd gay tribe. I do love going out to gay bars and clubs as I think it is so-o important to the gay community that we do have places to go out. So many places have closed down or changed to “mixed” venues in Sydney recently and I think it’s a shame really.

The advice I would give my younger self is to be honest with yourself if you really want a happy life.”

Rey and Chris, Ipswich, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Rey (left) and Chris (right)
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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Remi (Right) and Chris (Left)
photo by Kevin Truong, Rey (Right) and Chris (Left)
Chris, in his own words: “For me being gay has become just another part of who I am, sometimes important, most times not so much. I have come to understand myself as just another kind of being human, part of the variety of human existence. Being gay means an appreciation that I am different from the majority of the rest of humanity, but similar to a significant minority of others, so I have come to understand that I share my essential humanity with all other humans, but my sexuality with only some. In general I count my values more highly than my sexuality and I share these with my friends, and it therefore doesn’t usually matter to me whether they are gay or otherwise, even though it is becoming increasingly true that most of my friends are also gay.

There have been times when being gay has been a great source of anxiety for me. I am grateful for the great social strides that have been taken over the past two or three decades that have allowed me to take my place in society with my head held high, to openly live with my partner and to acknowledge my relationship at work. I am also grateful my progressive friends and work colleagues who have created a welcoming and nurturing environment. Of course there are still hangovers from the bad old days, but now the photograph I have of Rey and I on my desk is no cause for comment. Except periodically, from older gay men who remember – as I do – when you just wouldn’t dare, maybe not even dare to enjoy a relationship.

So on another, perhaps more important, level, being gay now means for me the opportunity to live life honestly and openly, authentically, without fanfare, but in a way that I consider normal. The opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of relationships, the odd things that I and Rey do, life in general, all in the broader context of friendly discussion; the opportunity to be (in most ways) like everybody else, these are special to me. The social benefit (perhaps the political benefit) is normalisation. I am encouraged when I see young people carrying out their relationships in an open and positive way and I’m even more gratified when I see my peers doing the same. Being gay, welcoming gayness, is not just about embracing diversity in myself and others, for me it’s about living diversity as un-self-consciously as I can – and encouraging others to do the same.

I think the biggest challenge for me has been the challenge of authenticity, whether that has been acknowledging my sexuality to myself, family and friends, understanding and negotiating/re-finding my faith, and/or thinking through the next stages of my life. So far I think I’ve been reasonably successful (I hope so). But I count the biggest successes those times in my life when I have been part of something that has made a positive difference in someone else’s life. These are the opportunities to look out for. Right now, though, the biggest challenge ahead for us is the renovation of our house. :-)

I tried a couple of fairly abortive attempts at coming out when I was younger, first when I was 18 and the next when I was about 25 or so. Neither were particularly successful and I retreated back into my protective shell, denied myself, tried to live in other ways, but at age 40, I finally came to a stage when I decided I no longer cared, that hiding/denying really didn’t matter any more and made no sense whatsoever and that it was time to live authentically whatever that might turn out to look like. And as it happens it has worked out well. I have great friendships, I met Rey and we clicked, we met each other’s families and clicked; we all genuinely like each other and we have a wonderful family life – and for that I am very grateful. That is what I hope for for others because it is so beneficial.

I’m not so sure there is a gay community as such here in Ipswich. There are lots of gay people in the city, of varying ages and life experience – and lots of them know each other. There have been one or two attempts at creating a regular gay venue, that I know of, with little real success. Well, Brisbane, the State capital, is literally just down the road. We are a University city and I suppose if I were going to look anywhere for a gay “community” here in Ipswich it might be on campus, not so much elsewhere. Perhaps people are making their own communities and we don’t feel the need to create an overarching one. That’s certainly my own feeling on the matter. Rey and I have two very close gay friends here in Ipswich (in fact our best and closest friends) and they are part of our “community” of friends (we are always open to making new friends), but I don’t have any particular sense of a wider gay community as such in Ipswich. Perhaps in one sense that’s actually a good and healthy thing if that means that local gay people are finding community with their families, colleagues and friends, but we have rural centres close by and I’m not sure about where the supports come from for those there and more locally who are vulnerable because of their sexuality – and that is, perhaps, a challenge.

I have thought long and hard about this. I’m not one for giving advice and I tend to think if I had an opportunity to meet my younger self, we would have a long conversation about what lies ahead, the good and the not so good. But I think at the moment if there was a short message to give to my younger self it would be that “Gay is OK; it’s OK to be gay” and maybe, “Don’t leave it so long to come out.” Would I have believed myself and accepted the challenge? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think that I would have thought about it :-)”