Deni Todorovič on the complexity of coming out in regional Australia with limited representation

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range is Daylesford. The Victorian town once known for its natural mineral springs, sprawling botanical gardens and now-extinct volcano, as well as being home to 2,548 people, will have a bright new monument to add to its appeal.

Joining the ranks of Goulburn’s Rambo the Big Merino, Coffs Harbour’s the Big Banana, Tully’s the Big Gumboot and others is the Big Rainbow – a 14-meter-wide, six-meter-tall monster that’s exactly as it sounds, and so much more. .

It may physically occupy 84 square meters of space on Dja Dja Wurrung land, but the Big Rainbow’s mission goes further, covering the highlands, rivers and bushland of regional Australia and beyond.

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Tinder’s Big Rainbow and Glambassadors Danni Issues and Jimi The Kween in Sydney, before the monument moved to Daylesford. (Provided)

About an hour and a half southeast of Daylesford is Geelong, where the 34-year-old stylist and I like it for you author Deni Todorovic grown up.

Part of growing up queer in a regional community, as Todorovič – who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them – knows is a lack of visibility, which, in turn, translates into a lack of acceptance.

“Growing up in Geelong in the early 90s, I would say there was little to no visibility of queer identities,” Todorovič told 9Honey from their home in Barwon Heads, noting that it’s only years older. later that they learned that the principal of their elementary school was a lesbian woman.

The relationship between visibility and acceptance, although related, is not completely linear. Rather, it is a tug of war between the discrimination entrenched in age-old power structures and those who rebel, and then, hanging in the middle of the unraveling rope, are the collateral damage – those who are alienated from their truth. by social repression. standards, and worse.

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There was no absence of LGBTQIA+ people in Geelong in the 90s – Todorovič, for example, was there – but the queer community was largely hidden.

“The first time I started seeing gay visibility was probably when I was 18 or 19, when I came out to a very small group of people,” Todorovič recalls . “I started being introduced to other gay people in Geelong who might have some advice for me.”

Before that, Todorovič says, they only knew of one gay couple who owned the cafe across the street from the bakery they worked in when they were teenagers.

“I remember I was almost made fun of. It wasn’t a positive thing.”

Todorovič was unwittingly revealed to his parents as gay when they were 13, in their family living room. A conversation about Todorovič being constantly bullied at school – due to his name, Serbian heritage and perceived sexuality – took a turn when they realized their parents had read their diary, which included the admission that they had a crush on their 9th grade science teacher, a man.

What followed was a three-hour discussion in which Todorovič’s parents and brother – who had been practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses for three years at this point – persuaded them that they were not gay and that it was just a phase or confusion surrounding bullies. insults.

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Deni Todorovic
Deni Todorovič grew up in Geelong, with their mother, father and brother. (Provided)

Six years later, when Todorovič first slept with a man, they were both thrilled to have discovered their sexuality, but also terrified of officially dating their family. When they did, their father and brother accepted it, but not their mother – something Todorovič now knows was informed by her fear, perpetuated by negative stereotypes.

It took three months, but Todorovič’s mother agreed to have a gay child, and eventually the family severed ties with the church – something Todorovič says “added a whole layer of shame” to their complications with coming out.

Years later, Todorovič came back to his family in that same living room, but this time about his gender identity, which, while it falls under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, is a whole different ballgame – and a community with even less visibility in Geelong.

“Forget it, there wasn’t,” Todorovič says when asked if there was a visible gender-diverse community in their hometown, before pausing.

Todorovič then recalls a person who was at the same bus stop as them when they were in high school, who they believe was now in the early stages of transitioning from male to female.

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Deni Todorovic
It was after moving to Sydney that Todorovič realized they weren’t binary. (Getty Images for Hamilton Australia)

“They got on the bus and wore a wig and a headband,” Todorovič recalls. “But I remember I was almost made fun of. It wasn’t a positive thing.”

Todorovič’s next encounter with someone gender diverse was when they were 19 at a nightclub, and they met a transgender woman – although they didn’t realize she was trans until she tells them. To Todorovič’s knowledge, she was the only transgender person in Geelong at the time.

Ridiculousness, subtlety or secrecy – each option required a compromise which, at the time, was really more give than take. For those whose identity was obvious or at least somewhat visible, they would face, at best, mockery. For safety and security, however, you trade your truth.

According to Beyond Blue, the LGBTQIA+ community has the highest rates of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, and those in regional communities with reduced access to support face other challenges.

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Deni Todorovic
Todorovič had seen limited gender diversity in Geelong, and when they did, the person was “ridiculed”. (Provided)

It was after moving to Sydney, working for a women’s magazine and connecting with a like-minded queer community that Todorovič realized that they weren’t binary, meaning they weren’t s ‘not identify as male or female, but live beyond. the two-gender binary.

The reaction when Todorovič came out as non-binary to their family was similar to previous years – their father and brother accepted them, and their mother was scared at first, but is now an unwavering support for her child.

“I’m sure it would have been a lot easier if there was someone to look to or even talk to or turn to, but now just wasn’t the time I guess,” Todorovič says of the lack. of visibility.

“It was still living in a world where being gay was like this scary thing, being in a regional town. And then obviously after I got out I found out there was a pretty solid gay community in Geelong. But that took a long time and some put me there.”

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When so much is at stake – and a lack of visibility means heterosexuality and gender binary is normalized – getting out and being visible is not something Todorovič thinks every person in the world has a responsibility to do, even though the risks that activists like the Sydney 78ers have taken are what have driven the movement forward.

“[Visibility] can be very difficult without support,” says Todorovič. “If you live in a city, if you live in a regional space, sometimes being visible can be very dangerous. So unless you have that support around you, being visible can be tricky.”

“The world is so much lighter when you take the steps towards the rainbow.”

Todorovič says because, for the most part, they’ve been surrounded by “really supportive allies” that their visibility has been safe, genuine and effortless — but being visible isn’t always their intention.

“You just wake up and you get dressed and you leave your house and you live your life,” says Todorovič. “But people queer by default, especially if they present themselves in a way that’s visibly queer – whatever that means, there are many different ways to look and be queer – but if you’re someone who is, you know, more frontal, outwardly queer, you’re just visible by default.”

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Being politicized and made to be activists, whether they like it or not, is something initiatives such as Tinder’s Big Rainbow — and the dating app’s $100,000 donation to gay organizations across the Australia – aim to change, with the intention of promoting visibility, and by extension a move towards safer spaces, without necessarily placing the burden on those who may not want it.

“Where there may not be people in the community walking around presenting themselves outwardly in a way that suggests they are part of the community, having that rainbow there means for the people of this community and for regional Australia more broadly that you are safe and accepted,” says Todorovič, noting how Daylesford is the perfect home for this, as it is seen as “ the mecca of regional queerness in Victoria in particular”.

Ultimately, Todorovič has a message: “The world is so much lighter when you take steps towards the rainbow. And I know that sounds like such a cliché, but I think being in the closet can be such an isolating and scary experience.

“Getting out of that closet, although it can be so layered, is truly a gift. And if I had known that, I would have come out of it much sooner than I did.”

And with the iridescence of the Big Rainbow shining across regional Australia, hopefully a safer space will grow to make it possible.

Contact Bronte Gossling at [email protected].

If you or someone you know needs immediate or mental health-related support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or via lifeline.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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