Everyone’s coming out story is slightly different, some have it easy; others are kicked out of home as young adolescents. Although our paths may all start differently there is one thing we all have in common, the difficulty of coming out to your self. For most of us in the queer community this is the hardest part.
In a world where the American dream of a house and two kids is the only one sold to you the realisation that your life isn’t going to match that is terrifying. Facing a life of discrimination, persecution, discomfort, awkward exchanges and millions of invasive questions isn’t an easy choice to face. It takes a strong person to see the road ahead and still believe being their true self is the best option.
I sat down with Paulina to talk about her journey of discovering who she is and how she gained the strength to stand tall in a world that’s has comments like “ you ugly dyke” yelled at her on the street and continuous judgement from her own community.
In a world that tells women we should look and act a certain way, be with a certain person it is an act of defiance in it self to stand tall as the person you are. Not only to be your true self but to also allow your self to still be vulnerable and open is admirable. I am lucky to call Paulina a good friend of mine as well as an inspirational human being. Behind all the jokes and smiles is a back-story of struggle and pain. Many people forget that those who put on happy faces don’t always come from a rosy background. Those with the darkest beginnings can be the ones that lift the pain for others, as they know how it feels to suffer.
L: When did you realize you were gay?
P: Year seven is when I deep down new but didn't want to say anything. In primary school I always favored the pretty girls, I wanted to be friends with them, I bought them all ice blocks but I didn't understand the feelings I felt. I was just fascinated. I look back now and realize I have been gay my whole life. But every time I thought about being gay I repressed it because I thought that's not the right way to think. It was very consistent throughout my teenage years; there would always be this tiny voice inside my head that would say what happens if you’re gay?
I would shut it down straight away and say to myself no its just high school, you like boys, you will find a husband, you just appreciate women’s beauty. But I would always fantasize about women I never fantasized about men. I thought to myself, it's fine because you will be with a guy no one will know what you are thinking.
I couldn’t help but think what's wrong with me? I'm gay; it’s a bad thing. It’s like I’ve got a disease.
It wasn’t until I was 18 I had this big realization that I had to accept I was gay; it was getting to the point were the little voice was getting bigger and bigger and bigger and it was saying you need to think about this. You can’t avoid it anymore. You have avoided it for to many years. So one day I let myself just say okay, I'm gay. And then I freaked out. I had to really sit with it and realise, Oh my god, I am Gay. Why am I hiding this? I'm not happy, I'm miserable being in this situation where I'm denying it and that’s when I admitted it to my friends.
L: What was the process like for you coming to terms with being gay?
P: From 15- 18 I didn’t really accept it. There was a lot of shame there because I knew what I was but I didn't want to say anything to myself. Then when I came out I was still ashamed of it and so I said I was Bi, because I didn't want to accepted that I was Gay.
The first person I told in my family was my sister. I sat her down at Max Brenner and said I have something to tell you. I’m freaking out about it, and don't know how to say it. To which she said well, you're either pregnant or gay, so which one is it? It's the second one!
She was totally fine with it and said she didn’t care. And I realized I cared more than anyone. I care what people think about me. I lived in a Greek community; they were really homophobic and hated people that look different. Even if I wanted to be different I had the hate from the community. They were stalking people on Facebook and laughing at who was gay or who turned gay from high school so that freaked me out even more. It was just so scared to tell people because I was catastrophizing in my head that they will hate me or judge me.
I pulled myself out of that community and put myself in Newtown. I put myself with safe people and people that didn't care. I saw how they didn't care and I realized I wanted to live that lifestyle. Which I started doing at 16, I stopped going to school, I hated it. I was hanging out in Newtown, I wanted to be around those people because that's the only time I felt calm.
But how do you explain to your mum why you are skipping out on school? How do you say Oh, you just don't understand me. I was smoking a lot of weed because it was the only way that I was happy or could stay calm or not think about all that shit. I already had mental health problems’ so adding the stress of your identity to your mental illness was like a fucking crisis.
On top of that my relationship with my mum was very different back then to what it is now. I tell her anything now but not back then. All of us were never really open with each other. Our house was so big that we all isolated ourselves because we're all so introverted. It led us to not be close until we moved into our most recent house.
I'm the type of person that will smile all the time so no one new anything was wrong. That was the issue; I never knew how to ask for help because I had this pride of acting like I was fine. The amount of times I wanted help and I would get shitty at people but then realize I shouldn’t be shitty at them because I was hiding it. I was very alone.
By time I actually made friends with people in Newtown I decided to stay, I was finally chatting to people about what I was going through and I had people around me that understood it. Finally I stopped caring what people thought and started dressing the way I wanted to, and didn’t care when people made comments to my mum.
I remember being in the Dance studio office and a woman was questioning me to figure out if I was a punk that didn't care about life. Or I was gay as my look was so androgynous no one could tell. Ii got to the point where it was a mystery so people were just always guessing. She pretty much cornered me and was trying to get me to say if I was gay or not, which made me so uncomfortable. People constantly questioned me because they just needed to know for some reason, which way I swung.
L: What changed at your dance school to make you open about your sexuality?
P: Because my sister has her husband that works in the studio and everyone knows about them getting married, their travelers, them doing things together yet I couldn't say anything about my girlfriend.
I was sick of feeling repressed. People can sympathize but not necessarily empathize. People don't get how I feel on a daily basis, I feel uncomfortable to say my girlfriend or my partner because I know they will ask me a million questions. I could tell people wanted to get to know me more but I was too scared to be open with them.
I never wanted people to know because I didn't want parents to judge me and not bring their kids to me because of my sexuality. I'm a teacher. It doesn't matter if I'm gay or straight. Me being gay has nothing to do with the way I teach. There are heaps of hetero teachers that are fucking horrible. If anything I'm a bit more sympathetic to kids feeling a bit left out because I’ve experienced that.
L: Now that you've kind of come to terms with your sexuality where's your gender at these days?
P: Its neutral. It’s a ratio of male to female qualities, not even male just more dominant, which is an issue in its self to think that dominance means masculine.
If I had to put myself in that stereotypical category, it'd be more male than female. But for me, it's just like, I'm me. When I told a lot of people about how I was feeling they said they never really saw me as anything. They just saw me as Paulina, not a girl or a boy or a gay person, just me. That's when I stopped caring, that's when my confidence came up. That's when people just accepted me straight away because I'd give them no choice.
I don't want to be under the category of female sometimes because I don't want to be that stereotype. I don't want people thinking, oh, you're a female you must be sensitive. No, I'm sensitive because I'm a sensitive person. Or you probably want to be served this way or be spoken to this way. No, don't treat me a certain way because you see boobs under this very baggy shirt. Just talk to me and treat me like a person.
Sometimes I'm outrageous, other times I’m sensitive, an over thinker, mentally emotionally screwed. I'm just a person that has characteristics that are different to you that makes me unique.
Photos by Lila Marvell
Check out Paulina's skills @paulinaclavijo_