The Silence of Shame

I was born in 1961, and as I grew into puberty and beyond, I’ve had my safety, dignity and voice taken from me.

Straight to hell with you boy

I lived my early years on a state housing estate. It was the proverbial other-side-of-the-tracks and it was rough.

I went to a private Catholic all boys school run by Christian Brothers. The edifice that was St Patrick’s loomed over the town from a high hill, like a stern and disapproving parent. The brothers, ever watchful for misdemeanours and transgressions. Always willing, almost eager, to punish.

I was an accidental student at this school. I didn’t fit in. My parents could never have afforded to send me there if it hadn’t been for my mother’s forced emigration from the United Kingdom. When she was six, she and her sister were exported to Australia. She was raised by nuns, got pregnant at nineteen and married my father.

Because of her connection with the Catholic church, my siblings and I were given a free Catholic education.

Living where we did, and going to St Patrick’s, was unheard of. It was a contradiction.

You think you’re better than us, don’t you?

I found myself out of place at the school, because of where I lived. And out of place where I lived, because of where I went to school. I had the opportunity of a private school education, without the opportunity that went with it.

With my poor person’s address, and rich boy’s school uniform, I became a target and an outcast. The time between when school finished, and I got home was a dangerous time for me, particularly if I had to wait to be picked up.

Day bogs were not liked by borders, so I would wait at the bottom of the hill where the town’s prison stood. I’d sit on the wall and happily talk with the inmates until mum arrived. It always seemed safer there.

Close the curtains boys and sit in front of my desk

At St Patrick’s that I learnt I was an aberration against god. I was 10, and this revelation came during the first sex education class the brothers ever held, forced into it, as they were, by the dictates of the curriculum.

While the other boys were beginning to flex their sexual voices, it would be this short lesson that shut mine down.

In hindsight it was a bumbling attempt at sex ed to say the least. But it both worried me, and piqued my interest.

I had three takeaways from this single short and embarrassing session.

1. If I showed my penis to men in toilet blocks for twenty cents I’d go to hell.

2. If I showed it three times, I would have enough money to buy a Coke yoyo.

3. Never, ever, talk about how I felt toward some of the other boys, or what I wanted to do with them. This was to become a survival habit of a lifetime.

Only girls play hockey

As a child I didn’t like playing sport. It meant I had to wear shorts, and when I wore shorts everyone could see the psoriasis on my legs.

Every Friday I’d arrive at school without my sports kit. The brothers would lock me in the school library for the afternoon as punishment.

But I couldn’t escape the requirement to play a sport. My mother bought me a secondhand hockey stick, shin pads and uniform, and enrolled me in the school hockey team.

It was about then I heard the word poofta for the first time. It was the late sixties and my dad didn’t like men with long hair, or boys that played hockey.

Are you a poofta?

In 1972, the year of the Munich Olympics, my father decided to move our family two hours inland to a tiny farming town.

Now the town we had left had its faults, but it was big. And being big it gave me some space to hide. I could ride my bike for miles, exploring where I could.

But this place was small. We moved in summer and it was witheringly hot, and an evening sea breeze was unheard of. I cried every day for two weeks.

Surely, I had been cast into hell. This was my damnation.

My first day at the high school presented me another horror. Girls. I’d never been to a co-ed school. I didn’t know what to do around them and I guess it showed.

Within the first week one of the girls asked if I wanted to finger her. Another said she’d break me in.

I squirmed in embarrassment, and my refusals could only mean one thing. I was a poofta. 

My school reports described me as a quiet and conscientious student. But I was a lonely, depressed and suicidal student.

By year 10, I was the top of my class, by the end of year 12, I was in the bottom 10 percent in the state.

Have a good long hard look at yourself

In hindsight, I realise I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of my life as a normal heterosexual male. A life where I would have girlfriends, fall in love, marry, settle down and have children. I mourned the loss of it all.

By the time I entered the workforce, even though I had denied myself to myself for so long, there was no doubt about it, I was gay and there was no chance my life would be a happy one.

Filthy AIDS cunt

After school I moved to the city but came back after only a couple of years. I don’t know why.

I started working at the local hospital as an Orderly in the early eighties.

I began slowly reconciling with myself and who I was. Maybe life would turn out alright me.

Then came AIDS, the gay disease.

At the time, it was reported as only affecting gays and no one knew how it was being spread. AIDS was a 100 percent death sentence. I went into silent meltdown. I was convinced I would die from it. I would literally wake up in the middle of the night shaking and sweating. When it was revealed that night sweats were a symptom of the disease, all I could do was wait for the inevitable.

I’m smiling at my naiveté as I write this. I can also feel in my gut the fear I felt whenever the tenpin bowling death ads aired on TV. How was I to know that you had to have had sex to get AIDS. Real sex. Not the fumbling and fondling I had experienced until then.

I would later lose my virginity to a man released from prison the day before.

One morning I woke to the news that a man dying from AIDS was flown from town by the RFDS. He would become the first person to die of AIDS in my state.

The hospital received a phone call later that morning asking if I had come to work that day?

What’s it like living with a poof?

I made some friends, but even with them I had not come out, and to their credit they never asked. I would later learn they simply assumed I was and got on with being friends.

Because of my secrecy I missed the chance at having someone to share my deepest feelings with.

It was during this time I met my closest male friend. We shared a house, traveled through Europe and played in a rock band together. He was straight, intelligent, politically aware and kind. We smoked a lot of dope as well.

Shortly after moving in with his girlfriend, I began a clandestine relationship with an older man that lasted several years.

He promised to leave his wife.

I don’t think this is going to work out

I went parachuting and had a serious accident. After recovering from my injuries, I found a job in the city as a Nursing Assistant and moved away. It was 1989.

I changed my name from Andrew to Andy, tried to have sex with a woman, and finally came out to my family.

I also started going to gay pubs and clubs and finally had friends I could talk to about anything. I would have three serious relationships before I found the one. I became stronger and more comfortable with who I was.

This is not a gay club. You and your boyfriend can fuck off.

Throughout my life I have been called many things, usually by strangers, sometimes by workmates, like the time ‘Andy is a poof’ was scratched on the cistern above the work urinal.

I often think how lucky I am to have only ever been beaten unconscious once, so far. An incident I didn’t report because I felt I had brought it on myself by dancing with my partner.

That one punch from behind reminded me that regardless of how things have changed, they’ve remained the same. I am still not safe and need to watch and judge my surroundings whenever I leave my house.

It is a rarity for me to go to clubs, pubs or bars.

Congratulations, I’m so happy for you.

Even now, with my legal status described as equal in every way to straight people, my equality does not equate to freedom.

Since the Australian vote on marriage equality I have spent many hours reflecting on how far Australia and I have come, and an equal amount of time ruminating over how far both of us haven’t.

Can I now marry? Yes, and I have. But can I walk hand-in-hand with my husband in public? Can I dance with him in a straight nightclub? No. I have no more freedom now than I’ve ever had. I am forever on guard, always watchful.

Freedom of voice is not only freedom to speak and write, it’s the freedom to express yourself in any way.

I have now discovered some of these freedoms, and I exercise them.

But ultimately, there are parts of me, like confidence and trust, that I keep caged deep. Afraid to let them loose to play.

And to keep them alive, but quiet, I drip-feed them the kernels of shame that sprouted when puberty struck, nearly fifty years ago, and I was told I was wrong.

© 2019

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