To rid me of my name, to strip me from my allies

I should not have been explaining non-binary identity to my senior school director at the age of 17, just as my peers should not have spent their lives dodging homophobic jokes just for the chance to be included in their “normal” peer groups.

Art by Evelyn Redfern

Queer students face a very unique form of bigotry throughout rural Australian schools  Though under provisional systems like anti-discrimination law, they are protected by the legal system, one must ask who enforces this in educational settings. You’d assume the teachers, but how are these teachers supposed to protect a group they are widely disconnected from? From what I experienced, because most teachers are the residents of their school’s postcodes, in rural settings they commonly hold a rightwing leaning when it comes to queer and gender diversity-related issues. This creates an environment wherein racial slurs were the only form of offensive behavior that middle aged teachers could clock and that students were punished for under the anti-discrimination policy. But even then, none of this could tame the rage of the common angsty white boy. The apex predator of the Monaro region if you will. 

Alongside my own thoughts, I sat with students of my graduating year to discuss their experiences in this very system, where our own educators were not educated enough to be able to rightfully care for their queer students. 

The experience of being openly queer in a school of around 300 students is a burden that, in my opinion, no student should have to take on. Openly queer students were granted a badge from the very beginning of their coming out, an unofficial role which held an expectation for them to be the face of queerness at the mere age of 17. A metaphorical, and mortifyingly sometimes literal, microphone was handed to an unsuspecting adolescent as they were expected to perform like an adult advocate. Pushed into speaking for a community they just entered, queer students take on the role of the worst type of celebrity. A peer recalls “people genuinely not understanding the concept or idea”, which obviously does not help the development of one’s own identity, the routine of justifying your own existence to both children and adults alike. “There were many instances where I was educating my teachers about queerness.” Yet even as students made themselves vulnerable by accepting the burden of talking about queerness amidst this sea of ignorance, little effort or care was shownby teachers themselves to fix the broken systems that inherently excluded queer students within their own institutions. 

My own uniform switch, from “women’s” to “men’s” had to be individually planned and pleaded for to the board of directors. It was up to a team of elderly white men, who’d never personally met me, to decide how I was permitted to dress myself. The concern of uniforms always seemed to outperform issues of general student wellbeing, “I kept a lot hidden […] all the conversations about queer people at school were often unproductive.” No system existed to allow gender diverse and non-conforming students an easier and less pride crushing way to change or swap uniforms, no lesson had been learned from my own trial by any adult in the situation. This very sentiment was echoed by a fellow student, saying “It’s still one of those things they kind of just hope won’t raise its head [so] they don’t have to deal with it.” 

Additionally, sex education was strictly binary in its lesson structure. Cold shivers run down my spine at the very mention of “Girls Pyjama Party” and “Secret Men’s Business”.  Both effectively rejected me as the course did not mention anything about transgender identity, health or even existence. “Our sex education was an absolute nightmare […] queerness was trivialised […] [they] made [queerness] feel childish.” 

Alongside this, representation of queer joy is completely overshadowed by its struggle in rural Australia. A peer openly stated that “As a straight passing person it was easier [for me] than others around me.” There is no World Pride or Mardi Gras, no tangible existence of queer people that could be traced beyond a deserted facebook group or contemplated text message. Outward acceptance was not permitted as a student states “they supported me as a person but not as my queer identity.” Even when we confided in our teachers, a peer expressed that “not many people I know would go [to them], cause 9/10 teachers like to talk” as basic respect and privacy was ignored as queer students were slowly outed to an entire staff room of adults who should know better. Like a celebrity with tabloids, the information would leak to the student body and the cycle would repeat itself. Queer students would fall victim to and be thrust into a life of dead-end advocacy and unrestricted back-handed harassment in a community that is supposed to educate and protect them.

I should not have been explaining non-binary identity to my senior school director at the age of 17, just as my peers should not have spent their lives dodging homophobic jokes just for the chance to be included in their “normal” peer groups. It’s a unique form of isolation; of torture. To strip me of my allies and rebrand my name into whatever best suits you, my supposed guardian. Sometimes it would be invisible, at other points prominent, but never human. 

For the purposes of privacy, no interviewee has been named.