I’ve been in a very reflective mood today as I mull over the events of yesterday.
Two things happened. Bob Katter appeared on Q&A and as expected more or less said that there are no gay people in his electorate.
Ivan Hinton-Teoh returned to his home town to confront the past. He was a victim of homophobia in his small rural town.
Ivan is an online friend, we both have an interest in marriage equality, Ivan is the Deputy National Director of Australian Marriage Equality. His story is powerful and emotional. A story that needed to be told. It made me think about my own small town experience. It has awakened in me just how much I hated growing up. I felt I was surrounded by bullies and vilified on a constant basis at home and at school.
The home stuff was a lot about being teased. I was pretty good at teasing too and would wind my brothers and sisters up as much as they did me. What we didn’t know at the time was that I was gay. The best way to niggle at me was to tell me I was a poof. At one time my name was Gregory Elizabeth Storer. For a young lad trying to come to terms with his sexuality that sort of teasing had a lasting impact on me. There was no intent from my siblings to cause any damage other than normal sibling rivalry. I’m not trying to lay blame at all. I want to highlight just how easy it is to damage the young mind and how long it can take to undo that damage.
School was just horrible. From Grade Four I was labelled a poofter, well before I even knew what any of that meant. I was often the victim of playground taunts and bullying. That only escalated in Secondary School. By the time I reached adulthood I was doing everything I could to appear heterosexual. I lived a double life. I had a boyfriend and we would sneak away as much as we could. I would pretend to be straight for my family, my work, the scouts and the church.
I knew how bad it was to be gay, how we spoke about gay people. Religion, the community, my friends, they all despised homosexuals.
I suffered from my own personal homophobia. I hated the gay in me. I felt a cheat, a liar, dishonourable, fake and a freak. My personal integrity is key to my sense of self-worth, so being fake and dishonourable weighed heavily on my mind.
At times I wanted to die. Often.
I was well-regarded in my small town. I was even made Young Citizen of the Year. On the inside I would be arguing about how much I would be hated if only they knew that I was really a homo.
It took a long time, a lot of money, a shitload of personal reflection for me to work out that the public me and the inside me could be joined together. I didn’t need two sides of me.
In fact, if you don’t mind me stroking my own ego, I am honourable, reliable, decent bloke. And I am that because my key value is honesty. Above all else I hold that to be significantly important to me.
I was devastated last night watching Q&A to witness the blatant disregard that Bob Katter has towards gay people.
How devastating to listen to a squabble about gay people on #QandA – resilience wearing thin
— Gregory Storer (@gregorystorer) October 6, 2014
As Josh Thomas was taking him to task Katter was unable to even look at him. Here is Katter talking about the importance of mental health for farmers and he is completely unable to acknowledge that gay people exist and at times suffer great mental anguish, something that he has had a hand in creating.
We really shouldn't need a bloke like @JoshThomas87 to take on Bob Katter. This is 2014 not 1950. Time to represent all, not just farmers
— Gregory Storer (@gregorystorer) October 6, 2014
It is his attitude and those of people like him that allows him and our society to marginalise and vilify people just like me. It is people like him that I went to school with that picked on me and thought it was all in good fun.
It is people like him that even now cause me uncertainty. Every day I have to deal with what I tell people. Will they treat me differently if they know I’m gay? Do I tell them? What would the ramifications be? I’m trying to do a job here and it shouldn’t be an issue. Do I come out to that contractor? How much of a friendship do I want with that supplier? Is that a look of contempt from a colleague because I’m gay?
More and more now I simply don’t care, people can like it or lump it. But a lifetime of checking oneself is hard to simply give up in 10 short years. How much of it is in my head? How much is real?
So that’s me. I have resilience and support. I have a great well of support, my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my work-mates. Despite the odd bit of insecurity, I know who I am, I’m not afraid to tell you and will even take you to task at the drop of a hat. But imagine being young, searching, unsure. If you are gay and trying to understand yourself and how you fit into this society then last night’s program may have had a negative impact on you.
If you’re a Bob Katter then you need to watch what Ivan has to say. You need to feel his raw emotions on display for the world to see. You need to see his vulnerability. Because Ivan is the young gay kid in every rural community struggling to make sense of himself in a world created for heterosexuals.
This is mental health week – take care of your mental health. Be aware of other people’s mental health.
You never know where your homophobic attitudes will land.
If you need to talk to someone about mental health, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.