Out

There is something sexy about disclosure. It breeds the kind of excitement that secrets can never quite match. The thrill of spilling to someone. Being in the open. Public.

Those that knew about it can finally say something. Those that thought they should have known can feel slightly outraged, before cracking a smile. Some people have no idea. The best thing however is surprising someone who was suspicious, but thought it was all too good to be true.

I feel the urge to write every time something special of mine goes public. Inspired, I guess, by the inevitable but sudden gushing of love and excitement spilling all over the place.

지하 Underground is returning for a third season – mark it in your calendar: Brisbane Powerhouse – February 2014. At two weeks long, it is a slightly shorter run than the last two times we have set up shop – but almost the same number of our friends can come and play with us, because this time we have a little more room to unpack. There aren’t many teams in Brisbane that have had the joy of coming together three years in a row, telling their stories to people that both love them and keep coming back for more. When I was home, I was asked almost every day when 지하 Underground was coming back. I have had an answer to that for the longest time, but needed to keep it a secret. Until now.

I am no stranger to secrets.

When wrestling with my sexuality, I ran the full course from curiosity to suppression, transitioned into long periods of denial, realisation and confirmation, before finally letting someone in. That’s usually the hardest part, letting the first person in. No matter how loving and supportive you know they will be. Once you do, however… Well, the old maxim rings true:

A burden shared is a burden halved.

When I was ready to admit out loud that I was queer, it took just one final poke from one of my best friends – in the car on the way home from a Jesse McCartney concert – for me to crack:

Would you rather… have no legs, or balls on your chin.
Mel, that’s an old one – Ben asks it every weekend. No legs!
Ok then. Would you rather… kiss… Ben or… Dan.
Um, well… Ben already kissed me at Alex’s 21st, so… Dan?
Ben kissed you?
He really liked my costume.
Oh. Well, would you rather kiss… Amy or Dan.
Well… it would probably be… Dan.
You would rather kiss Dan than Amy?
Mel… it will… probably be a boy every time you ask the question…

We almost died that night, as Mel careened off the William Jolly Bridge and onto Roma Street in the tiny red Camry that she had just learned to drive in. We eventually made it back to Stain Court in one piece.

Everything was easier after that. Not easy, mind you, just… easier. Among the friends I had back then, all it took was to tell one person. A fortnight later, my coming out was old news. It is not that nobody cared about me, it’s just that nobody particularly cared whether I was queer or not. I was just another statistic. One more of the eligible straight boys struck off the ledger of our drama school graduating class.

We were all eligible back then, I think the ratio of straight women to men was 5:1.

One of the things that took me so long was a fear of being a tragic statistic. I didn’t feel gay (no matter what some of my friends thought). I had crushes on boys, but I was not interested in being gay. Marching in parades. Flying the flag. Not to mention tell my family.

I had quite the reputation as the staunchly sober child of fundamentalist Christian upbringing who commuted two and a half hours by train every day to get to uni. This was an identity that I fought hard to keep. Leaving parties early (especially when the porn started playing), drinking nothing but soda water, refusing to meditate in voice class. Even when I finally convinced my parents that Mel and I weren’t dating and they consented to me cohabiting with her in Stain Court, I still went to church on the Sunshine Coast at the weekends to lead the band from behind my keytar – the same church my grandfather founded in the 1970’s as Faith Family Fellowship.

Despite everything else that has happened in my life, those are three words I have carried with me, that have defined my life and now the work that I make. Faith, family, and fellowship. Perhaps estranged from the faith that I grew up with, I am definitely not estranged from my family. They have never ceased to support and grow with me. My faith now lies in the overwhelming and enduring power of love as a force of positive change in the world. Fellowship then, is probably the most potent expression of faith and family – undertaken with love, honesty, and respect.

