“I was always aware that I had a preference for women but didn’t think about it until I was fourteen and I had my first crush”, says Sarah, 23 year old law student in Sydney. “My parents could see what was happening cause I used to have girls stay over at my house. I had a lot of self hatred”. Sarah grew up in Armidale, a regional area of NSW. She was seventeen when she got together with her first girlfriend, around the time that ‘I Kissed a Girl’ was smothering the airways.
“I got followed around by girls laughing and yelling, saying that we were only together because she couldn’t get boyfriends. It’s kind of ironic because boys wouldn’t take our relationship seriously and would keep hitting on my girlfriend”.
“The thing about being queer is that what people say and do doesn’t affect you as badly as the pressures in your own mind. Our relationship was more affected by internalised homophobia than by comments from other people”. Sarah defines internalised homophobia as “a belief that you’re inferior” because you’re not straight.
It wasn’t until university that she told her parents she was a lesbian. “My dad was like, I hope you’re still attracted to men because gay couples can’t experience the same love as straight couples”.
Sarah says it helped her to read people’s style and way of dressing to determine if they might be an ally or queer themselves. “I still avoid people who look too straight. I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover but there’s a lot of information on that cover” she says, laughing. “It’s really important to pick your friends carefully when you’re young because associating with the wrong people can really hurt, especially if you’re a young queer trying to find yourself”.
Sarah recommends connecting with queer support groups on Facebook and joining gay and lesbian sports teams. She also recommends support groups run by ACON.
Erin, a 23 year old music teacher living in Melbourne says that her experience of coming out as bisexual was met with “hypersexualisation, and the dismissal that it wasn’t real”.
She grew up in Wangaratta, a regional area of Victoria. “When I hit puberty at eleven I didn’t have a drawn out questioning, I knew fairly quickly, and so I came out to my mum”.
“Mum was worried about me labelling myself so early, because once you come out publicly it’s a genie that’s out of the bottle. She was worried about how people would react, and about my safety, about physical and verbal bullying”.
“If people asked me I would tell them, yes I’m bisexual, but I didn’t talk about it publicly unless I was asked. I tried to set a tone by being quite relaxed about it”.
As a teenager, she would head to Wodonga with gay friends to get a free sexual health screening for under 18s. “We would go to the movies while we were there and make it part of a fun day. You know, making it not a big deal and building it into everyday life”.
Both Erin and Sarah emphasise the importance of self care and making time for activities you love. “I spent a lot of time at the library as a teenager,” says Erin. “I was very into anime and there’s a big overlap between young people who are into anime and young people who are queer. We had an amazing young, gay librarian who would run anime and movie nights, not specifically for queers which were great because there was no pressure to out yourself, but I think the nights attracted lots of young queer people anyway. Attending events like that, which aren’t specifically queer but will attract a big queer audience, is a great way to meet like-minded people. Movie nights, board game nights, a book club, playing music together”.
Sarah also says it’s important to focus on defining yourself by things other than your sexuality. “Queerness was never a central feature of my identity, it’s just who I sleep with. Things that are more central are the fact that I like reading, that I’m from a regional area, that I love swimming.”
“When society is giving you all of these reasons to hate yourself, the best thing you can do is self preservation and self love”
“It means doing something you really enjoy and developing yourself as a person. People say that homophobia is not a thing anymore but the country is voting on whether we can get married or not. The fact that that’s even a controversy shows that gay people still aren’t fully accepted”.
“If you’re taught that you’re worthless and your love isn’t valid and your sex isn’t real, self care is so vital. It’s the way that you’d look after a good friend if they were feeling sad”.