When Jesse First Came Out As Queer To His Family, He Ended Up Homeless

Are you guilty of micro-ignorance? Don’t know what it is?

It’s those everyday verbal, non-verbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults -- intentional or unintentional. The ones that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to people based solely upon their marginalised group membership.

We’re talking about their backgrounds, upbringings, disabilities, gender and sexuality.

In T2’s Verse of Tea video series, four amazing Slam Poets with dynamic, diverse voices tackle the issue of micro-ignorance, with the aim to make us understand their experiences and compel us to take action.

Like Jesse Oliver -- a second-generation Burmese-Australian. Jesse has been writing poetry for five years -- first finding his passion for it while living on the streets.

“I’m very, very queer, and when I first came out, my mum was a born-again Christian, so I didn’t stay at home and I ended up on the streets,” he told 10 daily.

T2 is a Brewing Force for  Good and has set out to change people’s attitudes one cup at a time. You can watch their video series below. 

“We used to just busk and write raps and things just to get money so that was how I always used to express myself. Being on the streets you sort of felt like your opinion doesn’t matter and you don’t have a voice… so writing was the only way that I could express myself.”

Jesse continued to struggle with his sexuality and gender, which in turn affected the way he related to other people and how he communicated.

“When I figured out that my issue was that I am trans and that I just needed to transition, I started that. It was a massive hurdle, I couldn’t even think beyond the transition since I never thought I would have a future because I didn’t see myself having a future as a woman,” he said.

I was still trying to figure out who I was as a man… it’s not just to transition, I needed to figure out what does this mean for me as a person.

"I was very, very shy and anxious about the whole thing because I was in that phase where you’re not read as male or female, so I was very, very nervous."

"I used to speak with a little bit of a stutter and it was just because I was so nervous, I used to shake when I would talk to people.” Image: Supplied

To overcome those nerves, Jesse did the scariest thing he could think of -- he performed at a poetry slam. And what that gave him was life-changing.

“I passed-out but I got up and I finished the poem and I came third,” he laughed.

That was pretty cool, but the best part was that I met a community of people who were really accepting and really welcoming for the first time.

“And not just a particular group of people but a very diverse group of people, people from all sorts of walks with all sorts of stories and they just welcomed me into that and it helped me build my confidence.”

Jesse now sees his role -- and the role of poetry -- in the diversity discussion as “injecting a little tiny bit of hope.”

“All of my poetry comes down to love and that openness and that acceptance of everyone and that there is no single person who can be reduced,” Jesse told 10 daily.

“One of my lines is that ‘we all have bad thoughts but they don’t have to define us’… like we all have the opportunity to do better and the opportunity to work on the ways we do harm to others, either explicitly or less so.” Image: Supplied

By creating poetry that talks to micro-ignorance, Jesse has an opportunity to introduce the issue and create dialogue around it, and he says it’s changing the way he writes.

“It’s usually the bigger things [we write about] as slam poets where we’re saying, ‘This is a huge issue, let’s get together and solve it’,” he said.

It helped me realise that it’s more complex than just tackling the bigger issue… we have to start somewhere as well.

It’s an issue relevant to many multicultural communities across Australia -- the last Census shows nearly half (49 percent) of Australians were either born overseas or at least one parent born overseas.

Our differences still remain a source of tension, as one in five Australians admit to experiencing race-hate talk.

From his own experience, Jesse knows only too well how important it is to open yourself up to meeting -- and talking to -- a diverse range of people.

“We form an understanding of the world we live in based on our experiences and we also have the ability to tailor those experiences If you’re waking up, you’re going to work, you’re keeping to a small group," he said.

"You’re not going to have a proper understanding of the way the world is and the people in the world and how they move through the world.” Image: Supplied

And it’s crucial, he said -- if we want to truly celebrate diversity -- to listen to the stories of the people we meet.

“There is a lot of strength in sharing your story but that’s not possible if the environment that you’re sharing that story into isn’t supported by everyone listening,” said Jesse.

“That’s the thing -- it has to be both ways, everyone has to meet each other halfway. In the wider community, it’s just about that --creating environments where we can welcome everyone and hear their side and hear their story… because when that happens it’s magical.”

Featured image: Supplied