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I tried to be a homie but I just wanted to listen to Britney
September 13,2021
By Byron Adu
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When I was younger, what society now so proudly and frequently calls diversity used to simply be referred to as being different. And growing up, I definitely felt like I was different – which made me a bit of an outsider. Being born in Adelaide in the mid-1980s to a white mum and black dad it’s now pretty clear that I was destined to always be aware of and feel this difference. That all sounds a little dramatic (and probably is a smidge) but it really has been the case – even from birth if you can believe it. Mum has told me a story (a few times now!) of when I was born how the medical staff didn’t want to touch me out of fear they’d get HIV/AIDS under the presumption that my dad must have it because he was from Ghana. It gives you a little perspective of the kind of time I was quite literally born into.

It wasn’t too difficult to feel different when I was younger. I was a first generation, African-Australian guy being raised by my mum – who as a single parent was pulling both parental roles to my sister and I. I think it’s fairly safe to say that although mum worked as a nurse, as the sole income earner it put us a fair way down on the socio-economic scale of things. Oh, and to top it all off I was left- handed! If there was any type of diversity (or difference) I felt without a doubt that I was part of it in some way. In my most angsty moments of my teen years I reminded myself – with great frustration – that I really was “every minority”.

Growing up I was reminded of my differences nearly every day. At first it was because of the obvious stuff – the colour of my skin or not having my dad around. But as I grew older and learnt more about myself and my environment, these differences continued to manifest themselves: like me realising that I was gay or that our family didn’t have the money for me to be wearing the newest clothes compared to my friends. These near daily reminders were in many ways akin to being on an emotional rollercoaster. There’d be the inevitable lows caused by this difference – things like the time I was at one of my primary school dances and some of the girls refused to hold my hand to dance because they didn’t want to touch my black skin. Or one of my aunt’s equating being gay to paedophilia and saying she wouldn’t want her kids to be around my boyfriend at the time. But equally there were the highs that would come from feeling special or different – like the extra attention I’d get from people who would marvel at or want to touch my Jackson5 inspired Afro. Or that, genetically, I was just a better athlete than most of my white school friends (sorry, not sorry about that).

Amongst all of the normal growing up things that we all go through, I felt like being diverse added another complexity in my search to ‘find’ myself. It was layered – apart from looking for success in people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, or those who were gay, my race also placed me in a unique position. I was the child of an immigrant but I wasn’t an immigrant. I was born in Australia but I wasn’t white or First Nations. I felt that being an Aussie born but culturally diverse person in Australia I was part of a minority within a minority. I’d look around – in society, on television, sports and politics and just wouldn’t see myself or people like me anywhere. I remember at one of the (many) schools I went to growing up there were over 1000 students but less than 10 of them were black or brown kids. Because there wasn’t this

representation in society, and because I grew up without much of a relationship with my father to understand my Ghanaian culture I felt at different times equal parts lost and liberated. Lost because I didn’t have any real template or reference point to draw on in many ways – a black, gay guy in Australia. And liberated for many of the same reasons – I could effectively be who or what I wanted to be and form an identity unique to me.

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Byron with his dog Molly as a teenager

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Byron with his mum and sister in his early 20s

Sometimes that was great and sometimes it was confusing. There were plenty of (mis)adventures and moments of self-discovery along the way. When I was around 14 or 15 I really came to accept that I was gay but I still continued to question it a bit:“I’m black, and black guys aren’t gay”. I mean, it was fairly reasonable to feel like this – I didn’t see them in lil’ ol’ Adelaide – or anywhere really. This was well before the days of social media and the internet had barely become ‘a thing’. I remember slipping into Adelaide’s only gay bar at a young age and feeling excited but also so disappointed being the only non-white person in the room. But in this struggle of race and sexuality I’d flip between one extreme to the other with internal dialogues in my head:

from “you’re gay so you should be into Kylie Minogue like every other Adelaide gay”

to “you’re black so should be into rap music and dress like a gangster” (as that sadly was my only reference point for black people at the time).

I look back at that now and think how ridiculous and binary it all was but those are some of the struggles we diverse people have when there isn’t the representation or voices around us to connect with or draw upon.

