Benjamin Law On Coming Out To His Mum About His Sexuality

Benjamin Law Recounts The Moment He Came Out To His Mum About His Sexuality

"I was so emotional and scared that I couldn’t get the words out."

I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, the last mainland state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality. That meant for a significant period of my life growing up, the adult that I would become was criminalised by the state. That stopped when I was a teenager, but that doesn’t mean attitudes changed. The messages you received in the schoolyard and in the media were that being gay was the worst thing that you could be. Even the word was synonymous with being shit – you’d call a crappy car “gay”, for example. That creates all this internalised homophobia that a lot of queer people grow up with. 

I recognised my sexuality pretty quickly. When I was going through puberty and all my hormones and feelings came bursting out, I was like: Okay, my feelings when I watch Channel Seven’s Gladiators are probably different to my peers. But that didn’t mean I was comfortable or okay with it. In fact, I really wanted it not to be the case. Sometimes I’d bargain with myself: If you just stop thinking about guys for a period, maybe you’ll come out the other side okay. So there were all these feelings of loneliness, shame and fear.

When I finished school at 17, I decided I would come out. I was about to move away to the big smoke of Brisbane, so I had an escape hatch. First, I told my best friend Rebecca. When she was so supportive and loving about it, I thought: Okay, maybe I can tell my family, as well.

Now I’m from a Chinese family and dad is very traditional – he wouldn’t even talk about heterosexual relationships, let alone any concepts around being gay. My mum had five kids so there wasn’t much left in life that was mysterious to her. She was incredibly frank about sex and childbirth and reproduction, but gayness was less on her radar. There was just no conversation around the subject. But that presents its own problems, because I had no idea how she was going to react. 

One summer night, we were sitting in our living room, my back sticking to our tacky green leather couch in the heat, when I told my mum that I had to tell her something important. But I was so emotional and scared that I couldn’t get the words out. So my poor mum had to start trying to guess what I had to tell her. First she said: “Are you on drugs?” Then she asked: “Have you got Rebecca pregnant?” Finally she said: “Oh, are you gay?” Through my sobs,
I nodded and mumbled: “Yes”.

That was the moment of truth and I waited for the response. But my mum just said, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with being gay. It just means something went wrong in the womb, that’s all.” Then she brought me in for this big hug.  Thinking back, it was such a hilarious line because at once there was acceptance, but I was also being told that I’m essentially deformed. But that was her way of saying there’s nothing wrong, it’s not your fault, it’s all okay – I love you and I accept you. 

Before I came out, I didn’t have any queer people in my life. So there was this fear that comes with not being part of a broader community. It was this incredibly isolating thing. That first step was really important, because it changed things. I realised that as long as I had my mum on my team, then I could do the rest. You’re not always going to be accepted by everyone. You’re not always going to get the right response from people. But what coming out to my mum taught me was that sometimes you just need that bedrock of support from one good person and everything else will follow.

Years later, I came out to my dad, which was a much bigger deal. But his response was funny, too. When I told him I was gay, he just said: “Oh, well, it’s very popular nowadays. But I guess if you want to be normal later, that’s
fine, too.”  

Catch Law on Australian Survivor: Heroes v Villains, only on 10 and 10 Play.

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the former Digital Editor at Men's Health Australia, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has written for Women's Health, esquire, GQ and Vogue magazine.

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