What the 'yes' vote means to my gay 13-year-old daughter

Thank you for telling her she matters.
Thank you for telling her she matters.  Photo: Shutterstock

Dear 'yes' voters of Australia,

I am writing to say thank you. My 13-year-old daughter is gay - she has been forever. Some well-meaning people ask, "She's so young, how can she know?" But she knows. She has always known.

In the same way I knew when I was 13 that I was going to grow up and marry George Michael (I was yet to understand his absolute lack of interest in me). Nobody asked me if I was sure I was heterosexual. I just knew.

But growing up gay isn't easy. My daughter has the added challenge of dealing with severe bouts of anxiety and depression, which are exacerbated by her teenage need to find herself and work out who she is and what she wants out of life – all while navigating her first year of high school.

As we travel to school each morning, we drive past a bridal shop that always has three dresses on display in its window. Every Monday, after the display has been changed on the weekend, my daughter ranks the three dresses in order of which she would most like to wear when she gets married.

"Middle, left, right," she said to me last week. It's never occurred to me to tell her she was contemplating something that may never happen.

There are pressures at school to act a certain way, to be a certain person, to fit in. And my daughter was advised by her psychiatrist earlier this year to not talk about her sexuality at school.

"Middle schoolers can be cruel," the doctor shrugged. "That's the reality."

So my daughter tried to blend and to hide, all the while battling her demons. Until the evening she decided she couldn't take it any longer and she tried to take her own life.

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My daughter wanted to die because the pain of trying to fit into a society that said she wasn't worthy was too painful. She felt like a lesser person. And that pain was too much for her to bear.

I consider myself incredibly lucky that my daughter could be saved, and I have spent the last four months since that night quietly scared that she will one day try again. But we have wonderful help all around us, and I'm hopeful that she seems to be improving.

We watched together as the nation debated same sex marriage, and we talked about the news almost daily. Who said what, what did that mean, why would anyone want to stand in the way of love?

The polls assured us that the 'yes' vote would win, but the morning the announcement was made felt surreal and wonderful. I was elated at first, and it wasn't until I watched the footage of Penny Wong breaking down in uncharacteristic tears that it truly hit me.

The pain that gay people like my daughter have had to live with every day, being told – explicitly or implicitly – every day by society that they are not equal to everyone else. It's not just about marriage, it's about human rights and it's about dignity.

And as marriage between same sex couples will now inevitably become legal, we are one step closer to accepting people for who they are and the contribution they can make to society.

So thank you for telling my daughter she is worthy. Thank you for telling her that she matters as much as everyone else. And thank you for giving her hope that one day she can select one of those wedding dresses from the window and wear it for real.

* The writer chose to remain anonymous to protect her daughter's privacy. 

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