Keeping things from your parents is a part of every teenager’s life and Ashleigh Rivers is no different. However, her biggest secret may soon be revealed to her parents, and she’s not entirely sure how they will take it.
Drinking, finding the hottest guy at the party to hook up with, and procrastinating: the top three priorities for most girls at university. But for 21-year-old Ashleigh Rivers, one of these things doesn’t quite fit.
Boys have never played much part in Ashleigh’s life, as her high school friends often liked to point out.
“There were always off-handed comments,” she says. “All my friends would call me a lesbian, even though I wasn’t out. I wasn’t even aware of what my sexuality was, I just didn’t like boys.”
Growing up in Bowral, Ashleigh recalls there wasn’t much to do. She would often find herself on social media sites to find something to entertain her. After talking to a few girls that she met online, she became aware of how she really felt.
“I was never interested in boys. So, when I started talking to some girls I realised. It just fit,” she says, turning her gaze towards the television.
The TV glares with a rerun of a home renovation show and the cushions are scattered between the sofa and the floor. Empty glasses and plates left over from breakfast are still on the glass coffee table next to the sofa: bacon and eggs on toast and orange juice by the looks of it. There’s a few crumbs on the blue rug next to my feet, despite the rest of the room being almost spotless.
“Sorry about the mess,” Ashleigh says, looking around the room. “It was clean this morning.”
Maya Daniel, Ashleigh’s girlfriend, comes to join us on the sofa. She softly kisses Ashleigh on the cheek as she sits down, smiling despite the scowl that gets drawn across Ashleigh’s face.
“Since we’ve been dating she says that she’s realised she isn’t really into guys that much, she’s not sure if she ever really was,” Ashleigh says, referring to her girlfriend. “She’s told her parents about us, she told them last year. Her sister said it was already pretty obvious that she’s gay, even though her parents knew about a boy she’d been seeing before she started uni.”
We talk briefly about Ashleigh’s friends from high school and how she’s only told the few that she still sees about her sexuality and Maya. She confesses that she never told them about her two ex-girlfriends, both of whom live in America, fearing their reaction due to the stigma around long-distance relationships.
“I was already gay, I didn’t want to put two of those on top of each other,” Ashleigh says with a sigh. “My friends are straight and didn’t know that I’m gay, so it’s harder to date someone in person without people finding out. But if no one directly asks me, I don’t see why they would need to know that about my personal life. Even if I was straight, I probably wouldn’t tell them.”
Ashleigh starts to pick up the cushions and arranges them back on the sofa, making sure that the same blues or patterns aren’t next to each other. As she takes the blue and white plates through to the kitchen and places them in the sink, a gold picture frame on the display cabinet catches my eye. It looks slightly dusty, but there’s no picture beneath the glass. Maya notices me examining the frame and tells me that it was a birthday gift for Ashleigh from a friend, but it’s been almost seven months since she received it.
“I haven’t found a picture to put in it yet. I don’t want one that’s too obvious otherwise my parents will ask about it,” says Ashleigh as she sits back down.
While a few of her closest friends know that she is gay, Ashleigh is not out to her parents yet and plans to keep it that way – at least for now.
“I feel like Maya sometimes pressures me into trying to come out to them. I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” she says. “I don’t know why she wants me to do it anyway.”
Maya picks up her phone to show me the coming out texts in her family group chat. “My parents were pretty chill about everything.” She locks her phone and returns it to the glass table. “Even though I knew they wouldn’t have a problem with it I was still nervous about telling them. I think it would be good for her parents to know about us, especially since they seem so clueless.”
Feelings of nervousness are normal when coming out to someone, however the relief that follows is certainly worth it, she tells me as she walks into the kitchen. Ashleigh however, is not so sure about revealing her secret just yet.
“The main reason that I haven’t told them is that they’re not really involved in my life in that kind of way. I’m not that close with them that we would speak about that kind of stuff,” she says. She takes a sip of her coffee before continuing, “I don’t really talk to them about relationships and they’ve never really asked.”
Ashleigh mentions that whenever her parents ask about relationships they just do it to “know the gossip.” Although she thinks that it’s obvious she’s gay, she explains that her parents seem oblivious to “all of the hints.” Asking what she means by ‘hints’, I’m met with a roar of laughter from Ashleigh, and giggles from Maya in the kitchen as she cleans the plates from their breakfast. Ashleigh looks at me with her head tilted to the side.
“Well, I’ve never had a boyfriend and never shown interest in boys, I typically grew up as a tomboy, and well – I look fairly gay now,” she answers, gesturing towards her hair and masculine clothes. Her hair is cut short at the top and shaven on the sides, with a faint indication of a pattern that was shaved in from her last haircut. “Because my past relationships were long-distance my parents never realised.
“Like I said, they’re not really in my life that much that they should know that kind of personal information about me,” she says. She turns her head and whilst looking at the TV she continues. “It’s not that I don’t want them to know, I do. I just don’t like the idea of it having to be a big deal.”
She reflects on whether her parents would be accepting for a few seconds then says that her “dad probably would be” but she’s still not sure about her mum, as “her Catholic background and her traditional background from the Philippines impacts a lot of her morals.”
With her mum being Catholic, Ashleigh has put off coming out as she is very aware of the Church’s stance on homosexuality. While her mum is non-practising and she wasn’t raised to be religious, she worries that her mum still holds traditional views. In expressing her concerns to me over their standing, the topic of same-sex marriage comes up. Although she supports same-sex marriage for those who want it, Ashleigh doesn’t believe in marriage as a concept.
“I think it’s just a bit of paper that offers a lot of legal benefits,” she declares. A quick glance in Maya’s direction shows that they’ve discussed this before. “I don’t see it as necessary, however I do support people who would like to get married.”
Despite her furrowed brow and downturned mouth, I ask Ashleigh if she’s considered getting married if a girlfriend wanted to. The answer I receive sounds like one that has fallen from her lips a few too many times for her liking. “It would be very based on personal preference at the time.”
Maya shouts from the kitchen, “She’s very set in her ways, but I reckon I can crack her still.”
Recognising the irritability this subject brings about, I attempt to steer the conversation back to the present and ask about her work. She speaks momentarily of discrimination, and I push her to elaborate. She talks of the Sex Discrimination Act and how even though it’s against the law to show disfavour towards certain sexualities or genders, “there’s always gonna be people who make comments or think a certain way.”
She mentions that most of the people from her old job probably know that she’s gay even though it wasn’t her that told them. Ashleigh says she doesn’t care because she doesn’t work there anymore, but that it does bother her when people she hasn’t told talk about it.
“I don’t particularly like my personal life being on show, or as a form of gossip to be talked about.”
Following this thought, I ask if she thinks being gay will have an impact on her life. She pauses and stares intently at the ceiling for a few moments.
“It’s gonna affect me for the rest of my life probably,” she shrugs her shoulders and looks towards Maya. A slight smile appears as she finishes her sentence. “I don’t really care though, I like being gay.”