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.