Drawn From Life Series
It was a long time ago, but I still remember the day my life almost changed. It was 1981, and I was in my second year at university.
* * *
My friends and I were in one of the large rooms on the first floor of the Union Building, in the middle of Melbourne University. About half of us were doing science degrees, with the others doing law or arts. We had originally met through the Melbourne Uni Dungeons and Dragons Association — MUDDA for short — and had been playing role-playing games for about a year. As role-playing games required concentration and time — the latter being in short supply during the day — we had settled into playing cards between classes and over lunchtime. I had known the others only since starting university, but I enjoyed their company and looked forward to the times we were together. There were enough of us that there was an almost continuous game of 500 going during the middle hours of the day, and sometimes into the early evening. As one person would leave for a lecture, someone else would take their place.
“Okay, I’m out,” I said, rising to me feet. “I’ve got some things I need to do. Who wants to take my place?”
“I’ll take it,” Sally said, as she moved to claim the seat I was vacating.
I slipped out of the room and headed towards the stairs. The lifts were always a last resort. They were slow and not completely reliable. I remember the time that my friend Shane decided to use the lifts to go down one level to the ground floor. He came back into the first floor thirty minutes later to announce he’d spent all of that time stuck in the lift and had missed his lecture.
Just before I reached the steps, I glanced back. Not seeing anyone I knew, I stepped into the stairwell on the left hand side, instead of taking the main stairs down. After walking up to the first landing, I reached into my bag to pull out the weekly copy of Farrago, the student union newspaper.
I glanced around to make sure I was still alone. The second and third floors of the Union Building weren’t heavily used. The fourth floor was more popular — that was where the full-sized billiard tables were located — but most people used the lifts if they were going up to the top.
I opened Farrago to the section that detailed student club meetings and confirmed the details. I glanced at my watch. The meeting of the Melbourne University Gay Society — GaySoc for short — had started five minutes earlier in one of the small third floor rooms.
During Orientation Week in 1980, I had seen the GaySoc stand, but hadn’t been able to make myself approach them. Indeed, I had done nothing about contacting them for my first year of university. I had started my tertiary studies as a naïve sixteen-year-old and had been too scared to reveal my sexuality to anyone.
I knew what I was. I had on several occasions, despite being underage, snuck into one of the adult bookstores between the train station and the university, and furtively checked out the magazines. Only the gay ones interested me.
I had checked out the section on homosexuality in the Baillieu Library at the university. I had been surprised and encouraged by a scribbled “You’re not alone” in the margin of one of the books, but it hadn’t been enough to make me take the next step.
In my second year I finally decided to do something. I knew that there was a GaySoc meeting that Thursday, and I told myself it was time to go. It was time to say to someone else, “I’m gay.”
The day before, I had reconnoitered the third floor. The room where the meeting was to be held was small — it probably wouldn’t accommodate more than ten people. Importantly, for me, there was a small window in the door. I would be able to walk past and glance in, and if I didn’t like what I saw, I could keep on walking.
I took a deep breath before I stepped out of the stairwell and onto the third floor. There was a narrow corridor running down the middle of building, with small rooms off either side. Only the lifts at the centre right broke up the pattern.
I strode down the hallway. My intention was to glance into the room and then go to the stairwell at the far end of the corridor, where I would make my decision.
My heart was beating hard as I approached the meeting room. I glanced to the side and silently cursed. The window was blocked by a small sign announcing that GaySoc was holding a meeting.
I kept on walking while I thought about what to do. I didn’t want to go in blind, but the covered window left me no choice. The perfectly fitted sign had probably been designed for that purpose.
I reached the end and glanced back. The corridor was still empty.
Taking a very deep breath, I made the decision to go back and open the door.
I walked up while rubbing my hands on my jeans to dry the sweat. When I reached the door, I paused. Opening that door was going to be the biggest and most life-changing thing I’d ever done. By going into that meeting, I would be affirming to myself and to everyone in that room that I’m gay.
I don’t remember how long I stood there, but I don’t think it was long. Even so, those were some of the longest seconds of my life.
I told myself to open the door. I stared at the door handle — one of those cheap round ones that could be found anywhere. An ordinary doorknob that could lead to life-changing possibilities. All I had to do was to reach out, grasp it, turn it, and push the door open. I told myself that it should be easy.
It didn’t make any difference; I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the power to make myself open that door.
I fled back down the stairwell and rejoined my friends on the first floor.
“What’s happening?” I asked as I sat down to watch the 500 game.
“Darren just went three tricks down in a six clubs bid,” Sally said.
“Hey, I was trying to stay in the bidding. How was I to know that everyone else would pass?”
I grinned. There was always some random piece of bad luck to complain about when we played cards.
* * *
That was the only time I tried to join GaySoc. I never had the courage to try again.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d opened that door. Almost certainly I would have come out of the closet and my life would’ve turned out very different.
I don’t know how my parents would’ve reacted. I’d like to think they would have accepted me for who I am, but I never gave them the chance to show me.
I look at myself today. I’m a happy father of two wonderful boys, with a fantastic and very caring wife. I’m a successful writer of gay fiction. I have gay friends around the world, even if I’ve never physically met any of them.
Would I have all of this if I’d opened that door? I suspect not. I certainly wouldn’t be a family man.
I remember hearing about a new disease, at that time unnamed, that was being reported in parts of the gay community. To my eternal embarrassment, I remember thinking that it sounded like a good disease to catch to get out of going to university for a time. I didn’t know its true nature. AIDS was just beginning to rear its head in Australia, though it was another six years before it would hit the awareness of mainstream society. There is a chance, remote but there, that if I had opened that door, I would now be dead.
My writing is one offshoot of my internal struggles. I now accept that I’m gay. In those days, though, I knew it but hadn’t accepted it. If I had done so earlier, I may not have used the Internet as an escape, and may not have discovered the stories that helped me not only to accept who I am, but also inspired me to write stories.
No one can ever know what may have been. While I wonder what might have happened if I had opened that door, I’m the sum of everything I’ve done. I have a good life now and I don’t want to give it up, even though that means I’m living it as a non-practising homosexual.
A few years ago I wrote an essay that addressed being a married gay man. I concluded it with what I still think are the best words I’ve ever written. I’ll repeat them now:
I once said to my wife that we can’t regret the things that could have been, we just have to celebrate the things we have.
I’m now off to continue my celebration.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © December 2007 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
The individuals depicted in this story are real, though names and some details have been changed to protect their identities.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.
This story first appeared as part of the Gay Authors 2007 Winter Anthology