IllustrationI didn’t Come Out until I was 33. I was married with 3 children and living the normative dream.

The perfect husband, perfect children and perfect little life. But I was unhappy and I didn’t know why. I had always had huge problems with intimacy in my marriage, and in my life in general, and I never really felt settled. It was like something was missing. I always knew something wasn’t right.

It wasn’t until I decided to look into my issues around intimacy that something stirred in me that had been long buried, and I realised I harboured a deep same-sex attraction that I had been denying all my life. So how did I not see it? How did I get 16yrs into a heterosexual relationship, with the house and the car and the three kids without realising what was so fundamentally wrong with the picture?

I have been reflecting on that a lot lately, and I have decided that the answer is twofold.

The first part is easiest to explain. I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to be “normal”, I wanted to be just like everybody else. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I have always been an overachiever and a crowd-pleaser. For someone with what is commonly termed a “type A personality”, being gay is a real challenge, especially when you have grown up in the Catholic church and been surrounded by images of hetero-normative behaviours your whole life.

This brings me to the second reason. Why did I see “straight” as better than being “gay”? Why did I, on a subconscious level, feel that I had to conform to a heterosexual life in order to be perfect, good and worthy? This is a difficult question to answer.

I grew up in a relatively progressive family. My parents are not anti-gay and neither is my family. There were some difficult issues around the marriage break-up that made my coming out difficult on our relationships, but for the most part, they have been nothing but supportive. I think the answer lies deeper than this still.

It lies in the normative values and models of what life should be that are subtle yet constant in our lives. I never realised and never thought about it until I came out. But it’s there, it’s always there. Living in the small mountains town that I do, and growing up in the Hawkesbury I can tell you that I have never seen any public displays of affection between any same-sex couples. I hadn’t seen that until I started hanging around in the inner-west and inner-city enclaves where these things are the norm.

In the media we never, ever see same-sex couples portrayed on anything.

We don’t see them in ads for groceries, in ads for washing powder, in ads for cereals, in ads for medical centres or in print media. We only see the typical white mum and dad and kids.

But that’s not all, not only are we not seeing images of same-sex couples in print media and television, not only are we not seeing same-sex couples actively out and together in our communities, but we are showing, through our very language and frame of reference, that gay is not ok. Take, for example, growing up the way I did.

People would ask me “Do you have a boyfriend?”, “Which boys do you like?”. I would have a boy who was a friend and people would say “Ooooh is he your boyfriend?”, and so on. That is common. So common that I see these things being asked of my kids. Our very language and frame of reference are hetero-normative. Barbie always marries Ken.

Woody didn’t fall in love with Buzz, he fell in love with Little Bo Peep. It’s all invasive and inescapable. As a typical ‘type A’ personality, I latched on to these examples of what a good and proper adult was supposed to look like, what a good, Catholic girl was supposed to do with her life. I latched onto it and I emulated it. I married young. I had babies. I had them baptised. I prayed and prayed for my marriage to work.

I buried myself beneath layers and layers of ‘looking normal’. I buried myself so deeply that I didn’t even realise I was gay. I just knew I’d always been miserable. I tried so hard to make that perfect model work. So hard. But in the end, it didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not blaming society or the church or any of those things for the fact that I didn’t realise my gayness until late in life, or for the fact that my life and my ex-husband’s life has been horribly damaged. I accept full responsibility for my actions. I should have realised sooner. I should never have married. I should never have tried to have what I perceived as “the perfect life”. I am merely pointing out the reasons why this happened. This is not about blame. It’s about understanding.

Well, so now what?

Well, I guess what I am saying is there are things we can do to prevent this from happening. There are things that I can do, and things that I will do. I will go with my girlfriend to the local shops and main street. I will hold her hand. I will kiss her in public. I will be out and proud. You never know who is watching and had I seen such displays when I was younger my life may well have taken a different path.

I will not gendarise my children’s life choices. I will not ask my daughter if she has a boyfriend, or my sons if they have a girlfriend. I will not assume romantic attachment when they form friendships with people of the opposite sex. I will lead by example and show that love is love and that just because someone can’t live the typical “good Catholic life” does not mean that they have to throw away their faith, and does not mean that they are a bad person.

And this is where things like marriage equality become important (and please can we say “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage”? It is like saying I ate “gay breakfast”, nope, I just ate breakfast, it’s for everyone, as marriage should be). Laws that prohibit or deny people in same-sex relationships the same rights and privileges as people in heterosexual relationships send a message of otherness. They say to the population at large that gay relationships are not as good or not as worthy as straight ones.

That person should not be in those types of relationships. They should be heterosexual, as all the good and righteous people are. To say it’s just about marriage, just about a piece of paper, is to ignore the wider issue. Our society is hetero-normative. People like me hear and see and internalise those messages. We end up trying to fit the mould, and failing.

Being in a place where you don’t belong, and feeling like your very existence challenges the norm is a very hard thing to live through.

I contemplated suicide before I came out. I had a plan and everything. I woke up on the morning I had planned to do it. My youngest son was having a bad day. He is developmentally delayed. I looked at him and knew that if I wasn’t here to get him through his difficulties then life would be that much harder for him. I held him close. I cried great big tears until I couldn’t breathe anymore. And then I decided to come out.

I want to say to you, all my readers, that if you see gay couples out in the world smile, be supportive, it’s not as easy as you think. When a gay couple is holding hands or kissing in public it shouldn’t be a political statement or in any way subversive. It is just affection and an expression of love, just as it is when straight couples do those things.

Who knows, your children might be gay, your nieces and nephews might be gay, your next-door neighbours might be gay. Watch what you say to them. We need to break the hetero-normative culture we have. It’s subtle, but it’s there and it’s pervasive. If we don’t see it and call it out then more and more people will wind up where I did. And not everyone will have the love of a child to pull them through.