'That's so gay!'

These men and women ... would sooner choose the .22 over “coming out” to loved ones

WHEN I was 17 I was out to dinner with my family at a restaurant run by an older gay couple, Harry and Brian. I remember I was wearing a snug-fit pair of moleskins.

Dinner finished and I was standing with Mum at the front desk paying.

Harry strolled past and said, “Mmmm, lovely legs!” Mum instantly replied, “Oh, thank you”, to which Harry retorted, “I wasn’t talking about you!”

It didn’t surprise me – after all, I have great legs.

Jokes aside, I’ve always been comfortable with my sexuality and the compliment didn’t frighten or embarrass me, or make me angry. Although it was different, I’ll give you that.

To someone who hasn’t had any exposure to parts of gay culture, it admittedly can be full on. I was once dragged along to the Sydney Mardi Gras Fair Day by my girlfriend (leaving the moleskins at home), and found the loud, proud and vibrant culture initially overwhelming, but fascinating and accepting at the same time. I’ve enjoyed countless conversations with gays and lesbians since the moleskin moment and most in my acquaintance are real go-getters, far removed from clichés presented in movies like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

But it seems my understanding of gay people isn’t that common in rural and regional Australia.

Last year, ABC radio station Triple J was in Dalby for a concert and did a side story on gays in a town of 10,000 people. You’d see a group of lesbians dancing, kissing and having fun in the middle of the dance floor at the nightclub, and locals turn a blind eye – the flight response, maybe. But it was noted you’d never see a group if gay men doing the same. Apparently the “huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ types” wouldn’t stand for it – and there’d often be a fight.

The "fight or flight response" is our body's primitive, innate response that prepares the body to respond to a perceived attack or threat. It’s 2013, humans are doing some amazing things, yet some struggle with processing reactions to seeing two people of the same sex as a couple.

This sad response is not a natural, genetic reaction like the description suggests, but a conscious way of thinking. It’s time to put the pitchforks and sickle bars down and change that thinking – after all, it seems only a matter of time before the Commonwealth of Australia recognises same-sex marriage.

Indeed, on Sunday night’s televised debate between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Mr Rudd committed to introduce marriage equality legislation in the first 100 days of a re-elected Labor government, and Mr Abbott declared it “a very important issue”.

One of my ag mates who is gay attends most of the field days - where he's often asked, “so, are you gay”? At the end of the day or event, he’s often later quietly approached by some of those who ask – including husbands, fathers and community leaders - and intense, deep conversations begin.

“I’m a fourth generation farmer, I have a beautiful wife and two kids - but I think I’m gay,” is not an uncommon line. My mate has lost count of these closet conversations he’s had over the past three years. His response is, “well, what are you going to do about it”?

Enter darkness and confusion amid the sickening social conditioning many of us have been subject to. Grimacing faces mumble “suicide” as the most common response, amid tears of frustration. Regional and rural men have the highest suicide rates - above rural females and higher than both sexes in cities. Homosexuality is often linked with male suicide in rural areas.

These men and women – our friends, our family - would sooner choose the .22 over “coming out” to loved ones and the community. I could never understand what that must feel like - but they’re not running out of the trenches, across no-man’s land to be shot at by a line of trigger-happy soldiers. They’re running into a line of opinions, narrow-mindedness and deep-seated social conditioning that apparently is equally as treacherous, probably more so. Go watch the movie Brokeback Mountain. It provides a tiny insight into the struggle, heartbreak and fear.

Imagine a man or a woman who buys the beef you produce, cooks your lamb or eats the veggies you grow. They’re gay, and share a home with their partner with the intention of growing old together. Like any other couple, they love each other, make love with each other and commit to a life full of careers, families, support, laughter, travel and everything else most people hope to enjoy.

If you feel these people are lesser, wanting, or non-deserving of any rights you feel are okay for yourself - or if you think something is “wrong” with them - then you’re suffering from homophobia.

A phobia, in the context of clinical psychology, is a type of anxiety disorder, defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer greatly avoids, typically disproportional to the danger posed, often recognized as being irrational. It’s a mental condition and there’s help available.

