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Let's Talk | Navigating identity with Robert Baxter

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Finding his way: Robert Baxter shares his journey. Photo by Megan Fisher

To celebrate Pride Month, performing artist Robert Baxter spoke with Let’s Talk about life as a queer person from regional Victoria.

Choice.

It’s a word that regularly comes up in debate about sexuality, ironically often coming from those who haven’t experienced life as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Performing artist Robert Baxter can attest that choice was never really an option for him ― in sexuality, in gender, in being himself.

“A lot of people would say to me, ‘you are so brave, I love how you can just fully be yourself’, and I was like, I have no choice,” he said with a laugh.

“It’s just how I’ve been, I popped out of my mum dancing, singing, being flamboyant, like there was no in-between phase, there was no phase where I’ve not been that ever — I literally had no choice.

“This is just who I am, so I may as well embrace it, I may as well love who I am because why would I want to be anything else? I think it makes me special; there are so many regular people in the world, why not choose to be extra and amazing and exciting?”

Singer, dancer, model, actor, artist ― Robert just about does it all.

While Robert now identifies as queer and goes by he/they pronouns, growing up in Shepparton, he said navigating his journey had had its ups and downs.

At the age of 12, he knew he was gay.

"People called me gay before I knew what it meant, which is the same story for many queer people,“ he said.

With 10 years of hindsight, he reflects on the incidents not with sadness, but with a sense of frustration in the education system.

He said LGBTQIA+ education should be implemented in schools earlier.

“It’s sad that someone could say gay in a negative aspect and not know what it means, they just heard someone older say it and it made them think they could repeat it,” he said.

Pride: “This is just who I am, so I may as well embrace it,” Robert says. Photo by Megan Fisher

“Some people think teaching primary school age students about the queer community is exposing them to sexual stuff earlier, which is really crazy, like we are watching Disney cartoons where princes and princesses kiss after knowing each other for two days — we’re exposed to straight sexuality all day, every day.

“When they teach about different people in the world, about different countries, I think they should also teach there are different sexualities.

“Because if there’s a young boy who’s flamboyant and people are calling him gay, he might actually know what it means and then he could just think, ‘oh, maybe I am gay’ and then it’s not such a bad word any more.

“I’m not asking them to show anything obscene, I’m asking to acknowledge in schools, and the world in general, that queer people exist.

“I think it would help everyone, even the people who are bullying, to understand why people are that way, to understand it's just science and no-one learns to be gay, they just are.”

As many queer people experience, Robert said he often felt the pressure of having to educate people.

“My life motto used to be building a legacy, I wanted to create a safe space for young queer people and encourage kids to be confident,“ he said.

“Not that I've abandoned that completely but I've moved into this new era of ‘look hot and have fun’, because I'm still setting an example for young people and I'm still educating and encouraging, but it doesn’t have to be the whole purpose of my life.

“And it does suck when someone will say something that's queer-phobic, and then you say, ‘oh, no, that's not really right’, and they want you to write a whole essay on what is right and wrong.

“It’s like, well do your own research, babe, if you want to be a good ally, go on Google and search it up, because it’s not really my job to be teaching you 100 per cent of the time.

“Not every queer person has to be the voice of reason for every other person.”

Still on his own journey, Robert said that while he had embraced himself and navigated the queer space confidently, he was still figuring out some parts of himself.

He said moving to Melbourne had helped, allowing him to work through what it meant to be a person of colour in the queer space.

Meeting new people, having new experiences and taking up all opportunities presented to him, he’s recently featured in a national ad, a music video and a number of live music gigs.

He said he had been working hard to be the representation he had always wanted as a queer, Asian person.

“It’s so important to get my face out there, not only for pursuing my career as a performer myself, but to be a face for young people who look like me,” he said.

“It’s really important to see yourself in the media that is publicised around you.”

Robert said he was focused on bettering himself as an artist, pursuing career goals fostered by finding his safe place in the arts community of Shepparton, but also with support of family and those closest to him.

“I think you need to have a strong support system,” he said.

“If you have two people that you can always go to, they understand you and they support you, then you’re going to be fine; no matter what happens, they’ll be there, and that’s a really important thing in the queer community.

“Chosen family is so important because sometimes your real family isn’t there for you.

“There's always going to be a place for you, there's always going to be a group of people that love you for you.

“And you should just work to find that, because changing yourself for other people is just a waste of time, you’re always going to be yourself underneath.”

∎ Caitlyn Grant and Megan Fisher are opening the conversation with their new weekly column, Let’s Talk. We’re going into Pride Month and would like to share your stories; if you or someone you know has a story, contact caitlyn.grant@mmg.com.au or megan.fisher@sheppnews.com.au