‘Words’ by Josie Boland
“What are you, a faggot?”
That was new. I wondered what it meant. I looked up to see my friend Jeremy sprawled out over the wonky bitumen with Brendan standing over him. I jumped down from the rusty monkey bars and ran towards my friends.
I asked them what happened, glancing at them both.
Brendan said that Jeremy had tripped over, and now, he was being a big baby about it.
Jeremy said he wasn’t a baby.
Brendan called him a loser.
So that’s what it meant.
I was eight.
“You stupid dyke!”
I had heard the word before but this was the first time it was directed at me, some bitch at school yelling right in my face. My blood boiled. I shoved her away from me. How dare she embarrass me like that? I knew what it meant. And it wasn’t a good thing. Even worse I was starting to realise I might be a bit different. And other people were noticing too. How could they miss it? I wore my brothers hand-me-downs, I was nearly always covered in dirt, I basically had a mullet, and I was usually walking around topless at home. It’s what my Dad did and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t either. Even as a kid I knew my Mum’s friends and my friends’ parents were concerned about my “masculine” behaviour. Whispers going back and forth. I wasn’t “normal”.
How fucked up is that?
I was twelve.
“You’re so butch.”
I guess they were right. Nearly everyone I knew described me that way. In my youth I was commonly labelled a tomboy, and I never really grew out of it. Growing up in Kalgoorlie, people preferred it when you could fit in with the boys and I did that pretty well. Kalgoorlie’s highest achievement for a young woman like me. I could outdrink the best of them and talk shit ‘til the miners came home. I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty and was always good for a laugh. I was welcome. I was a friend. So, I would hang out with the boys. More often than girls. We had the best of times. Playing COD for hours, shooting home made potato guns, bush bashing in scrappy cars. Every weekend we went through a carton of beer. And every weekend they got closer to me. Growing bolder in their drunken state, accidentally brushing parts that weren’t for them. It was like, when they had a beer, they suddenly remembered I had tits. But I brushed it off as a joke. After all, we were mates.
I was sixteen.
Now the weight was finally off my shoulders. I could be who I wanted to be, do what I wanted to do. Life was about to get a whole lot easier. Or so I thought. Alcohol really makes you believe in miracles.
I yelled at this guy – not just any guy, someone who I was meant to be a friend to. He was being a dickhead in one of our classes. I don’t even remember why I was mad at him, I just wanted him to leave me alone. I knew it was an insult to him. How dare I question his manliness, his sexuality. What’s that saying? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. It’s not like it was the first time I’d said something like this. I would use these insults all the time when I was young. Why not, all the other kids did. And I just wanted to fit in. Calling someone a faggot was, honestly, a natural reflex. It was for everyone in that shitty, shitty town. I had become part of the problem.
I was seventeen.
I said it. I finally said it. To another living, breathing person. All my friends and I had gone down to Esperance to celebrate the New Year coming. Everyone In Kalgoorlie went to Esperance for a holiday. We got responsibly wasted and one of our friends convinced us to walk to the nearest club which was actually just a shitty restaurant made up to look like a pub. I made the trek with my best friend and somehow, along the way, it slipped out. It seemed right though. I felt like I was floating. The excessive amount of alcohol in my system probably helped build that feeling, but I didn’t care. I was free. For so long I had been hiding who I was. Who I loved. Now the weight was finally off my shoulders. I could be who I wanted to be, do what I wanted to do. Life was about to get a whole lot easier. Or so I thought. Alcohol really makes you believe in miracles.
I was nineteen.
I said it again. Sober this time. More panicked this time. Everything seemed a lot more difficult without my liquid courage. We were cruising around the Perth suburbs as we often did, chatting about how our days had been. And then our conversation got more serious. So I told them, but I immediately regretted it. All my fears and doubts kicked in. What would they say? What would they think? Would they accept me? Would I be abandoned because of who I am? They said they never thought of me that way, they thought I was just adventurous because I’d made out with a few girls. Yeah, gay-adventurous, I thought. They said okay, but they didn’t get it.
So, we went to IGA and got some orange juice, and then we went to a park and I chain-smoked and we talked about it I think, but I was panicking and my brain doesn’t work when it’s like that.
Then they drove me home. I felt sick. I was cold but I was sweating and I wanted to throw up.
I had a shower. It made me feel better. But I was exhausted and I felt myself withdrawing. I didn’t want to be different, I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to come out to another person. I had to do this how many more times?
I was twenty.