Pete: More than Gay
Interview by Marie Chung
First impressions of anyone can often be misguided and simplified. 10 years ago, when I first met Pete at a Maroon 5 concert, his white, punctured shirt, with its scant material draping across his chest, became a clear indicator of his sexuality. Beyond being gay however, Pete desires regular human interactions that does not necessarily boast about his sexuality.
When did you come out and how did others take it at the time?
I came out after high school when I was 19. I told some of my friends first, the ones that I felt most comfortable telling, and I had an ex-girlfriend (who was really a best friend) who was very helpful. She helped me come out to my parents. I wrote them a letter and put it under the pillow of their bed and said:
“I’m happy whatever way. If you don’t want me to come back, then that’s okay”.
I was prepared for the worst. It was a pretty nerve racking experience. I went to my best friend’s place for the night and then my mother called me and said “it’s okay. Don’t worry, we still love you”. My mum and dad have been very supportive.
And when did you realize you were attracted to men?
Probably around puberty, going to an all boys’ school made those emotions maybe even greater.
When you found out, were you nervous about it?
I was really paranoid, I didn’t want to be back then because of the situation I was in at school. Being in a catholic all boys’ school, there was a lot of homophobia. There was a guy in my school who came out in Year 8. He was the only one to come out, out of the year level. He got extremely bullied to the point that he had to leave the school. Even when he changed schools, he had grief at his new school. It was not a very good experience to see and it caused me not to come out till after high school, even though I worked it out at about 16.
Did you pursue any relationships in your later high school years? Or did you try to keep it on the low down?
No I didn’t have any relationships or any sexual contact in high school.
Is that because there wasn’t the community for it?
Probably. There were gay people in my year level but they all just decided to keep it in the closet due to that negative experience happening to the guy – I’m pretty sure that’s why none of us came out in high school. There is a community organization that organizes under 18 events called Minus, and I went to some of their events when I was 18. That’s when I first dabbled in gay society. They organised social events like dancing and socialising. It’s well supported and there are lots of psychologists there as well.
That’s great to have that support network.
The internet was helpful too. Even back in early 2000s, you could still have your own profile in websites.
How did you go about meeting your ex for the first time after chatting online?
We chatted and spoke on the phone before he finally decided to come to Melbourne and meet me. We chatted for 6 months before he came so that was fast, because it was only 4 months of chatting before we bought the ticket. It was a whirlwind blowing each other away. We just knew that it was right. None of the obstacles seemed to matter.
What obstacles were there?
He had to leave his home country, discontinue university there, pick up speaking English, leave all his friends and his family. He had to go to the other side of the world when he has never left his own home and that different culture, you need to know about another person.
I remember you had to get letters for visa requirements as well?
In order for him to get permanent residency, we had to.
Back then gay people didn’t have de facto rights – they got residency under some term called interdependency.
You had to prove quite a lot to be able to get permanent residency. One of those ways was getting family and friends to write stat decs about us declaring what they think our relationship is worth – that it is genuine, loving and continual.
Was that frustrating?
It was a hell a lot of work and money to go into that just to stay together. It didn’t seem to be a big issue because we were quite happy and certain that that’s what we wanted.
So how does the stat dec prove you are in a relationship? How do you do that?
“I’ve seen them out altogether, all the time”.
“They look like they love each other and I’m very happy for them”.
This is a legal document we are talking about, but it’s really quite weird. It’s a legal document saying that “I think these two people are legit and love each other, and that it’s going to continue” basically. A lot of our friends could see that we were happy, we got heaps of stat decs. It was evidence for a relationship because marriage doesn’t count, it’s not recognized by Australia. We did what we had to do.
The gay rights in Italy are worse than Australia so there is no recognition of us at all, not even as a defacto couple. Maybe nowadays it is slowly changing but it’s behind Australia. Even though we both liked Italy, it wasn’t feasible to stay there. We tried for 2 years but it was too difficult because of my visa requirements and not being able to get a job.
And that was after your ex had told his parents about your relationship?
He didn’t really tell them but they worked out that this guy who went to Italy with him is someone that he loved.
They are extremely Catholic and they have issues with that. Even though they had understood that I’m a nice and good person and they accepted that we were together on some level, they probably would never accept the fact that we were together or officially a couple. A lot of the time they would tell others that we were each other’s friends, it was their way of accepting me and allowing me into their house.
I can’t even begin to think or understand how anyone cannot accept someone because of their sexuality.
It was disheartening, it’s like your feelings are not valid you know? Even though we were obviously together, my ex’s grandparents just refused to accept it. His grandmother was suggesting to me to marry his younger sister.
So you went there for two years, how did you put up with that reception?
