• Casey Conway is an Aboriginal Australian former rugby league player, swimwear model, and youth worker who came out publicly in 2015. (Russell Fleming/Sluggers Swimwear.)Source: Russell Fleming/Sluggers Swimwear.
"For some reason I sometimes struggle to say the words I’ve said so many times before." Youth worker and former rugby league player Casey Conway reflects on coming out, not just the first time, but the 100th, 200th and 300th time as well.
Casey Conway

12 Oct 2016 - 2:13 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2016 - 2:13 PM

Last week I found myself in an all too familiar position. You’d think I’d know how to handle already; someone assuming I was straight. It mightn’t seem like a big deal: just tell them you’re gay, right? But for some reason I sometimes struggle to say the words I’ve said so many times before.

I never really take notice of who I do and don’t immediately disclose my preference of men to, but upon reflection it seems to be the place where masculinity supposedly lives; the gym. I just can’t do it.

I’m a member of a big chain gym on the Gold Coast. Lots of muscled up guys with tattoos, lots of babes in fluro activewear, and everything in between. I’m a creature of habit, so I go at the same time every day. I train alone and generally keep to myself. It seems a lot of guys do the same. Occasionally I lock eyes with one and do the chin raise - “sup” - and keep training. Occasionally I’ll ask how many sets they have left but usually I’ll wait. Lately, these interactions have turned into a "g’day" here and there, and developed into small talk regarding training, work, where I go out and whether I have a “missus”. Answering these questions is easy, but the response to not having a missus typically generates bro-talk about playing the field, which chicks from the gym I’d like to bang, tinder and so on. It’s at this point I know I should say something, but all too often I jam up and awkwardly laugh and go along with the conversation. Sometimes it gets out of hand.

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Recently I was in this situation with a handful of bro’s, and decided to man up and be truthful. So far I’ve told three guys and it went like this.

Guy 1 was great. He knuckle bumped me, apologised for assuming I was straight, and the conversations have continued with him substituting ‘her’ with ‘him’ in his questions or observations. We’re now mates.

Easy, I should’ve done it sooner.

Guy 2 was not so great. He laughed and muttered something along the lines of “can’t believe you’re a fag”. He now takes a wide berth whenever we’re training at the same time.

This hurt a bit but no biggie; his problem, not mine.

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Guy 3 was in between. He didn’t know how to react. It was like I was the first gay he has ever met. He later confirmed that I am the first gay guy he’s ever met that he didn’t pick. I told him I’m probably not - he awkwardly laughed and put his headphones in.

Back to the occasional chin raise.

Two(ish) out of three ain’t bad, and I feel so much better. So why do I sometimes find it difficult? To be honest, I’m still not sure. I ask myself why I care so much, I have a lot of great friends. Can I even handle more friends? Will they hate me and hassle me? Will one of them be questioning and in some way feel better about their situation? Will they not care and the world continue on as it were? All of these are questions that run through my head.

I don’t advertise my sexuality, I don’t hide it, either. You get what you see. I don’t subscribe to a definition of masculinity and believe that it is a spectrum that we constantly move along. But it got me curious as to why this happens.

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I believe we need to rethink our definition of masculinity and be staunch in our approach to breaking down stereotypes. Gay men come in all shapes and sizes and are doctors, nurses, carpenters, flight attendants, athletes, engineers, youth workers and everything in between. We need to make it easier and safer for the younger generation to accept and express who they are without fear.

So it’s important to remember that coming out isn’t only hard the first time, it can also be hard the 100th, 200th and 300th time as well, not because we don’t accept ourselves but because we might be measuring ourselves against these definitions and stereotypes that were created to divide us out of fear.