I first came out in 2007, then again in 2009.
I spent the year of ’09 working full-time in a call centre as I attempted to sort out my life and what I wanted to do with it. I quickly found myself, to my consternation, in a situation not dissimilar to high-school: a institution where heterosexuality was, beyond an implicit assumption, emphatically seen as THE NORM, while homosexuality was spoken of in hushed and derisive tones relegated to a single older gentleman who seemed to have no real friends in this environment and seemed to like it this way.
As with most of the sub-par workplaces I’ve found myself in, this call centre had a particularly intense drinking culture. Every month the ‘powers that be’ would gift us all with a workplace outing designed to keep us happy (or at least drunk enough to not realise how much we hated being there). This particular outing – still only a few months after I’d begun work – had seen us trapped on a boat cruising up and down the length of the Yarra River. With us sat six coolers overflowing with alcopops, and the distinct (and desperate) resolve that all of us – every single one – was going to have fun; where “fun” meant getting blackout drunk on a ferry.
At this point, I’m about seven or eight standard drinks down with no sign of stopping, and have just discovered Ben. Ben is guy about my age who’d joined this particular work force that day and seemed to be quietly terrified of his new and highly intoxicated co-workers, the boat itself and the alcoholic saccharine syrup we were all hopelessly sculling. Ben is also quite possibly a lifeline: another homosexual in a sea of aggressive heterosexual “normalcy.”
We eye each other off for the better part of the evening, both strafing around the other; unsure of how to approach but caught with the knowledge of the inevitability of our union. Finally, we’re forced to socialize after our hands brush; both reaching for the same can of raspberry UDL like a nautical bogan Romeo and Juliet. (Or Romeo and Julian, perhaps.) Our eyes meet. He speaks:
My initial, misguided thought is: you’re a lot more obviously gay than I’d originally thought. Not that I necessarily thought this was a negative thing: in some strange way I found myself impressed with his gumption. When I’d entered the Telstra environment I’d very quickly packed away this part of my life and hidden it deep within myself; pushing it further down each time a coworker had boisterously and aggressively barked about his girlfriend, his car, or “the footy”.
“Hello,” I reply.
One hour and six standard drinks later and we’re attacking each other with a reckless abandon; hands reaching for places usually reserved for the privacy of the bedroom or at the very least, a pitch-black dance floor. I am acutely aware that there’s a bevy of onlookers growing larger with each grotesque lip-smacking sound, watching my immediate evolution from a quiet, timid work colleague to a glorious homosexual mess, ripping my queerness up by its talons and happily rubbing it in every heterosexual face nearby. It’s pretty much confirmed, by this point, that Ben and I will be going home together – if we can make it home.
I have work the next day, and come morning I’m cursing my inability to exercise moderation and strangely ashamed of the previous night’s display of sexuality (beyond the graphic PDA, ashamed of the very fact of my sexuality). To somehow make it up to myself, I spend a good half hour sorting through my various clothes, looking for something “not gay” to wear, as if this will somehow set the record blissfully straight: “Hey guys! I know I spent the majority of last night dry-humping another male, but it’s okay, look: I have hetero clothes! See how well I blend in!”
I arrive, head pulsating with last night’s debauchery and hands sweating uncontrollably. I walk in through the office’s front door, and… nothing. People who I know witnessed my actions simply smile and nod: everything seems to be fine, bar for an awkward moment of locked eyes and unspoken tension with Ben in the line to the office’s tiny kitchenette. Then, as I reach to make a coffee, I hear:
“I mean, I don’t really care what you do, but doing it right in front of everyone and flaunting it like that? Nah, that’s fucking gross.”
I’m caught in my inaction, hurt and strangely confused that my suspicions as to the nature of my colleagues had been correct (and not unsure that I don’t agree with them in my hung over state of self-loathing.)
I want so badly to say something, but I don’t. I can’t.
A week later and Ben’s left the office after a record eight days in the centre’s employ. I’m unsure whether it’s me or the coworkers who sent him packing.
Maybe it comes with age – definitely it comes with confidence – but I don’t much care to present as “straight”, anymore. I’m not straight, and honestly, getting pumped for small talk about the latest sports team or my non-existent girlfriend would be quietly terrible (and loudly boring).
I’m queer, and it’s a badge I wear with pride.
And if this means “flaunting it” and making someone uncomfortable? So be it.