"When I first came out of the closet... I had this uneasy feeling that I wasn't quite fulfilling the brief."Photo: Stocksy
As a man who spends a significant chunk of his life convincing others of the cinematic virtues of Magic Mike, I don't often think of myself as inadequately gay.
Just gay enough? Yes. Appropriately gay? Yes. Excessively gay? A convincing argument could be made… especially if you had seen me blubbing on the corner of Broadway and 95th when I found out I had to give up my ticket to see Kylie at the Hammerstein Ballroom because of a funeral.
But I wasn't always so confident in my fabulous skin. When I first came out of the closet, at the (these days) ripe old age of 24 – six long and face-wrinkling years ago – I had this uneasy feeling that I wasn't quite fulfilling the brief, like I was red and yellow and pink and green, sure, but certain colours in my rainbow were missing.
It hit me first, and hardest, when I gathered my closest friends together to grab a drink and tell them my news. It was me, three guy friends, an engaged couple and a shitload of Carlton Draft. "So," I began, nervously pouring out a set of beers with way too much head, "it turns out I'm gay."
They all did a decent job of feigning surprise, dished out some hugs and then threw in a few announcements of their own. "I'm gay too," said one friend, deflating with relief. "Me too," said another, getting a little giggly. "So am I…" said the third – his brother. The couple watched on in surprise, if not disbelief (the four of us were all huge Kelly Clarkson fans, and had been for a while now).
There was a certain amount of grumbliness from me, albeit well-hidden grumbliness, that my thunder had been so thoroughly burgled; I was happy for them sure, whatever, but I'd called the meeting… tonight was about me. But that was soon replaced by a certain amount of unease as my mates began to tell their stories.
One had known he was gay since he was 12 and had been acting on that knowledge since just a few years after that. His brother similarly had known since his early years of high school (his description of the Lynx-perfumed changerooms after PE class were incredibly detailed). My other friend, whose frequent use of the word "honey" and "darling" had not registered on my possibly not-highly-functioning Gaydar, simply said, "I always knew".
I told them I too had known for a long time, but that was a lie: I really hadn't known until a couple of weeks before – since the night I'd quite drunkenly gone to bed with a bloke in the air force and woken up in a new and fantastically technicolour world that definitely wasn't Kansas anymore.
"I always knew" is a pretty standard line in the coming out narrative. Most people you speak to talk about being attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were kids; even those who don't publicly come out until late in life tend to have 'always known' they were gay, but chose to conceal it. CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, who famously came out in 2012 after much speculation and much dodging of questions about his personal life, has now said, "I've always known I was gay from the time I was a little kid – I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of it, even before I knew what it was or the name of it."
It's the expected line, it's a line that fits in with my politics and beliefs – a line that beautifully raises a middle finger to the face of people who use words like "lifestyle" and "choice", and a line that neatly captures what I consider to be an immovable truth: that, yes, we're born that way.
But it is not my line. I've always been gay, but I have not always known it. And I've often wondered if I'm less a part of the team because of it?
I was a cute-ish, blond, curly-haired cherub in my primary school years – the boy in the class who had the most 'girlfriends' to chase around the playground at lunch – and then, in my fatter, pimplier, teenage years, a tragic case who yearned for girls that wanted little to do with me. In my early 20s, with my skin de-oiled, hair de-frizzed and body suddenly rid of about 30 kilos of puppy fat, my fortunes changed: I didn't have them lining up, but I did alright on the weekend visits to World Bar (Sydney rite of passage).
All along, it was girls, girls, girls who were on my mind. It wasn't play-acting, either – these weren't beards. Being gay had not even crossed my mind until an almost-epiphany in my mid-20s.
Though it had crossed the minds of others around me.
I recently wrote an essay about 'coming out' for my book, We're All Going to Die (Especially Me), in which I wrestled with the idea of having not 'always known'. How, I wondered, could something so central to who I was fly under my own radar for so long? On reflection, I realise that it hadn't really.
All my life, people had been telling me I was gay in one way or another, in one tone or another. In primary school, kids would helpfully tell me I was a fag and that I spoke like a chick and walked like a duck. In high school, it continued along similar lines, just with more profanity and the odd shove. There were friendlier, more genuinely helpful exchanges, too: in my 20s, a girl I had just slept with asked me as I sat on the edge of her bed, huffing and puffing from what I had felt was a rigorous and satisfying 7 minutes, if I was sure that I wasn't, you know, gay?
My epiphany came not long after that.
I had denied and denied and denied being gay since I was five or six – so much so that it became a part of who I was. When I think about it, I probably have never really thought of myself as 'straight' in the traditional enjoys-watching-Rugby-league-for-reasons-other-than-the-players'-legs sense, but I was, as far as I could tell, definitely "not gay". Because that's the thing I'd been picked on for since I had any idea what it was. And there was no way I was going to be that.
Until, of course, I realised that I was… much later than most people.
As my newly outed gay friends and I sat around that table drinking our too-frothy beers and telling our stories, though, it turned out that mine was just as interesting as theirs. It was also, in a way, the most different – the most unexpected. Because it was not the line we'd heard so often.
And I think it's important we hear as many different lines, as many different tales, as possible. One of the joys of coming out is the new comfort you feel in being different, how wonderful being different is; you don't want to feel you have to be different in the same way.
You might have known you were gay since you were six, or known since you slept with that RAAF officer six days ago – either way, or any other, you should feel as gay, fabulous and welcome to the club as anyone else.