physician and worked for several years in medical practice before studying photography at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland and Massey University in Wellington. He graduated with a BFA in 2004 and went on to complete an MFA in 2014. Mark’s work sits at the intersection of documentary, portraiture and social history and is concerned with questions of identity, belonging and the lifelong quest for intimacy. His photographs have been exhibited in New Zealand and overseas. A Queer Existence is in many ways a sequel to his earlier book, Men Alone — Men Together, which explored the lives and relationships of an older generation of gay men who grew up in the pre-Law Reform era. Mark lives in Wellington with his partner Ross and a small collection of antique cameras and typewriters. On Friday evenings they have but a short walk down the hill to the Garage Project’s taproom on Aro Street. Most of the photographs in this book were shot on a Rolleiflex 3.5F dating from the early 1970s.
Gay New Zealand men born after the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986 have had very different life experiences than earlier generations, and legislation since then has made life less discriminatory. Even so, many continue to feel stigmatised, and for some coming out remains a major hurdle. Candid, powerful and affecting, the 27 first-person narratives of A Queer Existence are a unique insight into how gay men continue to have to step out of the mainstream and face their own challenges as they forge their queer identities.
A Queer Existence
Mark Beehre initially trained as a specialist
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Mum and Dad were both nurses. It didn’t take them too long to get divorced, and then I lived with Mum but went to Dad’s at the weekends. He did have the internet. One day when I was 15 it was just me in the house and I went foraging for gay stuff. Because I didn’t know enough about computers to delete my browser history, someone saw it and asked if it was me. It wasn’t a big thing and soon blew over, but I had to deny it. Then my sister and I stopped spending the weekends at Dad’s because he was busy building a new house. New Plymouth isn’t a homophobic town, but there’s no visible gay culture, not many out people, nothing gaypositive. It was when I was working at a supermarket during high school that I started noticing guys. I wasn’t too bothered with the ones at school — I didn’t find anyone there particularly attractive — but at the supermarket I started realising what I liked. Experiencing that in New Plymouth was weird. I never ended up with any gay bullying and hid my sexuality quite successfully all the way through school, but because of that I did things differently from the way I might have done.
n the Seventh Form I finally convinced my parents to let me have the internet in the house. My sister was going off to uni and Mum had agreed to buy both of us a laptop. I persuaded her that I could pay for the modem myself. For some reason my mother and stepfather didn’t want a connection, but when I did get it I had the whole of the internet to explore. There was normal stuff like Facebook, but I also came across NZDating, and once everyone had gone to bed I’d search up ‘gay’, not just porn but whatever I could find. I could have delved into the political side of being gay that I’m so interested in now, but back then I was trying to work out my sexuality and my mind focused on the sexual aspects rather than how gay people live in society. I wish I’d had that access earlier. At last I was understanding what was going on, the way I’d been thinking about guys ever since the end of intermediate and all through high school. I was born in 1990. My family moved to New Zealand from Wales when I was five and settled in New Plymouth.
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ours. They’d come over for band practice and I got to know a bunch of them. We’d have parties and invite the girls along, but mainly I hung out with the guys. And so I never talked to anyone from school about how I was feeling. At the end of Seventh Form I went on NZDating and hooked up with a guy. Because I was worried about getting caught I didn’t sign up until I was 18. That’s stupid — no one polices the internet and I could have lied about my age — but I waited. Then when we met up it was only for a shag. It wasn’t until I came to Wellington that I found people I could talk to about growing up gay. That was my first time having sex, and it was quite weird and pretty average. He was an older man, 50 or something, and the photo on the screen looked better than real life. I like older guys when they’re attractive, but I wasn’t too enamoured with him. Even so I realised that I did want to have sex with men, not women. I’d had all those girlfriends and kissed and made out without really enjoying it, and it never got to the point where I thought I’d want to have sex. But even with that guy I was like, ‘Okay, this is definitely what I want, this is what’s going on.’ There were a couple of others in New Plymouth who were just shags, and then someone who I got together with a few times. He paid for my tattoos. He had several of his own, and when I said I wanted a Welsh dragon he was adamant that he’d buy it for me. Another chap lived above the motel that he ran. We enjoyed hanging out together, watching TV or playing Scrabble, and I spent a lot of my last month in New Plymouth with him. Those experiences solidified for me that I was gay, but I still wasn’t ready to come out.
