In My Shoes: Growing Up Gay In A Country Town

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Words || David Smith

I’ve never really seen the move to Sydney as a welcome home.

I’m not really familiar with the idea of the city as a safe harbour for queer individuals; images of Mardi Gras pride, parading down main streets, festival celebrations with dazzling and dizzying rainbow displays. The likes of RuPaul’s drag race and Cher all seemed otherworldly to the little boy who’d grown up reading Bible stories and walking to his school of forty total kids.

His life was sheltered, and characterised by conformity.

The only representation of LGBT people I had was the designated, eccentric old man that dressed up in women’s clothes. He stood on the riverbank, gazing longingly into the wind as we watched and snickered to ourselves in the car park behind him.

To us, he was just an outsider.

Small town schooling was about uniformity, far beyond just matching uniforms. Sexuality wasn’t discussed, it was a given.

Two close friends of mine, I know now, had been dating. In fear of breaching this uniformity they disguised it as a very close female friendship, keeping it hidden from everyone for many years.

It was this uniformity that filled me with shock when I finally found out – I was not disgusted or opposed, just shocked.

Men married women and women married men. Right?

That’s all we had been taught.

Suddenly, the two of them became the outlandish other that was whispered about while passing in the school halls. It was like an intergalactic ship had landed in our untouched amazon tribe, and we were holding our poison tipped spears towards these otherworldly vessels.

They were alien to our community, met with fear and aggression.

As their friend, I was grilled for any information about their relationship.

How? When? Why? How?

For all of which I had no answer.

Because what was there to report?

Despite their genders, they were essentially an ordinary couple, right?

This thought hadn’t occurred to me until that exact moment.

And in that moment, I realised that they seemed less alien, and more familiar.

Looking back on my schooling life, I realise now that the classes I had were truly just as diverse as the cast of Glee. Only, instead, these diverse characters hid themselves away.

This small-town mentality had stolen our representation from us.

Having moved on and away now, I could name a good dozen people who’ve since come out as queer – and I’m sure there are still plenty of others who’ve chosen not to reveal their identity. To keep it locked away, for now.

As an out, gay man, this gives me a sense of hopefulness I could never have imagined growing up.

From the perspective of the small town, queer people were about as realistic as the Hollywood fantasy of Liam Neeson’s Love Actually son running through airport security to chase his true love.

Sure, it happens in the movies. But for us real folk we’ll stick to reality!

And that reality simply did not involve queer people.

In fact, in terms of Hollywood, queer people were regarded more like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. They were disgusting creatures to fight off and to avoid, protecting Rivendell: a fantasy utopia where there’s always one mummy elf and one daddy elf, happily raising their straight elf children.

The eccentric old man wearing a dress and I had more in common than I could have ever previously realised. And while I didn’t walk around wearing women’s clothes, our stories were similar.

He had been daring enough to walk outside being himself.

He was brave, in spite of other’s mockery.

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