Not Worth Hiding, by Bec McLay

Content note: Suicidal ideation; self-harm

When I first decided to write a “coming out” piece, I was a little nervous about sharing my experiences with people I don’t even know. These feelings quickly dissipated as I thought to myself: Maybe your story could help young people that are in the same position; struggling with acceptance. Then I thought to myself, why is writing such a piece even necessary? Hasn’t the world come a long way in accepting the LGBTQI community? Unfortunately it hasn’t, and many young people still find themselves in a dark place; conflicted about their sexual preference and how others may judge them based on this. I too was one of those young people.

Fast forward 17 years. I am happily married to a beautiful, down-to-earth woman. I have a stable job as a Secondary Teacher, have travelled the world, have many fur babies and am surrounded by people who love and accept me for who I am. My path wasn’t always easy, but throughout my journey of self-discovery I learned that the only way to feel accepted by others was to truly love and respect myself.

In my high school years I was very sporty and quite popular with the boys. I attended an ‘all-girls’ high school in Melbourne’s north and did well academically. During my early high school years, my mum and dad divorced after 15 years of marriage. My younger sister, brother and I lived with mum and dad moved out.

From Year 9 to Year 12 I had many boyfriends, but never kept them for long as I got bored with them quite easily. My first sexual experience was when I was 17 with a friend of mine and it was very unfulfilling; I’m pretty sure it was for him too as we both are now gay (This is something we both found quite amusing when we’d run into each other over the years). In Year 12 I had my first kiss with a girl. It was at my school formal and I didn’t see it coming when one of my classmates started making out with me randomly. I didn’t find it unappealing but it still made me feel awkward knowing that it had happened. It was during this time that I started to become more aware of my curiosity towards girls; noticing attractive actresses on television and movies. I didn’t really think much of it and when school was finished I began to party a lot more and experiment more with different guys.

From 18-20 I slept with a fair amount of men and after each experience I felt really unsatisfied and anxious. I just thought it was a normal feeling and believed that I just hadn’t found the right “guy” yet. After school I attended University briefly but wasn’t sure of my career path as yet. I travelled to the USA and had more encounters kissing other girls and I found it to be a fun party type of thing to do so once again thought nothing more of it.

When I came home from my trip, I decided to take up a sport outside of school and really wanted to play AFL as it was my favourite sport growing up, however there weren’t many opportunities at the time for females to play football. I built up the courage to go down to a local club training session and loved every minute of it. At the time, there were roughly around 15-20 women’s teams but I got the sense that the popularity of the sport was building. After many training sessions, I began to get to know my teammates better and found out that many of them were in fact “lesbians”. I had not met an actual lesbian before so I was a little nervous being around them at first. I’m not sure why I felt this way. I can only put it down to being subjected to negative stigma regarding gay people whilst growing up. I found that the more I spent training and playing with the team, the more I felt relaxed in my environment. I was surprised to find that lesbians were in fact regular people (no way!) and I knew that I was naïve at first to think anything different. As time went on, I excelled in the sport and after 6 games of football I was selected to represent Victoria in the Women’s Football State Championships in Adelaide. I had made some fantastic friends at my new club and they had warned me that everyone in the Victorian State team would most definitely be lesbians so to be careful as they might hit on me. This scared me as I was unsure whether I wanted to be hit on or not.  Before I left for the Championships, my club had a fundraiser to help sponsor me to get to Adelaide and it was at this event that everything in my life would change forever.

One of my closest teammates was acting extremely weird throughout the night and I thought it best to go and ask what the matter was and she refused to tell me. I couldn’t understand what was wrong and as I left the bathroom after talking with her, some of my teammates corralled me and told me that it was obvious that she (we will call her Amy), had feelings for me. I was surprised by this, as Amy had a boyfriend and had been with him for 10 years. I confronted her with this information and she confessed that she did have feelings for me and it was there she kissed me. It was the first time I felt the butterflies that everyone talks about when kissing someone you really like. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. Shortly before I left for Adelaide for the week, I popped my lesbian cherry so to speak. It was the epiphany moment I had been looking with men that never came. It didn’t make me feel anxious or unsatisfied. It felt right. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was still wrong. I knew that I wanted to be with Amy but at the same time I wasn’t truly happy with displaying this information in public for all to see. I wasn’t ashamed of being with her but I was ashamed of myself for wanting to be with her. I hope this makes sense, because it made sense to me at the time.