Today my family extends far beyond the Neidecks, Hannahs and Hobbses of the hinterland. I have found myself surrounded by a tribe of special people, working together in our own way to change the world around us. Almost ten years ago, I learned from my dear friend and mentor Roger Rynd that the greatest goal in life is to encourage the creation of close and lasting friendships across languages, cultures, and social groups, and that through these relationships and the art we make together, we can model a society in which every member feels safe, happy, and loved. Since losing Roger, we have been searching for the best ways to keep our family happy, healthy, and together.

The practice of constantly and actively negotiating my personal relationships has influenced my own approach to this – not least of all because there is not a whole lot of separation between my personal and my professional lives. Honest and open communication is the key – and these are things that I am trying very hard to be excellent at.

Sometimes however, no matter how good I think I am getting at life, I make mistakes. I keep secrets. Not the relatively benign ones like: “my show has been programmed in a major festival”. This is a secret that even large organisations cannot always keep under wraps. The secrets I have tended to keep are more like: “I think we are in love with the same person”.

Believe it or not, I have had to negotiate this on more than one occasion. Sometimes I can jump on it early – if the rules of engagement are set up for it:

Hey… so… I think I am a little bit in love with your boyfriend.
I thought you might be.
How does that make you feel?
Funny… how does he feel about it?
I don’t really know… but we are pretty close.
I know you are. And it is ok for you to be in love.
I know, thank you.
But please, for now, can I ask you not to act on those feelings?

And so we make our own rules, grounded in love. These conversations don’t scare or shock me the same way they might have ten years ago. Most of the time, they happen openly, honestly, and early – nobody is in danger of crashing their car on the William Jolly.

Human beings however, make mistakes – or at least choices that end up hurting even the most special members of their family. Sometimes we leave it too long to admit something is happening. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know exactly what that something is. Maybe it’s because we are scared of the consequences. Even if we do know what is happening in our hearts, our secrets are rarely ours alone to keep. Our lives are complicated, interwoven, and very hard to describe with the words that we know.

The most choice and appropriate words are definitely not to be found whilst vomiting out one’s soul into a dusky peach toilet bowl, stark naked in the family home with a well-meaning but inquisitive father holding your hair back after your brother-in-law’s bucks party. Being so protestant that we would never even use the word to describe our faith, at the tender age of 29 the following is the closest that I ever came to being cloistered in a confessional with the parish priest.

What’s wrong?
Nothing… *sobs*
There must be something bothering you…
*Vomits* I’m drunk.
I can see that. Is it the wedding?
No. It’s not the wedding. *Retches* Why would anyone get married?
So it is the wedding, then.
*Sobs, placing head elegantly into toilet*
Are you upset that you can’t marry Nathan?
*Starts crying uncontrollably* Nathan and I are never getting married!
Why? Is there something wrong? Are you having trouble with Nathan?
*Sniffs* Nathan and I are fine, we just haven’t spoken in three months.
Why? What’s going on?
HE IS IN KOREA! *A little bit of vom*
I know, but you can still talk…
*Mumbling, looking for the toilet paper*
And he will be back next week before the wedding!
Nathan is my best friend. We don’t need to talk every day. We’re not straight.
Ok.
You wouldn’t understand. *Sob. Sniff. Sob. Burp*
What wouldn’t I understand. I might surprise you Jeremy, I am your father.
I HAVE 3.5 LOVERS!!!

I came out to my parents the first time via a letter I quietly left in mother’s dresser, one week before moving to Korea. It was 2006, and the gist of my message was “I am in love with my best friend”. Eight years later and the message is still the same:

Nathan is my best friend, and I am in love with him, and we still have a habit of falling in love with our friends.

Rather than writing letters, these days, we are blessed with a family that can help us tell our story.

We fall in love. We drift apart. We fall in love again.

Not everyone understands our story, but they sure do seem to love our show.

The people that I knew back when I first came out, they are still my family. We have had the occasional subtraction, but mostly, we are in the business of adding. And we make sure that everyone who comes into 지하 Underground feels like part of this family.

And now all of our family can celebrate together again. Feels good, doesn’t it?

2012undergrund_24

Photos by FenLan Chuang.

Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowships are an initiative of Brisbane City Council. This project is supported by Asialink and Arts Queensland.

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