"I've been in a relationship with a woman for the past ten years. It was only a few years ago that I actually started identifying as queer." Photo: Stocksy
I am a queer man, which means that I am equally attracted to both genders and none. Like, completely and utterly equally - if you were able to somehow put the world's most beautiful man next to the world's most beautiful woman and for some godforsaken reason they both wanted to sleep with me, it would be a really difficult decision to make.
This weird hypothetical is actually an important point to make, because my queerness is also in some ways hypothetical - I've been in a relationship with a woman for the past ten years. It was only a few years ago, years into our relationship, that I actually started identifying as queer or bisexual or pansexual, or whatever the best word to describe being attracted to both/no genders is. We are also engaged to be married, so my vague idea of what that entails is that legally we pledge to stay together until the day we die, which makes the entire notion of publicly identifying as a man attracted to other men somewhat of a moot point.
A lot of coming-out narratives are seen as a statement of intention - "I am now a woman who sleeps with other women", "I was previously mis-gendered as a woman and now I am a man" - but my own coming out is more of a grey zone, as there isn't immediately a call to action. I am not renouncing my former sexuality, nor dumping my excellent girlfriend to sleep with dudes. Non-monogamy is an option but the motivation to come-out didn't come from an end game of queer sex. If there isn't an intention behind my coming out, then why do it at all? The short answer is because by identifying with my sexuality, I am for the first time, actually identifying as myself.
My coming out wasn't a huge deal - there was no public statement, dramatic reveal or cute video, not that I'm disparaging those who do that sort of thing - rather it was more of an internal process, a kind of pledge to myself. If anyone asks now, I'm now comfortable with identifying as queer, whereas before I kept it hidden, maybe hinted at.
There's no real outward benefit to coming out - at best it makes distant family members awkward, at worst it puts me further into the crosshairs of Australia's increasingly violent anti-homosexual sentiment. Maybe it would get me access to a much better club scene, but I don't really go out at night. I'd love to say that I did it to be embraced by the queer community, but on the whole my experience from my supposed peers has been bi-erasure and distrust. As an 18-year-old who was timidly beginning to question my sexuality, I went along to a meeting at the university's queer space, where I was told by one of the organisers that I had to 'make a choice' or I wouldn't be welcome there.
I've also never particularly 'passed' as a straight man. Now, I don't want to reinforce any stereotypes, but when I was in high school, the idea of a gay man was very much based off a certain set of behaviours - think Jack from Will & Grace. It was a period where any representation of gay and lesbian characters was still to be celebrated as an anomaly, despite inevitably being clichés of a particular type. I don't think I ever really exhibited those tropes - too traumatised from my early high school bullying to be as flamboyant as I might have wanted, deeply into sad indie bands while my gay friends were dancing to Kylie Minogue.
But despite all this, I've been on the receiving end of a veritable shitstorm of homophobia. I've lost jobs, been beaten up, and people love to guess my sexual orientation via shouting suggestions out the windows of cars. On the more pleasant side, the decision to actually officially come out was made a lot easier by knowing that my mum would be fully supportive, considering she asked me around three times as a teenager whether I might be gay, and if so, that was completely fine and I would be totally supported. So for whatever reason, as Gandalf might say, I do not pass.
Not passing as a straight man - despite being involved in a whole bunch of heterosexual practices, such as dating a woman, straight person style sex and not being actively discriminated against by our marriage laws - was not actually the catalyst for my coming out. Being unhappy was. I'm a fairly proactive person, who likes to make lists and get stuff done. I don't vacillate and I don't procrastinate, unless I've scheduled it in somewhere. Being uncertain about my own sexuality in any way became a very anxious state of mind for me. Was I straight, or was I gay? I also liked binaries - they're so easy to categorise. My anxiousness and my inability to deal with the situation meant that I became depressed, and also questioned the stability of my relationship with my girlfriend. I worried that my being unhappy was a sign of an inner turmoil, which in turn pointed to a very definitive answer that I was a gay man. You saw that sort of thing happen in movies all the time, and it felt very persuasive to me at my darkest points. But on the other hand, how great are boobs?
The decision then to identify fully and firmly as queer, as someone definitely other than straight, was a decision to identify as myself for the first time. It was astounding at how whole I felt for the first time, yet how little had actually changed to the outside eye. Perhaps I felt more comfortable embracing aspects of my personality that didn't stereotypically fit into that of a 'straight guy' - more comfortable being obsessed with slim fitted jackets and expensive moisturisers, but this was merely superficiality. Doing it inside a relationship also ended up being somewhat beside the point - I was now comfortable with the fact that I had an entire spectrum of humanity to be attracted to, and the person I loved fell comfortably inside that. I feel like I shouldn't need to feel grateful that my partner was willing to support me in this, but I am.
I've also realised another reason to come out - and that's for other people like me. In retrospect, the amount of agonising I went through was ridiculous and needless. Yet, I'm not unique. There must be thousands of people in the same boat, or at least a similar canoe as me. And the path of the queer, pansexual or bisexual person is a little mistier than others - if I'd even known about anyone, literally a single person, in real life or popular culture, who was a queer person in a 'straight relationship', perhaps I wouldn't have had the agony of my false choice to work through.