The house on Chalfont Street in Salisbury was delightful. It was in no way fancy, but it sat on a quiet, secluded street, backed onto the beautiful Russ Hall Park, and the entire underneath of the house had been converted into a living area, meaning I had what was essentially a studio apartment to myself. Room for my bed, bookshelves, a couch, TV and even including my own toilet, I felt very independent and grown-up living here (and good thing too: I was 22 years old).
The year and a bit spent in this house was almost entirely devoid of drama. Mum and Mike got along swimmingly—to the point where they married; I was continuing to get paid work at the radio station, working my way up from receptionist to “Black Thunder Pilot” to Community Switchboard coordinator; I graduated from The Actors Conservatory, and even performed in my first non-high school play. In short, life was really coming together.
Also, early into 2003, I finally realised who I was. You know, in a sexual sense.
You can look at this in two ways: either as a bitter ironic twist; only when it seemed like the seas of my life were finally, briefly calm did the issue of my befuddling sexuality burst forth (again) to fuck everything up. Or you can see it as a long overdue blessing; that because everything was going well, and I wasn’t feeling in such turmoil, I was able to process something that had hung over my head since I was 15 years old. I have often described it as the former, but I must be softening with age, because I’m choosing today to look at it as the latter.
Now, I’ve heard coming out stories that usually involve a night of flirting with a member of the same sex that finally catapulted over into full-blown, magical passion and a stark, shocking, but ultimately comforting revelation the next morning. Or just out-of-the-blue epiphanies, borne of spur-of-the-moment lust. This kind of thing did not happen to me.
In fact, it could be said that the opposite happened to me. The opposite in every single way.
Her name was Tatiana (no it wasn’t, I made that up because I actually can’t remember her name), and she was beautiful, and I met her while a group of us from the radio station (the “Black Thunder Team”, if you will) were hanging out, post-work, at the Normanby Hotel. I was quite drunk so I can’t remember how I actually met her, or how she ended up with our group, or how I ended up dancing with her: but I did, and she did, and we did. The rest of the group I was with were about as surprised as I was that this was happening: I wasn’t the guy who talked to girls and danced with them in bars. But, I was filled with both Dutch courage and Dutch courage’s way more effective cousin, Uniform courage. Here’s the skeezy truth: working at the radio station was social currency. How much social currency is never certain: I don’t want to be a total dick and accuse Tatiana of only talking to me because I was wearing a shirt with a radio station logo on it, but I can with complete certainty say that I was only able to talk to her because I was wearing a shirt with a radio station logo on it.
Tatiana did say she thought it was very cool that we all worked at B105, so perhaps she was kind of drawn in by the uniforms. She also wanted to know how she could get work at the station. How did we all start? For half of us, it was through volunteering on the Community Switch, of which I was now the chief coordinator, having worked my way up from volunteer, to receptionist, now to almost-full-time-employee! So technically I was the person to talk to?
I took a chance while we were dancing and talking and I kissed her. She kissed me back, and I finally got some kind of inkling into what it must be like to be a sexual person: someone who experiences even a modicum of success, romantically speaking (the inkling passed super quickly, and I haven’t seen a shred of it since). We exchanged numbers, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would call Tatiana my girlfriend.
Not only was I going to break a terrible drought, but I had made a decision! I was straight! The thing that had tormented me since 1996; throwing thoughts and indecision violently around the inside of my head like Kinsey scale poltergeist for eight years, making me hate myself and doubt myself and never giving me a moment’s peace, was to be put to rest. It was such a huge relief. I’d had crushes on girls before, (and I’d had crushes on boys before, for which I felt nothing but shame as I tried to push them down to the bottom of my…pants), but this was a real, organically grown start of something. It felt different.
Four days later, I called her, but got no answer. I left a message saying hi, and tried not to let this first hurdle completely destroy me. She picked up when I tried to call her again the next day, but was unavailable to do anything as she was away all weekend with friends down the coast. Strike two, but the course of true love never did run smooth, right?
I tried to be a bit more casual on the third attempt. I waited until the Sunday of the weekend (I didn’t want to be seen to be bugging her when she’d already told me she was away), and I texted her, giving me the space and freedom to choose my words carefully and maintain at least the illusion of composure. It was, at the time, still something of a risky move, as texting wasn’t yet the ubiquitous communication tool it is now. It could be seen as too casual, even too common. In 2003, there were still a healthy contingent of people who either “didn’t own a mobile”, or “didn’t text”, and both of these phrases were always uttered with the same superior sniff that people today say “Oh, I’m not on Facebook”. I kept it real generic: did she want to come with the movies with me some time? Exactly forty-one minutes later my heart started again when I received the response: “Sure!”
It was hard to schedule this movie date. She didn’t pick up when I called her on Tuesday. And the text I sent Wednesday afternoon went unanswered. By Thursday I was feeling confused, and having tremendous difficulty focusing on my work. Was she actually interested at all? If not, why not just say no when I asked her to the movies? Oh god, did I pressure her into saying yes? Had I been a pest, badgering her until she said whatever it took to get me to stop calling her? Was this part of the rules of dating? Was there some unwritten hint I should have received by now? How, exactly, had I fucked this up?