I’ve had six girlfriends, but not with a single one of them was I wanting to be with a girl. It was just the thing to do. All my friends were dating. Obviously I didn’t think of it at the time, but since coming out and developing more of myself as a gay person rather than trying to hide it, I look back and realise I was preventing myself from being exactly who I was to make sure no one would think to wonder if I was gay. I can only assume that kids in high school talk about things like who they’re attracted to, but I never had those conversations. Clearly now that I’ve got friends who’re not homophobic I can discuss sex openly, but I think gay guys talk or think in a different way. I was at an all-boys’ school, and I couldn’t do that around a bunch of straight 16-year-old boys. I made all of my school friends through music. I played soccer at primary school but stopped when I was 14, and then music became everything. At the height of it I was playing six different instruments: piano, timpani and percussion, saxophone and viola, and a little bit of oboe and clarinet. When Mum let me get the internet, I went on Trade Me to buy second-hand instruments and taught myself flute, trumpet and trombone as well. Eventually I had to whittle it down, so in Seventh Form I did piano and bassoon to Grade 8 and a diploma in saxophone. Music took up so much time I was skipping out of class, but I loved it. I was in all the bands at school — the concert band, the tuney band, the jazz band — as well as a string quartet and a sax quartet. Outside school there was the Taranaki Youth Orchestra, the New Plymouth Orchestra, and every so often little chamber groups for competitions. Everything I did in New Plymouth focused on music. The girls’ school was just across the graveyard from
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lunch, and as we were driving home once again my brain was telling me: ‘Put your hand on his knee.’ I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but later on we were talking about that moment and he said he’d been feeling the same. He was out, but because I was younger and wasn’t giving out any obvious signs as to whether or not I was gay, neither of us acted on it. The workshop was in early August and I moved in with him after only about two weeks. It happened fast. He’d given me his number and I was texting him, and then he invited me over for dinner. He made a curry and wanted to impress me. When he was at the supermarket getting everything he saw rock salt on the shelf and thought, ‘That looks fancy — I’ll grab that.’ So he added the amount of salt the recipe said, but as rock salt, and we’re eating this horrendously salty curry and I’m getting through the wine trying to deal with it. The fact that he even invited me round and made such an effort made me think, ‘He obviously likes me — why would he be doing it otherwise?’ Eventually I got brave enough to go over to him and we started kissing. Jonathan had access to a bach at Castlepoint, right on the beach, and asked me to spend a few days there with him. We fell in love quite quickly. I’d been telling him I didn’t like the place where I was living, an awful cold student apartment building called the Cube, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come and live with me?’ At that point I thought, ‘There’s no way I can lie about this.’ During the first half of the year I’d been telling plenty of fibs about where I’d been — saying to my friends I was hanging out with someone they didn’t know from somewhere I made up, when I was actually going to meet shags on NZDating. But when Jonathan asked me to move in with him I realised I was going to have
At the beginning of 2009 I moved to Wellington to study music. Along with that I got heavily involved with the Green Party. Politics and music have been a big part of living here. I was doing bassoon and saxophone up at Vic, and took on a lot more music in my spare time — the Wellington Youth Orchestra and the Hutt Valley Orchestra and the Wellington Chamber Orchestra, as well as a saxophone quartet and a little barbershop group. Every year the Hutt Valley Orchestra holds a weekend workshop, with tutors from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a concert performance at the end. That’s where I met Jonathan. He was 45 and I was 18, quite a gap, but he was there learning trumpet and it was rather sweet. They did some kind of Scottish country dance, and I looked at him a few times and noticed him looking at me and we’d smile a little. I found the courage to go and say to him ‘Get up and dance!’ Back then I was usually too shy, but something in my head made me do it and then we were dancing together. You’ve got to hold hands to swing your partner round, and when the music stopped and they were telling us what to do next, for some reason I just didn’t let go. It was the first time I’d done anything like that. He didn’t let go of my hand either, and we had that lovely little moment. Then the next day, when we were back playing music, lunchtime came round and he said, ‘Do you want to go somewhere to eat?’ We went to La Bella Italia, a white-tablecloth res taurant in Petone. I didn’t realise at the time that he had a good job and I was adamant I’d pay for myself. I wanted to make a good impression, even though I couldn’t afford it and had to put it on my credit card, and it worked. He was interesting, we had an enjoyable
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a Catholic school and I wasn’t sure how he’d react. So Louis and I decided it was an excuse for us to get drunk and I’d tell him then. We all got pissed and it ended up funnier that way. Instead of just ‘Okay, cool’, Pete’s like ‘Wow! That’s so amazing!’ and gives me a huge hug. And then because we were drunk, all the hilarious dirty questions came out — ‘So what’s it like having anal sex?’ — but I’m sitting there going ‘Frankly, I don’t want to talk about that with you guys.’ And that was how I came out. Next I told my family. Rather than talking to my mum over the phone, I wanted to be sitting there with her, so I went home to New Plymouth for the mid-semester break. I’d stopped worrying about how it was going to go. Since I’d already come out to a few people and decided I was going to live with Jonathan, even though I love my mum to bits, if she’d said she wasn’t happy with it I would have said ‘Fuck you’ and left. At that point I was thinking, ‘Right. I’ve done it. If she doesn’t like it, that’s her problem’, but my mum’s amazing and was totally accepting. Actually all of my family were great, which helped so much because coming out is such a scary thing. I never truly thought they’d reject me, but it was still there at the back of my mind. You just don’t know. Last year I met a boy from Hamilton who’d come down to Wellington for a Labour Party conference where he got to know a whole lot of other gay kids and decided ‘Okay, I can’t hide this anymore.’ He was only half a year short of finishing high school and moving to Wellington, but he told his parents and they kicked him out. He ended up staying with Jan Logie, the Green MP from up the coast. When he told me his story I thought, ‘Oh God, I can’t imagine what it would be like if I could never go home
to be honest with my flatmates and my family, at the least, because otherwise everything would turn into a big impossible lie. The first person I came out to was my friend Ashwin, an Indian boy I’ve known since I was eight. We were best friends through primary, but you end up moving through different groups as you go on. I don’t see as much of him now, but we haven’t fallen out and still talk. I decided to confide in him. A mutual friend had told me he was gay, so I knew it would work. After that I told the guys I was living with. Louis and I had been friends through high school, so I tackled him first. Another reason I couldn’t come out in school is that all along my group of friends would joke around with each other, not really in a homophobic way, but we’d laugh and say ‘That’s so gay!’ the way kids do now, or we’d tease each other — ‘You can be my boyfriend!’ — never in a sexual sense, but just for fun. So when I came out to Louis he was fine, but then he asked, ‘Hey, but what about all those times you said you wanted to be my boyfriend?’ and I had to explain I was just kidding him like everyone else. Then there was Pete. He’d gone to a different school, but I knew him a bit because he played music, and only a few weeks after moving to Wellington I saw him on the street and we started chatting. He mentioned that he was living in a terrible hostel thing, all grotty and horrible, and I told him there were loads of free rooms in my building and suggested he apply to move in. I didn’t realise he specifically asked to be in my apartment, but it worked out for the best. Pete’s my best friend in the world now, but back then we weren’t so close. I knew he was a good guy, but although he’s not religious at all and hated having religious education, he’d been to
