(ISSUE 1 EXCERPT) reclaiming my sexuality


by Ria Kealey, shot by Nadz Banaag



I never feel like enough. Too feminine, too boyish. Haven’t kissed enough boys, haven’t kissed enough girls. Too academic, too loud, too pretentious. Trying too hard, not trying hard enough. I’ve stopped caring, really, about what they say. I made another speech in English class about the misrepresentation of queer relationships in history and a girl in the back rolled her eyes. I heard her whisper again? to the girl next to her. My teacher pulled me aside after class to suggest I try something less ‘inflammatory’. My face was stone. For my next assessment, I handed in a poem about kissing girls on the bank of a river.

When I was thirteen, I was outed to the girls in my dorm. The next day, I was outed to the whole town. One girl started crying because she thought I would spy on her while she was getting changed. I was pulled into a meeting with the head of boarding and the school counsellor to discuss the issue. It was suggested that I move rooms. The counsellor informed me she had told the entire staff about the ‘situation’, just in case there were any problems.  

She suggested I tell my parents that weekend. When I got home, my mum was sitting on my bed, phone in hand. Her friend had called to tell her that her daughter had heard rumours going around school that I was bi. I told her I wasn’t. I’m queer, mum. That’s my word.

My first kiss wasn’t my choice. I was at my first party, writhing and beating with the crowd of tipsy, horny, trashy teenagers, when an acquaintance ran up to me, dragging a boy along by the wrist, grinned, and left me with him. He tried to say something to me, but I didn’t hear it. I leant in to hear better, both the thumping baseline and a shot of vodka filling my head. He took it as a hint and kissed me. It lasted two shocked seconds as I froze, then shoved him. He walked away, sheepish and embarrassed, and I walked away slightly nauseous. I scrubbed my skin red raw in the bath that night.

Once a month, the rest of the boarders and I go to church. It’s a requirement, being at a Presbyterian school. Everyone tries to be out on exeats, or home with family those weekends. It’s deadly boring. I listened to the pastor praying that everyone would ‘make the right choice and stop this abomination from becoming law’ when the plebiscite was first brought up. My palms started bleeding from how hard my fingernails were pressed into them. At the morning tea afterwards, I couldn’t hold my coffee straight. My hands were shaking too hard.

I’m sick of having my sexuality controlled by other people. I’m sick of having no agency. I’m sick to my stomach of everything I do being taken over, defined, twisted into something it’s not by those who think themselves superior to me. I’m sick of it, and I won’t stand it any longer.

I walked into that school counsellors office last week, and I let the words flow without restraint. I took back what she helped others steal from me nearly three years ago - my autonomy. I told her that it was shameful and disrespectful to out me to other people, even staff, without my permission. I told her that there was a serious lack of education in PDHPE classes about same-sex relationships. I told her that the anti-bullying campaigns that they ran yearly were absolutely useless without addressing homophobia. I told her that there needed to be change.

I kissed a girl while I was in Europe. I’m labelling it my first kiss. She asked me if I wanted to before leaning in and kissing me soft and slow. She tasted like cherries.

I met a boy the other day. We were talking, and I made my usual over-worn joke that my teeth were the only straight thing about me. He smiled, all knock knees and angel hair, and muttered same. My friend made a joke about fags and Liberals, and I made a not-joke about throwing him backwards off the stands if he said it again. There was something hard and steely in my eye, flint-like, and he knew to listen. We made progress.

I’m reclaiming my sexuality, and I’m doing it hard and fast and vibrantly. I can feel my heart blooming into something effervescent and bright. I tell flame-haired girls and golden bright boys that I love them, I’m rejected, and I heal. That’s a part of it too, I think - learning to heal. I still haven’t quite learnt to forgive, but I’m working on it. 

For now, I hold that anger in my chest until I can turn it into something useful, until I can remake the world.