What I love most about being a touring author is reflecting on my life experiences — the ones that inspire books, and the ones that don’t — to answer teens’ questions about where they’re at in their lives. I really missed those honest conversations during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, so I channelled those untold stories into a memoir. Some of the pieces have heavily inspired the two fictional novels I’m working on at the moment, but the others are just sitting there, languishing. The end of the year has lost a lot of its shape, so in an effort to build a scaffold I can drape my life over, I’ve decided to set myself a task: to polish and upload some of the languishing pieces every so often (as you can see, it isn’t a particularly ambitious scaffold). Hope you enjoy.
You Come Out
You’re in luck. It’s one of his last nights in Sydney before he moves overseas. He wants to head out, but no one else is free. It’s just the two of you. After a series of false starts, you’ve settled into your groove as two guys in their early twenties with a pretty firm friendship. Sure, you’re not his best friend – your eyes glaze over too quickly at the mention of ancient history – but you’re close enough that tonight might be the night you finally tell someone.
Gay has been everybody’s go-to insult for as long as you can remember. It’s your voice, your vibe, your music taste, your way of carrying yourself. Well-meaning friends have asked you if you’re … you know more times than you can count, but you’ve always flatly denied. They never say the word. They skirt around it like it scares them.
There’s this sincere kindness that emerges when he drinks. After the third, give or take a schooner. He relaxes his stoic performance and speaks candidly. He’ll definitely get to that point tonight. The football match they’re showing at the pub doesn’t start till late. Early hours of the morning-late. You’ll just have to have the guts when he gets there.
If it goes south, he’ll be on the other side of the world before you know it. No risk. You won’t lose a thing.
You order beer, as if that’s what will make him want to keep you around. Your heart thumps as he drinks. You suffer through yours. Foamy and bitter. You opt for a mixed spirit on the next round. Likely bourbon.
You get pep-talk-in-the-bathroom-mirror drunk, but you have enough of your wits about you to know that if someone waltzed in, they’d judge you for it. You skip the next round and watch him drink. You want to make sure he’s in the right headspace before you start.
“Hey, I’ve got something to tell you.”
It’s noncommittal. The something can change right up until … you come out. The confession lands like a brick on the table between you. He ignores his drink. He blinks. You wonder if you overshot it.
Is he too drunk?
“Okay,” he says.
He blinks again.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he adds, like he’s convincing himself.
He asks you when you knew. He asks why you took so long to say something. Did you not feel like you could? Was it his fault? You reassure him. He’s a good friend. He relaxes. It’s less about you than you expect.
You eventually explain that every good friend you introduced him to is in fact, your ex. He nods. It makes sense. He asks about them, then gets distracted.
You stay for the football match. You yawn through the whole thing. You’re sobering up but you don’t feel like drinking, and you don’t feel like rushing home either. You want to sit in this. Somebody you care about knows and he’s fine, you’re fine. There’s one point where he tries to set you up with a random at the bar. The guy’s slurring and you’re not even sure he’s gay. It’s a bit much. But it’s a bit sweet too.
You say goodbye. He knows not to tell anyone. He moves across the world. When you finally get around to telling the others, they already know. He told them, probably.
Time passes. You fly across the world to visit him. It takes him close to a week to ask if you’re seeing someone, but he asks it like he’s not all that interested in the answer. At some point you let him have it – probably in a text. You don’t remind him he was the first person you came out to, so he should’ve been better, but it’s subtext.
You count the time between reunions in years.
Eventually he stops texting. He tells the others he doesn’t want you to come with them when they visit. That stings. You convince yourself it doesn’t.
He returns briefly. Reservations are made for a buck’s dinner. You trek across four suburbs to get the nerves out. Doesn’t work. You’re the last one to arrive at the restaurant, even though you’re early. You wonder if they made plans to start without you. He catches sight of you as you approach. Your stomach drops. You’re happy to see him, shit-scared to see him. He’s a ghost, acting like he was never gone. He’s enthusiastic. He encourages you to take the vacant seat beside him. You’re hesitant but he’s interested. He talks about his life and asks about yours. He wants to meet your partner. It’s like no time’s passed and nothing’s soured. But near the end of the night, after the dinner has made way for a half-arsed pub crawl, it’s too much for you. He complains about his watch, taps the screen, says it doesn’t respond to anything he does. You say the watch is ignoring him like he ignored you. It isn’t your best work and your voice wavers, but when he doesn’t react, you reiterate it minutes later. There’s no emotion in his reply. He says he didn’t want to spoil the evening for the others.
At the wedding, you pull him aside. You ask him what went wrong. He’s evasive. You ask if it’s because you’re gay, because even though it likely isn’t true, it’s possible, and when it’s possible, it takes up space in your heart and eats away at it … He huffs. He says you’re too much work. And hey, you’ve pulled him away from his wife at somebody’s wedding to have a moment, he’s probably right. But fuck it, you’re worth the work. But so is he. You draw a line in the sand. You accept any blame. You miss him. He melts a smidge. He tells you that he’ll see you before his flight.
You feel you wasted it. He was the first person you came out to and he discarded you.
But you didn’t waste your coming out.
You didn’t do it for him.
You did it for you.
The memoir project was written with generous support from Create NSW, City of Sydney and City of Melbourne. If you enjoyed this, I have too many books out for you to buy, but The Greatest Hit is the cheapest and the shortest if you’re scared of commitment. If you’re after something like this, you can check out My Father Haunts Me.