It’s Mental Health week this week. It seems an opportune moment to press the Publish button on this blog that’s been waiting for a while.
This is from my hand written diary from 1982 and documents the trial I underwent in making the decision to leave school. Malcolm Fraser was the Prime Minister and What About Me by Moving Pictures was at the top of the charts.
The entry is written in 1982 about events a year earlier. I was 17 in 1981, barely coping with my sexuality that I was trying so hard to repress, I don’t mention it directly, but I can see it’s impact in my own words. I wasn’t letting anyone in to see the real me. My close friends had left school at the end of Year 10 and Year 11, I was isolated, a few of the students in Year 12 had grown up with me and we’d been through primary and secondary school together – they were my enemies!
It’s clear to me, looking back, that I was struggling with my life, my religion and my sexuality. I wasn’t in a good place. The isolation was horrendous and I couldn’t see a way out. What I didn’t see or understand until some 12 months later is that people really did care, they wanted to help me. It took an enormous amount of courage for me to reach out and ask for help.
My life did get better. I have not regretted the decisions I made back then, I’m glad that I went on to bigger and better things. The adults in my life did want to help me out, they did see my struggles and tried to get me to open up, the real blockage for me was my sexuality. This internal battle is why I want the world to see the damage that is caused when homophobia isn’t stopped and challenged. The anguish I went through should not have happened. It’s hard enough growing up without having an unmentionable and important part of your life that you feel needs to be hidden.
Here’s the entry, I’ve fixed the spelling (apparently I though my peers where piers and I still can’t spell unfortantely without a spell checker) but not changed the wording.
12 Jan 1982
Today I seem to have quite a few entries in the diary – perhaps because I have been neglecting writing things in it. I think the main reason for this is trying to get motivated. This attitude seems to be one that is common amongst my peers. This is I feel is one reason why I failed at having a go at Year 12. Yet, I, at the moment, don’t regret it. I often think that had I become motivated in the early stages of ’81 I might have done a lot better than I did, never the less I didn’t, so I have no one else to blame but myself. My only hope (in fact one of my many hopes) is that I never live to regret my actions. At the moment this seems unlikely. As I can’t see into the future it is a hard thing to say it won’t have some repercussions in later life.
School seemed a place that I just didn’t fit. None of my peers particularly liked me and often was called a poof, suck and many other things. Such name calling never seemed right to me and I assumed that such things would fizzle out as we (me and my peers) got older and more mature, I think I was kidding myself.1 The name calling continued, perhaps not as much, but it certainly didn’t stop. I returned to school in Feb. 81 feeling perhaps just a little frightened, like a child and his first day at school, I think I was more frightened of attempting H.S.C., and of course the reaction of my peers2 who I thought might have grown up. They had a bit, at least the name calling had perhaps stopped a bit. But NO-ONE bothered to talk to me, unless I spoke to them first, even then a conversation was brief and abrupt. Then again I didn’t really try to become overly involved with my peers. (As you can see there seems to be contradictions in this entry. Yet it really was like this – Here are even more contradictions). But I did try very hard to become a bit more involved in school activities. I was a quiet sort of force behind the Social Services, in starting that. I was involved in the school newspaper “The Dolphin” in which I wrote some news and so on. Nevertheless this didn’t seem to me to be enough to keep me interested in the academic side of school.
The Year 12 retreat3 proved to be a very interesting one.4 I stopped and reflected on my life and what I was doing.5 I think that perhaps I then made a decision to leave school. The next thing to do was to get enough courage to make a move as there was so much to consider before I made such a decision. Meanwhile things at school were still pretty useless. I had enrolled in correspondence school to do music, a subject I enjoyed and one that I looked forward to. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere, along the line ballsed the whole thing up. So when my papers did come through I was about five weeks behind. Trying desperately to catch up, my other school work seemed to be falling behind, as I was more interested in Music. Finally the pressures of school caught up with me, and depression soon came. I couldn’t keep up with my fellow students, as I became more and more depressed I began to think about leaving school, a thought which had been on the back of my mind since the start of the year. I started to miss morning classes because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was frightened, (then again I really didn’t try to make an effort) frightened of school because I was behind, frightened of my peers for their harassment.6 I really did become more and more depressed, and I believe that I was on the verge of suicide, something that nobody else could even see, I myself couldn’t see what was happening, and I did want so much to reach out and talk to someone, but the courage to do so was never there so I just closed myself off…. to think.