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of my life that I’m not sharing with her.’ That’s bad, because assuming she’s okay with me being gay then she’d want to know all those things. She enjoys hearing about our lives. I’ve never mentioned having a partner and she’s never asked, but she’s probably wondering ‘When is he finally going to get a girlfriend?’ So I think I might tell her. I loved living with Jonathan. There’s something special about coming home to someone you’re close to like that. He had gay and lesbian friends, and I got to know them and saw a whole different side of life. There’s a few gay individuals in New Plymouth, but Wellington has much more — not just a nightclub scene, but a whole gay culture. It’s a liberal, politically left-leaning town. That’s where I fit, and I got on well with all the politically active gay people that I met. Those two years with Jonathan were a real learning curve. I discovered a lot about myself, got over my shyness and became much more confident. Studying music was fun for a while, but eventually I realised I didn’t want to be a professional musician, playing for 60 hours a week and most likely having to go teaching to make a living. I sold my bassoon and changed my degree around, finally settling on Geology. Now I just play saxophone. I’m in a Motown covers band, Sophie and the Realistic Expectations, and we’re getting into more funk and sixties and early seventies stuff: fantastic music that I never knew about before. Jonathan pushed me along. It’s a weird connection: an old friend of his knew Sophie, my singer, and she was on the lookout for horn players. Jonathan said I should get in touch, but I was nervous because I’d never done anything like that. He kept on encouraging me, my friend Pete came in on
again because my parents were like that.’ That’s why it was so daunting, even though I knew that wouldn’t happen to me. Thankfully, Mum was fantastic. Jonathan had actually come up with me and was staying in a hotel, so after I’d told her and it was all okay, I asked if she’d care to meet him. ‘He’s here in New Plymouth. I can introduce you if you want, but I’d understand if you don’t.’ And then I had to explain ‘Well, he is forty-five’, and Mum was like ‘Okay, whatever floats your boat.’ So he came over and went to shake her hand, but Mum said ‘We don’t shake hands in Wales!’ and gave him a big hug. There I am cringing — ‘Mum! That’s cheesy!’ — but at the same time I was touched by the way she accepted him straight away. My stepdad was the same, so we had a pleasant holiday and came back feeling good about it all. I don’t see as much of Dad. I still visit him and talk to him and love him, but he keeps a lot in his head. He’s happy reading books and isn’t very forthcoming. You’ve got to work to draw things out of him. Since I’ve learned more about history and politics I’ve been able to engage with him at that level, but he’s harder to connect with. Even so, he was fine. The one person left is my grandma, Dad’s mother. I’m in touch with her a lot and she’s been over from Wales two or three times. She’s quite old, and originally Dad and my sister weren’t sure that I should say anything to her. At first I agreed, because in those early stages of coming out I was happy that so far nothing had gone awry with my family and I didn’t want to rock the boat. But now I’m at the point of thinking, ‘Well, I truly love Nain’ — that’s the Welsh word for ‘grandma’ — ‘and if she can’t accept it, then again that’ll be her problem. I talk to her about so much, and yet there are big parts
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my room, but eventually I got sick of it and moved to Mount Cook — how long was I there? — until I met Ryan and Steve who live here with me now. Ryan and Steve had shifted from Tauranga where they’d owned a caff that went bust in the 2008 recession. They were living in Steve’s sister’s garage, and I saw them on NZDating just a few weeks after they arrived. Their place was out in the Hutt, so Ryan picked me up. The three of us talked and shagged, and then they asked if I wanted to stay the night. We connected well and I liked them a lot, so I ended up going back every day. That was a year ago and basically I’ve lived with them ever since, although I carried on paying rent on my Mount Cook flat until the lease came due for renewal. The three of us were sleeping in a big queen bed in that garage. Steve’s sister Olivia is a free-spirited hippie. She’s bi, and both of her kids were living there too. It’s incredible that Steve’s family accepted me so easily. The guys are in their forties and suddenly they’ve got this 21-year-old kid over all the time, essentially in a three-way relationship. But no one batted an eyelid, not even his mum, who’s in her seventies. Being in a three-way relationship wasn’t something I’d ever thought about, but we jelled and it worked. We’d say ‘I love you.’ Ryan and Steve had been together about 10 years, and Steve had done three-way relationships before. Maybe Ryan had as well. Polyamory is possibly more common among gay men, because having three people of the same gender makes it easier. After about eight or nine months, when we’d moved out of Olivia’s place and were house-sitting for some other friends, we started winding down on having so much sex together. With time you just don’t do it as often, and we’d got busier with work and the gym and other
