John | 28 | London, England | TV Presenter
Coming Out In A Place Called Wingham
"Most people who are gay say they always knew they were, or at least that they knew they were different from their friends, siblings, school mates. I was no exception."
I grew up in Wingham, a small rural town on the east coast of Australia with a population of around 4000. Roughly half of which were in employment at the local abattoirs. This was known to the locals as the Wingham University because, rather depressingly, such a huge percentage of the graduates from the local high school went on to work there. It was a very masculine, misogynistic, typical Aussie bloke kind of environment, full of men and women who loved nothing more than drinking rum at the one pub in town. The highlight of the social calendar is the quarterly rodeo that happened at the local show ground.
Although I felt I didn't fit into this world, I did have a very loving and happy childhood. My family were caring and supportive and although money was always tight my parents strived to make sure my sister and I never did without. I loved them very much, and they loved me. My sister was, and still is my best friend, and I was a very happy child. Unlike a lot of people I enjoyed school, and even though I was never into the rural, overtly masculine interests of my classmates, I was quite popular and never really bullied.
I was Vice Captain (Deputy Head Boy) and got good grades. I managed to navigate my way through the stormy seas of high school without a hitch. In that respect I was very lucky. The one aspect of my upbringing that would later prove to be a major hurdle regarding my sexuality was religion. My parents were born again Christians and when I say christian, I mean really really christian. We attended church every Sunday morning and evening, my mum lead worship and played the guitar in each service. We had bible study every Tuesday night and my parents ran the local church youth group. Every second Friday and Saturday night they would take to the streets of local towns to minister to the homeless, we went on church camps with other diocese and were surrounded by like minded christian people my entire childhood. Like I said, really REALLY Christian.
"I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was wrong. It was an abomination in the eyes of god, the church and my parents. This opinion was law. It was not up for discussion, there was no escaping it."
I was told that homosexuality was a mortal sin and was punishable by being sent to hell. Homosexuals were evil, perverted and, (according to a few members of the church that I ever braved the discussion of this subject with) were most probably peadophiles.
As with most children, you do not question what you are being taught to believe. To me, everyone was having the same upbringing. I knew that there were lots of people who weren't christian but my friends, my parents friends and everyone we tended to socialise with, generally were christian. Don't get me wrong, my parents did not look down on non-christians in a malicious or judgmental way for not being 'Saved'. Our house was warm and loving to anyone who entered, christian or not. My mum and dad would be more then happy to, and did on countless occasions, help people who needed it. They were on a mission to convert others and tried to do it with love. Their problem, in my opinion, was that they had been brainwashed to believe that the language of the bible was law.
Like I stated at the start of this story, I always knew I was different in some way. But it wasn't until puberty started at around the age of 12 that I began to realise what it was. All my friends would be talking about girls in the changing rooms at school, and I was more interested in the boys telling the stories. I tried to force these thoughts from my mind, and pretended that I was just as into girls as any of them. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't banish these thoughts. I was panicking on the inside, believing that maybe god was just testing me and if I tried hard enough I could be straight. I honestly believed I could choose the life of a straight man. I remember reading stories of men who were gay but had found god and then suddenly they were straight and happily married with children and thought that I could achieve this to. I now realise, this is just a propaganda tool that some sections of the church use to their own advantage in order to indoctrinate men and women who are struggling with their sexuality.
"This internal struggle continued for a couple of years, until the age of 14 when my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At that moment, I began to question everything I had ever been taught. How could a god that supposedly loved us all, his willing and loyal servants, not only make me gay, but also take my mother at the time when a teenager needs their parents more then ever."
For two years my mother fought hard, until in 2001, sadly she passed away. These years were very difficult. Most teenagers don't have to deal with questions about their own sexuality, let alone dealing with them whilst trying to help care for a dying parent. Once she had gone. I started doing my own research into the church and everything I had ever been raised to believe. I essentially had the door of life outside the church opened to me, and couldn't believe what I discovered. I continued to have sex with girls, but also started experimenting with boys. I knew, deep down that I was gay but I was not ready to face it.
