In 1985, when I was two years old, my parents moved to a farm on a road called Honeysett Lane about twenty k’s from a town called Gulgong. Back then Gulgong was the town on the ten dollar note and to this day when people ask me where I’m from, that’s how I describe it. Gulgong, the town on the ten dollar note. Despite the fact it hasn’t been on the ten dollar note since 1988.
Lot 9 Honeysett Lane always sounded to me like it was the type of place that belonged in an E.B. White novel with talking spiders and plucky pigs and whilst there were neither, it was the place where my stories—my story—began.
I had a great childhood—the type that might come to mind when glamorising the good old days when the world was perceived to be a safe and uncomplicated place. My friends and I had a rotating roster of sleepovers. When it was my turn to stay in town we’d ride our bikes unaccompanied until dark and throw rocks on the roofs of our teachers’ houses. When it was their turn to stay at mine we went yabbying and wore steel colanders on our heads to protect ourselves from the magpies who lived in the big Currajong tree in the top paddock.
It was a childhood lived before the internet and mobile phones and before the beast of social media encroached on our lives. If you wanted to know something you looked it up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica—or in my family’s case the Funk and Wagnalls that we collected one per week using coupons at the IGA supermarket in town. If you made a fool of yourself there was no one there to film it and post it online. It was a life of sock tans and climbing trees, swimming pools and skinned knees and it was pretty uncomplicated.
As we got older, we traded our pushies for dirt bikes and climbing trees for carving our names in them. Eager to make our marks on the world and find our places in it. My best friend’s mum will never forgive me for the time when we were fifteen and some of my mates had come out to the farm for my sleepover rotation. Her mum had explicitly forbidden her to ride the dirt bike. So of course the time she got on the back behind the boy she was totally in love with, they stacked it. If you’d asked my mate at the time—her injuries and the total reaming we got from her mum were a small price to pay for spending a few minutes clinging to the waist of the guy she had the hots for. They’d shared a traumatic experience—they were basically betrothed. And it was around that time, when we hit that age, things started to get tricky for me because I sure as Hell wasn’t willing to risk serious injury for the opportunity to hang off the back of a guy on a dirt bike.
Up until to the point where all my friends started pairing off like animals boarding the Ark, my environment protected me. I was a Tom Boy—lots of girls who lived on farms were. Dresses and makeup and fancy jewellery weren’t practical when you were rounding up cattle or marking lambs. I played sports, I had chores, I got dirty and spent my weekends playing x-box and fixing up paddock bashers with the boys who lived up the road. I don’t want to say that being a lesbian in rural Australia was easier than being a gay boy but it sure was easier to get away with it. At school, the first sign of femininity or weakness shown by a boy—he was gay. All it took was for a boy to show an emotion and the other boys would taunt and tease the poor kid until they cried. And as far as the other boys were concerned, that in itself was the hard proof that he was gay. I was just a Tom Boy, but there comes a time in a lot of Tom Boy’s lives when they hook up with one of the boys who live up the road, and that wasn’t me.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a boyfriend—who came out not long before I did—or kiss the requisite number of boys at parties. I did enough to avoid suspicion up until the point where I was disgusted with myself and I couldn’t do it anymore. I longed for the uncomplicatedness of my childhood when I was free to live my best life by the dam because the fake it til you make it adage was proving far more difficult to master than it sounds.
I couldn’t keep doing it. So I left.
I was sixteen years old and terrified of myself. When I recall that time now, I wish there had have been something—anything that gave me some hope. There was no one like me in any books I could find or on TV or movies and the only pop-culture references I could find for lesbians were women in their thirties or forties with lives I couldn’t relate to. I was on my own, or at least that’s how it felt, so I left it all behind. Now, as a relatively secure woman in my thirties with kids of my own, the concept that sixteen year old me felt that the only option to deal with my burgeoning sexuality was to leave my idyllic rural life bubble is still a kick in the guts. I left my lifelong friends, my family, my school and my Jack Russell, Loopy who I’d had since my fifth birthday.
I left and moved to a city that chewed me up and spit me out, because to my sixteen year old self, that was a better option than being me.
And I thought that Gulgong and the farm on Honeysett Lane had been the problem, that I couldn’t figure out who the Hell I was because of where I lived. I’d thought the city and the people in it would help me learn to be me, that there’d be some thriving, welcoming community when in reality I was still me with the same problems just four hours’ from my home. About six months after I moved I was on the train, scribbling in my notebook—because being a writer has always been the one constant in my life—when I caught my reflection in the window and the only part I recognised was the pen in my hand. Whoever I was, one thing I could be sure of, was that I was a writer. It belonged to me and it couldn’t be taken and there was power in that.
I wrote almost obsessively—I wrote to release the pain and to escape it. Writing gave me what I needed most. A way to let go of the anger and the pain and give me hope at a time when I was feeling pretty hopeless. And I realised then that words can save a life. That the fact there were no references in literature or media with characters that I could relate to wasn’t because those stories didn’t exist, it was that they hadn’t been written.
Despite knowing the problem wasn’t really the Town on the Ten Dollar Note, it took a long time for me to get the courage to return home. I’d convinced myself that the only response from my town to my sexuality would be one of disgust and ridicule. I’d grown up with people using words like faggot and dyke and gay as insults and there was no reason for me to believe it could be any other way. So I stayed away for years and it might be one of my life’s biggest regrets. I cut myself out of my nieces and nephews lives, I saw my mum five times in ten years and when she died when I was twenty nine all I wished for was to get the time back. And I couldn’t. I went back to Gulgong to pack up her house and it was the longest period of time I’d spent there since I left. I wrote Mum’s eulogy—a life story she’d begged me to help her tell that I never made time for when I had the chance and I was so angry with myself for letting fear keep me away. Angry with a world that convinces a sixteen year old kid to be ashamed of who they are and afraid of what they feel. I was so angry that when I got back to Perth I opened up a very, very old draft of a story I’d started years earlier. A story about being brave, about being yourself in a world that tells you to be someone else. A story that really could have helped me out. That’s now a book called If I Tell You.
I’ve lost count of the times words have come to my rescue between then and now. My main hope for the future is that my words might one day help save someone else because it’s time to write ourselves into the narrative.
Alicia Tuckerman is a driving force for young LGBT voices within Australia. Raised in rural NSW before she left home at the age of sixteen, she accepted a position to study at the Hunter School of Performing Arts. Described as having an overactive imagination as a child, she recalls writing stories her entire life. Alicia attributes surviving her teenage years to the comfort, release and escape writing offered and she hopes to inspire the next generation of readers and writers to embrace their true passions. Alicia’s debut novel If I Tell You, explores the joys, triumphs and cruelties of modern day adolescence.