While I sat in front of my computer, not working, staring into space, my desk phone rang. It was reception. “I’ve got a Tatiana here to see you?”
Oh my god.
Trying desperately to look like I hadn’t just sprinted all twenty metres from my end of the building up to the reception area, I casually flung open the glass door and ushered Tatiana inside. The lack of response to my text messages and phone calls still stung, but this impromptu first date was well on the way to making up for it. Would she like a tour? Had she had lunch? What were her plans? Do we hurry into a supply closet to make out? I’d seen that on the telly, it looked pretty sexy. What did she want to do?
“Um no, I can’t stay, I just remember you saying everyone got work here by starting at the Community Switch, and I wanted to see if I could get a job!”
Somewhere, deep inside my brain, something tiny went “click”. Imagine the tiniest little car you possibly can. Tiny. Like it’s an ant’s car. Now imagine the tiny little gearbox inside that tiny little car. That tiny little gearbox slips quietly from neutral into first gear: that’s how gentle this click was. The tiny little engine in the tiny little car purred tinily, making the tiniest little whisper that sounded like “s t o p d o i n g t h i s”.
I stopped panting. I quietly gave Tatiana the spiel about new volunteers, took her CV to add to the pile, and I didn’t try to call her again.
Look. In the immediate aftermath of this event, and for at least five years after it happened, I painted Tatiana in a very bad light in this story. I was weirdly angry at her, and when retelling this anecdote I would describe this situation in full, martyred glory: she had led me on in an attempt to get a job at the radio station. She never had any intention of dating me. She was simply a gold digger; the “gold” in this scenario being eight hours of unpaid work per week answering phones.
With the wisdom of hindsight, and an active interest in trying, wherever possible, to be neither victim nor fuckwit, I realise I never actually asked whether she had any intention of dating me. I only assumed she didn’t; an act of desperation by what I now know to be a frantic and terrified subconscious, clutching at any straw to stop me pursuing her, even as my conscious remained hurt and confused. Today, twelve years later, I have no need to make Tatiana look bad. Nor do I have reason to lament her not dating me. What if we had? The experience could only have been terrible for us both.
I tell the story differently now. But I still credit Tatiana (the fuck was her name?) with helping me figure it all out, even though it didn’t happen straight away. See, in that moment, I still didn’t understand what the “click” was. It sounded like a profound thing that happened, right? It wasn’t. I thought the tiny whisper of “s t o p d o i n g t h i s” meant “stop embarrassing yourself, she’s not into you”. I didn’t immediately realise what it actually meant was that I was into dudes.
That realisation took over a week. And it wasn’t even a week of “debating” whether or not I was gay. It was a week of sulking like an entitled man-baby. Sulking that She Just Wasn’t That Into Me. Sulking that I’d never had any real romantic success, at least not since Sheridan Lunn kissed me in the jungle gym at Mount Isa’s Central State School in 1989 (her name I remember). Sulking that I hardly ever ever ever met a girl I fancied, and when I did it never went anywhere. And even when it went as far as it felt like it did with Tatiana, I still ended up at square one.
Sulking because it just seemed like it was all too hard.
And suddenly the tiny click made sense: it was all too hard. Why was it too hard? Because, DUH: I didn’t actually want the thing I was doing a terrible job of pursuing. I didn’t want a girlfriend. I wanted a boyfriend. I didn’t want to date women, I wanted to date men. I didn’t want to be best mates with Neighbours star Daniel MacPherson because he seemed like a really cool dude, I wanted to wrap myself around Neighbours star Daniel MacPherson like a compression bandage and tell him all my secrets and dreams!
And with that, I finally realised I was gay. I wasn’t proud of it. I wasn’t okay with it at all. But at least I’d realised it.
I could almost kick myself these days for how long it took me to realise who I was. Especially considering the evidence that I kept mounting. Ahem. Especially considering the evidence that kept mounting. I kissed my first boy at age 15 (the boyfriend of the first girl I kissed); my second and third also at age 15 (Paul, the first boy I dated, and Matt, the weird new kid who looked like a surfer); my fourth at age 18 (on NYE 1998 in a relatively hidden gay bar in Toowoomba called “Waves”); my fifth and sixth at age 20 (Name Forgotten, in the back of a car after a party, and Nicholas, whose kiss was actually a scripted part of an assessment performance piece at The Actors Conservatory—but the man deserves inclusion and your respect because he very classily pretended not to notice any of my erections when we rehearsed).
Based on numbers alone, if you add up all the girls I ever kissed and all the boys I ever kissed, including Sheridan Lunn at age 8, Felicity Scriven at age 12, and Tatiana Something-Something at age 23, by the year 2001 I had kissed twice as many boys as I had girls. But I still didn’t get anywhere even near clarity until 2003.
But hey, it’s not cool to dwell on things you absolutely can’t change. I got there eventually. And after that life fell deliciously into place* and I loved myself more than ever** and got a boyfriend almost immediately***.
*life continued to be a mess because this isn’t TV
**I hated myself intensely for at least five more years
***seven. years. later.