Anyway, on this issue which was very complex to me at the time, I thought that maybe I could compromise. So, I went shopping with my sister one day to buy the homie g (gangster) clothing – picking out the oversized jeans and the baggy jumper. I felt pretty proud of this purchase but the feeling was short lived. The next day my sister and I were walking up to the shops and I was singing and dancing along to a Britney Spears song that was in my head. (Britney being my chosen gay icon as I could never bring myself to like Kylie Minogue – sorry Kylie!).

Turning to me with the deepest brow furrow I’d ever seen, my sister quickly scolded me with a “Byron, that’s not how homies act!” statement.

I stopped the dancing immediately. But, I never wore those clothes again. That moment helped me to really think about who I was and what it was that I was trying to be. And I realised that I didn’t need to try to conform to a particular look or style. Because, in trying to straddle two distinct identities I was happy in neither. It was my “ah-huh” moment as Oprah would say. I was a black. I was gay. I was living in bloody Adelaide! Some people may have felt overwhelmed by that. For me, in part by having the most supportive mum and sister (my mum was marching in Pride rallies long before I was even ready to!), I felt like it was such a unique opportunity to be whoever the hell I wanted to be. No stereotypes, expectations or pretence (and gladly, this meant fully embracing Britney Spears over Kylie guilt free and not feeling like I was betraying my people)

There was something I found I could never quite escape though. Often I was the ‘first’ that many people would meet – first person of colour, first black guy born in Australia (the shocked faces some people would have when I would start speaking with an ‘Australian’ accent), the first gay guy (yep although I’m a millennial I’m at the upper end of the bracket so am old enough to still remember how much of a bigger deal it used to be to be gay). And because I was so many people’s first, in so many ways and for so many different reasons, I felt like the poster child and representative for all types of diversity at the time.

The thing was, I didn’t want to be on the (metaphorical) poster – I wanted to be able to look at posters of other people and be able to see myself. I so craved and wanted to see diverse representation in Australian culture.

There wasn’t a specific age or moment, but at some point I came to the realisation that I was it. That there wasn’t some cavalry of diverse people – black, queer, or other types of diversity – who were suddenly going to take over television, politics and general society in Australia. That if I wanted to see that diversity I actually needed to be and live that diversity. So I felt that I had a couple of choices. I could either begrudge growing up diverse in Australia with everything I felt at the time it didn’t offer. Or, I could choose to focus on the positives – because ultimately I do love this country – and look for opportunities to contribute in some – any – small way – to increasing diversity. I’ve tried to do that throughout my life (my current job is all about diversity – talk about commitment to the cause!).

There’s a TV show I love to watch called Ru Paul’s Drag Race where a bunch of drag queens compete to be the ‘ultimate drag superstar’. Towards the end of each season there’s a moment on the show where the contestants are shown photos of themselves as kids and then asked what they would say to this younger version of themselves. To be honest, this is probably the part of the show I have always hated to watch – to me it is a complete cringe session as the host asks “What would you say to yourself?” while waiting for the inevitable tears. But something struck me as I’ve been working through this written piece – it is pretty much what I am doing now. It’s like I’m writing something to my younger self – to say that yes you will have some great and not so great experiences but those feelings of longing for belonging will subside. Don’t worry about the difference and just be you.

If I’m being honest, there’s another reason too. And it’s not because I think I’m remarkable and everybody needs to know about me or my experiences (although if there was a greater word count I could quite happily share a whole heap of interesting tales). It’s because I wanted to write this so that other people out there who might look like me or can relate to my experiences can read this and know that their voices are being represented and reflected somewhere. And to know that they – we – actually exist. It’s ok to be who or what you want to be. My hope is that where my experience is about growing up diverse in Australia future generations can truly speak to experiences of growing up in diverse Australia.

About the Author:

Byron Adu (he/him) is a proud gay POC based in Melbourne. A long-time public servant, he’s recently reconnected with his passion for writing and in early 2021 had an abbreviated version of this story published by SBS. He is the founder of this site, Every Minority.

Socials: Instagram @bakojo



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