My name's Rohan. I'm an Australian living in Scotland for a while. I just found Freedom2b a few days ago and I was so glad to hear that something like that already exists at home! It'll make coming home much easier, I'm sure.
At first I was a little reluctant to jump right in and post about my story because in some ways it's been fairly straightforward – I've never been involved with any ex-gay programmes or struggled with depression, for example – but in still other ways I'm trying to process everything and I'm not sure how articulate this is going to be. Still, it takes all sorts of stories, so I'll put down what I can and maybe I'll add to it later.
Where do I start? At the beginning of high school I was bullied a lot for being 'gay', even though at that time it had never occurred to me that being gay was even a possibility for me. I took that bullying hard at the time, and even though by the time year 11 and 12 rolled around I was again confident with high self-esteem (which is a story in-and-of itself, ask me about it if you like) I suppose looking back it really was a factor in how long it took me to come out to myself and understand what was going on inside myself. I've had people tell me I'm gay most of my life, and on some level I just didn't want them to be right because they were so condecending about it.
Maybe this sounds strange, but I think my story really starts in 2007 when I joined YouTube. At the time I was living in Darwin with some family friends of mine. They're pretty theologically conservative but at the time it was a comfortable environment for me to be in because any thought of same-sex attraction was still far from my mind. Engaging with the YouTube community was a revelation in many ways, I made friends with people radically different from me, which was great and helped me understand the world outside of my Christian 'bubble' much better. I also got a lot of comments from people either casually assuming I was gay or outright hitting on me, which at the time was extremely alarming. I made a video outlining that I wasn't gay and that even though this would be difficult for a lot of my new friends to hear, I thought being gay was wrong and I didn't support gay marriage. I got a lot of comments on that video and I deleted it after 24 hours because I didn't want it to get on the global most-discussed list (YouTube was much smaller back then!) I remember commenting back to people saying "I know it's easy for a straight person to say this, thanks for trying to understand – I'm trying to understand too."
My friends were hurt by it, but were incredibly gracious. They gave me the space to figure things out on my own without telling me who I was or ostracising me from their little community. I'm so very, very grateful they did that. It could have been disasterous, but instead YouTube became my first (somewhat public!) safe place. I still make videos there, if you're interested.
I made contact with all sorts of people on YouTube, not just LGBT people, but my gay friends (because they were almost all gay men) really kept me aware of the struggles they were going through and I thought about my theology of sexuality a lot. I found it really difficult to think that I could deny these friends of mine something I (thought I) had ready access to – marriage. My home denomination, the Uniting Church was going through this argument again too, so it was something I heard a lot about. I prayed about it and meditated on it for what turned out to be years. Eventually every time I drove in my car I would find myself musing about it, asking God about this or that, and even questioning my own sexuality. Did all those people who assumed about my sexuality have a point?
I knew I wasn't the most traditionally masculine guy, but at the same time I didn't think it mattered. In some ways I thought I was 'more useful' if I was able to transcend traditional ideas about what it meant to be straight, rather than admitting to the questioning I was going through. At the same time I became more and more convinced that I had to do something about the way LGBT people were being treated by the Church, so even while I still identified as straight and I wasn't even sure if I was 'Side A' or 'Side B' I began to make noises about LGBT equality.
I kept looking at different theological perspectives and eventually I listened to Tony and Peggy Campolo's lecture on the GCN website. It clinched it. I knew I was Side A but I didn't know if I was genuinely attracted to men or if I just had one or two weird blips on the radar. I had, after all, had many crushes on girls before, although I had never actually made a move to date any of them. Then one day I remember sitting at a set of traffic lights and thinking "I think I'm bisexual… is that too difficult to deal with? Yes." I knew my parents wouldn't be happy and I would likely lose my leadership position at my church if I was open about it, so I just pushed it aside. Weirdly, even though I'd had this exchange with myself I still thought of myself as straight. Still, I knew it was there and one day my friend Adam (who is gay) posted somebody's It Gets Better video to Twitter. It affected me so much I messaged him telling him about the bullying I went through in high school and that I was pretty sure I was bi. I was identifying as straight and bisexual at the same time, which is a level of cognitive dissonance I'm not sure I ever experienced before or I'll experience again.
By this time I had finished university and had spent nearly a year looking for work, with no luck. I decided to take matters into my own hands and go travelling overseas. I ended up volunteering for the Iona Community on Iona, a small island in Scotland, which is where I'm still living and working (in a paid position) now. The Iona Community was the first Christian organisation I'd ever dealt with that was openly affirming of same-sex relationships. I guess Iona is my second safe place, because I had the social and mental space to actually grapple with what was going on inside me. My friend Becki had a girlfriend at the time and we talked through it. Eventually I came to wholly identify as bisexual, party because another friend and co-worker of mine came out as trans while I was there. I realised that I'd never, ever questioned my gender identity and that's what straight people must feel like about their sexual orientation. But that wasn't my experience, I'd been questioning my orientation for a long time. As time goes on I'm still trying to figure out a lot of things. I've recently started to identify as gay rather than bi, but I wouldn't necessarily rule out a relationship with the right woman, and I don't know what that means in terms of staying true to my past experience. I guess it's complicated.
I'm conscious this is getting long, so I might stop there. I came out to my parents and my pastor pretty soon after I'd properly begun to come to terms with my sexuality myself, so unlike many of the stories I read, I never felt like I was in the closet, I was just puzzling through a very difficult problem for a long time. It's a shame I had to do it on my own for so long though. Perhaps if I'd had more support it wouldn't have taken until I was 23 for me to come out. In this way I feel like I did the whole thing backwards: being at peace with the idea of same-sex relationships before realising my own orientation. Judging my other people's stories, going about it that way saved me a lot of anguish, so for that I'm thankful.
Anyway, hello and thank you for existing. It'll be great to meet up with some of you when I go back to the Gold Coast next year, but for now I hope it's alright if an expat is part of your community here!