trumpet, we found Wilson the trombone player at Fidel’s, and now we’ve been an eight-piece band with three horns for a couple of years. We play at corporate gigs and venues like Bodega or Meow. Sadly I managed to bugger up the relationship with Jonathan by playing around. It’s not something I’m proud of at all, and I wish I could go back and change it. Although I’ve seen him since we split — it’s good that we talk — I don’t think we could end up being proper friends because I hurt him a bit too much. I’d moved to Wellington, come out, and realised that I could meet plenty of guys online and try lots of different things, but I shouldn’t have done that while I was dating Jonathan. Or at least I should have said ‘This is what I want to do — maybe we should just be friends, or talk about having an open relationship’, but I never did. I didn’t know any better, and it was a huge mistake. I had to move out. We hadn’t discussed whether we were going to be sexually exclusive, but we were definitely boyfriends, going out on dates and living together. It didn’t need to be spoken that we were a closed couple: it was implicit. When he discovered me again, he told me he didn’t want me in the house anymore. I got the boot and found myself living on my own again. ———— After breaking up with Jonathan I answered an ad on Trade Me and shifted into this disgusting place on Webb Street, wedged into a tight little alley between the fishery and the building next door. The apartment had hardly any windows and every Sunday it smelled like rotten fish. My room was entirely internal, a nightmare, and I didn’t connect with the other flatmates at all. Pete used to come over and we’d watch movies and smoke pot in
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it’s also a fun thing that people do. Everyone does it and I enjoy it, and that’s one of the things that comes with being a gay man. There’s a big sexual part to gay culture and I like that. As for HIV, from what I can tell the big scare was confined to the eighties. Obviously it’s still a huge issue, but then it was the topic people talked about all the time. When I was growing up, we found out what it was, but it wasn’t constantly on people’s minds. Sex ed in New Zealand schools is actually quite shit, even for straight kids. There’s a lot more they need to be teaching, and for gay kids there’s nothing. The main message they managed to get out was condoms, so that gave a bit of understanding. Thankfully the AIDS Foundation have done a good job with things like their Love Your Condom campaign. They had ads on NZDating, so I managed to learn what I needed to do and how I could protect myself. I’m fully aware of the dangers, so I play safe usually. With Ryan and Steve or Jonathan, once I’d learned to trust them a bit then we could talk about not doing so, but if I was just meeting someone off the internet I wouldn’t want to risk it.
things. It came to the point where I said ‘I really want to be with you boys, but I also want to play around’, and they seemed to be keen for that as well. While it had been just the two of them they’d played openly. They loved each other and had an agreement that they could go cruising whenever they wanted. So we decided to shift to that. The three of us aren’t ‘together’ anymore. We moved to this flat in Te Aro, and when we’re at home I still kiss and hug them, but we’re not an item, although the two of them obviously are. We can do what we like and we’re incredibly good friends. Living with other gay guys I can be completely myself. With straight people, even if I was completely out, I’d still be wary of who was around if I was bringing someone home, but with Ryan and Steve it’s much more comfortable. And if I met someone else that I wanted to move in with, it wouldn’t hurt our friendship. I seem to connect quite well with older people. I can’t fully explain it, and it’s not that young gay guys are hard to get on with. I’ve had sex with plenty of men, young and old, but I’d need to have a relationship with someone close to my age to compare it. The way it’s worked out so far, the three men I’ve had a proper relationship with are all in their forties.
