"I was a black. I was gay. I was living in bloody Adelaide!"
By
Byron Adu

10 Feb 2021 - 8:45 AM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2021 - 3:46 PM

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.


 

When I was born, the hospital staff didn’t want to touch me. They feared they’d get HIV/AIDS – the presumption that my dad must have it because he was from Ghana.

It gives you a little perspective of the kind of time I was born into.

I was a black. I was gay. I was living in bloody Adelaide! 

It was the mid-1980s. I had a white mum and black dad. I was a first generation, Afro-Australian guy being raised by a single mum who worked as a nurse. All of this made me different. 

There’d be the inevitable lows caused by this difference – things like the time I was at one of my primary school dances and some of the girls refused to hold my hand to dance because they didn’t want to touch my black skin.

Or one of my aunt’s equating being gay to paedophilia and saying she wouldn’t want her kids to be around my boyfriend at the time.

But equally there were the highs  – like the extra attention I’d get from people who would marvel at or want to touch my Jackson 5 inspired Afro. Or that, genetically, I was just a better athlete than most of my white school friends (sorry, not sorry about that).

These near daily reminders were like being on an emotional rollercoaster.

I was the child of an immigrant, but I wasn’t an immigrant. I was born in Australia but I wasn’t white or First Nations. I was part of a minority within a minority. I’d look around – in society, on television, sports and politics and even at school and I just wouldn’t see myself or people like me anywhere.

I grew up without much of a relationship with my father to understand my Ghanaian culture, because of this I felt at different times equal parts lost and liberated. I didn’t have any real template or reference point to draw on in many ways – a black, gay guy in Australia.  And liberated for many of the same reasons – I could form an identity unique to me.

When I was around 14 or 15 I really came to accept that I was gay but I still continued to question it a bit: “I’m black, and black guys aren’t gay”. I mean, it was fairly reasonable to feel like this – I didn’t see them in lil’ ol’ Adelaide – or anywhere really. This was well before the days of social media. I remember slipping into Adelaide’s only gay bar at a young age and feeling excited but also so disappointed being the only non-white person in the room.

I’d flip between one extreme to the other with internal dialogues in my head: from “you’re gay so you should be into Kylie Minogue like every other Adelaide gay” to “you’re black so you should be into rap music and dress like a gangster” (as that sadly was my only reference point for black people at the time).

I look back at that now and think how ridiculous and binary it all was.

I thought I could compromise. I went shopping with my sister one day to buy the 'homie g' (gangster) clothing – picking out the oversized jeans and the baggy jumper. I felt pretty proud of this purchase but the feeling was short lived. The next day my sister and I were walking up to the shops and I was singing and dancing along to a Britney Spears song that was in my head. (Britney being my chosen gay icon as I could never bring myself to like Kylie Minogue – sorry Kylie!).

Turning to me with the deepest brow furrow I'd ever seen, my sister quickly scolded me with a “Byron, that’s not how homies act!”

 

It was through having the most supportive mum and sister (my mum was marching in Pride rallies long before I was even ready to!), that I felt like I had such a unique opportunity to be whoever the hell I wanted to be (and gladly, this meant fully embracing Britney Spears over Kylie guilt-free and not feeling like I was betraying my people).

Often I was the ‘first’ that many people would meet. First person of colour, first black guy born in Australia (the shocked faces some people would have when I would start speaking with an ‘Australian’ accent), the first gay guy. I felt like the poster child for diversity at the time. I didn’t want to be on the (metaphorical) poster – I wanted to be able to look at posters of other people and be able to see myself.

To my younger self – I’d say that while you will have some great and not so great experiences, those feelings of longing for belonging will subside. Don’t worry about the differences and just be you.

 

Byron is a proud queer POC based in Melbourne. A long-time public servant, he's recently reconnected with his passion for writing. You can follow Byron on Instagram on @bakojo.

This story was originally entered in the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition and forms part of a special collection curated for Mardi Gras celebrating LGBTIQA+ writers and stories.

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.

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