June 2018, St Ignatius College, Riverside, Sydney, Australia
I’ve been working towards this speech for four years. In those four years, I have come to understand who I am and how to not be sorry for being myself.
The first time I told someone I was gay I was 13. It took me 18 months after realising that I was gay to tell my parents. Coming out was a scary experience. Even though I knew my parents loved me there is always a fear that comes with telling those you love something important and I was afraid of changing myself in their eyes.
Life was easier living as the straight eldest son. I had spent so long behind the façade of a confident, heterosexual man that I wasn’t sure if I knew how to be me. I think a part of me wanted to hold onto who I’d always appeared to be … something safe. Announcing yourself to the world is pretty terrifying because… what if the world doesn’t like you?
I decided that it was finally time to tell someone the truth. It wasn’t easy, but I told my mum that I thought I might be gay. She said to me that she loved me and that nothing could change that. The next day my dad simply said: “I don’t mind” and that he’ll “always love me”.
That night I went to bed and knew that I’d done something big – I’d told those closest to me exactly who I was and now I got the chance to be myself. Last year I came out to my two younger brothers and I finally got the chance to exhale. I got to be more me than I had been in a really long time. I found that nothing really had changed with my family.
I was still the boy that my mum teases daily and that my dad relies upon for just about anything to do with technology. After years of not being true to myself and denying who I really was, I had overcome my fear. So, to my wonderful family. Thank you for loving me and accepting me as your son and for letting me be exactly who I am.
While my family handled the news of my sexual identity perfectly, outside of home, being gay has not always been easy. I have been the subject of countless rumours and unpleasant jokes. Telling friends was difficult and came with a lot of anxiety. My main fear was no longer being accepted, of losing my friends, and being the subject of derogatory jokes.
I didn’t know it was possible to be myself at school. I felt that if I was gay - or different - I could never be accepted. I quickly grew tired of hiding behind the mask I’d made for myself.
I struggled with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sometimes these were made worse due to what might seem like minor things going on in the classroom or playground. For example; we routinely use the word ‘gay’ as a synonym for something bad. Often this term isn’t being used in a homophobic manner but the impact these words can have on a young man coming to terms with his sexuality can be immeasurable. It was these, seemingly small, yet cumulative experiences that made me feel like I would never be accepted.
After a rough week, I talked to my parents and they suggested I see the school counselling team. Seeking support was the first and biggest step towards accepting who I was. Talking to someone when we need help is integral. We need to challenge the belief a lot of men have where we put off asking for help, hoping it will all just go away.
Once I started to accept who I was and realised that I couldn’t do it all alone, I found my life getting a lot brighter. I’ve become a lot happier at school, I’ve met new people and come to understand who my real friends are. All of this seemed impossible to the boy I was a mere 12 months ago.
I’ve been so fortunate over the years to have friends who love and accept me for who I am. My friends have stood by me when things got hard and would step up when I needed support. To the boys who see me having a boyfriend as normal as having a girlfriend, I’d like to say thank you for accepting me and allowing me to be me. Having friends who appreciate you for who you are is one of the most important parts of life. They make the good times even better and help us through the bad ones.
To our school, the teachers, my head of house, to our counsellors, Mr Lowe and Dr Hine, I would also like to say thanks. Thank you for accepting that we are all unique. And that there are many ways for us to be a member of our wolf pack. We are so privileged to be at a school that empowers and respects diversity.
Adolescence is a time for the discovery of oneself, uncovering who you truly are and with that comes the fear and uncertainty of real acceptance. But as I have learned, denying who you are takes away your ability to be accepted by others and to accept others in return. In my experience, denying who you are only limits our ability to be happy and to give happiness. A life living behind a mask is not one any person should have to live.
So, with that in mind, my message to you all is this:
Surround yourself with the people who let you live as your true self and never be afraid of asking for help. Find your own identity and be comfortable with who you are. Being different, whether it’s being gay or being part of another minority group, can be challenging but it does not have to be scary and isolating.
We, the students, have a unique and special opportunity to mould our community to be something great. One of support and encouragement, where we advocate for one another. Where we stand up and care for each other. This means that when it’s time for us to say to the world “this is me, this is who I truly am”, our friends will stand by us and accept us for who we are. Everyone here, sitting in this room is your brother. As your brothers, you might not like them all the time but you’d be damned if you left them to fend for themselves especially if they are struggling or feeling alone.
Be the friends that call out that unintentionally homophobic or racist joke. Stand up for your friend when you hear rumours about what they did on the weekend. Be the change you want to see and others will follow. I believe that this school can become something special. Maybe it will be somewhere safe where we can learn from each other and be who we are, welcoming people who are different than us. But we can only do this together.
I have come a long way from the scared Year 8 boy who would hide in his room in the dark. Since then, I have come to know who I am and what I stand for. Accepting and loving who you are is one of the greatest challenges you will ever encounter. Every person in this room is currently, or will at some point, experience this challenge. No amount of school or tests can teach us to love and accept ourselves and others. But every single one of you can help, in your own way, by accepting others for exactly who they are."