As a fervent lobbyist for the Marriage Equality movement, or in the past a Musical Theatre performer or before that a male dancer in everything from Ballet to Rock n Roll, the tag of “Gay” has followed me for much of the latter half of my life. So is now the time to be coming out? I still do a regular Tap Dance Classes even though at times my feet reflect my years with grumbles of “let me know when your admitting your age and giving this up”.
An associate on a Facebook page now called “Equality for LGBTIQ Australians” sent a message to me. The renaming of the group is one I am accredited with having suggested when it’s original identification with the marriage equality debate was over because we won that fight in parliament. He asked if I would submit a few words about “coming out” as part of a call for submission for an anthology called “Growing up queer in Australia“. As usual, I was both flattered and took pride (if I may use that word) in earning yet again, the suspicion that I must be “gay”. The truth is, I am not! Not that I haven’t had some misgivings about that in the past, but I will tell that story later herein. I belong to that common garden variety “heterosexual married man with a female wife and a child living in suburbia” class. Well, perhaps not “common garden variety” but “straight” nevertheless. A “coming out” story of sorts, I can, although, provide which carried me from a North Queensland boy in the heartland of rampant proudly anti-gay heterosexuality to the fervent lobbying for marriage equality evident in the history or articles here in my blog and other media publications.
The Deep North
Brought up in the deep North of Queensland and North Western outback schooling where the suggestion that you might be “gay” was an insult, I never thought I would consider the tag of gay as something I might take as a point of pride. One boy in our school amongst the mullock heap of Charters Towers‘ former gold fields, did associate himself with that tag. Alan was a long and skinny lad whom I often suspect made that claim more out of a desire for notoriety and a desire be noticed. Nobody was ever sure if he was, but he certainly got noticed and not in a kind way. Boarding schools in the deep west between Townsville and Mount Isa were not places where comradery and tolerance were features of the schoolboy culture. Teachers still canned students for misbehaviour and these teachers were rated by students by how much blood they could draw in canning. Students, encouraged by an atmosphere of abuse, provided a reflected pattern of pain upon anyone that was classified in any manner as different. In my case, it was a congenital physical disability with my feet, and in Alan’s case, he claimed to be gay. Bullying was just something you lived with, and the only relief was the short few weeks you spent at home between terms. I felt sorry for Alan, and I thought, if it is true, this was not the place to “come out”. After extensive surgery at 17 at least my feet could pass for “normal”, and I would never need orthotic calipers again. The subsequent sporting achievements that I pushed myself through gained me some small respect and a little less of the usual schoolboy oppression. Alan’s claims diminished over time, and he left the school, and I never saw him again. I never returned to Charters Towers and never responded to any of the “old boy reunion” treaties that followed me around for many years after that.
College life at University was a sudden immersion into a level of freedom, I’d never experienced before, and on reflections years later would describe my first year as “fun”, going wild with the consequential failures in some course subjects. I settled down thereafter and completed my degree over a longer time than the university normally allocated for it. Part of the settling influences was the local Uniting Church and a fellowship of what would be, lifelong friends. The Uniting Church was gaining a reputation as the “rainbow church” because of their social justice agenda that supported the Gay community. Despite that, I still held a perspective that being tagged as “gay” was something to be avoided. I honestly don’t believe I was ever comfortable with the more ardent evangelical opinion of some college evangelicals, that being gay was a “God-ordained hated sin“, but by the same token, I wasn’t defending the gay community either. Then on a holiday visit to Brisbane, a friend offered me a stay overnight at a home of a lesbian couple. I was pre-warned and told not to “freak out” at witnessing any “affection” as people of a religious persuasion were want to do. I was a typical poor student and free lodgings for the night was never to be refused. They were not weird or unusual and were delightful hosts, and I left wondering, why all the fuss?
Dancing my feet off
After College, I moved to Brisbane and resumed dancing which had more to do with the disability I had been born with, than any emerging gay leanings. Part of my early childhood therapy my mother put me through, was being taught an “adjusted” form of ballet by Anne Roberts. As an adult, I eventually did private training and competed in dance competitions and emersed myself in the world of dance continually challenging myself to see how far a person with my remaining foot disabilities could take it before someone realised I was a fraud. In Sydney, I took up Ballet, Jazz, Ballroom, Tap dance, Rock n Roll and eventually competed in state and countrywide competitions earning merits and in some cases, later winning open level competitions in Pas de Deux and Rock n Roll. I would dance with as many as three dance partners at any time in different dance styles each week. I would later go into the auspices of musical theatre and perform on stage to dance and sing for appreciative audiences. Following that, I would teach & run a “disabled” dance project for seven years. You can probably begin to see why the tag of “gay” began to follow me. In the meantime, I revelled in being able to move on my feet in a manner which doctors long ago had cautioned my mother, was an impossible dream.
In the midst of all that, the “gay” tag arose with frequency. One partner with whom I danced for six years, finally asked me after our first three months as partners, whether I was gay. I was both amused she hadn’t figured out I wasn’t but complimented that she thought I must be. She was a Pas de Deux partner with whom intimate physical handling was part and parcel of our choreography. Together we later won the South Pacific Dance championships in Pas de Deux held in Sydney in 1994 to which my entire family were witness. Our choreographer told me she saw my tearful mother crying in the stands. A Jazz ballet choreographer I had was mentored by for nearly two years asked my “jazz” partner whom I’d been dancing with all that time, the same question about my gay status. Kylie burst out laughing while denying the assumption. It had been asked behind my back, and when I later asked what she had been laughing at, she told me. I thought that was cool.
