Ally@UNSW hosted A Virtual Comedy of UNSW Queer Voices centred on: ‘Things I wish I could tell my younger self’. Through song, poetry and storytelling, UNSW staff and students of diverse gender, sex and sexuality (LGBTIQ+) and allies, came together to connect, heal and laugh over the challenges and triumphs they experienced.
“The current news cycle is often dominated by negative headlines, so we thought it would be refreshing to reflect and laugh about the funny musings and mishaps that defined our younger years,” said Rebecca Freed, Diversity & Inclusion officer.
Jacob Webb spoke of growing up and discovering his identity on the Central Coast. “My gayness stood out like Beyoncé in Destiny’s Child. And it was my voice that was the biggest give away,” he recalled.
To fit in, he would often alter his voice. “For years, I tried to speak deeper, but there wasn’t much I could do to stop the ‘yaaaasss’ flying out of my mouth,” he said.
Jacob eventually learnt to grow a thick skin – standing up for himself and finding real friends who accepted his authentic self. “Over time, my voice became my biggest asset. I could read someone to filth if they came for me. I could win most debates. It actually became hard to shut me up,” he said.
But when he entered the workforce, he began to disguise his voice again, thinking that people would take him more seriously. “I started my career in PR and I had to attend meeting with CEOs, CMOs and important business people, I lost my voice again. In meetings I would go blank, I would stumble, couldn’t articulate my thoughts,” Jacob said. “I had thought that they would see the negative qualities I had attributed with being gay: frivolous, ridiculous, less than,” he said.
After a period of self-reflection, Jacob realised the need to constantly hide his identity had eroded his confidence.
The turning point came when Jacob boldly embraced his identity. He realised by viewing his identity through a negative prism, he neglected to see the positive aspects that shone brightly. “I started some self-loving exercises and broke down all the incredible qualities that are attributed to being my gay self like passionate, fearless, and fabulous,” Jacob said.
“The next meeting, I went in confident and totally owned the meeting. I came across as an expert, created a better relationship with the client, and they trusted my new strategy,” he said.
A common theme that reverberated throughout the event was the message that it’s okay to be different and you are never alone in your struggles. Through poetry Siddharth Gopinath told his younger self that there were many people like him in this world and while he encounters initial resistance - society’s attitude will progress. “The world is changing. The world is welcoming. Your family will be okay with it, give them time. Your friends will be okay with it, give them time,” she said.
With landmark strides towards rising gender, sex and sexuality diverse media representation – Siddarth feels less alone in this world. “There are movies and TV shows with people like you. There are so many amazing books you will read and relate to,” she said.
Siddharth also shared the reassuring message that difficult times are not permanent and beautiful experiences will emerge. “You will meet people just like you. You will smile more. You will love, and someone will love you back,” he said with conviction.
Siddarth tells his younger self that while people will eventually learn to become more understanding and that he too, will learn to find inner peace. “You will love and accept yourself,” she said.
Attendants said they were touched by the resilience and determination that emanated from the stories. Tierney Marey, an Equitable Learning Advisor, said the event made her feel a sense of belonging. “As someone who was quite freshly "out" when I started at UNSW and who has struggled to find my place in the wider LGBTIQ+ community I am always so grateful for how warm and inclusive the community is here,” she said.
The theme called for people to be brave and bold in showcasing their authentic self, but Victoria Drury (Manager of Diversity & Inclusion at South Cross University) acknowledged that it can be difficult to speak up publicly. “I enjoyed the very human approach to this event, it was welcoming and warm, a place for the community and Allies to safely share and acknowledge personal journeys,” she said.
Ultimately the event advocated for self-acceptance above external validation and the need for society to see the LGBTIQ+ community as people first and foremost.
“I wish I could tell myself then - don’t allow people to define you just because it helps them make sense of you,” reflected Rebecca Freed.
UNSW have an extensive network of allies (ALLY@UNSW) that can provide confidential support for people of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities. If you want to join the ALLY community, register for training here.