Either way, it took a long time for everything to click, because despite my alleged status as an intellectual, I was quite the oblivious Brady child. I grew up in between various cities and towns in central , and the first and only mention of homosexuality I encountered there was from a gossip session between my mother and one of her mates as I was heading off for bed. I remember drifting off to sleep trying to decipher this strange term that literally translates as “same-sex love”; but when morning came, I had shuffled the question into a closet wedged at the corners of my mind, too busy preparing for another round of “I’ll touch yours if you touch mine” with the guys at kindy nap-time.
I moved to in late 1994, when I was “eight-and-three-quarters”, leaving behind a world of naïve wonder and domestic fury. A marriage and a baby later, my brand spanking new family shuttled between Sydney and Perth for my step-dad’s job, before finally settling our sights on . We emigrated in early 1996, and I found ample opportunity to perfect my blocky English as we toured southern cities like Atlanta, Greenville, and Savannah. By the time my “dad” invested in a laptop in January of 1997, I had discovered an avid love for reading and a knack for the English language, which enabled me to dive straight into the seedy underbelly of the Net and discover all those “silly” sites my parents had warned me away from. Even as I fulfilled my testosterone and gay porn quota, I never thought that I might not end up raising two to three kids and a dog with a nice girl in the suburbs; sure guys are hot, but doesn’t everyone marry into heterosexual suburbia as some sort of established social ritual?
All through this time, I was never accused of being gay; quirky or odd, yes (depending on your level of tact), but never gay. There was that one time, my first day at school in Oz, when the two eight-year-old girls assigned to teach me simple phrases amused themselves by getting me to write, “My name is Philip and I am gay.” Their giggling gave their game away – I was illiterate, but not dumb – and I copied the word “gay” into my palm, asking my desk buddy what it meant. He got a strange look and went over to have a chat with the teacher in regards to the two girls, leaving me to hyperventilate until I managed to bolt home after school and ask my mum (yes, I was a big-time mamma’s boy). She laughed merrily and repeated that same phrase which I had heard years ago, but it wasn’t enough for me; I pulled out my Chinese-English dictionary and looked it up: the dictionary only mimicked my mum.
I hung in-between the popular guys’ group, which sympathised for the culturally-illiterate Chinese kid, and the quirky loners, who found me oddly endearing. I was still too self-aware to fully trust the intentions of the former group, but fraternising with the latter complemented what I had already learnt from my mum, about valuing your own self-worth and understanding what’s important, bugger what anyone else thinks. So I held my head high and ignored the titters at my numerous social faux passes, learning to close out the world more with each day. Mixed with this was a growing sense of self-consciousness and awareness of social mores – I may not have been Rambo material, but gone were the days where I would happily allow teachers to cast me as the female lead in primary school theatre productions.
Despite that, however, my acculturation process was taking far too long for my liking, and I became sullen and withdrawn, obsessed with my own social inadequacies and my status as a fish out of water, caught between wanting to grow and being unable to leave behind the past – the only solid ground in my family’s constant travels. In mid-1997, I returned to Oz in a calm of depression and insinuated myself into the oddball group at my new suburban Melbourne school, which quickly replaced my gloom with anime-nerdism and quirky banters. I continued to segregate my browsing of hot men and my expectations of a hetero future, never even questioning whether I needed to confront myself; as they say, denial works in mysterious ways, although for me, it probably was unadulterated obliviousness.
This routine continued until one afternoon in late 1999, when – after a further relocation to Sydney – my mum walked in on me checking out a badly doctored pic of a very nude Jean Claude van Damme. I didn’t even like the guy’s movies that much, but on no, mum wouldn’t listen – she freaked, big time. Now while we make our way to the scene when my dad comes home to a hysterical wife, allow me to declare that my childhood bond with my mum had long began to tear – whether by my complete submersion in a culture that she could not understand or by some adolescent phenomenon – so a lack of clichéd Hallmark sentiments was understandable. I knew I was in trouble, but by god, I didn’t expect so much ear-splitting wailing and thinly-veiled homophobia passing as reasoned discussion (mum and dad respectively). So began the precedence for my family feuds – or at least it seems that way – and I stormed off to bed, vowing to talk to some understanding soul the next day, lest my heart should burst.
I escaped home early the next day, despite that morning’s teachers’ strike. I suffered through a whole morning of boredom, stuck in a classroom with two friends-of-friends’ – one chubby guy in need of a good shave and the school’s confirmed peroxide poof, neither of whom I felt like sharing much with. So with my trusty sense of time management, I cornered my best straight-female-friend (who was my girlfriend-in-waiting at the time, according to the rest of the student body) at the end of lunch, with not a word planned. After a few impatient threats from her, I finally burst out with, “Imagine we’re in ‘
Dawson’s Creek’ – you’re Joey, and I’m, um, Jack. By the way, did you know we’re late for a math test? Gotta run!”
