Side Walks is an annual pop-up storytelling, ideas and literature festival run by Centre for Stories. In unique venues across Perth and Northbridge, Side Walks is a curated whirlwind of talks, performances and readings with a special emphasis on homegrown talent. Side Walks was made possible in 2021 with funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Centre for Stories Founders Circle, Rayner Real Estate, and Aspen Corporate Financial Planning. Thanks also to our in-kind venue partners, Randal Humich, North Metropolitan TAFE, and St George’s Cathedral.
Nobuo Hara identifies as deaf, gay and Japanese. He has lived in Perth with his partner for the past 11 years. They enjoy sharing each other’s cultures and learning together day by day. Nobuo is an Auslan and Training Team Leader at Access Plus WA Deaf. At Side Walks, Nobuo shared his story at Be Still My Beating Heart, a live storytelling event featuring stories about love – but not the typical kind. His story is about finding connection through sport, and the challenges he faced before making it onto the field.
Thank you to Christy Filipich for interpreting.
Copyright © 2021 Nobuo Hara.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
View Story Transcript
Nobu: When I was a child, I would see the other children playing. Tee ball. Soccer. And I would watch, and stand, and I wanted to join in, but I didn’t know how to communicate with them. So, I would just stand and watch, and they never asked me. When I was thirteen, at the school I attended there was a compulsory sport club that you had to join after school. There were a lot of different sports on offer. I chose volleyball. I went to training. I bought the volleyball uniform. And every game day, I sat on the bench. I wanted to be in a game, and I came to practice, and I trained every day, for three years.
Finally, I was chosen to be in a game, but it was the last game, and I served the ball once and that was it. When I was fifteen, I went to a deaf school. I learned Japanese sign language, and I was able to communicate with deaf friends. This school had a volleyball club, and I joined the club, but I was teased. They called me “queer”, “homo”, and I was bullied. I lost all my confidence, and I pulled out. I tried a few other sports, over time, but either there would be those communication barriers, or I would be bullied. Again, there would be comments about being queer. And I just lost all confidence. It happened again, and again, and again. When I was 30, I came out. I announced that I was gay. I met my partner. I moved to Australia. I learned Auslan, Australian sign language. And I was then able to communicate with Australian deaf people and make friends here.
When I first arrived, I wasn’t fluent yet, and the deaf community is quite small, and I would start to communicate with someone, but any friendships didn’t last because I was still trying to learn Auslan at that time. There was a darts club, a snooker club, a cricket club, that were just deaf people. But they weren’t really sports I was that interested in. I wanted to do something different. Ten years later, I found a gay rugby team called the Perth Rams, and I wanted to join in. I sent them a message and said, “I’m deaf, is that okay?” And they said, “Yeah, no worries!” So, I started going to their practice sessions, and I really enjoyed it. I had those communication issues, but I still kept coming to training.
There was one person in that club, Jess, who was really helpful, would always write messages for me. So, when the coach was talking, she would text it on her phone, which was really helpful so that I had some access. Another person invited me into a Facebook Messenger group that only had select people in it, and I got a bit more social interaction that way through the group. I finally plucked up the courage to put a post saying that when I meet hearing people, I’m actually really scared. I get really panicky because of these things that had happened in the past. And the next day at training someone came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said hello. I was so happy. I felt like I was starting to be included in the team.
I had booked an Auslan interpreter to come to some training and the access was great. When the coach was talking, I knew exactly what was being said. But I found that because there was an interpreter there, my teammates left all the communication up to the interpreter and they actually stopped trying to make an effort with me. I felt more distanced. So, I decided not to have an interpreter. I wanted the team to communicate with me directly, which I know they panicked about, but they tried. They tried to gesture, it was very slow, but communication was happening. It was improving, and all these little improvements helped me feel a little bit more included in the team.
We had another Facebook group that was just for members of this specific team, and a lot of social stuff went on there, so I knew what was happening in people’s lives. And I decided to put a post in there, asking if anybody wanted to learn Auslan, and so many people said that they wanted to learn, and I was shocked, and surprised, and so happy. So, I provided some Auslan classes. I had another deaf person come and teach them Auslan. And at training sessions, people started to use that Auslan with me. They would come up and say, “Hello!”, “How are you?”, “What are you having for dinner?”, and “See you next week!” it was just incredible to have that communication with the team, I really started to feel like I was one of the boys.
I loved training. There was another person on the team, Mitch, and I said “Look, I just want to play a game, just once. Just once, I want to be on the game field and have a go. How does that work?” and he told me to speak to the coach. Alright. So I went to the coach, and I said “I just want to have a go, I just want to be in a game, just once. Can I do that?” and the coach said, “Yeah! Absolutely! If that’s a thing that you want, we can work towards it, yeah.” Great, thanks. So, the coach, you know, waited some time until he thought I was prepared, and the way the system worked was that the day before a game, the match day, the team would be announced in the Facebook post. All the members of the team who would be playing next day.
And one day, my name was on that post. I was so happy, and so excited. All my friends who were in that group were saying, “I just say your name! Congratulations! You’re gonna be in the team tomorrow! You’re gonna play a match!” So, Game Day. My friends came, my partner came, I was so nervous. I was in the game uniform, not just a training uniform, a game uniform, and it felt like it was real. I was playing on the wings, over on the right. All along the side there was the coach, my teammates, other supporters, all lined up that side, and were gesturing and signing to me, “Keep going! Over there! Cool it down! Run harder!” It was amazing. I played, I ran my heart out, I had a tackle on the field, and it was awesome, and painful, and amazing, and I loved it, and I played the game.
At the end of the game, I had this incredible feeling. We all went into the changerooms, beers were handed out, one of the guys said, “Hey! This was Nobuo’s first game. Congratulations!” And everyone said “Cheers!” and I felt emotional, and a little bit teary, because I was so happy. I skulled my beer, everyone cheered again, and there were some real celebrations. I felt like finally, I had been in a game. Fourty-four years it took, until I had that opportunity, and it is the happiest I have ever been in my life.
As a deaf person, as a gay person, and as someone from overseas, I always feel like I’m way down here, and I have to try so hard to come up to have some kind of equality with everyone else. All it took from my teammates was a little bit of effort to learn a little bit of Auslan so that we could all be equal. I’m not just speaking from my own experience, I know there’s many other people with different backgrounds who might be Aboriginal, or have other disabilities, gay, lesbian, transgender, all these different identities mean that we often feel the same. We don’t feel like we’re really accepted, and we have to work so hard so that we are. I also really need to thank my mum, because she always told me not to give up, to be myself, to be strong in myself. And now, I’m so happy. I love my life. So, I really need to thank my mum for giving me the life that I have now, because I love it. Thank you.