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.