———— Growing up in New Plymouth was confusing because I didn’t see anyone there who was out. There were gay people in the media, even if what was portrayed tended to be — and still is — clichéd stereotypes, so the idea wasn’t completely foreign. I knew it wasn’t only me, but there was no visible support structure like a queer–straight alliance at school. And although I was thinking about guys I never confronted in my mind the question of whether that meant I was gay and therefore x needed to happen: I’d have to come out and tell people and my
———— People in general are kind of prudish about discussing sex. Young people aren’t so bad, and the group of friends I have are relaxed talking sexually, but overall society keeps it too hushed. Even though it’s all over the bloody TV, it’s weird that you can’t have a conversation about it. When you’re in love with someone sex is definitely a different thing. It can be a great way to bond, but
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life would be like this instead. My subconscious tried to push it away. I’d been bullied in primary school, and now I had a group of friends I didn’t want to be shunned. What you see on TV and in magazines, New Zealand media especially, is so heterocentric — straight people falling in love all over the place and going off and having families — that I couldn’t possibly have understood what being gay meant. It was only when I came to Wellington and got into the Green Party and saw the human rights and political side of it that I started to pull it together. The Greens’ policy page, for example, stated their support for same-sex marriage and extending full legal rights to all couples regardless of orientation. Being in Wellington allowed me to form my own political opinions. Gay people should be able to live as they please. Meeting them, and seeing that they go about and do their thing and are visibly in relationships, started the cogs turning in my head. ‘Alright,’ I thought, ‘this is something I could do.’ That was never there in New Plymouth. During my last year at high school there was a kid back in the Fourth Form who was also into music. He came out then, but the thing was Brett pretty much didn’t have a choice. He was camp, and a dancer — everything people would assume a gay guy would be — and strong-headed as well. Everyone was saying he was gay, and it got to the point where he told them: ‘Actually it’s true, so you can all get fucked.’ It worked and he got a bit of respect. There was another boy, Darren, older than me, who was the same — camp, danced, played flute — but he didn’t come out until after high school. What made it confusing was that the only gay people my age recognisable to me in New Plymouth were Brett and Darren, and they were so typecast. I didn’t know
anyone more like myself who was out. There’s that expression ‘straight-acting’ that I hate, because I’m not acting but people always assume I’m straight. I can’t stand those stereotypes, and no one should make assumptions, but at the time I was worried that if I came out people would assign all those clichéd attributes to me and they didn’t fit. As a teenager I was more caught up in that. Nowadays I wouldn’t care if someone thinks I’m a flaming queen, but when you’re in high school what people think of you means a lot. I didn’t want to be associated with the clichés that all gay men just want to be girls, mincing and flouncing and obsessed with fashion. It wasn’t so much not wanting to be those things, as not wanting people to think I was something I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to say: ‘Well, I’m gay, but I’m still just me. I’m not suddenly going to be different.’ It seems simpler now, but back then I couldn’t work it out. I’ve got to be happy in what I’m doing. I don’t want to force myself to do things I don’t enjoy, so that’s why I’ve switched up my study. And I try to make sure that the things I do are having minimal impact on the planet or other people. Later in 2010 I went vegan, and that’s a principle that I’ve stuck to. Equality, opposing things like racism and sexism and homophobia, is a huge value for me. Although I like to call myself feminist, every so often I look at myself and ask if the things I’m doing are sexist or misogynistic in some way. Are there things I have to change or stop doing if I want to reflect those values? The people I’m closest to are the people in the band, the Realistic Expectations, and then there’s Ryan and Steve, and Steve’s family — those are my main community. Beyond that there’s people I see every now and then through music and politics. My piano player from the band, Sam, has a wide circle of friends, and
