We sat down with Izzy (he/him), a beautifully proud gay man who is finishing his Masters of Social Work (after also finishing a Psych degree and Honours!), works within the Queer community and loves his doggos Gingernut Biscuit and Mia, his soon-to-be husband Max, D&D and politics like it’s nobody’s business!
TW: discussions around suicide and porn
Where did you grow up Izzy? I grew up on the Sunshine Coast. We moved around a lot on the coast as a family but were mostly around Buderim and Kawana areas. I moved there when I was 9 and did most of my schooling there and left when I was 21 to come to the big smoke in Brisbane.
When did you know you were same-sex attracted? Umm.. I look back and think ‘’wow that was really gay of me’’. I got into Greco-Roman wrestling. They used to wrestle naked. I remember seeing it in books and on pottery. I was not a rough and tumble kind of kid but I was very interested in Greco-Roman wrestling. I didn't think anything of it when I was kid but in retrospect…. (trails off)..... I also had a choreographed Sailor Moon dance, so there’s that.
I remember talking to a friend in year 7 and saying ‘’when are we meant to start liking girls?’’ after the puberty talk at school. I remember in year 8, I read a book called ‘’Unzipped” about adolescent puberty and sexuality. It had stories about people’s teenage years including stories from LGBTI people. I remember fixating on both the bisexual and gay boy’s stories. I remember thinking…’well this is clearly not straight...maybe I’m bisexual’. I considered asking a girl out who was my friend - but not because there was any sexual attraction - it just made logical sense because we had shared interests and a good friendship. It was never because I was sexually attracted to any girls. However I remember in the book reading ‘’it's just a phase’’. I remember thinking ‘oh that must be it’.
There were lots of signs in my early childhood. When I was about 14yo I thought, okay I must be bisexual but let’s focus on the girls. I would look at porn and try to focus on straight porn but 5 minutes in, I’d be looking at the guys. I was a very closeted gay guy though throughout high school. I remember arguing in legal studies that marriage equality was wrong. I was very closeted.
What happened after high school? By the time I left high school, I felt resolved to chastity. The only representation I’d had prior to uni was Queer Eye For a Straight Guy which was very effeminate and I didn’t feel like I could relate to them on the show. I had to deal with a lot of toxic masculinity in and around my life and it really took a few years to deprogram that. I thought, ‘okay so the average life expectancy is about 65 years for men,I only have about 50 years of chastity to live through’. But then I got to university and noticed some of the rubbish bins at University of Sunshine Coast had some rainbow flags painted to them. We talk about the importance of flags and stickers and visibility. It really is so important. I sought out the Queer Collective meetings at USC but initially would just sit nearby to their meetings and not attend them. I noticed there was a guy there who I’d done a pre-uni course with and saw him at the library later on and he said he was bisexual and I came out to him as gay which was the first guy I’d come out to. He asked me out and I was super excited. I went home and mum asked who I was meeting. I said I was going on a date and she asked their name. I said his name and she said, ‘wait, isn't that a guy's name?’ I said yes, turned off my phone, left home, went on to my date. After the date I turned it back on and had a million missed calls from mum but she was worried more so about my safety. When I went to bed that night she wrote me a note saying she loves me no matter what, she accepts me and it will just take her some time to process. I’ve still got the note. It did take her some time. Parents have these assumptions about their children and create this narrative for what their child is going to be like and it's hard to avoid that but I think our generation might be better at not creating these preconceived narratives.
My younger brother struggled and was very worried about me. My sister found out I was gay because I left a QNEWS magazine around. I told my best friend that I had dated a guy and he asked if I was bisexual and I basically just dropped ‘’no, I’m gay’’ and he was like ‘’oh yep’’ and that was it. I’d been freaking out and he was so chilled about it. My small group of close friends all accepted it really easily but I’d spent years building it up in my head that it’d be a clusterf*ck.
