It took me a long time to realise my own self-worth. It’s one of those things you don’t recognise until you’ve had certain life experiences and even then it can still be hard to pick up on. It’s also something that doesn’t necessarily have a definitive end either. Learning about your value as a person will likely be a life-long journey. There may even be times where your self-worth fluctuates. I think all of this is perfectly okay. You don’t have to be so well put together all the time. The idea of having to be perfect was the razor edge I had walked on for a long time.
Growing up Aboriginal and queer in Australia is a challenging and sometimes lonely experience. There are a lot of times where I am the only Aboriginal person in the room. There have also been a lot of times where I have been the only queer Aboriginal man in a room full of other Aboriginal people or the only Aboriginal man in a room full of queer people. It seems like no matter where I go I will always be a minority. I imagine other Aboriginal LGBTQI+ mob feel a similar way sometimes. In the past this really affected how I built relationships.
People treat you differently when you’re the only member of a minority in the room. I’ve found this is especially the case if you’re Aboriginal. You become the representative of your entire community. This is both an external pressure that has been placed on me, as well as an internalised bias I imposed on myself over time. I constantly find myself having to play the role of the educator and it’s exhausting. This wasn’t just limited to strangers but also extended to friends and people who I have dated. Everyone seems to have preconceived ideas of who a queer or Aboriginal person is. I hear it all the time in the media and in everyday conversations where negative stereotypes are being reinforced. It hits especially hard when those stereotypes are being reinforced by people in the Aboriginal and LGBTQI+ communities. Although I’ve found the LGBTQI+ community to hold more biases against Aboriginal people than Aboriginal people holding biases against the LGBTQI+ community. For so long I dealt with the constant racism and homophobia by relying on being perceived as perfect. I thought that if I was perfect and took on the role of an educator then one by one everyone’s negative stereotypes would stop and it felt like it worked to an extent. I just didn’t realise how tiring it would be trying to sustain relationships like that. It feels like I’m walking on a razor edge and one wrong move could cut me.
I often feel conflicted with how I currently deal with situations of racism and homophobia when it comes up in my relationships. On one hand it can be productive to sit down and have a carefully thought out conversation about a more holistic perspective of being Aboriginal and queer. I get a sense of accomplishment when someone walks away with a changed mindset. But on the other hand I feel tired and drained because it’s never just one conversation. I am having the same conversation with friends and dates and even with strangers. It’s also a conversation that is deeply personal to me but usually not so much for the other person. This eventually takes a toll on my emotional and mental wellbeing. I think the hardest part is accepting that in those situations I just become a vessel of information for the other person. It’s like I’m not even seen as an emotional human anymore and any question can be asked even if it is rude and intrusive. I’ve had all sorts of insensitive questions asked to me about Aboriginal people. One of the worst was: “tell me about your trauma”.
This question left me wordless and I didn’t really have any way of replying to it. On reflection it makes me angry and frustrated that this person who I had only known for a short time felt like they were entitled to know something so personal. Since when is it okay to ask someone point blank what their trauma is? But because I’m Aboriginal and it is “expected” that I went through some kind of trauma it becomes okay to ask. It truly shows the lack of respect some people have towards Aboriginal people and the stereotypes that still carry through today. This was the moment I realised how damaging playing the role of the educator can be on myself. Bit by bit people stop treating you as a person and start treating you like a database on all things Aboriginal. Once people start perceiving you more as a database then the questions become less considerate on how they might affect the person who has to answer it. It was at this realization that I wanted to stop being so perfect in the eyes of others. I wanted to stop walking through life on a razor blade.
I decided that it wasn’t my job to educate everyone about Aboriginal or LGBTQI+ issues all the time. It was okay for me to point people in the direction of finding more information or to simply tell them to research it themselves. This decision took a massive weight off me, a weight I never really recognized until it came off. I could finally live my life without having to deal with the overwhelming pressure of having to explain everything perfectly. I started to really value myself as a person and accept that I need breaks and time to myself. I don’t have to spend every waking moment having to think of the counter argument to every racist or homophobic remark I hear or see on the news. This really improved my relationships with other people because I’m not as tired, and able to steer the conversation onto topics that aren’t as emotionally draining for me. It also helped me identify boundaries in my relationship, especially when it comes to being used as an “all knowing encyclopedia”. I finally saw my worth for more than what I could offer other people. I deserve to be able to tap out of sensitive topics for my own wellbeing. I deserve to be able to say “enough” and so do you.
This article was written by Tyrone who is a Yuin, Wailwan, Dja Dja Wurrung, Gunai Kurnai, Dhudhuroa, and Wamba Wamba man.