Growing up in regional WA in the nineties wasn’t exactly filled with positive queer representation and community. In hindsight, the idea of connecting with other queer people was completely foreign to me. In fact, for a long time I didn’t even know what ‘queer’ meant beyond a slur, I just knew it was something I didn’t want to be.
While I grappled with my own sexuality and gender identity through my adolescent years, all I knew were whispers, hearsay and outright discrimination of people who were ‘different’, regardless of whether they were actually LGBTIQ+ or not. There was a boy in my primary school who was labelled effeminate and precious by the soccer parents who watched from the sidelines at games. He didn’t play for long, and his exit from the world of sports went largely unnoticed. It’s only in hindsight that I see how problematic the parents’ behaviour was. At the time I was just chuffed to be getting more time on the field. When I was 11, my peers started flippantly calling each other ‘fags’ and ‘homos’ as a form of offence. Early on in high school, well into the noughties, the insult ‘that’s so gay’ started to rise in popularity, myself not excluded from using this ignorant phrase. And then, later in high school, there was a girl who looked like a boy who people sometimes called ‘it’. It’s easy to see then why I felt extremely unsafe in expressing who I was, or even exploring it in the slightest, yet I still longed to connect to others like me.
The internet was not readily available when I was growing up (oh the joy of internet dial up), and I didn’t have my own computer until I was 18, so my desire for connection turned to the hidden pages of fiction. The town library was somewhere I felt safe. I liked the quiet that filled the aisles and the privacy of the shelves, and still do to this day. My parents would take me to the library often, mostly because it was free, and I would spend hours browsing shelf after shelf. Sometimes my parents would even drop me there while they went off to run errands after school or on a weekend. I could usually be found immersed in a book in the young-adult section. This was partly because I loved the storylines and endeavored to read them all at some point. But secretly, it was also so I could try and find some semblance of anything queer, to make my queer little heart feel at ease. The mere thought of typing the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ into the library’s computer search was utterly terrifying, and the idea of outright asking the librarian for any recommendations … the mere thought makes me shudder, even now. And so, through the shelves I trolled.
I still remember the excitement I felt when I found my first queer book, Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez. The book series follows three school-aged guys, as they navigate exploring sexuality, gay crushes, gay relationships (otherwise known as relationships!), coming out, and HIV—all things I had been largely sheltered from until this point. I would have been about 12. When I saw the book’s spine on the shelf, I didn’t want to get too excited by the title, though my heart did skip a beat. While the rainbow largely represents the LGBTIQ+ community, rainbows can also be representative of many other things … I pulled the book from the shelf, held my breath, and turned my head to look behind me, left and right, as casually as I possibly could to make sure no one was watching. I looked at the photo of the three guys on the front, to my eyes nothing overwhelmingly … ‘different’. I turned it over and started to read. My hand clenched the book tighter as I realised it was exactly the kind of book I’d been looking for, for such a long time. Though it didn’t exactly resemble how I saw myself, and my experiences specifically, it still had a flashing neon sign above it saying, ‘these are your people’. I pretended to look at the other books in my hand, as if contemplating which to pick, then quickly slipped it into the pile. I didn’t want people to see the cover, in case they recognised it, and I didn’t want people to see the back, in case they read the blurb and exposed me, and so in the middle it sat. I held the pile of books, with the spines pressed against me, to hide the title, and went on my way. This book, and the two in the series that followed, were all I had for a long time after that. I think it’s safe to say that I borrowed those books many times over. I like to imagine that there are queer librarians everywhere around the world bringing these kinds of books into libraries for the kids who need them most. For isolated kids like me. A belated thank you to whoever this was at my local library, you gave me something to hold onto.
It’s experiences like this, and many others of its kind during my childhood and adolescence, that get me thinking of how different my experiences might have played out had I grown up now in 2019. I’ll be honest, I’m a little jealous of how much younger queer people generally are when they come out today, albeit a privilege a lot of young people still don’t have because of safety. Though, what’s done is done, and the past is past, I still dabble in daydreaming about it.
