Posted on July 30 2019
Wear It Purple Day for 2019 is just around the corner, so when I saw that Rainbow Roo were looking for contributors, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to flex my rusty writing muscles and share some of my experiences.
Trigger Warning: I will be discussing homophobia, violence and suicidal topics in this piece.
I was born in a small country town up in the sweaty Northern Territory. I was a third generation local so I couldn’t say or do anything without my parents and grandparents finding out. It was a town that was typical of rural Australia in the 80s and 90s. Racism, sexism and obviously homophobia were par for the course.
I was always the different child, that is always a target on your back from a very early age. I was the only boy who didn’t enjoy hunting and fishing, I didn’t want to join the football or baseball team and I had no intention of trying to “hook up” with the popular girls at school. When I was roughly ten or eleven years old one of the bullies in my class waited until the teacher had left the room then he walked up to me and said in a very clear voice “You’re gay aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. Without stopping to think about the question, my answers or the repercussions I said “Yes.” The room erupted into laughter and people started yelling “Poofter”. I panicked and said that I didn’t hear his question clearly and quickly denied it all. Deny. Deny. Deny. That became my motto.
I was already bullied on a regular basis so not a lot changed there, just a few new words to the vocabulary. Thankfully the bullies never became physical because they were scared of my older brothers who were captains of their football teams and all-round local sporting heroes. It was a very thin and flimsy shield. I became very depressed and withdrawn and I spent a lot of time thinking about suicide. I cannot remember where or when I came to the conclusion, but I decided that they all wanted me to do it. They wanted me to complete suicide and just go away. This made me so angry that they could be so cruel so I decided that of that was the case then they would have to do it themselves. As long as I stayed alive, I won, and they lost. So began my years of surviving purely out of spite.
Fast-forward several years, I was in High School, the bullies had found new targets and life was relatively simple. Nobody remembered me or my slip up, but I still carried my huge secret. I became hyper aware, I spent all my energy listening to nearby conversations because if the talk turned to sex, sexuality or, heaven-forbid, the G word I would make myself mysteriously absent so the question could never be asked again.
By now I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and this is when I met my guardian angel. His name was Paddy and he was a Gay. It was the talk of the town. He was a few years older than I was, where my bullies had found new targets his bullies had been pushing him non-stop, and he finally broke. He decided to rebel where I had decided to make myself invisible. He had spent his years in survival mode, and he had had enough. If he was going to be bullied, ridiculed and harassed for being gay then he was going to do it in style. Paddy was the only openly gay man in our town. In hindsight I’m sure there were others, but I never knew them, and they never made themselves known. He became a beacon for everybody. He refused to fade into obscurity or become just another face in the crowd. He was out as only a young gay man who has had enough could be in the 90’s. Fluorescent hair, fishnet singlets, knee-high boots and leather pants. No matter how uncomfortable or hot it was, the more it pissed off the rednecks, the more he did it.
Many times, he would appear with a black eye and bruises and once a badly injured jaw that required several rounds of surgery to repair, but very slowly and grudgingly he earned their respect. He single-handedly forced a redneck town to accept that gays were here and here to stay. It took years, but he made it happen. He became a mentor and older brother figure to dozens of younger gay men (and a few older married men) He taught us about homosexuality and not to feat it. Many nights he would get a furtive knock on the door from a young baby gay needing someone to dry their tears and to tell them it was all going to be okay. He taught us how to be comfortable in our own skin by being purely and unapologetically himself.
So, this brings me to the conclusion and what does Wear it Purple Day mean to me?
It means being proud and visible no matter how stormy your path may get. So, go forth, wear purple, be visible and live. Live freely and always unapologetically. Because there is always the next generation watching and hoping they can be brave enough to follow in your footsteps.
Written by Max Duncan
Max was born and raised in remote NT in the 80s. He is passionate about mental health support and suicide prevention. He is also a regular volunteer and contributor to NGOs wherever possible.