The rainbow elephant in the room

In a previous blog post I mentioned the fact that most of the topics I am discussing these days are a revelation to many of my friends and family. After decades of suppressing and disguising my emotions and opinions, battling to uncover my long lost true identity, I am finally emerging from the mist into the sunlight … to be seen, essentially for the first time, for who I am.

And now, at the age of 46, it’s time to fess up to something I have known, deep down, for as long as I can remember … although, as a child, I had no idea what on earth was going on.

I am bisexual.

To give you some perspective on why, for me at least, it has taken so long to reach this conclusion please check out this short Huffpost article by Angela Theresa. It explains, much more eloquently than I can, the nuts and bolts behind what today’s post is all about. I would urge people to read it, as it explains the unique stigma attached to bisexuality and the fear that I have felt of, yet again, being a misfit within the disparate communities in which I have a tenuous foothold. As I have said before, it may seem cool to be the misfit in modern pop culture, but living it day to day is seriously uncool. The article also explains how being bi isn’t a 50/50 split, which is important to note, I think.

I want to be clear about one thing. Today I am recalling experiences from my life with a sense of celebration, joy and pride. I am revisiting key moments that may seem unrelated but they all have something in common. They are examples of when my true self has tried to burst through the facade but, for one reason or another, have been whipped back into hiding. Dealing with these experiences, living through them in the context of white middle class suburban Australia from the 1970s to today, has been painful, difficult and confusing.

Those feelings are to be replaced by positive ones for me now. My mental health journey is ongoing, but today I plant a post in the ground that marks how far I have come and proclaims the progress I have made. What follows are some fond memories of me “being me”, often in the face of ridicule, shame and embarrassment.

So let’s start at the beginning. My earliest memories are of playing with the girl next door, when we were 3 or 4 years old. We used to dance to ABBA. She was Frida, because I insisted on being Agnetha. We had to do it at her house, though, as “dancing like a girl” was not acceptable in my childhood home. In fact, as a teenager I was “caught” dancing a number of times, which resulted in laughter and name calling from members of my family. These days I experience tremendous joy dancing with my 5 year old son; he has some sweet moves!

The other thing I loved to do with my nextdoor neighbour was to role play Wonder Woman. The TV show starring Lynda Carter was my absolute favourite at the time and, again, I was fairly insistent that it would be me who would fulfill the role of Diana Prince, and not my friend from next door. Those of a certain vintage will remember the twirl Carter used to do to become Wonder Woman. Let me tell you, I mastered that twirl. Kudos to Gal Gadot, by the way … she’s doing a fantastic job in the role these days.

I look back now at my 4 year old self, pretending he is Wonder Woman, and I am deeply in love with that child.

When I started primary school, in 1979, my best friend was a boy with whom I had attended kindergarten the year before. For the first few weeks of school we would sit next to each other on the floor and kiss each other on the lips, whenever the teacher turned her back. As you might expect, the reaction from our classmates wasn’t particularly subtle and it wasn’t long before the teacher told the class, in no uncertain terms, that boys don’t kiss boys. She also pulled me aside to give me the “imagine if your parents found out” speech. To be fair, the response from classmates and teacher two years later, when I used to steal kisses with a girl, was also profound, but for very different reasons. On that occasion I was given the “boys will be boys” stereotype whilst the girl, all of 7 years old, was labelled a “floozy” by the teacher. I would love to sit here and write something like “but look how far we’ve come, since the 1980s”, but that would be bullshit. We all know that misogyny is still rife in Australia.

I look back now at that pre-operational kid, kissing the people he liked regardless of their gender, and I am so proud of that child.

Throughout the rest of primary school I am pleased to say that, despite the resultant abuse and ostracism, I remained a boy who preferred playing hopscotch or jumping rope, to playing British bulldogs. Instead of playing brandings (a game of tag that involved throwing a tennis ball as hard as you could, at close range, at fellow participants … WTF?) I could be found skipping rope or brushing the hair of my female friends. I didn’t read Hardy Boys, I read Trixie Belden. And, whilst I loved watching Aussie Rules football, I can now finally confess to always hating playing it in any formalised, competitive manner. Kicking a footy around with friends and backyard cricket are how I wish to experience team sports. Yes *gasp* I’m one of those parents who think that sport should be fun. Go figure. During my first season playing footy (I had no say in the matter), at the age of 7, I gained a certain ignominious notoriety for being oblivious to the game altogether and spending most of my time chasing the seagulls and longingly coveting the nearby bushland. Upon being issued, by the coach, with the nickname “Seagull” at training one night I cried my eyes out and confessed to not wanting to play footy anymore. “Don’t be stupid”, my mother said (she said that alot). Not only did she insist I keep playing, my mother then did the only thing that could possibly make things worse for me at the football club. In front of everyone she asked the coach not to call me “Seagull” because it had made me cry. That played out just as you would expect.

I look back now at my 10 year old self, brushing the hair of his friends, and I want to tell him that it’s a beautiful moment that he should not be ashamed of.

Fast forward to high school and one of the most significant moments of my life. It won’t sound like much, but to me it is hugely important. During 1987, when I was in year 8, the NSW Department of Education decided to introduce a new subject at public schools the following year. For the first time Drama was to be offered as an elective subject. Students choosing to study Drama in year 9, 1988, would be part of history. When this was announced, my year 8 English teacher pulled me aside and excitedly told me the news. He said that he was going to teach the Drama class but only if he could convince the Principal that the school could fulfill the minimum number of enrolments required. “I’m counting on you to express your interest. You’d be perfect!”, he proclaimed. I’m crying now as I type this. This was the first time any adult authority figure in my 14 years thus far on the planet had expressed “I see you. I know you. I encourage you / support you / believe in you.” From out of nowhere came the hope of a place, a community, an opportunity for expressing myself freely. The door called “Performing Arts” opened, and I walked straight through it. I won’t perseverate on the arguments with my parents about whether or not they would “let me” choose Drama as an elective and the subterfuge I employed to successfully enrol. Suffice it to say that it was one of only a handful of times that I stood up for myself during my adolescence. It may seem like nothing these days, but at that time, in that environment … it was something.

