• ‘I came out slowly – it wasn’t easy’

    Growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, Dr Mark Cross knew he was different.

    Dr Cross was gay at a time when being homosexual was illegal in that country and coming out to his family and friends was simply not possible.

    Now, as a psychiatrist at Ramsay Health Care Australia with more than three decades of clinical experience, he specialises in sexuality issues, mental health in the workplace, and improving the care and quality of life of people with lived experience.

    As part of Ramsay’s Sydney WorldPride 2023 celebrations, Dr Cross shared his experiences in a webinar for the group's staff.

    “Sitting there at 17 doing my interview to get into university, I was asked ’Why do you want to be a doctor?’,” he said, speaking to PH News.

    “And I knew, part of that is to help people. But really, I’ve been playing doctors and nurses since I was six. 

    “I’ve always had a fascination with the human mind – it’s always been a strong interest of mine.”

    He said his family’s history of mental health issues, including his own anxiety, prompted him to pursue psychiatry.

    “There was a lot that went unspoken in my family when it came to mental health issues – anxiety, depression, bipolar, and it was not talked about.

    “At the same time, I knew there was something wrong in our society. I knew I was different, and that made me look for difference, acknowledge difference, be aware of it, and take the blinkers off, particularly as I got older,” Dr Cross said.

    “It was a very privileged life for us, being white, but of course, very fascist. And you had to stick to the script, or you got in trouble. We weren’t allowed to socialise with people of colour.”

    While attending University of Cape Town, Dr Cross said he “plucked up the courage” to attend a meeting about gay and lesbian rights.

    “There were people there (at the meeting) with baseball bats,” he said. 

    “I could have just stayed hidden and reaped all the benefits, but … in the end, I came out slowly over time to friends and family. It wasn’t easy.”

    Dr Cross has worked as a specialist in Sydney since 2005 and holds senior conjoint lecturer positions at the Universities of NSW and Western Sydney. 

    He is the author of two best-selling books, and for the past 10 years has been a visiting medical officer with Ramsay, Australia's largest private hospitals operator.

    “Ramsay make us feel so much a part of the team and what they do there,” he said. 

    “They’re a great support. Being able to be your whole self at work is amazing.

    “I’m a big supporter of the public system, but in the private sector people can choose to come and see me – they know who I am, all of me and it hasn’t damaged my reputation. 

    “The love I feel at work from Ramsay is great.”

    Dr Cross marched in the Sydney Mardi Gras with his children, and said it was “incredible” to see how much the world had changed.

    “Marriage equality was such a great step forward – two-thirds majority of people in this country voted yes and we’ve shifted forward,” he said. 

    “The world hasn’t ended, and after marriage equality, we saw a drop in young men’s suicides.”

    He added that despite all the progress that had been made, there was still a long way to go.

    “When young people stop killing themselves due to the impact (on those around them) of their gender or sexuality, then we will have come far enough,” Dr Cross said.

    “I still treat patients who can’t face coming out – so when young people don’t feel so stuck, that’s when we will have made even more progress. 

    “For too long there’s been a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude that still permeates through.

    “But you know, small steps are important. I have patients who are quite religious, or quite right wing – they know I’m gay. But they stick with me. So, it’s the small steps like that, that still count.”

    Australia hosted Sydney World Pride from Friday 17 February until Sunday 5 March 2023.

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