Meet Jake, a young Australian who grew up and came out in a rural country town- to equally surprising and ordinary results.
1. Can you tell us what it's like to grow up in rural Australia?
I like to say to people that the first time I realised I was gay was right after I first had sex with a dude. It was seriously this simple.
Growing up in my hometown was cool. I did the usual stuff: go hiking; go camping; go to the lake, or nearest river; and seeing as I lived near the snow, I was on the slopes a lot.
I guess the only bad things I could pin on growing up in the country would be the harshness. By harsh I mean the men were stereotypically men, and the women were stereotypically women. Of course I am generalising— but, as a whole, growing up in a country town means there is not very much room for liberalism.
2. Can you tell us about when you first realised you were gay?
I like to say to people that the first time I realised I was gay was right after I first had sex with a dude. It was seriously this simple. Growing up, I never even thought that I was gay. I dated, had sex with, and even loved girls. However, I could always appreciate other guys. Similar to how some girls looked at other girls and say “man she is really pretty” or “I love her hair”, I always thought I could just do that with dudes. So being gay sort-of shocked me.
3. How did you feel at the time?
Right after I realised, I was like “sweet! This makes so much sense!”. However, after a while of deep thinking, I realised that my life was about to change. I didn’t know who I was, or who I was going to be. I had worries about whether or not my family and friends were going to accept me. I even contemplated faking it— pretending I was straight.
4. How did you come out to your friends and family?
A phone call and a Facebook status. I was 18 years-old and on my gap-year in Boston, USA at the time. I had been there for about 4 months and had just started seeing someone. It was pretty casual, and I thought I was still into girls at that point. I guess I thought I was confused, or bi, or whatever.
I called mum first. I still remember the overwhelming sense of relief I got after telling her. Now, mum and I are even closer than before. I tell her everything- who I am seeing, what I am doing, even when I go to the Dr’s to get a check up (like an STD check up— be safe kids!)- everything. A few days later I told my cousin, two best mates, and my Dad. They all took it well. After I told those people, I decided to write a Facebook status. Honestly, it wasn’t really because I wanted to tell everyone, I guess I just wanted to prove to myself that I was okay with being gay.
5. Were people supportive? Were you surprised at their reactions?
I was really surprised by how supportive my hometown was. For many years I believed that people in my town would dislike me if I was gay. When I heard slander like “oh that is gay” or “ha! gaaaaaay!” been thrown into everyday conversation, I think I became scared. I didn’t know that when people used these sort of terms they were just trying to be funny, or quoting TV shows, I thought they were hating on homosexuals. I think that is where my anger, and distaste toward my hometown started. I also think that is what drove me to travel for my gap year.
Once away, however, I realised that it wasn’t my hometown that disliked me being gay, it was me who disliked me being gay. After I came out I got some loving comments from everyone. And, some of the nicest compliments were from people in my hometown. They loved me, embraced me. So much so that whenever I have a bad day, I go back to that Facebook status made on October 23rd, 2013, and look at the nice things to give me a good ol’ confidence boost.
6. What is it like being gay in rural Australia?
Being gay in the country is admittedly hard. People in my small town thrive off gossip, even I love a juicy story every now and then. I was in the USA when my story was being shared around, but it only lasted for a very short time. Soon the town was gossiping over who had sex with who, or what girl did what. My sex life and my sexuality were in the gossip sphere for such a little time, that by the time I came back to Australia, people actually forgot I identified as gay.
Now being gay is just a part of everyday life. It makes my conversations with my female friends so much better, and some of my best mates even ask me if they look okay before going out (yes girls, guys do that, too.) I think some of my guy friends love it that I am gay. They’re always asking me to help them talk to girls, and be their wingman. It’s actually a lot of fun!
However, usually it’s just the same-old stuff— I go hiking; go camping; go to the lake, or nearest river; and seeing as I live near the snow, I am on the slopes a lot. Being gay in a small country town is just as normal as it was before I came out.
7. Do you think your coming out experience is common for LGBTIQ rural Australians?
I think being gay in rural Australia is common but I think that every coming out experience is unique.
A lot of guys and girls in rural Australia find it tough because of the traditional gender roles. I think that a lot of people don’t realise they’re gay and only realise once exposed to the thought. Hence why a lot of people come out when they’re older.
Everyone who comes out, however, comes out in different ways. It really doesn’t matter how. All that matters is that you're happy when you’re doing it.
8. What is your advice for young LGBTIQ Australians from rural Australia who are thinking of coming out?
Have sex whoever you want as long as it makes you happy and you are being safe.
Don’t worry about societies expectations and stereotypes— people will love you, if you love them. I know hearing “that’s gay” sounds like an insult, but I genuinely believe it isn’t. Most people don’t realise what they're saying could be offensive, and they don’t say it to be homophobic. If it does offend you, pull them aside and say “hey man, I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but I really don't like it when you say…” (Word of advice— say it when its just you and them, not you, them and a group of people.)
Also, don’t rush on coming out. Test the waters and make sure you’re really sure of who you are. You don’t have to come out, and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. But, from someone who is out of the closet— I just want you to know it’s so much better than what you think it is going to be, and people really don’t care if you're gay, straight, bi, trans, gender fluid, or even if you identify as a cat.
Just be you, love openly, and the good life will follow you! I guess I’ll see you on the other side of the closet!
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