“I am a firm believer that all people go through 3 big challenges in their lives. Be it the death of a family member, a life threatening illness like cancer along with some sort of emotional challenge, be it a relationship bust up or challenging of their sexuality. For me the first of my big challenges has been the latter of the 3, my sexuality.
Let’s start with some background information regarding the naming of this story. Point nemo is Latin for “no one” or the oceanic pole of inaccessibility as is its technical name. It is the furthest point you can get from land any where in the world 2,688 km (1,670 mi) At this point in the middle of the southern ocean sitting at 48°52.6’south, 123°23.6’west, you are closer to the astronauts (400km up) at the international space station. It is a place that few people rarely get to visit.
Maybe I should fill you in on how I got there and the back-story to why this point, the environment, the boat that I was on and the people I was with has become one of the biggest defining moments in my 24 years thus far. I am going to come out straight-no pun intended and say that it was at this point I came out as a gay man. I was one of the lucky 24 young Australians selected to sail on leg 1 of Young Endeavour’s circumnavigation of the globe from Sydney, Australia to Rio De Janerio, Brazil via Wellington, New Zealand, the infamous Cape Horn, Ushuaia, Argentina (the southern most city in the world) along with Buenos Aires, Argentina. We departed on the 22nd of December 2014 and arrived on the 15th of February 2015.
I grew up in Avalon on the northern beaches of Sydney Australia in a typical Australian household with my mum Virginia and dad Nick along with my older sister Ange. At the age of 11 my parents got a very amicable divorce. I went through the normal primary and high school systems. I was heavily involved in voluntary surf life saving, on and off from a young age and the surf club became an integral part of my life especially in my teen years. I grew up with the same hopes and dreams of all boys my age of enjoying life eventually marrying the girl of my dreams and having kids of my own some day. In my eyes it was the quintessential Australia dream.
Unlike my peers during my mid teen years I started to realize that I was somewhat different, in that I started to notice and be more attracted to boys than I was to girls. At first I put this down to hormones and puberty. However as time progressed I realized that there was something more to these feelings I was experiencing. At first I experienced extreme hatred and I pushed it aside along with anything that I thought was remotely gay. In other words I became ultra homophobic. Although this did not seem to stop me from experimenting to try and prove to myself that I was indeed straight. I did this because this was in my eyes what society said I should and needed to be as the alpha masculine male that I tried to project to the world. I did this to an almost over the top point to hide any “gayness”. I should add that 90% of people who meet me have no idea that I am gay.
As time passed by I very slowly, and by slowly I mean 7 years from my first inkling to ending up at ‘point nemo’ on Young Endeavour and coming out. I started to warm to the idea of being bisexual and or gay. Through more searching as I called it I started meeting individuals with similar situations and experiences. This made me realize that I was not alone and that it was a lot more common than I thought. It was during this time that I started experiencing feelings that I had never felt before in the past with heterosexual relationships of which I only had one.
So why ‘point nemo’ and why on Young Endeavour?
Being at sea for long periods of time, 30 days straight from Wellington, New Zealand to Ushuaia, Argentine with zero contact to the outside world leaves you with so much time to think and reflect on life. We did an apples and onions discussion amongst other things during this time which hit home. (Apples and onions is a constructive criticism exercise. It is an exercise in which each member of the 3 x 8 person watch’s of which the 24 youth crew for the trip where put into and spent the majority of our time with over the course of the trip writes three positives and three negatives about each person and then shares them in front of the whole watch.) This along with having other bisexual and gay crewmembers on board for the trip, allowed me to talk to them and hear about their experiences. I then began the process of evaluating who I had become, who I wanted to be as a person and setting a new set of life goals and values to live by.
