I suppose before going too far with this blog, it’s appropriate to give you most (not all) of the story of how I got to where I am.
I was born in Sydney, Australia in September 1980 and would end up being the eldest of six kids. My mother was a stay-at-home mum and my dad the breadwinner. One of the things I do remember from those first few years was that I didn’t see much of dad. He was gone by the time I woke up and I was asleep before he got home. My first brother arrived 18 months after me. When I was five my second brother came along and we moved from our little two-bedroom unit to a much bigger house and in 1989 I greeted twin brothers, one of whom sadly died of SIDS 3 weeks and 6 days later – an event I remember with great clarity. My sister came into the world precisely two years after his death, the youngest and the only girl.
It wasn’t long after starting kindergarten before the teasing started. While I did have a handful of friends, the majority of my classmates didn’t like me. To this day I do not know why – there was nothing about me that would be the subject of usual taunts from kids. The treatment I got would vary from being ignored to outright and unrelenting taunts that didn’t stop. Often I’d have to get my own sheets in class because another student handed them out to everyone, except me. The teasing was bad enough, but what compounded that was not understanding why they hated me so much. Most days I ended up in tears and sometimes I’d be at the back gate, considering running home during the school day because I’d had enough. The teasing upset and angered my mother a lot, but she was met with “What do you want us to do? We can’t be everywhere.” from the staff. I don’t recall my father reacting to my experience at school in any way.
High school was not much better. While I was less of a social pariah, the friendships I did have were more casual ones and certainly nothing of any depth or intimacy. I was more the “tag along” type in social groups and would float about. Sport and P.E. were my most dreaded of classes and it was demoralising to not only be the last person picked for any team, but to then hear the protests of the team that “got” me and their requests for them to swap me for someone – anyone – else on the opposing team.
Then, of course, sexuality started to awaken. The boys were noticing the girls and I was noticing the boys. I didn’t know what to think of this as homosexuality was not a subject that was being discussed in school (or church), but it didn’t really bother me – it just was. Having said this, after witnessing the treatment more overtly gay boys received at school, I was nonetheless terrified my peers would find out about my own orientation. It went mostly unnoticed but it became apparent towards the end of high school that some of my peers were catching on that the subject of my attractions was not the same as theirs. Graduation finally came around and I left school (with an incredibly poor mark), worried that I was going to lose friends I had made. At the time the casual I-don’t-hate-you relationships I had formed where the best that I had experienced. In retrospect this would prove to be due to the fact that genuine, loving, caring friendships were something I had yet to discover.
With insufficient friendships to warrant a “schoolies” trip anywhere and with no clue what I was going to do with my life, I accepted a three-week job at a paint warehouse, offered by a neighbour. That job would end up being a permanent role that would last over three years and it afforded me many things like my own computer and more importantly, my first car (1990 Corolla SX Seca with a brilliant little 100kw engine and manual-only transmission, for those interested). Entering the workforce also introduced me to being around a group of people without the daily experience of bullying and rejection.
Permit me to backtrack a little. In the last two years of high school I had been attending a Friday night youth group at the cathedral I grew up in. Playing games and enjoying company with others who didn’t tease me was nice, yet here too I did not find relationships of consequence. The discussion about sex was an interesting one. My same-sex attraction was still not an issue that bothered me, but it was something that I had never discussed with anyone. I don’t remember what the specific words were, but when someone raised the issue of homosexuality the response from one of the leaders sent a cold rush through me the likes of which I had never felt before or since – the suggestion that gay people were hell-bound because of who they were. However I do remember one thing they said in response to the question (from a straight person) “What if I were gay?”
“Then we would need to have a very serious discussion.”
In late June 1998, I felt the need to come out to a leader of that group. Whilst I don’t remember the exact date, I can tell you it was at night, what room it was in, where in the room I was and which direction I was facing. And that I was extremely nervous to let out the biggest secret I had ever kept. It did feel good to get it off my chest and the young woman whom I told was gracious and as understanding as she could be and wrote me a letter a few days later after giving me the book “You Don’t Have To Be Gay”. I didn’t tell anyone else about my orientation for over a year.
In early 1999, I accompanied a friend to a local Anglican church as she was disenchanted with the one we grew up in (it was largely just full of old people with little for youth and little youth at all). I remember telling people who greeted me that I had my own church and I was just visiting to support my friend. It seemed God had different ideas and the relatively large number of people my own age and the far more contemporary music and vitality that was missing from my church quickly grew on me and I decided to stay. I had no idea what was soon to happen. Again, I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the place, the room, where I was facing. I was house-sitting for a bible study leader with two other friends from my old church. They both worked day hours and I was doing shift work so we didn’t really see each other except weekends and so I was effectively living on my own. I was in the middle of my normal morning prayers when without warning, as though God had flicked a switch, my homosexuality hit me like a bomb. The issue which up until that point had factored little in my day-to-day life instantly became the centre of my world. What followed was the most painful time in my life.
For several years I battled with intense depression and confusion. Over time I told more and more people and despite the assurances from them that they didn’t think any less of me, I still very much felt different and “other” to those around me. I had created a special minidisc with songs that made me sad. TLC’s “Unpretty” was right up there as a painful song for me. I was surrounded by a group of peers at church who were all relatively happy and more importantly – all heterosexual (read: normal). I cried myself to sleep every single night listening to that disc, not knowing what was going on. I knew I was gay, that I hated it, and that I would do anything for it to go away and leave me alone. I took to myself with a box cutter on several occasions and also planned how I would commit suicide (and very nearly went through with it). I did not make an attempt at killing myself because with the method planned there would be no failed attempt. What made matters worse was a developing emotional dependency on some of my male friends and as if this wasn’t enough, the pain of watching them begin to date was torture.
