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Community Connections

Coming out: Celebrating who I am, and who I love

Christian West
Manager, Library Services (Acting)

When I was 16, I decided to tell my best friend that I was gay.

Except that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her, so instead I made her ride the bus with me in Melbourne for one and a half hours, then dragged her into a café and told her I needed to tell her something – and then made her spend 45 minutes guessing what it was.

“Are you dying??” (That was her first guess)

“No.”

“Do you have cancer???”

“No.”

And so it went until she finally asked if I was gay, and I just kind of quickly nodded. And by that time, it was all a bit of an anti-climax! (“So you’re not dying then?” she said, just to make sure).

Then I made her tell all our friends. And the week after that, a girl at school asked me out … and I made my best friend tell her too.

I’m aware I don’t come off that well in this story. But I didn’t know any other gay people at the time (although, it would later come out that quite a few of my friends were queer, but we were all hiding it).

The school I went to wasn’t supportive – and was, in fact, quite rough – and I had heard my parents make comments before, along the lines of “Oh, those people …”

These things stick with you.

I was in my 20s when my parents found out, rather than me coming out.

It was the late 90s, and I had gotten into Internet Relay Chat (IRC), where I was talking to people from all over the world, many of whom were gay. I was working full-time while at uni, and one day my parents found the chat logs and some photos of me in various stages of undress.

So I got home from work that day, and my dad said we need to talk, and took me down to the garage. And said: “Well, we found some photos, and they made your mother cry …”

But I wasn’t faced with rejection, and I didn’t get kicked out. Those had been my two biggest fears, in that order.

And in spite of her initial tears, my mum especially was very supportive. I remember when I had my wisdom teeth out, and was still high on the anesthesia, she came into my room and wanted to know why I had posters of girls on my wall, if I liked boys.

Because Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) and Xena (Warrior Princess) are very cool, mum.

I enter every new job wondering how open that workplace is. And I come out, to a greater or lesser degree, every time – usually by mentioning my partner Aaron (whom I’ve been with for 12 years now), if people are all talking about their partners.

I am honest about who I am, and I want people to know that they can ask me questions. This desire to be myself is also partly why I have found a home and calling in the library sector. Its very ethos is built around help, communication and equity.

At the time of the marriage equality debate, many of my colleagues asked me questions – some of them coloured by misinformation in the media, so I was glad to have a chance to clarify things.

I thought it was so lovely that they could come and ask me, that they wanted to know. That’s the thing I find about the UC culture, people are very respectful of each other, open to differences among us.

There’s no need for anyone to hide here, and there’s a real freedom in that.