I Transitioned 5 Years Ago. Here's What Happened On My First Trip Home.

There’s one thing I’ll never forget from when I was growing up.

Being crash-tackled so heavily into a pile of unused desks at my old high school in Inverell that the bones in both of my wrists became swollen and bruised beyond belief.

Fearing for my safety in the face of absolutely relentless bullying by a select group of young boys, it was moments like that which ultimately changed me from being a fun-loving and bubbly yet slightly effeminate kid, through to one who ultimately felt suicidal while I was growing up, due to the anxiety and depression that I was experiencing at no fault of my own.

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Rather than exploring who I was as a person and enjoying the serenity of my youth, I was constantly looking over my shoulder and wondering when the next taunt, punch or kick might come.

Me in 2003, after my HSC, just outside of Inverell. (Image: Supplied)

Furthermore, I can vividly remember silently praying to whatever deities were out there that I’d somehow be able to get through my education before anyone else realised just how much I was struggling with both my gender identity and sexuality, on the assumption that the assaults and harassment that I was already enduring could somehow get worse.

Whether we realise it or not, trauma has a way of sticking with us until we’re ready to truly face it, regardless of how hard we try to shake it off.

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Consequentially while I ultimately forgave each and every one of my childhood tormentors a long time ago, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when I finally returned to my hometown of Inverell for Christmas for the first time since I transitioned nearly five years ago, that I was finally able to transform the fears that had held me back for so many years into insightful experiences that now drive me forward.

My horse Aqua and I. We were inseparable growing up. (Image: Supplied)

It was late on Christmas Eve that I entered the southern outskirts of Inverell after driving close to six hundred kilometres from Sydney.

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It was immediately clear that a lot of things had changed in town (physically at least) since the last time that I was there -- newly built wind farms dotted the horizon, and sculptures, welcoming signs and artwork graced the main streets and parks.  Inverell is starting to become a town that’s proud of its rural, yet multicultural identity.

The road home. (Image: Supplied)
The new Sapphire Wind Farm near Inverell. (Image: Supplied)
One of the prize-winning homes for Christmas light displays in Inverell. (Image: Supplied)

When I first told my friend and colleague Hugh Riminton where I was planning on going for Christmas and why, he advised me to be wary of the psychological influence that returning back home might have on me. While referencing the “Black Dog” was ultimately great advice, it’s something that I probably should have paid far more attention to than what I did.

That’s because there’s absolutely nothing that could have prepared me, psychologically or otherwise, for the hair-raising situation that came next.

As soon as I pulled into my parent’s driveway, the literal “Black Dog” was there waiting and ready to jump in through the open car windows in order to get to me.

All. Twenty. Kilos. Of. Him.

Between enough licking to strip me entirely of my make-up, incessant and joyful howling and an extremely large tail thumping rapidly on my car’s horn in excitement, my parents’ black and white Kelpie, Ben, showered me with the type of unconditional love that only our pets can ever really give.

Ben was the first friendly face to great me when I returned to Inverell. (Image: Supplied)

It was that simple, yet beautiful moment which set me up perfectly for the rest of the week.

Rather than cower in fear by staying away from the CBD of Inverell like I might have done if I’d returned sooner than what I had, I stood tall and backed myself in ways that I’d never truly felt comfortable doing in my hometown before.

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From proudly showing my ID at the local RSL and other establishments while socialising, through to sharing a laugh with a couple of old farmers who’d pulled over to see if my car and I were okay while I was unexpectedly out chasing down some news stories, I felt welcomed and appreciated during my time there, which was ultimately a first for me.

Me after a recent corporate talk I gave. While returning to my hometown, I stood tall and backed myself in ways that I’d never truly felt comfortable doing there before. (Image: Supplied)

Rural towns have a way of occasionally surprising you, and while not being misgendered or harassed once during my trip is something that I’m extremely grateful for, it’s ultimately a chance encounter that I had with one of my old English teachers that I’ll ultimately cherish for the rest of my life.

Between giving me a hug and telling me that they were proud of me, they also said that I was perfect example for kids who are struggling in school due to harassment, that life truly does get better.

To hear that from one of the teachers who’d previously taken me aside out of concern and kindness in my youth was priceless.

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As ambitious as it may sound, my resolution for making the trip back to Inverell over Christmas wasn’t merely to build a ramp over the psychological roadblocks that I’d developed over the years. Instead, it was to purposefully blow them sky-high, so that they never have the opportunity to bother me in any form whatsoever, ever again.

Me in Warren Entsch’s Office in Parliament House, the day that marriage equality passed. My name is enshrined in that legislation, thanks to Warren sharing my name and story during the bill’s introduction speech. (Image: Supplied)

For me as a young person, survival came from having some of my teachers and older mentors sit down with me both during and outside of school hours, in order to show me that life ultimately does get better and that I was capable of so much more than I’d ever given myself credit for.

As an adult however, it’s ultimately come from realising that the world is a truly amazing place and that things can only hurt me if I allow them to do so. One way or another, it was my intention to envelop my hometown with that same warm sense of wonder and amazement within my mind, yet again.

As my close friend JoAnna Ferrari likes to say, life is there to be lived. I’m so grateful to her for helping me find the courage to face my fears, blow them to pieces, and then when the time was right, return to my hometown.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.