Last year, at the end of 2018 I realised that I really need to stop ‘pretending’.

Some of you might know what I’m talking about.

I mean, for years it had never been an issue. Years and years. My entire life really. I could easily be the person people ‘want’ me to be.

But at the end of last year heading in to New Years Eve, I had not only been through a divorce and a failed relationship, I continued my battle depression after so many years. Something had to give.

I always had an interest in other guys, it was foreign but the attraction was there, and I had never acted on it in my teenage years, even into my 30’s.

But something resonated with me, a saying an old friend always said “You do You, Boo”.

So my decision was made that 2019 onwards, I was going to be who I am, and what I am. A man, that loves men and time to be proud.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have my trepidations.

I knew that there were going to be those who are surprised, those who probably knew all along, and those who don’t believe that who I am is right. I made the decision that the latter is not important to me moving forward. This might sound a bit self absorbed but I knew that I could make new friends and loved ones if this was the case. I’ve never had that problem in the past.

I didn’t want to shout from the rooftops to announce it, but kind of elected to do it ‘progressively’.

So, to start with, what did I do in this day and age? I started on the apps and dating sites to ‘see’ who and who I can talk to. As strange as it seems, I met a lot of people through these methods, talked to wonderful other people and I picked their brains. Had plenty of chats, plenty of advice on who and what to avoid starting out. I mean, I knew stuff, but there were terms and things I had no idea about. Urban Dictionary was my friend!

First ones that I told were my sisters and my dearest friends. I knew they would accept me and support me. And they were and they are still the most beautiful and caring people that are so close to me. I had great responses from friends and loved ones. I honestly didn’t know I would be so lucky.

For reasons I can’t describe at the time, but I couldn’t come out at work. Which I believe was the hardest part because I really wanted to tell people but didn’t know how those around me would react. Especially from above in management and  leadership. This was the most difficult time.

Alas, I got made redundant at this workplace as they closed their doors. And then came the silver lining. Luckily for me, I was given a brilliant opportunity to work at Aussie Broadband.

As acceptance, inclusivity and support goes, I couldn’t sing the praises of Aussie Broadband enough. To know that they have a LGBTQI Network, fly a rainbow flag outside their offices and celebrate our differences, has helped me so much to open my wings and embrace who I am. I came out to my workmates as a result. It has made my professional life a joy to come to work each day. I’m so proud of who I work for.

To this point I still hadn’t come out in public, hadn’t shown my flamboyance, my flair and my love of, how do I say this: “dress up”.

Then I had the perfect opportunity. The chance to dress up, celebrate who I am, with my queer counterparts and experience the company of a lot of people I’ve never had the chance of meeting with in the past. All of this in a safe environment, away from any judgement and possible ridicule.

It was the Gippsland Pride Initiative Gala Night that was being hosted by the Gippsland Ranges Roller Derby Club.

Knowing that I was going I figured I need to impress. Get something that screams “I’m Clinton, I’m gay, and I look fabulous!”

I bought a colourful bright shirt, some new shoes, a pair of nice black slacks and the ‘Pièce de résistance’ a sequinned rainbow kimono that I purchased online. Best Purchase Ever! I’ve never had so many compliments in all my life. I was chuffed.

As Aussie Broadband was a sponsor of the evening, we were lucky enough to get tickets to the Gala and I got to sit with some of my colleagues who also took the opportunity to dress to the nines.

As this was my first ever ‘Pride’ event, I went with an open mind, not knowing what would come of the night.

What did happen was a magic night from start to finish. We had a glorious night for celebration, music, laughs, special performances and of course, dancing!

I literally felt born again. It was an amazing night.

I met so many great people, and so many of which I have got to know so well. And it was great to see so many of our Allies there to support us too.

Not only that, I got the perfect new profile picture thanks to the photographer who took a shot whilst I was on the dance floor, glass of wine in hand!

I have so many great memories from that night and honestly all I wanted to know after it was done was “when is the next one?”

I was so honoured afterwards when I was asked if I could join and help the formation of Gippsland Pride Initiative Inc. to not only organise the gala for this year, but to help advocate, educate and celebrate our LGBTQI community in Gippsland. I literally jumped at the opportunity.So I urge anyone in the Gippsland region to come and join us. Start planning your outfits, get a group of friends together and get ready! Because Gippsland Pride Initiative’s Pride Gala 2020 is going to be fabulous!