As a straight, middle class, young female, going into my first year of high school should have been a breeze, right? Wrong. No one’s high school is a breeze. There’s something different about everyone and when you’re young, being different is often directly proportionate to being picked on.
There was the kid with the big nose, the big ears, the glasses, the fat kids, the scrawny kids, the skanks, the dumb-asses, the smart-asses, and (where I seemed to fit in) the “try-hards”. Amongst all these labels though, there was one thrown around that I didn’t fully understand; “gay”.
“Gay” basically became synonymous with “loser” and “awful”. If you couldn’t come out on the weekend, you were gay; if you had an assignment to do, that was gay. I came to realise this negative association with the word was ingrained in the way everyone spoke, and it never seemed right. It’s not that it was openly acceptable to make fun of gay people at our school and of course if there was a complaint or a serious conflict there would be standard high school consequences. The problem was, although it wasn’t acceptable, it was swept under the rug. It was shied away from. It was hoped that no one would step forward and call someone out on being homophobic because it meant delving into the controversial unknown. That’s something I wanted to change.
I never really knew many gay or gender diverse people growing up. Before high school the only person I can recall is my mum’s best friend for as long as I can think. He was a successful, hardworking and gorgeous man. I remember my mum telling me he was gay, and I remember not caring at all. Maybe that’s why when I went to high school and had friends come out to me, it really didn’t make a difference.
I was at school, it was lunchtime, and I was hanging out with one of my guy mates, eating a Cyclone and whinging about homework. That night I was on MSN when that same friend popped up and said he needed to tell me something, “I’m gay.” And then the next day we went to school, sat around at lunchtime eating Cyclones and whinging about homework. It didn’t change a thing. All that happened was it gave him a sense of confidence and happiness that he hadn’t felt before.But it did seem to be a big issue to other people. I started to notice that my friends were being treated differently, and mocked and bullied by people whom their sexuality had no impact on. For a long time I didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t want to rock the boat with my peers, I mean, hey, our school had a strict bullying policy and eventually it will be dealt with, right? But one day, my close friend told me a story of how he was in the bathroom and a few boys came in, taunted him, threw water on him and left laughing, while he sat crying in a cubicle alone. That’s when I realised standing on the sidelines with my eyes closed and my ears blocked and hoping it would stop was not enough. So I joined Minus18.
At first I went along to a couple of Minus18 events, thinking to myself “Oh god, these people are going to smell the “straight” on me and kick me out!” But, of course everyone involved were so incredibly lovely and helpful. It made me realise that everything I thought I knew about sexuality and gender from TV was pretty wrong. At the end of the day, I couldn’t tell who was gay, or who was trans just by looking at them, in the exact same way that they couldn’t tell I was straight by looking at me.
Recently one of my family members came out to me. He’s a young boy growing up in the country and it was great that there was more I could do than say “I support you, I love you.” Through Minus18, I have been able to give him materials, resources and information that can actually be effective in helping him understand himself. That is why I found Minus18 so important.
Yes, high school’s tough but being attracted to someone of the same sex is no reason for it to get tougher. If you’re straight, I know what it’s like – the apprehension, the politics, the fear of being ridiculed yourself. But think about how much you might make someone’s day by simply not treating them any differently. And then maybe someone else will start to think like that too. It’s already begun and you have a unique opportunity to get on board and know that you made a small change to make a big difference when it really counted.
I'Being straight doesn’t make you a good person. But accepting others and treating them with respect regardless of their sexuality, that is an admirable quality no one can take away from you. And, being a volunteer at Minus18, I am keen beyond words to get as many peoples’ heads around that as possible.