My reality was: The internet, at least as we know it today, was still very much in development. I was sixteen the first time someone came out to me and I officially knew someone who was gay. It was 2007, texts cost 25 cents each so were sent sparingly, and we were talking in codes and metaphors to hide from the reality of the content of our conversation. From that day on I stopped using the word gay as a synonym for bad, because I knew it would hurt someone I love. It would be a further three years before I came out to that friend, and subsequently realised that most of our friendship group was queer, all step-toeing around each other; individual silos.
What I imagine growing up now would be like, is this: I’m 17. The internet, in all its glory, is a place where people can connect to others from all over the world. I watch YouTube videos of Miles Mckenna inspiring people everywhere by being unapologetically trans and queer. I’m reading Ash Hardell’s book The ABCs of LGBT and learning about the intricacies of language and identity. I’m hearing stories from brotherboys and sistergirls all over the nation and watching the first trans character appear on mainstream Australian TV, played by a trans actor. I’m watching YouTube videos of Hannah Hart just being herself and talking about her day-to-day adventures with her girlfriend. I am following hashtags such as #transisbeautiful and #loveislove on Instagram and attending rallies to advocate for LGBTIQ+ people’s right to not be discriminated against based on religious beliefs. I’ve just paid for my plane tickets to go to Melbourne to watch a range of diverse stories at Melbourne Queer Film Festival. I’m driving down the coast on my P plates singing at the top of my lungs to Troye Sivan. I’m wearing a binder, telling my queer friends in Perth and around the world that I’m queer and non-binary and pursuing medical transition. Though I didn’t get to do all of these things at 17, they are all the things that I do now, at 28, and I’ve never been happier.
You see, queer representation doesn’t just exist on a lone dusty shelf in a local town library anymore. Queer community doesn’t just exist within a 50km radius of where you live; it’s quite literally all around us. We’ve gone from purely local, to completely global. Even though the internet can be very distracting and invasive at times, it has allowed us to connect to others in ways we were unable to before. When others have questions about coming out, queer dating or gender transition, we help each other and provide answers and insight based on our own lived experiences. When mainstream media fails, which it often does, we tell our own stories. The beauty of being so connected is that, while we shouldn’t and don’t have to, we can go out and be the representation we wish to see in the world. Being visible and sharing our story is a truly revolutionary act, in and of itself. In a world that tells us there is something wrong with us, that we are going to hell, we can simply be ourselves, speak our truth and prove them wrong. When someone who is scared, isolated and being forced into a mould that does not fit them, a single story can let them know that things will get better, and that there is a way forward. When people see happy and healthy LGBTIQ+ adults living as their true selves, it lets those people know that it is possible. I’ve had the most in-depth, personal and eye-opening conversations with people I’ve never met before from half way around the world. And to be honest, I’ll probably never meet most of them at all, and that’s okay. Regular human contact with others in person is important, but so is connecting with people who are like you. By connecting with people like me online, I built the strength I need to break free from the oppressive society in which I live; in which we all live. It’s not just about how we interact with others, but the basic act of interaction with other LGBTIQ+ people that is truly awe-inspiring. Why? Because it is starting waves of liberation around the world and saving lives; it certainly saved mine.
I’ve been back to where I grew up several times now since leaving at 18 (10 years ago). Each time I go there, I see that it is more inclusive than the last time. I am so happy that there is visible queer representation and community in the little town I used to call home. While I know ‘things are a lot better now than they used to be’, I know there’ll be many people in the town who still struggle with their identity, and there always will be so long as we live in a heteronormative and cisnormative society. That’s why I choose to share my experiences as a trans and non-binary queer person, and why I think a lot of people choose to share their experiences. It’s because everyone wants to feel connected to others in some way. Everyone wants to have common shared experiences, so they know they aren’t alone; so, they can feel at home. And at the end of the day, home is not about a physical space. It’s about belonging and acceptance, no matter where you grow up and live in the world—and everyone deserves to have that.
Stevie Lane is a queer filmmaker and writer, raised in Albany and based in Perth, WA. They have a Communications degree and are currently studying a Master of Commerce in Marketing. When not sharing their own experiences, or those of other LGBTIQ+ people, they work in the mental health sector educating others and raising awareness of LGBTIQ+ issues.
From Bent Street 3