For me, the point at which I shifted from my North Queensland biases with finality was the very first “Stamping Ground” men’s dance festival. It ran as a dominantly men’s dance festival for two weeks in Bellingen, NSW, for ten consecutive years. I attended every one, but the first one was the game changer or the point at which I “came out” from my fear and bigotry. Being the only male in some dance schools where there would be as many as 20 adult female dancers was a lesson in holding one’s tongue when a degree of “sexism” occurred from time to time. Because I was a guy, in what some women, felt was an intrusion on their domain. Others like the Dance Captain held me with a different perspective. One evening during rehearsals and the frequent calls for the “girls” to perform better and stop “marking” the routine, I coughed loudly in an attempt to bring to her attention, I was not a girl. Donna turned to me and said, “You’re just one of the girls, get over it”. Not unlike the status that was given to me by the militant lesbian conclave, with which my girlfriend regularly hung out. Over dinner in an Italian cafe, they decided to tag me with the moniker “honourary lesbian” as an induction concession into their community.
So when Peter Stock in Bellingen decided to run a men’s dance festival, I enrolled the moment I heard about it. The initial 100 men in attendance were predominately from Melbourne Dance companies (probably because that is where Peter had a dance history) and the teaching was a smorgasbord of styles and opportunities. I revelled in not being a minority, and the guys were predominately fabulous, intelligent, energetic, talented, encouraging, and … gay as all hell. I found myself conflicted. The turning point for me was late one night lying in the dark in a lower bunk in the local backpackers. I couldn’t sleep as I wrestled with how attracted to these men I felt. Did that mean I was gay? Then something happened I have never forgotten. I was in the mixed bunk room, presumably because the owners probably thought a male dancer had to be gay and therefore a safe occupant to share a room with members of the opposite sex. A young and beautiful Scandinavian girl climbed back down the upper bunk ladder opposite my bunk, clad in only white underpants and bra. Suddenly distracted from my brooding, I watched her descend and head off to the bathroom. I suddenly laughed at myself and whispered, “Nope, I’m just fine as I am“. I just thought these guys I danced with were great and I enjoyed their company as dancers and men. Frankly, they were men of better character than a lot of the heterosexual men I encountered in the dance halls, who often confessed they were not there because they revelled in the joy of dance, but simply to “meet” women. I rolled over and went to sleep, finally at peace. I never saw the young scantily clad Scandinavian girl again. But whoever you were, “thank you!”
Years later a woman applied to a flatmate matching agency looking for a vetted person with which to share a house. She phoned me upon being matched via the agency’s profile matching program. But we had trouble arranging an appointment because of my musical theatre rehearsal schedule. On the day she did arrive, she met me outside on the footpath just as I was saying farewell to an occasional ballet partner from Bellingen who had stayed the weekend. I shepherded her through the garage which had been converted into a dance studio complete with mirrors, sprung floor, ballet bars, wallpaper displaying ballerinas dancing and a mirror ball twirling from the centre of the studio. My Cat rushed past her legs, and I introduced the multicoloured short-haired tortoiseshell cat to her as “Sarafina“, named after an African dancer. Her first thought was “GAY!”. Absolutely and verifiably! Perfectly safe to move in with this prospective flatmate.
Two years later we were married in the Uniting Church in Bellingen and on that day, two men (a gay couple of several years) stood beside us in our wedding party, to support our vows to one another. We deliberately changed the phrase “man and a woman” to “two people” in our vows, officiated by the Uniting Church minister from my college years. The two men were her best friends, and they have been lifelong friends to both of us before and since. It was for them that my wife wanted to have our vows changed from the “standard”. Over the years even though these friends have moved to Melbourne, we have encouraged each other’s respective relationships, tackling the concerns that the struggles of relationships we mutually often encounter. We stay in one another’s houses when we are in each other’s respective cities and have honoured the bonds that have held each other together. It was for them that I have written and argued and lobbied for marriage equality over the years because I dreamed of the day when we could both stand beside them as they took their vows, and make promises to uphold their marriage, as they had done for us.
Finally the end game.
It was a cool Saturday afternoon in June 2018 when in the halls of Montsalvat in Melbourne, when the celebrant asked myself and my wife, “Who gives these two men to be married?” My wife and I replied simultaneously, “I do!“. Dressed in a white suit, not unlike the one his dad was wearing, I watched with pride as my small son stepped forward as “ring bearer” to hand the rings to our two friends. After two decades of being together, they could finally marry. It was my privilege to be a part of their wedding, and a long-held ambition which if you look through my blog you will find was clearly articulated as the reason I defended Marriage Equality and repudiated the postal survey across all manner of feeble excuses by the political, religious, libertarian and just plain unthinking list of obstructors. As darkness descended on Montsalvat and the joyous sounds of over a hundred guests revelling in the final victory of equality and love, one thought repeated in my mind. “Mission accomplished!”
There will still be battles to fight against the ongoing bigotry of ignorance and small-mindedness but I am now OUT and proud of who I am and whom I seek to defend.