This is me
July 3,2023
By Roo Tab
1 Comment

When I say that I didn’t come out to my family until I was in my late 20s people give a knowing nod. ‘Oh yeah, well that makes sense – you’re black, gay and from Africa’.

Sometimes they’ll actually say those words, sometimes they’ll convey them through a knowing or almost pitiful nod. A nod like ‘yes you people from the non-Western world really have it so tough, nothing like the openness we have here’. I always wonder if that nod comes from actual knowledge or just that white saviour complex that seems to exist. But I digress. If I’m being honest they are kind of right: I am a gay man. I am black. And I was born and raised in Africa (I’ll keep which country as my little secret). Did I not come out to my family for so long because of these facts? I honestly don’t know. I mean, no. That’s not the case. As time has gone on, as I’ve reflected on myself and my life, I realised that the reason I took so long to came out was not because of where I was from, but of how I saw myself.

I knew from a really young age that I was gay – or that I was interested in men. It’s kind of funny to think that it took Murphy Brown, an American 1980s/90s sitcom full of white people to help me realise this. There was one episode that I was watching when I was about 8 years old when there was reference to one of the characters being gay. I remember turning to my older brothers and asking them what the term, gay, meant. Neither of them answered the question directly and instead told me to get a dictionary, look up the word and find out for myself. They were coming from the perspective of “you’re a smart kid, go figure it out for yourself”. I can’t remember specifically what words of wisdom the dictionary shared with me, I know it was about an attraction to somebody of the same sex. But I still remember the feeling as I read them. The feeling of realisation and resonation: these words were talking about me.

I was in primary school at this age, the home to my first crush: Rasheed a lanky guy in my year level. We used to hang out so often – in the first couple of months of knowing him I quickly lost count of the number of times I invited him back to my place in the hope we would ‘do’ something (of what, I don’t even know as I was too young to know anything about the ‘birds and the bees’). Nothing eventuated – apart from hours and hours playing video games together.

From a young age I would walk around the house, confidently and happily strutting in my mum’s various high heels and wearing t shirts over my head to mimic long flowing hair. I’d proudly dress up and run around the family home and nobody said a thing. Same in primary school, I shared my first kisses with some boys in my class (sadly not with Rasheed though) and my brothers saw me. They never said anything. So for the younger part of my life, doing these activities that may now be labelled as queer didn’t cause even the mildest of a raised eyebrow in my family (or perhaps they did but I was never made to feel a way about it). It was normal – or at least not seen as abnormal.


Roo as a kid – his bedroom walls with all his pop culture icons as a kid


Roo with two of his siblings

It’s funny, I look back and realise that growing up I was never made to feel a certain way about who I was or how I expressed myself. Nothing in my story that supports the ‘your black, gay and from Africa’ narrative around why I didn’t come out until my late 20s. However, we all have a coming out story, some are fortunate to be in a place where they feel comfortable to do so and others it is a process. Mine was the latter.

My family were quite wealthy – we lived quite comfortably with full-time help around the house. Dad’s unwavering plan for my siblings and I was always that we would go and study at university overseas. When I transitioned to high school, I was placed in an international school. Here I was exposed to kids from so many nations – mostly European and from the USA but also some Asian and African places. Guys here were more of the traditional jock types. You know, the cliches on television with the testosterone pumped almost as much as their pubescent bodies. Guys would rock up in their nice cars with dance, rap or hip hop music playing. All I wanted to do was listen to the Spice Girls! It was also around this time that boys started getting into girls. I was not into the music genre they were into nor was I interested in dating girls. It was really the first time that I began to see how different I was; and I was okay with it. My family had raised me in a supportive, loving environment where I had been free to express my flamboyant self and because of this, I had a pretty good sense of self. But even with this, I started to internalise things. A lot. I still had crushes on guys. A lot of crushes. But I never acted upon them. I mostly stuck to myself – for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, or looking at a guy for a just a little too long.

As I was approaching the end of high school, I knew that I had to choose a place to live overseas to pursue my university studies. This was a non-negotiable with my father. Dad wasn’t an imposing physical figure in any of our lives, but he was an imposing person. As I was the youngest, by this stage my 2 brothers and sister were living overseas – spread between the Americas, Europe and Australia. I knew that I wanted to be in the same country as one of them (but not the same city). My brother was living in Sydney and I thought Australia would be a good choice. The limit of my knowledge or research on Australia at the time was limited to episodes of both Neighbours and The Flying Doctors tv show. I don’t know how exactly, but somehow the option to go live in Adelaide was put forth. Happy to explore the next chapter of life, I was packed and ready for the trip.