I spent a year with Amy and it was the hardest time of my life. I felt the need to hide who I was from my family and friends, always introducing her as a good friend. Amy was also struggling with our relationship in her own way. I was 20 and she was 24 at the time. In this relationship I experienced feelings I had never come across before and I did not know how to handle them. I was physically and emotionally abused and although I don’t condone the abuse I suffered, I knew that it was Amy’s way of dealing with her own feelings. I was cheated on for the first time. I literally walked in on her with another man. I experienced the worst heartbreak I had ever felt and I hit my lowest point. I drank every weekend to block out the pain. I would deliberately inflict pain on myself, sometimes physically bashing items to my head in order to not have to think or feel anymore. I contemplated suicide. I hated myself. I had hit rock bottom. I hated who I was and who I had become. I wanted to be “normal”, and to me, normal meant heterosexual.

I found it very difficult to confide in anyone. Many of my teammates saw me as a crazy person; my family didn’t understand what I was going through and because I hadn’t told many people about my relationship, my friends were unaware of what was truly happening. I also found it hard to express how I was feeling because I honestly believed no-one could possibly understand what I was going through. How could they? My family found it difficult to deal with my emotions, not knowing how to best support me. They suggested I see a doctor. This didn’t help. I was prescribed medication but I knew my pain lay deeper than just the breakup of a relationship. I desperately wanted to be normal, and as I said earlier my idea of normal at the time was to be “straight” like everyone else.

I had three long-term relationships after Amy, two with girls and one with a boy. Yes, you read correctly, one with a boy. After two failed relationships with girls, where I was cheated on and left completely heartbroken, I decided that I could sacrifice the intimacy part of a relationship and be with a man. My relationship with (we shall call him Tom), lasted only 9 months. He was the most thoughtful, generous and lovely guy but I could not bring myself to sleep with him sober and after any sexual encounter I felt anxious and violated. I knew that this was not healthy and it was after this relationship that I finally decided to stop pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I was 25.

In those 5 years (from 20-25) I was living a lie. I was so worried that I was not fulfilling my mum’s expectations, my friends’ expectations, and my family’s expectations. I thought it was easier to deny who I was, deny my true feelings. The truth was, it was me who was putting all these expectations on myself. I was at fault. I was so caught up in blaming others and denying the truth when I needed to take accountability for it myself. These realisations took a lot of deep self-searching over the years. It’s not something that happened overnight. It’s easy to listen to family and friends telling you they love you for who you are, but like anything, it inevitably needs to come from you.

I “came out” first to my sister, who is 18 months younger than I am. She smiled and hugged me and said she loved me and nothing would change that. I felt such relief. Why was I so worried that I couldn’t say those words earlier? The answer was fear, particularly fear of judgement. Fear of judgement is an everyday part of the human condition, but times that by a million if you are different in any way. I was so scared that my being gay would mean that I had let my family and friends down. I felt so ashamed for so long. There are so many stories out there of families disowning their gay sons or daughters and I was petrified I would be one of them. Luckily for me, my family and friends were supportive. But even so, I had come to the point in my life where I had finally accepted myself and if I had no support from my family, I felt strong enough to be me regardless. This was the turning point in my life.

Accepting who you are whether you are gay, straight, transgender or even a Collingwood supporter is what matters the most. If I can pass on anything to young people struggling with this same issue, it would be to strive to accept and love yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You are amazing as you are. If someone doesn’t accept you, they are not worth being part of your life. It’s as simple as that. This may sound cliché, but I cannot even stress how profound this life-changing defining moment was for me. Musician Alex the Astronaut sums it up brilliantly in her hit coming out song “Not Worth Hiding”. She says that it’s ‘not worth hiding if you think you might be gay, or different in another way, you’re perfect just the same’. When I could accept myself and admit who I was, I felt like a weight had been removed from my shoulders. I began to love myself. I embraced who I was. During this time, I met my now wife Anna and I could not be happier. She had not been with a woman before so was overwhelmed at times with the changes in her life. I had experienced all of those things beforehand and because of what I had learned, I felt confident that I could help her accept and love herself for who she truly is. We have been together for almost 7 years now and have definitely had our ups and downs. But let me tell you, no matter what dark road you may encounter in the journey to self-discovery, know that it is just a learning experience and you will come out of it because you are who you are. Hoping others will accept you won’t make you feel any better until you learn to love and accept yourself. Hopefully “coming out” stories won’t even be a thing in the future, but for now, I hope mine may give you the strength you need to be who you are, and be proud of it.

If you are concerned for yourself or someone you know, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

I (Rebecca McLay) am an English, Literature and Humanities teacher and lover of all things furry. I enjoy spending time with my wife Anna and two Border Collies; Kevin and Doug, travelling overseas and all things Harry Potter.