*Names with an asterisk are aliases for interviewees that wish to remain anonymous.
Despite what the title may suggest, relationships are quintessentially all the same. Whether it be heterosexual or homosexual love. Love is love, and the severity of the fall, the dropping, and heck the swooning will occur whether you’re falling in love with a boy, a girl, or anyone in between.
In saying that, there is a thicker cloud of confusion, frustration, and fear that queer individuals struggle with. It may not be necessarily all doom and gloom, same-sex relationships can bring a sense of liberation, a building of identity, and most importantly, a holy revelation that your sex drive exists.
This can be especially confusing for international students who may come from a culture unaccepting of queer individuals. Often, certain cultures shy away from talking about dating and relationships, much less queer relationships that may have different considerations.
Melbourne is one of Australia’s most accepting and progressive cities. Last November, we came second to the ACT in majority yes vote (64.9% to 74%), a volunteer postal survey that lead to the passing of same-sex marriage in legislation. Albeit overdue and however disappointing a percentage, a giant leap forward nonetheless.
To celebrate SEXtember, here is a stage-to-stage guide that with the aid of many, illuminates the multifaceted nature of loving someone.
Stage One: Are you gay or just flamboyant?
In response to this question, all three queer identifying interviewees responded similarly, taking a minute in silence and nodding in shared understanding. It is indisputable. It is black and white, and a little bit rainbow.
Because most queer individuals do not outwardly advertise their queer status, it can be hard to tell if the person you’re vibing with bats for the same team.
Jackson Locke*, an Indonesian-born international student, believes eye contact is a telltale sign in figuring out where someone’s intentions lay. For men, he believes body language is a strong giveaway.
Locke further advises to give them a solid Instagram stalk and to keep conversations friendly until proven otherwise.
This first stage is both frightening and exhilarating, it’s a riveting exchange until the two of you find common ground – it may take a while, but it’s best to wait.
Ryan Jones*, a local Melbournian says, “it’s risky but you always have to take the risk and open up to someone.”
If you are lucky enough to progress from singular to mutual attraction, then you can move on to stage two.
Stage Two: Sexual Awakening
This second stage evokes smiles all around. Being young and queer is terrifying and tumultuous, hence finding another may feel like finding a wet well during drought season, or alternatively, finding a thick, standing tree during deforestation – not alluding to anything I promise.
For Locke, this sexual awakening was a “challenge and a curse”. His past relationships evolved very quickly, and he recalls sex being a driving force early on.
Louis Viota who identifies as non-binary, says sex has always been difficult to navigate. A mixture of physical and mental health issues have hindered their own sexual enjoyment, finding an understanding partner willing to accommodate their needs made sex a new pleasurable experience.
To approach this step correctly, but most importantly safely, Locke and Viota suggest explicitly speaking about sex, wants, and boundaries.
Sex can be a huge deal to some but minuscule to others – respect this as much as possible. As easy as it may be getting caught up in your own wants and desires, don’t forget to take into account your partner’s.
Communicate honestly and establish boundaries to ensure both parties have a good sexual experience.
Stage Three: This Is Intense
You’ve now hit the two, three, four, five month mark and you’re thinking “wow this is very consuming, is that good or bad?”.
Neither. It is intense because for a lot of queer-identifying individuals, their potential lover symbolises part of their identity and sexually. They represent that it’s okay, and they slowly help you reconfigure what being gay means, what it feels and looks like.
Thy Nguyen Tran, a Vietnamese-born international student, hid her relationship from the outside world for five years. This decision came from her experiences growing up queer in Vietnam. Being a country that criminalizes homosexuality meant being queer and proud equates to social condemnation.
Tran, recounts the first ever Vietnamese pride march in 2012. A celebration cut short by police intervention.
“It was a small crowd but it felt amazing to sing loudly and express who we were, when the police starting shouting – I understood that I wasn’t welcomed,” Tran said.
Now residing in Melbourne Thy feels the weight of fear lift. “I am free from negative judgment…I no longer have anything to hide.”
For those who have the freedom to date and love their chosen partners, there is little for them to lose. Queer relationships can be very serious and consuming.
If it is your first same-sex relationship, this may feel like drowning, or like a perpetual state of floating.
Stage Four: Sharing your love with the world
Whether coming out to the broader world as queer before, during, or after being with a serious partner you reach a point when you want to share this special someone with a friend, a family member, stranger or to the world.
Jones did not feel the need to “come out” as he believed introducing his boyfriend to friends and family should be as easy as introducing a girlfriend, without explanation and hesitation.
For Locke however, coming out with a boyfriend helped confirm his identity. Sharing his special someone also correlated with sharing his sexuality, “I felt so empowered,” Locke said.
Stage Five: Finding happiness
This final stage is not necessarily alluding to a happily ever after with Princess/Prince Charming, but rather, being internally happy whether you two are together or not.
Viota says ze does not need a man to be happy. Ze is for the first time prioritising themselves above all else. “I don’t regret anything…right now I’m in a space where I want to be happy for myself… I find love in all my encounters with friends, family, and strangers,” Viota said.
Love is multifaceted, it’s the thing that gets artists’ going, singers singing, and poets writing. While many songs and movies portray love as being with another person, being in love with yourself is even better.
For those of you who are straight, these stages may seem familiar. It is. In truth, queer love is not far from straight love. You feel what you feel and you love who you love.
These five stages are no concrete model. For the most part, falling in love is a special experience that is different for every individual. For queer-identifying students, however, it may just require a little more fumbling.
While these stages involve showing your love to the world or coming out, not all experiences will include this. Just know that it takes time to figure it all out slowly but surely.