What did you find most challenging along the way? That same boy - My first boyfriend - and I broke up after a very short time. We had a very amicable break up but about six months later something must have snapped for him in his world and it resulted in him posting a list of things that ‘’were wrong with me’’ on our uni blackboard online. It was really hurtful and he got expelled from university but I didn't feel comfortable talking to my mum or anyone at the time so it was really challenging mentally and emotionally for me. It was really hard to watch as my ex went through his own struggles and he ended up committing an armed robbery and taking his own life. I really struggled with his mental health and my own trauma and mental health too.
On the sunshine coast, there wasn't any gay clubs or groups, only the university queer collective. I ended up falling in love with some straight men which was heartbreaking. Eventually I decided I needed to put myself out there and meet some gay men. Before Grindr existed - I went on ManHunt which was a website where I could meet guys for hookups and dating. There were some interesting characters I met over time.
After my ex ended his life, it really highlighted the importance of safe spaces and queer identities in our community. I hated the term queer for a long time and I reconciled with it eventually. We are raised in deeply heteronormative, masculinised environments and it takes a lot for us to work through these and de-program ourselves.
Who has been influential on your journey? Working in a queer space, its really nice to see younger generations and so much more representation, a lot more diversity in our society and media, a lot more supports available. I’ve learnt a lot from people who’ve paved the way - the O.G.’s. People who’ve talked to me about what it’s like to have been a gay man in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Brisbane. The survivors of the AIDS pandemic. The sacrifices they’ve made to get us to this point where we are. As someone who campaigned for marriage equality, someone who strongly believes in rights for our trans and non binary folks,I truly hope our younger generations will have a safer life.
Is your life different to how you pictured it when you were in high school? When I look back at 17 year old Izzy considering a life of chastity and telling him that ‘in five months time I will be getting married to a man and you are genuinely truly happy’ it seems outrageous. But its real and I am so appreciative of lots of people. Of note, Marg - she started the Queer Collective at USC. She reached out after my ex boyfriend ended his life. It had been years since we spoke and she still reached out to support me. Marg had a lot to do with organising the first Sunshine Coast Pride Day. I found a really good mentor at university who showed me what it is to be a good man. I’ve met people at work who’ve really inspired me. I always think, if I hadn’t gone to university, hadn’t met the people I met, hadn’t had the hard conversations I’ve had, I wouldn’t be where I am. If you had told me this is where I’d be at 17 I wouldn’t have believed you. I came out in 2007. Kevin Rudd had been elected. I remember him at the Australian Christian Lobby saying marriage is between a man and a woman. Barack Obama said the same thing the next year in 2008. He changed his mind in 2010 but I remember the impact on me of politicians saying that.
How do you think the world, or at least the local community for LGBTIQ folks is changing? So much had changed by the postal vote in 2017. There was overwhelming support in almost all places. If that was a referendum, it would have passed. So many other countries have also legalised gay marriage. Politicans who’ve opposed gay marriage are now a minority, which is so refreshing.
I think back to the world you and I inherited and we are slowly unpacking those boxes of archaic concepts. We’ve still got the Trumps and JK Rowlings and transphobia. But since the 1800s and 1900s we’ve gotten better and I think even in the next ten years the world will be far more progressive and inclusive. When something happens, there’s that initial pushback but then more and more people start to accept things. Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z are a lot more open to these discussions and accepting things that were once sacred (such as marriage between men and women) and allowing for fluidity and change. I read an article recently about a 90 year old person who identifies as Non Binary. They had felt that way for years but never had the words to describe it. It's not a ‘new concept’ but we now have language for it. A bit like me trying to figure out why I enjoyed my Greco-Roman naked men wrestling so much but didnt know why or what that meant for me because I didnt have the words or definitions or language to describe it. Visibility and words, language, definitions, it's all so important so people can learn from it and relate to it. I can't imagine what the world will be like when Im 80. Imagine what the people born in the 1920’s have seen. The Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam War, Gay Liberation, the AIDS pandemic, the end of the White Australia Policy. Imagine what we will see in 100 years. I think the trend is positive for LGBTIQ+ community.
Interview conducted January 2021. Photograph provided by Izzy.