Confused and curious, my petrified 21-year-old self used to hide The L Word box set under my bed.
God knows how I bought it inconspicuously, pre-Amazon.
I’m sure I waited until everyone was out and logged onto the family computer to escape in a world of possibilities.
Click, purchase, and delete history. Always, delete history.
The L Word gave me a glimpse of a foreign place… where women, just like me, were out and proud.
It symbolised love, friendship, heartbreak, comradery, and all the nuances of life.
It was what I wanted but knew I couldn’t allow myself to have.
As soon as I’d flick the TV off, I drew the curtains on that part of me, too.
No space for feelings
My story isn’t dissimilar to so many others.
I grew up in a small community, where anyone was the talk of the town if they stepped out of line.
No one was out in my high school, but of course there were rumours.
At home, there was no space in which to bring up my feelings.
My Mum was still trying to parent by herself, after losing her own as a kid.
All things periods, shaving, clothes, and crushes were friend territory.
I gravitated to friends who were carefree and liked to bend the rules.
We’d make the hour trip from our town to Adelaide every weekend, in a quest for experiences… new friends to pluck for our crew, new bars, new music, new stories to exchange on Sunday.
Underneath the intoxicating façade of youth, I was looking for love.
With alcohol as my guise, I could freely be myself, without fear of retribution. Laugh it off, my lowered inhibitions my excuse.
I’d find myself in bar after bar, seeking but never finding.
I was living in a fantasy in my head that maybe this night would be different.
I was searching for a sign that maybe this was more than a curiosity. More than youth and all its experimentations.
In a city of over a million, there was just one queer bar – and it was a glittery, fantastical place where all queens were welcome.
It was well beyond my comprehension and comfort zones. It was the kind of place only heterosexual women go when they were sick of sleazy guys.
There were no lesbian or inclusive bars, no Pride, no collective queer spirit.
It was either closeted or OUT! There were no shades of colour back then. It was black or white.
Adelaide was always seen as a place to leave, like the state’s ‘brain drain’, fleeing to the bigger cities as soon as you could.
A lonely coming of age
Without representation, the heterosexual reinforcement compounds. An onion, peeled and exposed, layer by layer – with family at the centre, then friends, mentors, and authority figures, and as the circle expands, the external environment.
Without support in the home or freedom to divulge to friends or other adults, like-minded strangers are good to turn to.
But when this isn’t there in the form of a queer community, it’s a lonely coming of age.
I fell in love with the world before I found my human. My now wife.
Growing up in a tiny city birthed an infatuation with everything outside of it.
I set out on a two-year escapade around the world and now proudly call both New York City and Adelaide my homes.
Never too late
Going from my heteronormative roots to weekends perusing the West Village – the neighbourhood where gay activists held the first Pride parade – became the whiplash I needed to finally come out.
It was 10 years overdue, but it wasn’t too late.
It never is, because there’s no right or wrong way of doing this.
While I often wonder if I would’ve come out earlier if I grew up in Sydney or New York, I don’t regret the decade of self-reflection, poking at norms, and wonderful ‘normal’ relationships I grew in and out of.
Every experience was a sharpening of clarity, a stretching of my heart’s desires, a step closer.
No matter where I ended up, there would’ve come a point where I couldn’t deny it anymore.
The environment simply played into the speed in which that was going to happen for me.
It’s important to see myself in my surroundings, and this is why the queer spirit is so important.
But, in the end, I had to make the choice to be brave and drop the mask.
Because once it was off, I realised I could live anywhere. It’s not nearly as scary as the stories I made up in my head.
Twelve years later, I’m watching The L Word: Generation Q with my wife, laughing: “It’s cooler to be gay now. Everyone is these days.”