Just like the shifts in racial perceptions over recent generations, it would be great to see change over time with regards to gays and lesbians. And what’s more it will be great to hold on to more people in rural and regional areas, regardless of their sexuality, and not see them escape to the perceived protection and acceptance of the city lights.

If it’s a lifestyle unknown to you, I’ll be first to guarantee you it’s not all “Priscilla” - bitching, wigs, dresses, bust sizes, penises, drugs, night clubs, and bloody Abba! It’s just life. And it's time to overcome the phobias and kick the closet doors wide open.

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13/08/2013 6:18:52 AM

I reckon most of the so called homophobia is generic rather than personal. Years ago our local bowls club manager was openly gay. I can still remember sitting at the bar one night listening to a group of local men whingeing about their wives and girlfriends – While he went whinge for whinge about his boyfriend! I think if a lot of these men did come out the main reaction from their friends and family would be a shrug, and ‘Yeah we thought you might be’ (obviously a lot harder and more complex for married men).
13/08/2013 6:19:50 AM

Still your right about the culture, people let it roll on without thinking about the effect it might be having on one of their mates. PS Gay men can like huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’ as well you know.
13/08/2013 7:01:44 AM

Oh Sam. This is SO spot on. Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to just BE who you are, wherever you are... I hope I see it happen in my time. :-)
13/08/2013 7:14:45 AM

Another fantastic article Sam. I have a great friend, high up in a cattle breed society, whose other friends and I are waiting to see when he comes out. He's such a nice guy and wasting so much of his life pretending. Its sad that he feels he wouldn't be accepted by society or his family, even though he has worked hard to get where he is. When will people adopt the 'Live and let live' approach to other humans - after all 'gays' are human too.
13/08/2013 7:40:56 AM

I often hear the statement that people are now ready to accept homosexuals rights. When people say that, they try to convince us that it means that gay couples should be treated exactly the same as heterosexual couples, in every way including with marriage laws. These are two different matters.The fact that gay people have a sexual attraction to their own sex is accepted as a fact. That does not mean the rest of us must believe that marriage and all its values apply to gays. Marriage is about a man and woman joining together to have and raise children. Gays are unable to do that by nature..
13/08/2013 8:46:42 AM

So all those country folk who do not like homosexuality, even if it's because of religious and moral values, are "homophobic"' and in need of mental help? I'd say this writer has just insulted a good many rural people. Why didn't this writer just come out and say all those country Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans etc have been 'conditioned' and are in need of mental help to overcome their 'homophobia'? Or would being so overt really expose this writer's own anti-religious bigotry? Homophobia is now just a meaningless epithet thrown around by the gay lobby as an insult, to antagonise.
13/08/2013 9:25:48 AM

Labeling people with different views will not convince anyone to change. Marriage is between a man and woman and has been for for the last thousand years, just highlights how decadent our society is.
13/08/2013 10:14:37 AM

Great article Sam. I'm very glad to see it here. Being gay isn't a choice, just like being straight isn't (I'm straight and I never chose it - I just am). However, being homophobic and hateful IS a choice. I would like to think moral people would choose to be loving and embrace everyone. James: perhaps if religion actually preached love and taught its followers to love everyone we wouldn't need to be having this conversation.
13/08/2013 10:58:05 AM

There is not a person in the world that hasn't been scrutinised, punished, or in some way abused. Gay people, like me are no different. Weather you are fat, old, ugly, mean, kind, smart and so on. The fact is there should not be a law that makes one person unequal to another. As it incites fear and violence, and tells the oppressor that the violence is ok. Everybody whom does not support marriage equality may not understand yet that in every country that has not achieved equal rights for a peaceful minority group. Has elevated hate crimes that target that specific.
13/08/2013 11:02:19 AM

The whole gay marriage thing is just a political distraction from the real issues. If the church groups reckon they own the copyright on the word marriage, then call it a legal union or something else. A divorced mate summed it up best when he said ‘Why should straight people be the only ones allowed to make their lives a misery’.
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Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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