I look back now at that early teen, finding courage in his teacher’s kindness, and I am so grateful; to both of them.

We move to the end of high school now. One of my closest friends was gay. I admired him so much. He came out in the most magnificent way. On the very last day of school we had a concert, put on by the graduating students. It was the usual lineup of awkward lip-syncing parodies that you would expect in early 90s suburbia. That is, until the penultimate act. For weeks my friend had been holding secret rehearsals known only to himself, the six girls who were also in the act, me, and one or two supportive staff members. The six girls came out onto the stage, all dressed in drag and posed like statues. Then the opening notes of Madonna’s Material Girl started to blast through the speakers. Emerging from the wings, came my friend. He was wearing a replica of the pink dress that Madonna wears in the official video … and he began to mime the words and replicate the dance moves. There was jeering, there was laughter, fruit was thrown (no, really!) … but he didn’t skip a beat. I was in awe. I wished, so much, that I had the courage to do something like that. But I didn’t. Afterwards, his parents gave a few of us a lift home from school. What struck me was the manner in which his parents spoke to him of how proud they were that he performed in that way knowing what the reaction of his peers would be. I felt so envious.

I look back now at the events of that day and I feel privileged to have borne witness to my friend’s courage and his parents’ love and support.

By the time I went to university it was much easier to keep my world’s separate. Only a select few really knew how much I obsessed over Judy Garland films, how I celebrated mardi gras in the gay bars near Taylor Square and how fluid and experimental things were with my close group of friends. At the same time, I was dating the girl who would eventually become my first wife, and had posters of Sophie Lee and Kim Wilde on my bedroom wall. It was a time in my life when I was able to explore various identities. However home was still not a safe environment for me. For example, one evening, when I brought someone home for dinner I was warned by my mother not to tell my father that my friend was gay. Later that night, whilst the two of us were in my room playing computer games, the regularity with which my mother checked in to see if we “wanted anything” was almost too much to bear. At the age of 21 I moved out of home and resided in the Blue Mountains to live what people in the 90s referred to as my “alternative lifestyle”. I was essentially seen by most people as an eccentric hippie. This gave me an excuse to wear some traditionally feminine fashions and colours, which raised a few eyebrows, but I was pretty comfortable with myself … for a few years at least.

I look back now at my undergrad self, and I really miss those times of freedom and experimentation.

The really tricky period came when I divorced my first wife 18 years ago. I was an absolute emotional wreck at that stage and it was a time in my life when depression dictated every waking moment. This went on for about three years. During that time I went on 2 or 3 dates with a man. Interestingly this came about through a visit to my old childhood neighbourhood. Remember my Wonder Woman playmate? Well, her parents were still living in their old house. Her mother was home that day and the two of us sat and chatted for hours over several cups of coffee. I didn’t specifically mention any issues I was having with my sexuality but, as I was about to leave, she wrote down a name and number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “This is my nephew”, she said. “I might be wrong but, it seems like maybe he’s more what you’re looking for?” Amazing. I hadn’t seen this woman in more than 15 years but she had the insight to suggest that perhaps I was gay. To be fair she probably did see more of the real me, as a young child, than my own parents did!

I look back now at that dark period of my life, and I am proud that I survived and that I was brave enough to go on a blind date with a man.

At the exact point in my life that I had decided to go it alone for the rest of my days, I met my current wife. That was about 15 years ago. In the ensuing years I have experienced the intense shame associated with fulfilling the stereotype of someone “in the closet” who outwardly makes homophobic remarks in an attempt to fit in and not be “detected” … parroting the bigoted vitriol that was modeled to me by my parents. What I really wanted to do was to stand in the middle of the street and scream “I’m don’t know if I’m a boy, a girl, straight, or gay”. Instead I kept it to myself. That was until I met a psychologist who helped me lay the groundwork for today’s “reveal”. The final entr’acte, if you will, was sitting in the cinema last year (three times!) watching the emotional cataclysm that is Rocketman unfold on the screen before me, unable to control my sobbing.

My lifelong struggles with identity have been intrinsically linked with my sexuality issues. In recent years, as I have moved closer and closer to the point that I have reached today (the planting of the post in the ground) I have utilised the development of an online alias as a stepping stone. My online alias, who is non-gender specific, is a name under which I participate in Dungeons & Dragons and attend gaming conventions. It is through the community of RPGs (role playing games) that I have discovered a world full of people like myself. People who struggle with mental illness and identity issues. People who feel unsafe declaring their sexuailty. In the gaming world I can play characters of any or no gender, with others who understand where I’m coming from. I have never met a community that is so accepting and non-judgemental of all people. So some people know me by my online alias; Sirk Solace.

I don’t care what you call me. Because, as of today, I’m free, baby!

Catch up with more BORDERLINE & BI posts from Chris:

Libraries: what they mean to me ~why I miss my local library so much

My local running group ~what camaraderie means to an antisocial loner

Something good every day ~ now is the time to recalibrate your thinking

A strange thing ~ when a scene from a television show becomes a part of you

And now, for our Feature Presentation ~ back to the cinema post lockdown

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