My name is Felix Kellett. I’m 22. I’ve been working on 4ZZZ’s community radio station for about 5 or 6 years. I’ll tell you a bit about my personal take on the age of consent and the Sodomy Law of 18.
I wasn’t aware of the laws surrounding the age of consent in regards to anal intercourse until I was about 19 years of age. When I was 16 or 17, I was studying at a local high school in Brisbane - Ferny Grove State High School – which wasn’t exactly the best place to be for a queer youth at that time.
One experience I vividly remember is being in an English class, where we were studying “To Kill A Mockingbird”, of all books. At the time, of course, people wanted to disrupt the class and one of the things they would do would be just to talk about people they’d heard, or wanted, to spread rumours about. So you would have the class interrupted with chants or calls out of “Oh that’s gay, sir” or “Why would you be gay? That’s so stupid.”
And at the time I remember reading a book about intolerance and trying to discuss what had happened fifty, sixty, seventy years ago in America with intolerance of people of colour and at the same time our teacher not being able – or confident – to talk about intolerance when it came to people of different sexual orientation.
Teacher was able to say “Well, you know, one in ten of you will be gay” and I can remember people standing up and saying “Well that’s stupid. No. One in ten of us isn’t gay” and there actually did happen to be ten people in the classroom at that time – and I didn’t feel able to come out in that sort of a situation, because I hadn’t been able to get any kind of reinforcement or knowledge about being gay. I hadn’t been able to access any information in that school at that time. I hadn’t been able to find out really about anything to do with any issue that would affect me with queer sexuality in any of the sex education classes that we’d had.
Later on, being 19, I’d found out that the reason for that was, basically, the age of consent laws. You’re not really able to discuss the things that queer people do, the issues that they have – because it’s all taken to be, in queer sexuality, “What do you imagine that queer people do? Well it must only and singly be anal intercourse.” Which isn’t actually the fact.
A concern expressed by health education organisations is that young people aren’t given the inclusiveness in sex education as well as relationships education at school. So did you find this also to be true?
I found it was pretty much a source of ignorance that was going on in the high school environment that I was in at the time. It wasn’t something that was really up for discussion. I don’t think that either the sex educators or the teachers were able to confidently discuss issues that were there at the time in my high school.
One man I remember particularly – I won’t name him, but – he was definitely gay and he could not hide it. He was very effeminate in mannerism and he got a lot of flack from other students in the school. I don’t recall any of the teachers that I had in that school – or any of the students even – being able to stand up and say “Well, leave him alone. It’s OK to be gay. We should try and tolerate people.”
And there was nothing I remember anyone could really refer to – even in Sex Education classes you would hear the speech that “Well, there’s a certain proportion of people that are gay and that it’s OK to be gay” – but you would never hear what gay people are, what they do, why they are gay. Didn’t hear a thing about it. So it was kind of an empty reason people that would hear of why it’s OK to be gay – why it’s OK to have people who are gay as friends. And I don’t think that a lot of those people have ever really found out about gay people in society.
Do you feel that if there was that inclusiveness, saying that it was OK to talk about being gay as part of sexuality education / relationships education, that that would have helped you feel better about yourself at that time?
I think that if teachers and sex educators in my school had been able to confidently talk about people with different sexual orientations, I think there would have been a greater level of discussion around sexual orientation – and I think there would have been better confrontation of the intolerance that was going on in my school at the time.
Honestly, my experiences in late high school were of depression, and I think there were a few other people in my year level, that I know of, that were of the same experience of depression and may have been having the same causes (of that intoleration of different sexual orientation).
Do you know anyone personally who has been severely affected by depression – perhaps by suicide?
By suicide – in a circle of friends outside of the people I met in high school? Yeah, I do know one man who has suicided. He was a good friend. I don’t think he found his experience in his high school much different to that of mine. It’s usually one of silence and just taunts that you get. People will call each other, over the smallest of things, “gay”. If they don’t like something, or something’s bad, or not as good as something else – they won’t even say “Oh I don’t like that” or, if they’re going to swear, say “That’s shit” – they’ll just say “That’s gay”. And you get a constant refrain, day after day, of “That’s gay”, “That’s gay”, “That’s gay”, “This is gay”, “He’s gay” and that’s NOT an environment in which someone can build up self-esteem, at all.
That’s an environment which pushes people into depression, which pushes people into the closet, which pushes people into silence. It’s repression of the worst kind because you’re pushing it onto the people who don’t have the resources to fight back against it - who are stuck in an institution, that is the educational institution, and that institution is supposed to have a responsibility in locutus to protect the people that it’s looking after. I don’t feel, in any sense, that my experiences or the experiences of the man I know who has killed himself were one where that in locutus responsibility has been taken care of.
One of the justifications for installing this higher age for anal intercourse in 1990 was that, by making it an illegal activity with a very heavy penalty, it might stop male youth from considering engaging in anal intercourse at ages 16 and 17. From your experience, do you think that it being against the law had anything to do with your inclination to think about doing anal intercourse?
Well, I was unaware of the age of consent law regarding anal intercourse until I was 19. So my activities in between the age 16 or 17 - when I became sexuality active - and 19, weren’t influenced by that law because I was in ignorance of that law. The vast majority of people who I knew who were the same age when I was 16 to 19, and who I know now who are aged around then, don’t know about the age of consent laws. So it doesn’t influence our activity. What it does influence, for me and what I’ve noticed, is that in high school you don’t learn about safe sex when it comes to penetrative gay sex. You don’t know the differences between what can keep you safe, if you are inclined to heterosexual penetrative or homosexual penetrative sex – and there IS a difference. It’s not simply one of “Well, this is what you do male and female” and “This is what you do male to male” or even if you’re doing anal intercourse male to female, there are different techniques – and if you could learn them in safe sex I think not only would young people be a lot less endangered by STI’s, they’d probably have a lot less painful experiences, I think, coming round to their first sexual experiences.
(end of interview)