You just laugh it off. Deep down it does hurt us because it really just indicates that what we had been doing was irrelevant and not valid.
Back in Australia, are there aspects in the government that you’d like to see improved or legalised?
Definitely same sex couples being able to marry like normal heterosexual couples – that would definitely be a step in the right direction. We recently got rights as de facto couples. It’s pretty much on par with heterosexual couples. Just that last frontier, the final frontier, of gay marriage – it still hasn’t been won over yet.
Do you currently experience any discriminatory behaviour?
Nothing really that bad, maybe if someone would see me in the street showing public displays of affection with someone else, they might yell out something like fag. But these are young teenagers and it’s not really a threat. I just laugh it off, and I’ve never had any physical treats in Melbourne. Not that we were ever really out in the open.
I have a few friends who comment on flamboyantly gay men, and they don’t like the way they act because they think it’s an exaggeration of their personality. Does that bother you at all?
I have no problem if people are themselves and act the way they do – that’s an expression of their identity. If they are flamboyantly gay then that’s part of who they are, I don’t think anybody should have a problem with that. People that do, probably have a problem with themselves more than the flamboyantly gay.
I think they don’t do it to be provocative. They do it as an expression of themselves. It’s like drag queens or people who like putting on a lot of make up, or something like that, or dressing in an effeminate way. That’s just how they feel comfortable, not because they want to provoke people or get abused. I suppose it is a way of being empowered, being confident and to do that in public, you’d surely have to have balls to do that.
Pete, how do you feel about people dropping in the word ‘gay’ in conversation? Such as “this is really ‘gay’”, or “I think that’s ‘gay’”?
Some people use it in different ways – some people completely redefine the word to the point where it is not referring to gay people anymore. I don’t have a problem with people using it when it has been completely redefined so that there is no negativity behind it, it’s just a word.
Would you prefer better education of homosexuality in high school?
Maybe these days they do, at my school there was none. Not even in sex-ed. It is because it was a Catholic education system – that was difficult because I had these feelings and I didn’t know what to do with them. Most people in that situation had to deny it, which I think is what most people go through at some stage when they realize they have feelings for the same sex.
So would you say your sexuality inhibited aspects of your life or development?
Maybe my social development. I was unable to be open and honest with my friends which caused a few issues. It was quite sad when I came out – all my friendship group stopped talking to me and stopped inviting me to things. I didn’t pursue them anymore because they were quite homophobic. I knew they were from the comments they’d make at school. I just knew that there was no point trying to be friends with them.
Sometimes as teenagers, they’d express wishes to hurt gay people, have extreme emotions against them, and said ‘gay’ and ‘homo’ a lot.
How do you think you’ve grown since high school?
I went through a deep introspective stage when I started university. I was always challenging myself, thoughts and emotions. Why am I doing this? What do I want to do with my emotions?
So as soon as I went to uni, I figured out who I really was and the second year of uni was great for that exploration stage. I jumped into a relationship straight after that in second year. I was 21. Then having someone with you all the time after that, that defined the last eight years. Growing up together, starting a shared life and all that.
I’ve always associated defining myself with doing things by myself. How is defining yourself with someone, different?
When you are completely infatuated with someone, you bounce off each other. You become one person in a way, maybe it was to the point of being unhealthy. I had such a strong relationship with my ex, a lot of what we did together is because we loved each other. We lived for each other and did everything together almost.
I think society puts too much of a focus on sexuality and self-identity. Especially if you are homosexual, it’s really just a part of who you are – it doesn’t define you.
All the hype around coming out and having to tell everyone about your sexuality just really exaggerates it and it doesn’t have to be like that. Straight people don’t have to ‘come out’ and have to tell everybody that they’re straight.
I think that the best life would be when being gay is completely normal just as being straight is. No hang-ups about anything that you do, it’s completely normal and everybody thinks the same of you. We are getting there as a society, it definitely has made a lot of progress in the last decades.
Would you have a message to people to make the situation better or progress faster?
Just accept it as something natural and normal, and treat it as such. That’s all.
Nothing more, nothing less. It is a natural thing, not something that we are forcing ourselves to do. It is just a feeling we’ve got – that’s all.
By the time we finished, the seats around us had filled with many who had come and gone. Teapots refilled and tea leaves had long brewed. As we left, a long reflective process was complete for Pete since his recent heartbreak. Later on that evening, Pete would proceed the rearranging of his life after moving out of his home the night before.
Many forget that there are many aspects to homosexuals, bisexuals or transsexuals outside of their sexual orientation. For Pete, it's his tight gelled curls and quirky fashion sense, work in medical research, love for travelling and among many other interesting things, that make him a friend, individual, son and partner - who just happens to be gay.