When Nathan* was a teenager at an Illawarra high school, copping abuse and torment from his classmates, he desperately wished he wasn’t gay.
He tried to fit in and be one of the boys.
But he found out the hard way that a ‘‘zebra can’t change its stripes’’.
‘‘I tried for years, but I wouldn’t change my stripes now,’’ the 26-year-old said.
He is a happy, confident man with his dream job in the automotive industry and he’s set to marry the love of his life.
‘‘I never thought I’d get married and never planned to...but here we are,’’ Nathan said yesterday.
‘‘It’s amazing, if you meet the right person everything changes.’’
For Nathan, that Mr Right is Mark*, who won his heart.
The proposal came during a stroll down a Sydney boardwalk after lunch at a ritzy restaurant.
‘‘It was really romantic,’’ Nathan said.
‘‘I knew it was coming but I didn’t know when. Then the lunch at Double Bay, I thought ‘this is the day’.’’
The couple will tie the knot in the Illawarra next month.
‘‘It’s going to be amazing,’’ Nathan said.
‘‘A real fancy wedding, white rose petals, white bouquets, white decorations, with a garden theme. After all you only get to do it once.’’ He has three bridesmaids – his sister, the mother of his godchild and another close friend.
He has one stipulation – they can choose their own style, just so long as their dresses are blue or green in keeping with the garden theme.
Mark has his brother, a work colleague and another long-time friend to share his big day.
The couple will wear three-piece navy suits – one with a black shirt, one with white.
The fact their monumental day won’t be recognised by law won’t dampen the mood.
But it’s a hurtful reminder for the couple and their Illawarra-based family and friends that the Australian lawmakers don’t consider their relationship real.
‘‘We’ll be having another wedding over in New York where it is recognised,’’ Nathan said.
‘‘Really we are doing this for us, our family, and to make a statement.’’
After a honeymoon in Cancun and Los Angeles, the couple will stay in Sydney – the only place they could ever call home.
Unfortunately Nathan doesn’t have the fondest memories of his home town, or the couple’s brief stint living in Canberra.
‘‘Wollongong wasn’t fun. People are still very closed-minded and it’s strange to them,’’ Nathan reflected.
‘‘Everyone in Sydney, well at least the Eastern Suburbs, is very accepting.
‘‘I didn’t really tell anyone till I was about 17 that I was gay and I lost a lot of friends because of it.
‘‘Even family relatives treated me different. As Wollongong is such a small place and everyone knows each other, gossip spreads like wildfire. It got to the point where people would harass and bully you when out in a shopping centre.’’
School wasn’t a happy place for Nathan.
‘‘It was horrible,’’ he said. ‘‘I started copping it from about grade 6,’’ he said.
‘‘I was friends with all the girls and that sort of stuff…I went off the rails in year 9 and 10 because of it. Then I didn’t go back to school for year 11 just because it was bad, because of the bullying.
‘‘I’d get shoved when walking through corridors, made fun of, they’d call me names, sexual stuff.
‘‘In year 10 my report card showed 90 days off. I would truant just to avoid the bullying.
‘‘When I was 18 I hit the gym, got buff then got to the point where I was like ‘f--- off, I don’t care any more’.
‘‘I dropped out of high school after one week of year 11. I worked at Maccas for three years then went into BMW.
‘‘I moved up here [Sydney], in with a gay friend and he showed me how different it was, how accepting people were. It was the best thing.’’
Nathan is happy to talk about his romance, his dark days and his bright future to draw attention to the injustices people face every day for the sole reason they are gay.
‘‘This is a really good time to speak out, with the looming federal election and the Labor versus Liberal views on the issue,’’ he said.
‘‘This needs to be done for the Illawarra.’’
With Mark ready to head off on his buck’s weekend, Nathan is excited about the future and thankful for the support of his family and friends, many whom still live in the Illawarra.
‘‘We’ll be looking at buying a house hopefully next year and really start our life together,’’ he said.
‘‘Kids? I’ve started with keeping fish. Next year I want a kitten... we’ll see after that.
‘‘We’d make fantastic dads, especially Mark, but we have to wait and see. We’re already godfathers to a beautiful child.
‘‘Maybe we will want more, a child of our own. If two parents can give a loving, supportive and positive environment for a child, then why can’t those parents give that opportunity and love?
‘‘It’s only the child that may benefit from that upbringing. I’m sure there are many children out there that would love to have a real family, values and be loved.
‘‘Realistically I’d be the father that spoils their child. When you love someone, then you want to spoil them.’’