I lay awake many nights just thinking about what I was going to do, and then finally I set a date to leave school.7 Friday April 3rd 1981 – I wrote in my pocket diary – “THE END – ON THIS DAY I HOPE TO LEAVE SCHOOL FOREVER”
I have no idea when I set that date, but I did, and I missed it. It was another week before I left school. Why? Perhaps I, again, didn’t have the courage, perhaps I wanted another chance, perhaps I was confused about what I wanted or perhaps I don’t know. Nevertheless I did try and hack it for another week but to no avail, so on Friday April tenth 1981 (exactly seven days after) I went to school to say to the Studies Master “I no longer wish to continue my education” (That’s a quote!) So Mr. Shaw (my Studies Master) talked to me about it, and finally agreed that he believed I was doing the best thing, which made me feel a whole lot better. I then realised that there really are people who care, and people who are willing to help. The trouble was to find the right person. Mr. Shaw helped me a lot that day.8 He rang the Commonwealth Employment Service and made an appointment for me for two o’clock in the afternoon. So that was it, after twelve or thirteen years of school I was finished.
I cried as I rode my bike out of the gates of Monivae College, knowing that something that had been a big part of my life for six years was now finished. Perhaps I cried because I again was frightened of being in the BIG WORLD by myself, perhaps I cried because I was ashamed of myself for being gutless and feeling useless that I couldn’t succeed in life because I was no good at school. I was also very happy.9
I went home and told the folks that I did have an appointment at the C.E.S. at two, so they helped me prepare.10
So at about five to two I rolled up outside, stood for a minute before walking in. I asked for the right man, only to discover that no one at all knew about my appointment. But all were pleasant, and I filled out the right forms applying for the dole, and registering myself us unemployed.
After a discussion the nice young (married) lady suggested that I approach Mr. McNaughton and enquire about a job there as I already had a part-time job there.11 I told Mr. Mac. that I had left school and asked him if he was willing to employ me. He said he would have to think about it, and told me to come back on Tuesday 14th April 1981 – So I did.
At eleven o’clock I showed up, and Mr. Mac. said that he was willing to employ me but only under the following hours. Monday to Thursday 12.00 noon till 5.30 p.m. Fridays 10-12, 1-5, 6-8 (in winter 12-5, 6-9) Saturday’s 5.30 – 8.00, 9-12 noon.
I agreed to these hours, and although I wasn’t crash hot on them, thought it was better than going on the dole.
So on Tuesday 21st of April 1981 I started working at P.R. & L.A. McNaughtons Authorised Newsagents, 150-152 Gray St. Hamilton.
Here ends my true story of the hassle I had in 1981 – and if you think how long all this took only twelve weeks, and I am pleased of the decisions I made, and I hope that I will never live to regret April 10 1981 – A day which will long live in my memory.
I am grateful to Mr. & Mrs. McNaughton, to Monivae College, and most of all my parents who tried so hard to support me and help me, a job which they did and will always do so well.
Sane Australia is a good place to start if my blog raises any issues for you and you’d like some help.
- I could never understand why people thought I was a ‘poof’ as I wasn’t ‘camp’ in the slightest ↩
- Code for someone might work out that I really am gay ↩
- This is mostly a lot of prayers and team building ↩
- I was sleeping in a dorm with 15 other guys, some of them I fancied, this was a real challenge for a 17-year-old gay guy ↩
- How could I stop being gay? ↩
- Fear of being outed as gay was a huge concern ↩
- I was begging god to take this ‘poof’ stuff away from me ↩
- We later went on to be friends when his son was in my Cub Pack ↩
- The relief of not being found out caused the tears, the freedom to start over and be free of the name calling made me happy ↩
- This was perhaps the first time my father let me make a decision about my life. He sat on my bed and told me that if I didn’t want to go to school that was ok, but that I had to get a job. He then asked what I wanted to do, I told him I wanted to be a teacher, he said I wasn’t smart enough to be a teacher – that was devastating and had long-lasting implications for me. ↩
- It was a Newsagency. I was doing fill-in paper rounds and working Saturday mornings ↩