In light of recent discussion around gay conversion therapy in our national politics, Anthony Nocera looks back at times he’s tried to change himself and failed.
Times I’ve tried to Change Myself and Failed
For a few months last year, I worked in marketing at a workplace where I’m pretty sure they didn’t like gay people, or maybe they just didn’t like me.
I remember talking about my boyfriend with a co-worker and she requested I say “partner” instead: “Can you say partner? It’s more professional.”
In the two-month review of my performance, a process that was designed to “support you Anthony, to help you be you”, the head of my department told me it was “unprofessional to support same-sex marriage publicly. So we need to watch what we post and say in our personal contexts… you are the brand, remember. And the brand hasn’t taken a position on the debate”
Unlike my boss, I didn’t graduate from The Fuckwit School of Shitty Middle Management, but bringing up the same-sex marriage debate in a formal review of me, an openly gay staff member, felt at best prejudicial and, at worst, gobsmacking in its sheer stupidity.
Deeming the expressions of queer people to be unacceptable, in whatever manner, is nothing new – in fact, it’s ancient. But the pressure for queer and trans people to simply ‘change’ their behaviour, through practices like conversion therapy, is slowly creeping back into Australia’s public consciousness, aided, in no doubt, by a legal system built to prop up the heterosexual economy.
But as I sat in my two-month review, I said ‘okay, sure,’ and I smiled, and as I left the room, shaking from the shock of it all, I thought about all the times I have tried to change myself and failed.
As a general rule, I never ask people what they’re thinking about. Chances are it is either nothing, or something far less interesting than whatever I’m thinking about. Furthermore, I know myself and I think terrible, horrible things. I can only imagine how terrible or horrible someone less interesting would be.
I went on a date once with a guy who was a makeup artist. He had beautiful red hair and flawless skin, though I guess that could’ve been makeup. We went out and got pizza and shared some wine, and as we ate this silence fell between us. I saw him looking at me incredibly intensely, really staring, frowning in concentration and I laughed and said, ‘are you okay?’
“Yeah,” he said, but he kept staring, kept frowning and his eyes kept going up and down, up and down, up and down my face and body. It was the way you look at someone who means something to you, who you really are interested in and want to know.
He gave me a look that lingered on all these parts of me, like he was taking me apart and putting me back together again just the way I was, because it was perfect and right for him, and it was this moment between us, this private, intimate, singular moment that felt … I don’t know? Right. It felt right, like when you come home after a long time away.
I decided to act coy, “Is there something on my face, I’m such a pi-“
“No, it’s not that,” he said, “It’s nothing. I’m just thinking.”
“Oh.” Do I ask? I thought, and I decided in that moment, to be more open. To be better.
He held his stare for a little longer and laughed, “it’s nothing.”
“What is,” I said, laughing too, like I was in on his joke, “what are you thinking about?”
“I was … no, no, I can’t, I can’t.”
“Just tell me,” I said, “I want to know. What were you thinking about?”
“Okay, I was watching you eat and I couldn’t stop looking at you and the way you moved … and I just thought ‘God you’d make an ugly woman’.”
“Oh,” I said.
My boyfriend and I have been together for almost three years and I wanted to do something special to spice up our love life. Not that it needed spicing up. Our sex life was, and remains, fairly healthy, but I wanted to take things to the next level.
We were lying in bed eating Oreos and I placed one in between his teeth so half of the Oreo was hanging out of his mouth and I crawled up to him and giggled coquettishly and bit the other half, except I overshot it and bit into his bottom lip and broke the skin.
I sat there finishing the box of Oreos while he held a tissue on his face on the opposite side of the bed, and he kept saying ‘what the fuck’ over and over again. “What the fuck, Anthony, what the fuck?”
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to become more Zen and spiritual. I wanted to have more peace and calm in my life. I’d recently gone on anti-anxiety medication but didn’t want chemicals to be my thing. I wanted to do it naturally.
I started mainlining chamomile and peppermint tea. I ditched coffee and drank a lot of smoothies. I downloaded an instructional yoga video led by a woman named Mandy who told me to ‘breathe in to the sun’. And I did. I breathed it as deep as I could.
One night we ran out of my tea bags and I did some scrounging through the cupboards and found a lime green box with Chinese letters all over it. In English were the words ‘Green Tea’. I made myself a pot and drank the whole thing.
About an hour later I began to have these incredibly sharp stomach pains. I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the box and found out that under the English words ‘Green Tea’ were the much smaller words ‘Chinese Slimming Tea’.
I shit for three hours.
I tried acting less gay for my shitty marketing job. I tried to talk about the footy with one of the guys from sales and after five minutes I realised I was out of my depth and blurted, “mate, I love the footy. I love balls.”
He didn’t talk to me again. I left a few weeks later.
I still wanted to spice things up between my boyfriend and I a few weeks ago, and his lip was definitely healed, so I tried talking dirty to him.
We were kissing and undressing each other, and I said, “I want you to sex me up, motherfucker,” and I felt his lips stop caressing my lips and he slowly backed away from me in the same way you would an unpredictable animal and just said, “what?”
“You know, just trying to be sexy. It’s hot right?”
“Nah darl,” he said, “it’s not.”
“I’m trying to be spicy. Like cumin.”
“Don’t. Your fine as is,” he said.