Happens in the ‘90s. You can tell by the fashion: cut-off denim shorts; 10 hole Docs; tie-dye t-shirt; pierced nose that cost five bucks from the local chemist (such punk slash stud gun realness). Irrespective, you look fabulous. Your body though? It’s about to go sideways. And how. All the hair on your head will fall out. You will be diagnosed with gynaecomastia. One breast shall grow bigger on your chest and it shouldn’t, because you’re supposed to be a male and there are rules on how a man grows into manhood. Aren’t there?! Hush. This is growing up, just not via typical routes. Which is fine, because they have a word for that. Which is fine, because the fourth time you come out is an invocation, an invitation for you to be you. The first time? Was to yourself, nine years old, understanding how to say the word other. The second time? A year later, to your mother, as an aside, as a fact. The third time? Happens in your final year of high school: you are gay, you say, but you know it only explains you part of the way. You know there are words out there that can describe you whole. Which leads us to now: the fourth time. Because the fourth time is enchanting, is an enchantment. You are in uni. Those three letters have become a badge (or rather, a hat: you’re really into hats) because gay is the closest term you know to express how you feel. Even though you know you are not yet fully ‘real’. Irrespective, you are standing on a stage. You are standing on a stage and you are reciting a poem. You are standing on a stage and you are reciting a poem you have written. And you are disappearing. Wilfully. Your body is unravelling, is morphing from gender to gender to gender. You are standing on a stage and your body has become a poem. And in that moment you are the potential those words have spoken. You are a magic spell. Because the fourth time is a conjuring. When the poem ends, you leave the stage, shimmering, and somebody says I love how queer that poem is. And there, there it is: the first time you have heard that word as anything but a slur. And it blooms across your tongue. As if a flower. As if laden with power. Because the fourth time is a rune, an augury, a sign. How that word skews, yet brings you into view. It gives you permission to shine. And through the word queer it becomes clear that a body can be strange and odd too. How that word will one day capture the experience of alopecia areata. Or that final surge of hormones, the one where your body manifests a lump inside your chest, weeping. Which leads, at age 21, to the hair beneath your arms finally growing in, as if creeping. Because your body is as queer as you are. Because you know you have always felt both familiar and weird. And to be gay is to honour that feeling only part of the way. But to be queer means it is all just performative. Roll with it. Do not fear. You look fabulous: don hat to cover baldness; cut jeans short; wear singlet to flaunt hairing armpit. Unloosen self into new frontier. Because the fourth time is a hymn. And a her. And it’s the late ‘90s: this is as far as your vocabulary can extend. For the moment. And yes, there will be a fifth time: a settling into skin, holding yourself in the position of no-position as if coming home, welcome. But the fourth time is a revolution, a magical act, a sacred circle from out of which you enact. And as the new millennia approaches, you feel whole, more real than you have ever felt before. Because you are queer. And you are here. And you are finally getting used to it.
Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a non-binary poet who lives and writes on Whadjuk Noongar Land. SPM’s work appears in Out of the Box, Going Postal, Hashtag Queer, New Poets 1, Stories of Perth and Contemporary Australian Poetry.