Sheridan Williams' sexuality sits at the heart of her sense-of-self. But another enormous challenge has also been life-altering
Pick any day and she’ll likely wake-up as Sheridan, have a shower as Sheridan, agonise or be calmly decisive over her outfit, as Sheridan, again.
No change from that for brekky, lunch, dinner, bed, back to sleep, over and over forever. Again, always.
Because she knows herself so intimately, this mid-20s, blue-eyed and bespectacled, exuberant, aspiring teacher, voracious reader. Even if for some years she sometimes reluctantly wore it all as a mask.
It was like that way back then in her secret place. Her refuge of words, those worlds of promise and fantastical possibilities. It was escapism saddled-up with the joy that came with no-pressure reading through lunchtime at school.
Harry Potter? That was all my childhood, right there.
Books made her smart, her eight-year-old self reckoned, allowed her to float away from her broken home, Dad gone a year earlier, just her and Mum and her little sister.
Sometimes though she has a break from not getting up in the morning and simply being Sheridan. Sometimes she actually does gay things.
And then, she says, it’s mightily important.
In the role that I’m in now and through my volunteering and all the advocacy, then it’s crucial. Then I’m a gay person. I’m being absolutely clear with my sexuality and showing that to other people. Because there’s power in that.
You sense though that Sheridan Williams – a marriage equality support officer with Gateway Health, with that teaching degree just begun when life was being sucked out of her – has always wanted to be herself.
That came from her mother’s at first hidden struggle with depression, through the weirdness but casually accepted revolving door of dating boys, in confronting her own mental health issues.
Depression would most likely come, eventually, her mother cautioned. It was in the genes. She accepted that and it did, but not how she expected it to happen.
It was always something in the back of my mind, that it could happen to me some day. Going through the regular ups and downs of High school I thought a couple of times that “oh, I’m so depressed”, in the way that 16-year-olds do. It was only when it hit in 2012 – when I wasn’t feeling sad anymore, I was feeling nothing – that I realised “oh, this is what they’re talking about”. And it’s not just being sad.
She feels much relief that she did, eventually, reach the point that everything just suddenly make more sense.
She wasn’t bisexual, as she once told her friends.
And she did have depression, which in some ways was a more difficult part of her to share with others. Much of the time, when she and her sister were quite young, their mum would do her best to hide her illness.
Sheridan accepted having a mother so often weeping was both upsetting and strange.
But for my entire life that’s just the way my mum was. And I knew that wasn’t any better or worse than anyone else’s mum. It was just different. Knowing the reason exactly why was almost comforting in a way.
She had gladly, quite gratefully, reached the point of her perceptions not being clouded by the scattered wreckage of the imagination. As they got older, the girls were told more about Mum’s illness – starting out with sad, evolving into everything she knew about depression and how she deals with it.
Now I knew what was going on.
She also knew what was going on one quiet autumn morning, about 8’clock, a few years ago as she waited for the bus to take her to uni’. Or at least part of the problem.
She realised she was in trouble and she had to get help. She was crying. Uncontrollably. But there wasn’t even a hint of melancholia, just that great congealed muck of emptiness.
And worse, so much worse, she knows everyone else at the bus stop at QEII Square – one an old woman, another she recalls only as a strange-looking boy – was trying not to look at me.
They didn’t have faces. That’s what I remember.
And she also recalls, most clearly, that the stickiness and sting of those tears meant there was no answer in the solitude of her suffering. It was time that she saw a GP, got counselling, started on the anti-depressants that will never eradicate her illness but at least stop it squeezing her dry. She didn’t go see a doctor straight away but hopped on that bus, went to uni’ and sat through a lecture unable to hear a thing.
Developing depression really rocked my sense of self and forced me to examine a lot of things.
IT had always been this way. It made a lot of sense, but only when she looks back to the time that it didn’t.
That was no contradiction, Sheridan says, even if the first hints began to appear when she was about 15. Being at a Christian school meant an everyday reality of absolutely no one else being gay. But the truth of it was just no one had come out as gay.
And so to console herself on her uncertainty, Sheridan stuck with being bisexual, with liking boys and girls. She felt safety in that.
And I could keep telling myself that I was doing what everybody is supposed to do and keep dating boys, even though none of those relationships worked out – for one very obvious reason. I knew that I liked girls but I didn’t think it was going to be my life. I still didn’t expect myself to settle down and fall in love with a woman some day. But this is exactly what I was missing.
It took until around the age of 19 for Sheridan to accept that she wasn’t bisexual. It was only girls who she fancied, something that felt so comfortable. And that didn’t stop her from continuing to hope that one day she would have her own family.
But same-sex marriage continuing to be prohibited under Australian law became a great concern. She strongly advocated a “yes” vote in the recent postal plebiscite on the issue and to the last minute was worried the “no” vote would prevail.
Even with a 61 per cent vote in favour, she countered the importance of this to the Border’s LGBTI community in being able to support each other with the need to respect those in the minority who did not agree.
I came to terms with being gay very easily. It means I can actually find someone I want to be with. You know you’ve gone through all these struggles and you have already had to come to terms with it. It makes you a lot more open to things because you know exactly who you are.
Sheridan’s cautious approach continued this week when a vote loomed in the federal Senate on legalising same-sex marriage. Cheers and applause erupted when it got through comfortably – only 12 votes against compared with 43 in favour.
It was such an overwhelming result that Attorney-General George Brandis told, in widely celebrated comments, how he had never been prouder of Australian democracy.
But she was still stunned. Sheridan was fully expecting, despite the public support and the noises since in favour of this happening, that it could possibly fail.
Even if it didn’t, lengthy delays in simply getting a piece of legislation through the Parliament, given the rigmarole of government, made her even more fatalistic.
I thought that after the plebiscite vote came through – and that was so exceptional – that I pretty much would feel quite removed from the process until it was actually legal. When I heard though on Wednesday that the vote came through with the margin that it did I actually had happy tears. I didn’t know I was going to feel like this.
The whole plebiscite debate, the rhetoric she heard from the “no” campaign with attacks a lot worse than I was expecting meant she almost felt safer in an acceptance the “yes” vote was going to go to hell.
It made the surprise of the opposite so much more enjoyable.
And that’s partly because she sees her sense of self, with discovering her sexuality playing a huge part in that, as being a really hard-earned journey.
There is nothing I love more than love. I’m excited to see it in my future and I know it’s going to happen.