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You continue to see stories of kids getting beaten up in school, and there’s five times as many queer kids attempting suicide. That’s awful. From what I understand it’s more of a small-town thing. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch don’t seem so bad. I’ve met kids who grew up in Wellington and were out during high school without a problem. A few of them went to mixed schools and were able to make friends with girls, and that makes it easier. If 16-year-old straight boys meet someone who’s gay they get caught up in questioning their own sexuality, and that’s frustrating. I describe myself as ‘gay’, but I definitely identify as ‘queer’ as well, because to me ‘queer’ encompasses transgender and intersex and bisexual and everything else. That’s just as important. The queer community is all of those, not just gay and lesbian people. Transgender kids have it the worst at school, because it’s something you can’t hide, especially if you decide to go ahead with changing your gender. But when I’m talking to people I usually say I’m gay. Kids spend so much of their time at school. It’s the main thing in their life, and whether schools like it or not they have to accept that they have gay students and they can’t keep denying that or not offering those students support. They have an obligation to care for everyone. There need to be these clearly visible gay– straight alliances, and if teachers don’t like it they have to keep quiet. Should they be allowed to be teachers if they have that kind of prejudice? Would we tolerate racist teachers? Would we allow them to blatantly discriminate against Māori students? That’s not fathomable now, and the same attitude has to apply to how we treat queer students. What’s worse than someone taking their own life,
we come together often enough if he has a party or whatever, but they’re not people I go and hang out with specifically. The political side is where I end up having more of a gay community. I’ve met people through the Green Party and the activist group Queer Avengers and the marriage equality campaign. The gay community in Wellington is active and supportive. It’s open and welcoming and I’m in there, but I have plenty of straight friends as well. Coming out has been a huge part of finally enabling my life to take a direction. I’d been quite scattered, and it’s helped me hone in on who I am, what I want to be, who I want to be with, and where I fit in the social structure, what communities I identify with. For years I’d been at uni because I couldn’t imagine where else I should be, whereas now I’m quite determined I want to get the science degree. Any sort of work within the political sphere would be fantastic, whether working for the Greens or taking scientific data and turning it into policy recommendations for the Ministry for the Environment. It helps that I love Wellington, but at some point I might go overseas. I can’t lock myself in New Zealand forever, I guess, but if I did go away I’d want to come back. The context of this project is that it’s about people born after Law Reform, and looking back on the history of the gay movement and talking to older guys about their experiences of growing up I can say that I’ve had an easy ride, even though I did hide my sexuality through high school. There are things that should have been different for me, but I didn’t have any trouble and my coming-out experience was painless. For the most part New Zealand is accepting and people are laid-back, but there’s still so much that needs to change.
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The ideal would be that sexuality wouldn’t matter, that if a boy found out at 14 or 15 that he wanted a boyfriend, then he’d just do it and it wouldn’t even be a thing. Everyone would just accept that people are gay or straight, but that’s years in the future. I hate that I had to hide who I was all through high school. I didn’t go through all the gay bullying and trauma that other kids do, but I regret that for the majority of my life so far — because I’ve only been out for three or four years — I had to cover up and lie to people and not be who I was. During your school years you do a lot of your growing up, and there’s a whole bunch of it that I didn’t do then and I’m doing now.
especially when they’re as young as 14? It needs to be a top-down thing. A lot of the bottom-up work has been done, and it’s got to the point where the government needs to force the change from the top. It was the same way with getting racism out of our culture. Young people’s attitudes are changing fairly quickly, but there’s still plenty of conservative parents. That’s a problem, because when there isn’t the positive reinforcement coming from school there’s only the negative reinforcement at home. Kids are impressionable. So change would involve direct campaigning, people getting into schools to teach about sexuality. Predictably, when there’ve been attempts at that there are letters to the editor complaining ‘My kids are being taught the homosexual lifestyle.’ We’ll just have to battle that for a bit and push it through.