Things kind of went from there: First my best guy mates (the three stooges, as I know them) burst out laughing at my desperate attempt to disperse those rumours of engagement plans with my best straight-female-friend. Then after I convinced them that it was for real, they told everyone because they found it amusingly harmless and goss-worthy (whoever says men don’t gossip is full of it). Then the tiny, claustrophobic school became the site of regular rounds of Twenty Questions from curious 14-year-olds and the on-going taunts of my year’s homophobic ruling elite and their groupies.
To make matters worse, I had booked myself into an intense puppy love obsession with one of the boys-next-door in my year. Thank god then, that I had my mates, who – though they were somewhat scared to take a stand – ultimately backed me up. It was with a mixture of sadness and relief then, when my parents announced another move across the city, which would require a transfer to a more geographically-convenient school. I made new friends here, began to become more critical and self-aware, and this time – though it was still difficult – the coming-out routine worked much better. Most of my grade barely batted an eye. Some of my new mates staring up from their greasy, canteen-bought lunches with, “You’re having a melodramatic speech moment because…?” or “Oh, we already knew – we were just waiting for you to come to terms with it.”
I was elated, and what few murmurs of discontentment with a fag among the ranks were either ignored or squashed by the sheer power of peer pressure. Life was great – I finally felt like I belonged somewhere, not because of my peers’ acceptance of my homo-status, but because I finally understood where I fitted in the big social picture, with a map to the top in my hand; I felt like the king of the world.
Then one day, as I flirted with my long-time hetero-mate-crush, I was dragged down to the school counsellor’s. Apparently I was making headlines in the teachers’ lounge after my attempt to start a GLBT youth club at school, and there were a few concerned staff members who wanted to make sure that I was “comfortable with my sexuality”. I ended up avoiding a rather dull English lesson, had a great chat with the counsellor, and got the number of a local gay youth club. Once again I’ll interrupt the chronology to divulge that though I’d been out for over a year at this time, and have been hot and bothered about guys since kindy, I’d somehow failed to start looking for other gay kids, preferring to sit on my arse and whinge about my latest hetero crush with my mates. So number in hand, I decide to head off to the club, which shall remain nameless, because after a few visits, I began to realise that it was just a rather dull biweekly meeting of mostly 20somethings. At this point, school, friends, family, work, air force cadets and community commitments began taking up all of my time; thus I ended my forays into the gay youth scene, which seemed to consist of one too many bottle-blond himbo / overtly-camp manwhore clichés anyway.
My attitude was that life was good the way it was, so why try to seek out the infamous Scene when I can be with my mates, regardless of their sexuality? I think I pushed this argument for too long though, and in part, I was just nervous about diving into what seemed a new world of new rules and codes. I walked to the beat of my own drum, but it was always to the faint background noises of, “I’ll make an effort to meet interesting non-hetero people one of these days.” I was mostly content, but a part of me still needed more affirmation that I wasn’t fighting some big social crusade all by myself; that sometimes it’s not about politics and taking a stand. I needed to know that there are people who are like my mates, who I can chill with – only gay. But one thing or other would always turn up when I had plans to visit gay youth venues or events. The most thrilling thing that I managed was to drip an over-priced snow cone on my T-shirt as I got bored at the Mardi Gras’ Fair Day, with all my mates unable to or uninterested in tagging along. At least that was how life went back in early 2002.
And now? Now, I’ve moved yet again – this time for a year-long hiatus in , all the way across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. While chatting online recently, an old mate from Sydney came out to me and recommended a little site called Mogenic, something I had obviously failed to find in my previous once-overs at bland gay youth sites whinging about the traumas of being a newbie closet case. My discovery of this new breed of cool gay youth sites has since expanded to include bgiok, AlterHéros and the QueerYouth boards. I’ve been meeting lots of interesting people, and they’re just as quirky, irreverent, “normal”, and – dare I use 70’s slang? – groovy as my mates in, Oz and now Saudi.
The path before me stretches in many directions, each begging to be explored. I don’t know if I’ll remain in Saudi, return to Oz, or relocate elsewhere; I don’t know what marks I’ll get for my Year 12 finals, what university I’ll attend, or even what career I’ll choose; I don’t know what will be. But wherever I go, whatever happens, experience tells me that new journeys and adventures await around each and every corner. And as long as I know who I am, what I’m worth – as long as I have hope – I’ll be okay.
I started out a happy-go-lucky kid with a Pollyanna outlook on life, morphed into a sullen, misunderstood genius/geek, and am now a strange hybrid of attention-seeking egotist and brooding romantic. I have experienced and grown more than my childhood alter ego could have ever imagined; but like him, I’m still wide-eyed at the wonders of this life – reaching for those lucky stars, chasing my dreams, and falling in love with my family all over again. Yep, things seem to have come a somewhat loosely-defined circle – and I couldn’t be happier.