Arriving in Adelaide was an interesting experience. I remember going for a walk on my first day and finding the comparative emptiness of the streets – compared to the hustle and bustle of my home city – and thinking that it must’ve been a public holiday. The streets were the same, the day after and the day after that. ‘Wow, this is Adelaide’ I realised.

It never really bothered me that there wasn’t anybody in Adelaide that looked like me. But I do have a few memories of the drawbacks of this. I love my comic books and I remember going into one of the local stores, browsing over the X-Men (Storm being my favourite character) with the guy working there following me around – like a second shadow – constantly asking me if I was ok. I remember being an empty passenger on a bus one day when three young kids got on, and sat on the seats in front, next to and behind me. They were obviously trying to intimidate me. I was an expert at hiding my thoughts and feelings – a technique crafted after years of practice.

It’s weird because in many ways, moving to Australia afforded me a luxury I hadn’t felt in a long time. The ability to be myself. Weird because I had grown up feeling like I could be myself, then I went to an international school and started to lose myself. And now, here I was living internationally and feeling the most connected with myself I’d ever felt. I was able to explore my attraction to men, my fashion (come through tight clothing!) and even dying my Afro hair different colours.

I didn’t come to Australia with an expectation of making a bunch of POC or diverse friends. But that’s pretty much what ended up happening. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do – especially living in Adelaide to complete my university degree before moving to Melbourne, and then Sydney. There were plenty of times I would put myself out there – literally walking up to POC people in a café or a bar to strike up a conversation and see if we clicked to develop a friendship. It ended up being really important to me and my journey as a black, gay, immigrant. These friends inspired me – helping me to get through life that comes with living as a queer POC in this country. From my lack of opportunities in searching for jobs, having conversations around how it feels to be a POC within the gay community, how we are perceived within the gay community, conversations surrounding racism within the society we live in and feeling comfortable to be around likeminded people . I love both my POC and non-POC friends, but sometimes the POC ones could relate (not just sympathise) in a way others couldn’t.

My queer POC friends had really interesting relationships with their families when it came to whether they were out or not. They were either completely out and open or completely in the closet. These two extremes made me feel either extremely lucky or silly. I say lucky because those still ‘in the closet’ hadn’t had the ability from a young age like I had to express themselves fully. And I say silly because I hadn’t come out to my family yet here were some POC friends fully out to their families with little to no issue. As time went on, it was so important to me to be able to do the same.

I look back now and think in retrospect how easy it was to tell my family, how all the apprehension I’d had really amounted to nought. With my sister it was calling her up one day and telling her I had a boyfriend ‘just like her’. To one of my brothers it was telling him when he wanted to use the bathroom in my apartment that my boyfriend would be inside. And to the other, calling one day and saying there was something I wanted to discuss and him saying ‘I already know’. It was almost a collective shrug from my siblings. I’d been expecting a bit more drama! It took me a lot longer to tell my mum. I kept telling myself that the delay was to do with her being quite religious and how this would clash with her beliefs. But the reality was that I wanted to reach a point of strength where I felt OK in myself knowing that if she abandoned me I could survive. The catalyst came when I broke up with my then-boyfriend and needed some comfort like only a mother can provide. When I told her, Mum said that she always knew and didn’t want to admit it to herself. I’ll never forget her saying to me “My religion says it’s wrong, but you’re my son and I still love you”. Then she asked ‘so how does it work?’. I went to ask her what she meant – but then quickly decided to move on from that conversation!

Moving to Australia allowed me to eventually reach this full circle moment with myself, which allowed me to do the same with my family. I’d grown up being confident to express myself (perhaps not knowing any differently but always being supported by my family) and as I’d gotten older I’d avoided actually coming out to them because I wanted to avoid any awkward conversations. But here I was, in Australia, having made some great friendships with queer POCs that empowered and inspired me in my journey. While Australia has created its own set of challenges for me – whether that’s being fetishised by guys for the colour of my skin, feeling alone for being a minority within a minority group or difficulty in getting job interviews because of what I can only assume is due to my name or different standards of beauty – it has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow as a person and for that I will forever be grateful.

About the Author:

Roo Tab (he/him) is spiritually awoken, loves life and the constant challenges it presents him. Since emigrating to Australia he has lived in three major cities – with the relationships and experiences formed in these cities helping to shape the person he is today. Roo is passionate about understanding different people’s perspectives and finding common ground to come together and work toward shared goals.

Socials: Instagram @roo_tab

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One thought on “This is me”

  1. Keith says:

    Aww bless.
    This is really well written… I can really understand that aspect of being in a supportive environment.. but still trying to find that courage to come out… and those internal road blocks.
    Than you so much for writing this out and sharing!

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