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Written by Lacey-Jade Christie.

It’s not easy growing up in a small town when you’re different. People look at you weirdly, they treat you differently and you get teased and bullied for things that are outside of your control. You get bullied, in my case, for being something that I didn’t even know I was. My bullies knew I was a lesbian years before I was ready to admit it to myself, and because of that, I hated myself.

Here’s the thing, I grew up in Newcastle in the nineties which meant that I learnt to swim on some of the best beaches in Australia, but I also grew up surrounded by the backwards opinions of my neighbours and my schoolmates. In my childhood, homophobia was rampant, and there was a severe lack of LGBTQIA+ representation both in real life and in the media. So even when I was ready to admit my differences to myself, I didn’t even really know what it meant.

Having no LGBTQIA+ role models to look up to or to help educate me on how to live, be safe and love myself as a teen had such a profound effect on my mental health. As a fat fifteen year old, I was so unhappy with myself that I already showed signs of mental health issues (including disordered eating and self harm tendencies) because I didn’t know that it was ok to like girls and that there was nothing wrong with me. I hurt myself because I wanted to take back control of my life in a world where I felt like everything about me was wrong. It was a world where I felt so unseen and so alone because I didn’t know anyone like me, there was no one in my world that showed me that I could be gay and happy or what being a lesbian really looked like.

Until I met Kelly.

I was fifteen when Kelly came into my life and turned it upside down. Seven years my senior, we met volunteering for the same organisation, and while I had a crush on her from day dot, Kelly saw a confused kid who needed some guidance. I will be forever grateful to her. In what was the most confusing time in my life, Kelly and her partner were beacons of light and guidance when I had no positive examples of queer culture and one else to turn to. When the kids at school teased me for not having a boyfriend or called me gay I was better able to deal with it because Kelly and Jules taught me that my future could include unconditional love and happiness in a time when I didn’t know what my future would hold.

This is the power of positive role models and mentoring. Kelly was an Officer and I was her Cadet Sergeant and every week she would pick me up and we would drive forty minutes each way to our divisional meetings. I don’t know if she realised it at the time, but those weekly car rides saved my life. Kelly was the first person I came out to properly, even though I still had no idea what the words meant, but ‘lesbian’ felt right to me. She listened to me when the kids at school teased me, or when I’d had a fight with my mum. Kelly was the first person to not only tell me but show me that I was perfect already, and all she did was listen and exist.

Kelly was my first mentor and looking back, she has shaped my life to this day. By definition, a mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’ which is a very clinical way of saying that they have been there and done that and can help you navigate the world. In my experience, mentors have the ability to guide you through some truly difficult situations and teach you a great manner of things. 

Through our mentor/mentee relationship, Kelly taught me two things:

The power of community

I was once invited to a dinner celebrating Kelly’s birthday. It was the first social occasion I had been invited to, and I knew no one else at the table aside from Kelly and her partner. What I saw at that table filled my seventeen year old heart with so much hope. Most of the women there were from Kelly’s soccer team, and the majority of them were queer. And as I sat there and listened to their banter and the odd lesbian joke, I got my first glimpse of what it could be like to have a chosen family; people who understood you and loved you for you, without judgement. I knew this family dynamic was what I needed in my life. I have that chosen family now, and they light up my life and understand me and our culture in a way my biological family never could.

The power of mentoring

One unexpected bonus of my friendship with Kelly, and mentors since, is that I now have first-hand experience of the power that having a mentor and being a mentor can have. Since I came out, and have embraced my life and my rainbow heart I have found myself mentoring many young people both in my workplace and in life. I mentor people not only because I know the profound effect that having that support in your life can have on a young person but also because watching someone grow, change and embrace their truest selves is a joy and a gift to be a part of.

I am a millennial so it may sound odd to hear me call myself a mentor but personally, I believe that millennials are best placed to be LGBTQIA+ mentors. We grew up in a time when homophobia was still publicly acceptable, we marched and yelled on the streets (and still do) for our rights and the right of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Millennials are young and in touch with technology and with a severe lack of safe spaces and LGBTQIA+ only spaces, even here in Melbourne, technology is often the best place to make these connections.

That’s not to say that there is no place for Baby Boomers and Gen X in the Mentoring space, they’re just a little harder to find. But if you do, hold on to them because the stories and wisdom that they can impart to you will be invaluable. My advice, if you’re looking for a mentor, is to volunteer. I met most of my mentees through volunteering for Out For Australia, an organisation dedicated to helping LGBTQIA+ people feel safe in the workplace, which is no easy task.

Being queer in a small town isn’t easy, even today, but what makes it less challenging is positive representation, LGBTQIA+ education and role models. I can’t say where I’d be now if I hadn’t met Kelly when I was fifteen. What I can say is that even if I had survived, it would have taken me years to unlearn the internalised homophobia that I learnt as a child. Without Kelly and the people that she bought into life, I wouldn’t be the happy and proud lesbian that I am today. Without her, I wouldn’t be me.

So to Kelly and all of the LGBTQIA+ mentors – thank you. You’re changing the world one lost rainbow person at a time and we, as individuals and as a community, are so much better off because you are here.

About The Author

Lacey-Jade Christie is a body positivity activist, plus size fashion influencer and freelance writer.

Follow on IG: @laceyjadechristie