For a topic that has been spoken and written about an innumerable amount of times, there are some things that are still not properly covered in our discourse. Discrimination for being diverse – being different to the social ‘norm’ – continues to happen. Discrimination, especially against the queer community, continues to happen.
I can’t begin to tell you about how much I care about the problem of the cultural ‘norm’ as a form of discrimination. About how those who determine what is normal are usually those who have majority power – through their lack of empathy in using this, they force us into shame. They set a standard – the correct inflection of your voice, the correct things to be interested in, and the correct gender to be attracted to. For falling outside these norms, the punishment is often ostracism and rejection.
This is discrimination. It is the reason I write this letter to you.
If you’re reading this from a place of safety, if you’ve never had to consider these issues: put yourself in the shoes of a nervous, shy kid who is coming to terms with their sexuality or their gender identity. To have the sentiment put out that to be queer is to be different, abnormal and weird, is crushing. You lose all faith that you can ever be normal and so you shrink back into your shell.
It’s the weight of this difference and alienation that is responsible for the disproportionately high levels of mental ill health among the queer population. According to a report by the National LGBTI Health Alliance, queer people aged 16 – 24 are at least three times as likely as their straight peers to experience a high or very high level of psychological distress.
I went to an all-boys boarding school, and can only affirm that I found it hard to be myself there. The culture was jocky, and not being a sports fanatic was enough reason alone to be closeted. Being around people who had little exposure to queer issues did not help. The statistics support this too: The National LGBTI Health Alliance has found that over 80 percent of the reported abuse against queer Australians occurs at school, moving the average suicide age of young queer people to 16 years.
Being queer was not ‘normal’. But being labelled ‘creepy’ and ‘weird’ was. The worst part was that the judgement went on behind the backs of queer people at school. The dining table was a constant source of speculation. And here I was, secretly attracted to guys and girls, sitting with them.
I never came out to most of them. I joined the 35 percent of Australians who hide their sexuality from others around them. It’s not hard to imagine why.
In retrospect, I wish I had the ability to look some of the other boarders in their eyes and tell them that I was, in fact, bisexual. That though I didn’t fit their social norms, I was still a person. That I was someone who could function just fine without their approval. I wish I had the ability to confront them on some of the statements they made without being classed as a ‘faggot’.
One of my friends from the same boarding house took the plunge and came out publicly to everyone we knew. He says that coming out itself is not as hard as it is made out to be, but that it was the stories and discussions going on behind his back that made it hard. The other boarders were shameless – they weren’t afraid to openly discuss whether my friend had been with a guy that afternoon if they thought that he wasn’t there.
It is these stories that reaffirm my decision to stay inside the closet and hide my true self from the people around me. It makes me think every step thrice, it makes me constantly worried that I might ever be taken as different, as queer.
It’s why I’m still unknown.