I realized that honesty and happiness were key personal values that were important to me. But if I could not be honest to myself about who I truly was then how could I be honest with others and have the close and intimate friendships I craved. I was unable to achieve these sorts of relationships because of the front I put on in my day-to-day life to shield the real me from others. Very few people really knew the real me because of this front and wall that I lived behind. It was one of the key things that I took from the feedback I was given during the apples and onions exercise in that as much as I was a friendly normal person, people did not feel they really knew me. This wall in a weird way gave me a sense of security. It enabled me to showcase the person I thought I should be whilst also being the person I knew I really was deep down, without having to draw attention to the fact that I was ‘different’ to my peers, it was my little secret. There where stages when I thought this would be my life, living behind the wall as the ‘real me’ and projecting who I thought I should be to the world. I thought that my little secret would go to the grave with me someday. I would say that it was at this point that I had hit ‘point nemo’ within myself. It was at this point that I felt very alone and unsure of what my future held.
I went through the stages of what I now know are completely normal for someone who is in the process of coming out. What will my friends and family think of me? Will they reject or disown me? Coming to terms with knowing that I would never have biological kids of my own and not have that phase of life that was carved in my mind from my childhood. It was one that I so looked forward to and was extremely tough to come to terms with. But the hardest one to deal with, for me, was the possibility of letting down and embarrassing my family. As much as I knew this decision was about me, I also knew the ramifications it would have for others involved in my life, but in particular, those closest to me.
From the point when I decided that it was more important to me as a person to be honest with myself and others, it was a really simple, easy and logical decision. I was on a boat sailing an ocean, in the middle of nowhere. I was surrounded by a group of people who I had become very close to, who took me in and accepted me for who I was. Young Endeavour as a ship has this energy that only those who have sailed on her can describe. The Royal Australian Navy crew who work on her are amongst the most dedicated, caring and understanding people I have ever met, but they also gave me great unbiased advice. It was in my eyes the perfect place to expose myself in such a way. There was a part of me that said I would walk off the boat if it did not go well in 20 days and never see these people again.
I will remember THE moment and words to the day I die, it was during the 1800-2000 hours watch with all seven of my fellow blue watch members, our watch leader, Jodie and Captain, Gav. The weight that was lifted off my shoulders was palpable, I have never felt so free and happy in my life. It was surreal. I believe that all things happen for a reason. For me it was highly symbolic that after feeling like I was at point nemo within myself only a few short years ago, that I would find myself on a boat and Young Endeavour no less, that just happened to be passing the geographical point nemo. In short it was meant to be.
Being gay does not change who I am as a person in anyway but it does allow me to freely be who I am, the true me. The decision to come out is not a one-time deal, it is a lifetime deal. That is not to say that I go around screaming and shouting that I am gay but if I am asked point blank, I owe it to myself to be 100% honest. I am so lucky to live in a time where being gay is for the most part accepted. It would not be this way if it were not for the LBGT individuals who walked before me and paved the way for our acceptance in society today. To anyone who has contributed to our freedom, all I can say is THANK YOU.
What was the response like? The response was one of positivity, happiness, encouragement and surprise from some people. Surprise stemming from the fact that I don’t fit the stereotypical ‘gay’ mould. Coming out on Young Endeavour was step one of the process. The succeeding steps of coming out to family and friends where somewhat easier in certain ways and somewhat harder in others. That is not to say it was all smooth sailing. Coming out to my mum did not go too well but that was partly because she was the one person I was terrified to tell. I was scared for a number of reasons, one being that I knew what it would mean to her.
On the whole, my relationships with friends have stayed the same. There is some very friendly banter but it is all in good spirits. My relationships with my mum, dad and my sister have taken a massive turn for the better and we have never been closer. I have developed the relationships I hoped and dreamed for whilst going through the process of coming out.
I consider myself lucky for life to have given me my sexuality as the first of my big three challenges in life. I would not be the person I am today if it where not for going through the process of coming out. Young Endeavour is such a special ship and I am so grateful for all the hard work that goes in to the program that keeps the scheme running. We are so lucky as Australians to have a ship like her for the youth of Australia.
I would like to finish off by saying there is always light at the end of the tunnel no matter how distant the light may seem. If sharing my story helps just one person then I have done my job. Please feel free to contact me if anyone has any questions about my story or if you are in the process of navigating your sexuality and you just want to chat or I can offer any advice or help then please get in touch via facebook.
Sam Redward “