Dr Peter Graham
Assistant Professor in Business, Faculty of Business, Government & Law
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, there was little acceptance of the notions of being gay or deviating from traditional gender norms.
The gay rights parades had just started in Australia in the late 70s, and in the early 80s, AIDS hit the news, so there was a lot of negative coverage. When I was in my early 20s, we heard stories about men being thrown off the cliffs in Sydney, just for being gay.
So while I knew I was gay from the time I was about nine or 10, I had gotten the message that it wasn’t acceptable, so I kept quiet.
I loved the ballroom dancing lessons that my mum used to take me to as a young boy, but I got flak for going. If I did anything that didn’t fit in with the idea of traditional masculinity, I’d be sanctioned at home and at school – so I turned to sports instead.
I started swimming, playing cricket and touch football; sports helped me to fit in a bit more, and it made my dad happy.
But all these messages from the outside, they impacted me. I felt terrible, it was hard to even find other people like me, and that was very isolating. It seemed so big at the time, so difficult to negotiate.
Finally, I just felt like I had to work this out for myself, and I called a helpline – from a public phone, of course. Couldn’t do it from home!
My first coming out was to myself. To finally be able to say: this is who I am, and that is ok.
And once I had come to terms with it myself, my second coming out was to my mum. I had just moved out of the family home, and she asked me what I was doing over the weekend, was I with a girlfriend? And I said, well actually, it was a boyfriend.
And she said “No, you’re not gay.” But then she went and talked to some of the gay people who lived in the flats where the family home was, and she understood more, and came round to the idea.
But my brothers and my dad never really did.
I had bonded with my dad over sports, but after I came out, it was hard to have a relationship with him. My brothers just didn’t talk about it, but our relationships became a bit more distant.
Coming out was a way to come to terms with my sexuality, but also to establish where my support base lay. I didn’t want to hide who I was. Coming out is something many of us do all the time – but I also don’t make it a point now to have a big conversation with people. When I first joined UC, we had an office Christmas party, and my partner picked me up afterwards. So people saw who he was, and that was that.
I think the experiences around coming out are very different now. You still have those negative messages from some political and religious aspects, but there is a lot of positive dialogue and exchange.
We’re all people, and trying to constantly categorise and judge people keeps us apart, separate.
That’s one reason that my first time marching in Mardi Gras, in 2015, was such an amazing experience – knowing that thousands of people were cheering for equality.
Knowing that I wasn’t alone any more.
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