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OPINION: Gay, for lack of a better word, is good

PUBLISHED: 12:04 07 August 2017

Liam Heitman-Rice. Picture: Supplied by Liam Heitman-Rice

Liam Heitman-Rice. Picture: Supplied by Liam Heitman-Rice

Supplied by Liam Heitman-Rice via Trevor Heaton

It is a secret to no-one that I am gay. I do not hide in closets, I am not quiet, and I do not convenience anyone's expectations.

I am, however, still young and do not quite know who I am, and I do not expect I ever shall really know until I die, when I stop changing. But there is one immovable facet of my character that I am assured of, my sexuality. In perhaps this one aspect of myself, I am sure of who I am.

There is nothing wrong with being gay. It is not wrong to be attracted to the same sex. That being gay is good is an unspoken truth because it does not need to be said. Or so I thought.

I recently saw the BBC documentary Growing Up Gay, presented by Olly Alexander, who is himself gay. Due to an ongoing history of depression and anxiety, he drew a correlation between mental ill-health and the LGBT community, and as I watched this documentary I saw it had a resolute agenda. All of the interview subjects had very negative experiences of being gay, from eating disorders to drugs to abandonment… overwhelmingly, I read the message that being gay was the catalyst of misery and exclusion.

I felt furious watching this. It was maddeningly regressive, challenging my strongly held belief that today’s society welcomes homosexuality, a belief that is underlined by first-hand experience. Yet this documentary repeatedly and one-sidedly demonstrated a link between being gay and depression, channelling toward the LGBT community a concentrated volume of the stigma I believed had become widely diluted in this decade. I felt wholly misrepresented, so that is why I am compelled to tell you, truly, that to be gay is good. At a time when men like Donald Trump reign, terrible influencers of great power who are able to exercise that power by banning transgender people from the military, we need to be reminded that the LGBT community is not a force to be feared and despised.

In response, I spoke to some of my fellow UEA students to ask for their experiences of being gay. Amelia Court, 19, says “I am both a member of the LGBT community and have some issues with mental health, and therefore it would be easy to assume that not having the ‘normal’ sexuality is the cause of anxiety and depression.” However she challenges this widely held conception, saying that “discovering my sexuality became more of a reassurance than a trigger.” During the “torturous bullying” at school initiated by her coming-out, Amelia regarded her sexuality as “something I could be sure of in myself, a sort of comfort blanket,” adding she “never blamed my sexuality for the following dip in mental health.” I share her sentiments when she says “it was still a reassuring reminder that I knew who I was despite my anxiety telling me nothing was in my control.”

Sexual identity is especially resistant to being pigeonholed and, indeed, one needn’t conform devoutly to any particular area of the LGBT umbrella. A friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous advocates this stance, reluctantly recognising himself as “bisexual, though it’s not a word I particularly like... I do not identify as part of the LGBT community,” he says. “It seems to be that this broad term is not a set of descriptions so much as a coalition of political identities – and I’ve always found it somewhat distasteful that, for someone like me, there is a pre-made political suit which I should seamlessly slip into and proudly wear despite no prior association with its various tailors.” One cause of his resistance to the collective LGBT identity is his concession that, as a bisexual man, “I have very little in common with the transgender experience and the experiences of bisexual women, and as much in common with one who is gay as I do one who is straight.”

While I proudly weave my sexuality into my personality, he conversely highlights that “my sexuality is a very minor part of my character and I seldom if ever use it as part of a self-description. It is irrelevant on an identity level for me.” One’s sexuality does not define who they are, certainly; it is a case of how deeply it is threaded into themselves. He adds, “I have a dull and perhaps even reductive view that, differences between one who likes their own sex, the opposite sex or both, is the difference between blue, green and brown eyes.”

This unwillingness to conform to one underlining identity is similarly exercised by Arianna Whitaker, 20. While describing herself as “fluid” in regard to her desires and preferences, she identifies specifically as pansexual: “For me gender doesn’t necessarily affect my feelings for people but I do find myself attracted to specific generally gendered traits. I can be hugely attracted to femininity or masculinity whether that appears within that gender or not.” Similarly, Arianna’s relationship to her own gender is a shifting one. “I feel female most of the time,” she says, “but there are days when that doesn’t suit me, but neither does masculinity.”

Identity is a shifting and fluid entity, but I consider mine to be my validation. My voice and my perspective represent the Other – I am gay and I am Australian – and they are valuable. It is my responsibility as a writer to record that which is seen from the outside: you are reading this now because I want you to look through a different window. You can see what is different. And what a great thing that is.

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