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Martha McKay: The Highs and Lows of Coming out in the Mid-00s

I  had always known I liked girls. As a kid I had a crush on both Cosmo and Wanda- never really understanding why. Openly gay people were rarely visible at the time and so I rarely questioned it in the beginning, accepting I would never know why. The majority of my childhood memories are hazy. Yet I remember the day I was forcibly dragged out of the closet at the mere age of 13 in more detail than a Jacobean painting. The pixelated, Sony-Eriksson-style photo of me and another girl sharing a very awkward kiss circulated my school faster than the latest polyphonic ringtone. My first romantic encounter – which I had dreamt of for years, and which should have been a cherished moment – was now anxiety-inducing nightmare fuel and gossip fodder. I became the talk of the playground. Interrogated by everyone and their mothers, asked over and over again if I were a lesbian, I would just reply “I don’t know… I guess I like both…” And so, it was, I became the first out bisexual in the whole damn school. The whole Catholic town, really. Resultantly, my early high school years were ultimately shaped by homophobia.

I couldn’t get through a single class without being incessantly badgered, called a ”fag” or a ”dyke”. Constantly told by the friends and adults I near-blindly idolised, “I think it stems from your Asperger’s”. This served to further befog my angsty, adolescent brain. As is tragically commonplace, the confusion quickly morphed into frustration and I began to scorn myself daily for not understanding why I felt this way. Teased, tormented and asked a constant stream of patronising questions by both teenagers and adults alike. This, combined with the relentless dismissal “it’s just a phase” made some days unbearable. I went down a very dark route of binge-purging and harming my body to try and dull the pain I was feeling on the inside. To make matters even worse, I attended an extremely Catholic Primary school, so to be gay was condemned a ”sin”. During the first (and last) sex-ed class we received; I asked my teacher what it meant to be a lesbian. Everyone laughed; I was sent to the head for disrupting the class, told it wasn’t normal and that I wasn’t to say “that word” again. This indoctrinated internalised-homophobia dominated the first 10 years of my life. In fact, growing up in the early ‘00s, there were barely any female bi-icons in the public eye. Some days it felt as though I was the only bi person in the entire world. 

 

In contrast to this experience in my early years, I have never once felt out of place in the grassroots community of actors and musicians. I was fortunate enough to attend a music school. Through this, I discovered and performed at a number of incredible local venues. And so, I developed a passion for the independent music scene very early on. I fell in love with the intimacy of local small venues. I feel a powerful sentimentality to them that cannot be rivaled by larger venues and arenas. These more sizable establishments simply do not possess the same ethos and atmosphere as grassroots venues. There is just something so memorable about seeing a local band perform a less-than-perfect set to under 200 people – especially when tickets cost less than the uber fare home.

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We may not be able to control what we see but we can control how we handle it!

I was raised by a number of performers and artists- my papa was a violinist and so I started lessons at five years old. From watching those around me, I quickly realised I could physically express exactly how I was feeling. I would write stanzas, add a chord progression, and boom: a way of expressing my thoughts without explicitly communicating them to anyone.  For years, poetry and music became my coping mechanisms. I managed to spend most lunchtimes tucked away in a practice room scribbling down my thoughts and transforming them into songs, as well as screeching my way through various fiddle tunes and poorly-timed piano pieces. Playing music in orchestras, wind bands, and choirs, and attending shows and venues, I could escape everything else that was going on around me.

 

Although my personal experience of coming out was traumatising, it has helped shape the person I am; far more appreciative and empathetic of others on the periphery of societal norms. The music and performing community have always been welcoming to me. They are, to this day, the most warming, weighted comfort blanket I could ask for and, in my experience, always embrace individuality and praise those who stand out; rather than shaming them for being different. I feel as though I’ve really grown into myself the past few years, thanks in part, to the accepting nature of this industry. I have met so many wonderful people with similar stories to my own – which is as reassuring as it is heart-breaking. The rest of society seems to be catching on; a lot more people are beginning to acknowledge bisexuality as an orientation. But sometimes I do wish I could go back in time to my perplexed 13-year-old self, watching Fairly Odd Parents, and reassure her that everything will one day make sense.

Sadly, due to the current climate, the grassroots music community and independent venues I once depended upon are suffering massively.  The Covid pandemic hit our arts sector hard. This, in combination with the severe lack of Government funding, means we are on the brink of seeing the end of so many incredible music venues, theatres and potential artists, as nearly every aspect of the industry is struggling. Yet these are the very institutions that we rely on to foster the next generations of music and performance. Independent venues are vital, not only for the music industry but also for the nation’s mental health. Entertainment aids happiness- it is a beautiful distraction from everything else going on in the world (important now more than ever). 

 

Almost ten years have passed since that photo was leaked, it has taken me a number of self-help books, years of self-loathing, a little experimenting, and the welcome embrace of the grassroots artistic community, but I can finally accept and embrace the fact I’m Bisexual. And I can confidently say, with no hidden confusion, that I still enjoy kissing women. We must take prompt action now to ensure there are inclusive grassroots communities available to the next generation of confused, isolated, creative young people. 

 

There are a number of practical actions you can take to help: donating and raising awareness by sharing on social media and writing to local MPs. Please see relevant links for more information below: