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Sydney Star Observer -"Listening With His Heart" By Ian Gould

April 20, 2006 Leave a comment

COMING OUT AS A MARRIED FATHER OF TWO IN NEW ZEALAND GUIDED CHRIS WILSON TO THE ROLE OF TRAINING AND VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR AT THE GAY AND LESBIAN COUNSELLING SERVICE OF NSW.

I knew I was gay when I was 13 but decided to ignore it and hoped it would go away. I was married for about nine years and we ended the marriage because I was going to come out.

I don’t regret a moment of my time in the marriage – it was often very happy – but what I began to realise when I was 35 or 36 was that I just wasn’t happy inside. It was something that wasn’t going to go away.

I had to choose between going on anti-depressants and staying in the marriage, or changing. I came out about 11 years ago. I was 36 at the time. I don’t regret the decision: I regret the hurt that it has caused, but not the decision.

Obviously it was a big shock for my family. They have all been very supportive, but it took a while for everyone to adjust, especially my ex-wife. We have built a really positive relationship since then.

As for breaking it to my kids, the realisation that something had to happen helped me. You don’t stop loving the kids, and you have to make clear to them that the separation isn’t due to them.

Honesty got me through coming out and afterwards. I never hid anything from my children. I didn’t pretend that the partners I was with were anything but who they were.

Another thing that helped me out was that my father is gay too. That encouraged me, because he went through a pretty hard time. He was 55 when he came out and had been married to my mother for about 25 years.

When he came out homosexuality was still illegal in New Zealand, and that affects the way you presume you are. You have still got to hide behind excuses and white lies. It was never mentioned. It was just that he moved away and started flatting with guys.

It was difficult for him, but he is happy now. He is in his 80s and his present partner gets on well with my family. Thirty years have gone by, and there’s a lot more acceptance.

When I came out, Mum was okay: she didn’t want to lose her son. But she didn’t ask me about my partners. She would ask about my ex-wife or about my brother’s life, but she wouldn’t ask about mine.

As time went on, she did ask, and she met a few of my partners. She seemed to have a growing understanding and acceptance. Dad of course accepted me, although he was totally surprised.

After I came out in Christchurch I started a gay fathers’ group. It ran for about two years and it was quite successful. I then moved to Sydney in 1998 because I wanted to change my lifestyle.

I decided to come and work over here with the view of getting a counselling qualification and seeing where that took me. Also, Dad lives in NSW, so I had that support.

I wasn’t a counsellor before I arrived. I had worked all my career with Air New Zealand. I got a job with Air New Zealand in Australia. Then I worked part-time for the Australian College of Applied Psychology while I was studying there.

As part of a fieldwork placement I joined the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and after that I continued there as a volunteer. Before GLCS, the only counselling-type work I had done was the gay fathers’ group and a short course in Christchurch.

From there I just became involved in one of the coming-out groups and, as part of the student placement, I gave a couple of presentations in training.

I ended up on the GLCS board and then took up a training and volunteer role, which I have been doing for about the last three years.

I have been working with the GLCS since 2001 and I have been the training and volunteer coordinator since July 2004.

I was drawn to the service because I wanted to give back to the community. Also, having been married and had kids, I can see the situation from both sides.

We have about 45 active volunteers, who we try to get to do a shift a fortnight. The calls we get here range from coming out to relationship and drug and alcohol problems.

The nicest call for me to take is one where you feel as though the caller feels one way and, at the end of the call, they feel relieved and have a pathway to go on.

The most challenging is when we get suicidal callers, and we just have to sit with the caller when they are feeling black and low.

But again, it is rewarding when you have some sense at the end of the call that you have helped them gain some stability.

Callers can help you reassess your values. One of the things we like to do is suspend our values judgment when we are taking a call.

But often callers discuss values that may trigger something for us, and you do learn from callers. You get a broader experience of life from their experience.

Interview by Ian Gould

[Link: Original Article]

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Categories: Chris WIlson, gay

The Age – "Rainbow Connection" by Jennifer Cook

Jennifer Cook visits a place where gay mums can share stories and hopes.

THEY’VE trundled down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda before – mums, dads and their children – their numbers growing amid the placards and feather boas. And at this year’s gay Pride march, behind a “Rainbow Playgroup” banner, they received some of the loudest cheers.

It has been almost a decade since Fairplay playgroup in Fairfield was set up, but it has almost iconic status in Melbourne’s gay and lesbian community.

Fairplay secretary Tracey Cocks says it is a place same-sex families come to share their stories and allow their children to see other families like theirs.

“We have become an umbrella organisation for the majority of kids attending gay or lesbian playgroups,” she says. “We now represent playgroups in East Bentleigh, Williamstown, Thornbury, two in Fairfield, a group for gay dads and for single mums.”

Ms Cocks joined the Fairplay group shortly after the birth of her daughter five years ago. “When we first had our daughter we were living in Coburg and I joined a local mothers’ group as well as the Fairplay group,” she said.

“The women in my local mothers’ group were all in their mid-20s, married, with first babies. Although we were very different in terms of our life experiences, they were fantastic.

“When we left that playgroup one of the mums said to me ‘before I met you I really didn’t think lesbians should have children but I realise how wrong I was, so thank you’ – it was very moving.”

Ms Cocks and her partner joined Fairplay to share and discuss their experiences with other same-sex families.

“Some women have conceived using a non-identified donor, some through the Victorian IVF system, others have used donors who have been happy to have their identity released and to have contact with the children,” she says.

“Still others have conceived through a heterosexual or a gay friend. I also know of three cases where a lesbian mum and a gay father are living together raising a child.

“Our family includes two gay dads who have regular contact so our daughter has two mums and two dads, which makes birthdays crazy affairs.”

Ms Cocks recalled her reaction when Prime Minister John Howard said every child was entitled to have a mother and a father. “I thought at the time that he must love us because our daughter has two of each,” she laughed.

“I do remember a child of a single mother at my daughter’s kinder saying it wasn’t fair because my daughter had two dads and she didn’t.”

Ms Cocks says she was concerned about her child facing bullying at school, citing a 2004 Melbourne study by Dr Ruth McNair. It found that just under half of children in years 3 to 6 who had gay parents had been bullied because of their family difference.

“This concerned and saddened me. I think in the inner-city suburbs people are coping quite well with different family types,” she says. “But the reality is that not everyone is financially able to live in the inner city or, like us, send their child to a private school.”

Sam Walsh and her partner Jenny Clark have two daughters, 22-month-old Greta and nine-month-old Hester. They live in Regent, a suburb bordering Preston and Reservoir.

Like Ms Cocks, Ms Walsh went along to the Fairfield playgroup to show her daughters there are other types of families like theirs.

From that playgroup she and some other mums started their own “Rainbow Connection” playgroup at Thornbury, which has 15 families with children ranging from five weeks to four years of age.

“It was really nice to have other children running around calling out ‘mummy’ and ‘mama’,” Ms Walsh says.

She says that she isn’t concerned about her children being bullied because of their parents’ sexuality.

“We don’t really have those concerns because Jen, being a teacher, knows how those issues can be handled,” she says. “Jen is a prep teacher at Moonee Ponds Central primary school and we have friends who have kids at Mill Park primary and both communities have been very accepting.

“Because Jen knows how great the state system can be, we are both keen to send our children to public schools. We like the idea of our kids growing up living near their friends.

“We are just like any other parents, we want to raise well-adjusted kids who, with whatever they have to face in life, they can cope with it.”

Paras Christou and Annie Stephens are parents of 22-month-old Marlow and also members of the Rainbow Connection playgroup.

“I heard about the Rainbow Connection playgroup through friends and called Sam – after talking to her I couldn’t wait to come along. As soon as I walked in the door, it was instantly welcoming and I was really happy I made the effort.”

Ms Christou says she is usually the one answering questions about her family, adding it was great to hear the stories of other women.

“Annie and I agree that we are so comfortable with who we are that we don’t need to make a big fuss – we don’t need to fly a banner,” Ms Christou says.

“We are comfortable to exist in a gay community and also live in a wider community. We know we can provide a home with an abundance of love and security – hopefully for Marlow being a same-sex family won’t be an issue.

“We want him to know that it is OK to be different.”

Inquiries for Fairplay playgroups contact Tracey Cocks on 0427 811 186

[Link: Original Article]