By SAMUEL LEIGHTON-DORE
When I was four years old my parents brought home my first ever pet, a chubby grey rabbit, to soften the blow of my anxiously anticipated first year of Primary School. When asked what name I’d chosen for my new furry friend, I innocently – but surely – replied with “Dick”.
While other parents may have scolded me for using a naughty word or perhaps encouraged a more suitable name, such as Johnston, mum simply patted me on the back welcomed Dick into our little family.
Over the following months I became consumed by the desire to be either a princess (preferably a mermaid princess) or a musical co-star of Julie Andrews. While the boys next-door were playing with toy guns and soccer balls, I was joyously belting along to A Spoonful Of Sugar while donning red lipstick and my own clip-on earrings sourced from Vinnies.
Imagine my delight then, when one Christmas morning, mum gifted me a hand-sewed and delightfully waterproof orange mermaid tail. I was a mermaid, and everyone knew it. I’d wear it in the bathtub, I’d wear it at the dinner table and not once did my parents show a single sign of embarrassment or disapproval- not even when I insisted on awkwardly hopping through the crowded supermarket parking lot in a gym bra. Instead of suppressing the countless signs of feminine flamboyancy, they nurtured me and gave me the complete freedom of expression.
Today, as a comfortable gay man in my early-twenties, I look back on my childhood and realise how lucky I was to have such open-minded and forward thinking parents. In doing so, however, I believe I’ve reached a new understanding as to why I was bullied so terribly throughout my first years of schooling and wonder whether I was ultimately helped or hindered by my parent’s uncompromising support.
I knew I liked boys the second I stepped through those daunting suburban school gates back in 1996.
Though my attraction to boys wasn’t in any means sexual, it was certainly different to the way I looked at my handful of female friends. However, with no reason to believe otherwise, I disregarded the feelings as normal and stumbled forward clueless to the pending torment.
It wasn’t until I copped my first sly and hatefully spat “Gaylord!” in the corridor that I suspected something was wrong. I’m not sure where young kids get their warped ideas of homosexuality but, in the early years of Primary School, it almost certainly stems from bigoted conversations between drunk relatives or passing comments around the household.
Regardless of their sources, these kids figured me a faggot- and an easy target. I was an easy target because I didn’t understand the problem, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t appropriate to wear a sparkling silver necklace over my uniform, I didn’t understand why it was unusual to wear my shoulder-length hair in a ponytail.
I didn’t understand because my parents had always made me feel so normal, which, at school, I clearly wasn’t.
The following seven years passed like a tediously slow and painful Evanescent ballad, full of both self-loathing and self-dicovery. Ironically it wasn’t until I came out of the closet age sixteen that I was truly accepted by my schooling peers and embraced as a creative member of the community. I received four congratulatory cards in the mail from extended family and, though they surely suspected all along, my parents continued to treat me the same as they always had – with love and support.
While my childhood was certainly plagued by bullying, I suspect I was merely a transitional pawn in discovering that the ultimate key to abolishing homophobia for good is an early education on sexuality and intrinsic displays of acceptance around home.
If all children were to be raised without the pressure to compete in sports, the expectation to have certain hobbies or the hard-faced presence of an expectant father, imagine the open-mindedness and creativity of our future generations to come. Thanks to Mum, Dad and Dick for instilling the confidence in me from the very beginning to express every colorful version of myself confidently, for better or for worse. I’m glad people are catching up.
Samuel Leighton-Dore is a Sydney-based Director and Writer. You can follow him on Twitter here.