Last month I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at the Mardi Gras Film Festival following a screening of Out To Win, a documentary that showcased the stories and lives of prominent American athletes and their experiences of coming out. To be totally truthful, I felt out of my depth being in the presence of Ian Thorpe, Matt Mitcham and other amazing world class athletes. I hoped I could add value to the discussion because I'm from the country and competed in a team sport where being gay often has taboo status. But it became evident that everyone on that panel went through similar experiences of fear, guilt, anxiety, stress and isolation.
One thing I did offer however did stand out: I came out. Not as gay, obviously, that’s old news now. I came out as a bully.
I didn’t expect this to have such a widespread interest as it did and I’ve since spent time, both with people I know and with strangers, explaining it in further detail.
I realised I was attracted to men during the latter stages of high school. I attended an all-boys Catholic boarding school in the country where you were either a footy player or a cowboy. If you weren’t either of these things, it wasn’t the easiest of places to be. There was a small but quiet music and arts component of the school that, by and large, went unnoticed. I certainly didn’t have anything to do with these departments. I was a footy player, one of the good ones, always in the graded teams, this representative team, that representative team - you get the picture.
It was around this time that my desires were growing and I didn’t know what to do - there was nothing or no one who indicated to me that these feelings were ok or normal. I was scared. Not even dating the pretty girl from the all-girls school helped me change myself. That only helped me hide my secret, as I understood it.
Another way I thought would help conceal “the real me” from my mates would be to pick on the feminine boys that fit the stereotype of the time; the drama and arts kids, or the academic who showed no interest in sports or girls. A taunt here or a shoulder barge there were the orders of the day for these boys who had done nothing wrong to me.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I knew the true effects of my actions when I bumped into one of these guys at a gay club in Brisbane. He was a now a successful lawyer and I was a banged-up footy player that didn’t quite make it, questioning my next move in life. He wasn’t too surprised to see me at that club and was actually very good to me in accepting my apology for being a massive wanker at school. I actually think he felt a bit sorry for me.
"Another way I thought would help conceal 'the real me' from my mates would be to pick on the feminine boys that fit the stereotype of the time; the drama and arts kids, or the academic who showed no interest in sports or girls."
The next big revelation for me came recently when one of these boys, now a journalist, wrote about his experience of being on the receiving end of daily insults and physical harm by kids like me. One day, he went home and attempted to end his life. He couldn’t take it any more. A theme that is all too familiar in the line of work I now do with young people.
In his story he wrote of the importance of the Safe School initiative and how it would have helped him and many others in our days at school. Maybe it would have also helped me see things in a different light. I was able to make amends with this guy many years ago and he was also gracious enough to accept my apology.
When I was acting this way at school, I felt that it was what needed to be done to be safe and accepted in the community I lived and loved. The school opened many doors for me and I made lifelong mates that I treasure every day.
In reflection, I wasn’t scared of these guys or scared of becoming like them, I was jealous of them. They were able to turn up day after day, do the things they were good at and be themselves, even after coping crap for it.
They were the tough ones, not me.
For support and guidance please contact the agencies below:
BeyondBlue – 1300 224 636
Headspace – 1800 650 890
LifeLine – 13 11 14