I had this image in my head of a beach covered in Seagulls. The beach was my life and the birds were my friends and me. To begin with there were lots of birds and things were good, but over time those birds would pair up and fly away. This would keep on happening until there were only three birds left on my beach and then that last pair of birds got together and flew away. I would start to fly after them but I was chained to the beach by my leg and so despite flapping away furiously, I had no choice but to watch helplessly as the last pair flew away and I was left alone on my beach. That was a fear back then that ultimately proved to be almost completely true – setting aside a small handful of single friends who have yet to marry, without exception those friends that got married quickly departed from my world for good. Efforts to catch up with them proved fruitless and weren’t reciprocated. I also remember being told it was selfish of me to expect to hang out with my married friends – they would be hanging out with other couples and I would just have to go and find some new friends.
It was in the middle of all this that my family hit a very difficult time. Without going into the specifics, my dad cheating on my mother (herself a very kind Christian woman, his wife of 20 years and mother to his six kids).
My father and I were never close. Aside from the fact I didn’t see him during the week he had a lightening temper and the physical strength to go with it. Whilst most parents saw physical discipline as a last resort, for my father it was often the first. Wooden spoons or dowel, or his favourite – his belt. Whilst he would sometimes use his hand, if he hurt himself in dispensing discipline he would get angrier and hit again – harder. Sometimes he would leave bruises but the psychological fear was perhaps the worst part of it all. If you heard him scream after going into his workshop or the garage you shuddered with fear, hoping that whatever was wrong, you weren’t the cause.
Three events between my father and I stand out in my mind. First: I once accidentally knocked a bird’s nest out of a tree I was climbing. My dad got the family together, yelled at me at the top of his voice in front of the family that I was not allowed to take life, then he picked me up and give me six of the hardest hits he could before dropping me and letting me run off in tears. I was 10.
Second: Around the same age I went through a period of being terribly worried if I couldn’t find my siblings, as though I was responsible for them even if my parents were home. One time I couldn’t find my youngest brother and so I ran up to my dad in tears saying as much. My dad ended his phone call to a friend and I ran downstairs to continue my search. A few seconds later he yelled my name and I froze, knowing what was going to happen soon. It turns out I didn’t see my little brother in a study nook in one of the bedrooms. Again my father picked me up, gave me six of his best and dropped me on the ground before walking away.
Third: In what would be a prelude of things to come, one year when I was quite young I really wanted a slot car racing set for Christmas. My wish came true and on that Christmas day we followed standard procedure: open presents; head to church; back home for a bit and then off to grandparent’s for Christmas lunch. We brought my slot car set along and after lunch we set it up in the hallway. Incredibly excited and with the physics understanding of a 10-year-old, dad and I started racing. He racked up lap after lap where as I held the trigger down all the way and kept it there, not understanding why my car kept spinning out on corners. Still, I was incredibly excited and in my excitement I deliberately knocked my dad’s car off the track so I could try and catch up some laps. My dad’s face fell from a smile to anger. He didn’t yell at me and he didn’t hit me. Instead he called me a cheat, dropped his controller and walked away. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the afternoon and I was left wondering what I had done.
To this day I cannot recall a single time I had an enjoyable experience with my dad and I cannot understand sons who choose to spend time with their fathers. It dawned on me what our relationship was like when I was relieved and glad to see him kicked out for his marital unfaithfulness.
In my mid-twenties the rector of my church introduced me to a support group that had started up. It ran in a course-style format, so unfortunately was not continuously-running. It was a very novel and relieving experience to share a room with someone who was also both gay and Christian. I discovered the brilliant talks of Sy Rogers and then the pieces of what I was started to fall into place. I will stress that this wasn’t a group where you were forced to do anything, let alone somehow straighten up or get kicked out – this was purely a group that offered support, prayer and education in an area that is sadly still misunderstood greatly. It’s also worth pointing out that whilst there was a focus on same-sex attraction, the group quickly expanded to cover all aspects of sexual issues and it soon became a group where same-sex attracted people fell into the minority.
As my mid and late twenties came and went, it had become apparent that I was not really fitting in at my church anymore. Just about all of the friends I had there had gotten married and it seemed that once this had taken place, sitting together in church, talking at supper after church or doing anything social through church became a couples-only or a singles-only affair. Since just about all my friends had gotten married I had found myself in a very lonely place and it very much felt like I had over-stayed my welcome. When I ceased going for a month and not one person called, emailed or asked where I had been, I got my confirmation that as far as that church and my friends were concerned, my usefulness and relevance had expired. I didn’t go back. So I started to attend the church where the leaders of the support group attended. Whilst it wasn’t a “special” church that was aimed at LGBT Christians, it was nonetheless nice to – for the first time ever – sit in a church and know I wasn’t the only gay person there. I spent a year there before realising that I wasn’t getting much out of church, or building relationships with those there. After a short stint at another church where I once spoke (apparently quite well) on homosexuality, I reached the point I’ve been at for the last couple of years – that for now, church is not the place for me.
This is not to suggest that I’m not a Christian; not at all. Unfortunately my experience of church has not been a great one. Whilst it hasn’t been the outrageous and ungodly hostility that others have unfortunately been subjected to, it has represented a group of largely insular people who live and breathe marriage and have little concept of life outside of that framework. Oh Scripture may talk about how marriage and singleness are both just as good as each other, but it is certainly not the reality that those in the Sydney Anglican church demonstrate.
I have had the blessing of a couple of absolutely incredible friends. They have stuck by me through the best and worst of the struggles I have faced and there is very little I wouldn’t do for them. Unfortunately they live in the US and the UK – a long and expensive way from here in Sydney. Whilst their friendship has been like nothing I’ve ever had before, I still live with the fear that they too will get married and that beach will once again only have one Seagull in chains.