A few years later I graduated high school and moved away from Wingham and started at university. What an eye opener that was. I started meeting people in the LGBT community and began to realise there was a lot of us. I was not alone, and it was fabulous! People at university just accepted me for me and no one even cared that I was gay. I made new friends who supported and loved me through the drunken revelations and discussions about my sexuality. Before long, these drunken conversations, became sober ones. I had never felt better, or happier with who I was. During this time, I was still very much grieving for my mother and if it wasn't for the support of some of these people, I don't know if I would have managed to get through it.
It was at university that I met my first boyfriend. After dating him for just over a year, I spoke to my sister and decided that it was time to tell my dad that I was gay. This was a huge decision that I had struggled with for a long time as I knew what my dad's beliefs were. I was absolutely terrified as to what his response would be, because deep down I knew how he would respond. On top of that, my dad had taken my mothers death very badly and I felt another level of guilt as to what I was about to put him through. However at 20 years of age, with a serious boyfriend and the fact that pretty much everyone else knew, I thought it was something I had to do.
I will never forget the conversation. As I was attending university over 11 hours away, I had no choice but to do it over the phone. I called, then hung up, then I called again, and hung up again. This happened a couple more times, before I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror, gave myself a pep talk, and made the decision to commit to telling him. So, there on the phone, with my heart pounding in my chest, my mouth dry as the Sahara from nerves, I said those words that you can just never take back...."Dad, Im Gay".
The reaction was exactly as I predicted, not good. My dad told me he was disgusted and he would never accept this, that It goes against the word of god, that my mum would be horrified and he would not have "that boy" I was seeing in our house. It was two weeks before my 21st birthday, he cancelled the party that he had organised for me and told me not to tell any of our relatives as he was embarrassed to have a gay son. Apart from everything that happened with my mum, this was the worst thing that had ever happened in my life. I had just been rejected by my last remaining parent. I was devastated.
Our relationship struggled for years. We barely spoke and didn't really have much to do with each other. My dad just could not get past the fact that homosexuality was against the word of god. I was, according to the minister of his church and the bible, going to hell. I was hurt from the experience, but I knew I had done the right thing. I could not continue living a lie if I wanted any chance of a happy life. My sister, cousins, uncles, aunties and friends all stood by me and showed their support. I began to realise that I was the one in the right and my dad, was unfortunately, too brainwashed by the church to understand that this was not a choice and that you are born gay.
At the age of 22, in 2007, I moved to the other side of the world to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. I started my life in London and met my current partner. For the first 3 years in the UK my dad and I spoke about twice a year. It wasn't until I took my partner back to Australia in 2010 that things started to change. We essentially forced a meeting on my dad.
"It was initially awful but by the end of the trip my dad started to see that our relationship was just like a straight couple. We loved, laughed and wound each other up just like everyone else."
We had been together for a few years at that point and I think the trip was an education for him. He started to relax and slowly but surely over the next few years managed to come around to the idea of us as a couple and me as a gay man. Our relationship is now completely back on track. In fact, its better then it has ever been. To the point were my dad has removed himself almost entirely from the dangerous brainwashing that comes with organised religion and is a big supporter of gay rights. Which I never ever believed would happen.
As someone who works in the entertainment industry, I am aware of certain pressures to keep sexuality under wraps. I understand why some people choose to go down this road. For me however, it was never an option. I fought hard and made sacrifices to come out and live life being true to myself. I have never hidden it in interviews, on set, with clients, photographers, directors and producers. With so many people working in entertainment being considered role models to young people, I think we have a moral duty to reach the young LGBT community and let them know that there is nothing wrong with being gay, bi or trans. I am always open if ever I am asked about my sexuality and I feel this is very important. I believe the more of us that stand together and are open in this industry the more we will neutralise these out-dated prejudices and work towards positive change.
All I would say to anyone who reads this, is that there is always hope. If my dad can be educated, anyone can. If your family wont accept you for who you really are, there are plenty of friends out there to be made that will love and support you no matter what. If you are considering coming out, no matter what, I would say DO IT!! It was the best decision I have ever made and you will never look back. There are thousands of us that love you for who you are and we haven't even met you. WE LOVE YOU!! You are beautiful just the way you are and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. My only regret is not having the chance to tell my mum that I am gay. I like to think that she would have been proud and also that maybe on some level she knew. So don't wait, because you never know if you will miss the chance to tell someone. Being honest about yourself is something to be proud of.
Follow John on Twitter - @JohnMason85