CW: Some homophobic language

My queerness is a broken mosaic.

Carefully chipped tiles, put together to make memories, but half the pieces are missing, and I’m not quite sure what was there originally.

My first crush was on a girl. Her name was Fi*. We were about eight years old. I remember wanting to talk to her all the time about everything and following her around like a puppy. We were the best of friends. One day, I kissed her on the cheek. She blushed. I was embarrassed. We never spoke of it.

As best friends, we would have sleepovers. At her house, I would read books my mother had banned. She lent me Harry Potter. I wanted to be Hermione. At my house, we would endure my mother’s peculiarities. Sydney went through a water shortage when I was young. My mother insisted we shower together. I protested. She ignored me and ushered us both into the bathroom.

We awkwardly undressed and stared at each other. I was just starting puberty. She was not. This was obvious. We were both embarrassed. We showered quickly and never spoke of it again.

If my mother had known I was queer, she would never have allowed it.

My family did not know much about being queer. They just knew that it was a sin. Anything that was queer was gay, the church said, and my parents agreed. Gays were sinning against God, the church said, and my parents agreed. Gay marriage was not morally right, the church said, and my parents agreed.

They did not know what bisexuality was and still find it hard to understand. I am not bi to my parents, I am gay. I am a sinner. I am deluded. I am going to burn alive in Hell for eternity, the church says, and my parents agree.

They wonder why we do not talk often.

By the time I started high school, I had repressed my queerness. I was a very straight, very conservative Christian. At the age of fourteen, I began realising I was bisexual. I raised it with Bree*, my best friend. ‘Oh, everyone can tell that women or men are attractive, it doesn’t mean you’re bi.’

In our school, being bi was synonymous with being a slut, wanting attention. The only bi girls we knew were called crazy (ironically, that friend came out four years later). I eventually got the courage up to tell my friend, Jake*. I wrote it in a notebook and carefully tore out the word after he had read it.

He admitted that he too was bi and became the friend I would go to for support and understanding. He was my first awkward teenage kiss. In a way, learning he was bi too was a good thing. I no longer felt alone. But I still hated myself. I was determined not to sin.

I made my first closeted friend Max* in Year 7. I developed a crush on him and, for some reason, we hated each other. That made life interesting. We had our fights, until one day, we were called to the principal’s office and became friends in the moments we had to plan our defence, that friendship soon becoming firm.

At least, until he came out. He led a poster campaign protesting against the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult. I agreed with him. But I could not agree with him about gay marriage. My parent’s delusion that you should hate the sin and love the sinner backfired in practice. He hated me again. For two months, he gave me the silent treatment, until he finally grew so frustrated, he screamed a tirade inches from my face. Scared and upset, I ran away in tears.

How could someone who had been my friend not see how conflicted I was? How much I hated myself for believing I was evil? I was so deep in the closet, it would take years to come out and admit to him how much of an arse I’d been. He then apologised for treating me like shit. We both acted awfully.

It was at that moment, when a hurt young gay man screamed into my face every ounce of rage and frustration he felt at homophobes, that the carefully repressed state my life had been began to shatter.

I started dating my first serious boyfriend at sixteen. We dated for seven years. I admitted to him after two years that I was bisexual. He felt insecure. His last girlfriend had left him for a woman. In a weird way, it was like dating Ross from Friends.

He was constantly worried I was going to leave him for a woman. When I suggested we have an open relationship so I could explore my sexuality, he felt physically ill. He never wanted to see other people. He wanted to move in together, get married, buy a house, have two children, and be monogamous for the rest of our lives.

I did not. For the last year, I struggled with crushes on other people. One, a cute girl in my history class, was subject to my fervent admiration and awful attempts at flirting. I still remember the awful admission once that if I broke up with my boyfriend, I would want to date a woman.

She stared at me bemused, while I was left shocked I had even said that. It had been a hint, I think, to find out if she was queer.

I still worry that she thought I was weird.

When that serious boyfriend and I broke up, my housemate dragged me out to a queer club event. For the first time, I danced with my people. I complimented outfits. I kissed cute girls. For the first time, I felt alive.

But the day after, the feeling of suffocation returned. I was still claustrophobically closeted.

Shortly after, I asked my hairdresser to cut off my hair. My mother stared at me, perplexed.

‘Why would you want to cut off all that nice hair?’

‘Because it would look nice and I like the idea of having a pixie cut.’ I said.

From my mother’s perspective, I was straight, recently single, and getting the “breakup” haircut.

From mine, I wanted other queers to know I was queer. I didn’t have flannel or Doc Martens. But I did have hair.

Cutting off my hair was my way of inching out of the closet.

‘Well. You know what your grandfather would call you if you cut your hair off…’

‘What would he call me?’ I was ready for a fight. To blurt out ‘well maybe I am-’

‘-a dyke,’ she said and after that word, she paused, giving our liberal Catholic hairdresser time to interject with a story about the amazing time she had at Mardi Gras. We didn’t discuss it again. But that slur hung heavy in the air and seemed to hammer nails into the heavy closet door I was already stuck behind.

This was how my family discussed being gay. They used slurs, misgendered people, and made me feel like an outsider without even knowing the harm they caused.

I came out via text a year and a half ago. I asked my parents not to ask awkward questions about my sex life. I was bisexual and that wasn’t going to change. They were upset but asked for time to think about it.

For two months, they didn’t bring it up at all. I grew frustrated they were ignoring my identity and told them that if they didn’t want to acknowledge that part of me, then we would no longer have a relationship.

My mother cried because she knew we would never agree about gay rights, gay marriage, or just being gay.

In most stories, this would be the end. We would have stopped talking. I would be another disowned queer kid.

But then my mother admitted she had never met a gay person. Thinking on it now, she was blatantly wrong. She’d met Max all those years ago. What she had never done was deal with the fact that someone she loved was gay.

She asked me not to tell my brothers and sister. I eventually did. She preached to them about the evils of homosexuality. I was angry with her for that. I still am a little.

My parents are completely clueless about queerness. They’re making an effort to stay in my life. But to them, I am gay. My sexuality is a sin. They love me and they hate me.

I hate the religion I was taught, the religion that left scars that still ache every time I hear slurs, the religion that makes my parents hate me, the religion that makes people like me suicidal.

I went to my first Mardi Gras this year. I got egged outside the venue by a passing car.

For a moment, every insult, every battle I’d ever fought against homophobic thoughts, every shitty thing I’d internalised flooded back.

But then my folk arrived.

My boyfriend cleaned me up. The bouncers at the club were shocked and checked in on me. A girl I didn’t know bought me a drink and told me how she’d been egged before and it sucked. My fellow queers rallied around me.

For the first time, hate didn’t matter. I had support. I had love from a new type of family. A family I had chosen and who had chosen me.

Where I could feel safe to be true to myself.

It took a long time for dating women to feel valid.

It took a long time not to shy away from arguments between liberals and conservatives because I could no longer stand the pain of hearing phobic insults.

It took a long time to be happy to be me.

To openly love the people I love without any fear.

My queerness is a mosaic full of carefully chipped intricacies, that took a long time to create.

It is made up of repressed memories, and pain, of ugliness, love, acceptance, and pride.

Queerness is a complex label, and fuck, I am proud to wear it.

*Names changed.