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involved more than that it was harder to deny. I think my classmates knew before I was ready to admit it. There was at least one girl in high school who hit me up about it. She thought me and my best friend were dating, and I’d be like ‘No, that’s gross!’ I wasn’t attracted to him so it would have been gross anyway. Although I don’t talk to many of those people now, I assume they wouldn’t be surprised to know I am gay, because of my personality. I have some stereotypical traits, and my interest in fashion and learning to sew is probably one of them. I never dated or seemed interested in dating girls. When I look back at myself it seems obvious, but then I had all those inside thoughts that other people didn’t know about. Winton, where I grew up, is a small town with a population of around 2000, about 30 minutes’ north of Invercargill. I’m the third of four brothers and was born in 1988. My mum trained as a teacher but my birth certificate has her as a ‘homemaker’, and my dad was a Presbyterian minister. We moved to Winton when I was two, and pretty much until I was 13 or 14 the
aving grown up in a Christian-oriented world and heavily involved in the church, I was in denial about my sexuality. I definitely had plenty of ideas and did what I assume every 16-year-old guy does when they have the internet. But I tried to see it as a phase, and when I realised it wasn’t I kept it quiet. I was part of the church youth group, and as I grew older took on a slight leadership role, playing piano, and singing a bit, in the band that led worship time. I didn’t really know what gay was until I was 10 or 11, and even though I didn’t think that was me I got a little obsessed with the idea. When I hit puberty I had certain feelings. As a teenager I delivered junk mail, and looking through what was on sale at The Warehouse I’d pause on the underwear pictures. When I realised it was more than just a passing thing, I would have been somewhere in Sixth Form. The feelings were becoming more emotional, and I was having small crushes on classmates as opposed to a purely sexual desire. When I was simply attracted to the physical form of a body it was easy to discard it as a phase, but when the attraction
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I’d become interested in clothing in my teenage years. I did a bit of sewing and was into dressing crazy just for the heck of it, as a way of exploring identity. How people choose to express themselves in what they’re wearing, and what that tells you about them, are things that still interest me. I was op-shopping. I liked bright colours. I had a lot of stuff I kept for when I wanted to dress up, like a pair of bright green jogging shorts with Velcro tabs to rip them off. It was attention-seeking in a way. Although I like to think I was alternative and didn’t care what people thought, I wanted them to look at me. They have a course in Fashion Design at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, but I liked the sound of Wellington better. Everyone from school was going to Otago and I was keen to make a break. If I’d gone there, too, it would have been high school all over again and it would have taken me another however many years to come out. The first year of Massey’s Design degree is really broad and very much based in fine arts and industrial design, things I had no idea about. That threw me off. Having cruised through high school with minimal study and never being used to pushing myself, I got a bit lost and left halfway through the second semester. For the next few months I worked at Wendy’s Supa Sundaes, and then went to Victoria University for three years doing Theatre and Māori Studies and a bit of New Zealand sign language. Finally I realised that, smart as I could be, I’m not an academic. Research and essay writing didn’t fit with how I respond to information, so I left and ended up on the unemployment benefit. At the WINZ office I saw a poster for a Ministry-funded Certificate in Clothing Manufacture, where I learned the basics of garment-
church there was an old people’s church. Apart from a couple of families it was hard to find anyone under 60, and my first friends were the kids of people my parents’ age. But then the church combined with others from the surrounding areas, they got a youth minister, more families came together, and they started having more modern-type services. When I say I was involved with the church, I don’t just mean that I went along and did things. I was a Christian and tried to live my life as such. I went to study groups to read and discuss the Bible. If anything convinced people I wasn’t gay it would have been my devotion to Jesus. I struggled a lot between my lustful thoughts, my inner desires, and my spirituality. I felt disconnected, and by the time I was 17 or 18 wasn’t comfortable taking Communion. They’d talk about it beforehand and say we needed to let go of any sinful thoughts, and in my mind I was sinning all the time. I was looking at porn and had all these homosexual desires. And so I didn’t take part in certain things. I never fully explained that to anyone, and no one questioned me on it because we had personal choice. ———— When I first moved to Wellington I was here all by myself and didn’t know anyone. Although my brother lived in Porirua, it was a big step and it helped that I had to put myself out there and make friends. I came here to study Fashion Design at Massey University. That didn’t work the way I thought it would, and I’ve taken a lengthy path to end up at Toi Whakaari, the national drama school, studying costume-making and construction, discovering the way fabric moves and learning the technicalities of working with it as an art form.
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it as gossip, and I’d had a scare. After coming out in Wellington I told two friends back home, and then had a text from someone else saying ‘Congratulations!’ I thought it was because I’d come runner-up in a Battle of the Bands, but she went on, ‘I heard you just came out.’ That put me on the defensive. Wanting to tell my parents myself and not have them hear it from someone else was my biggest motivator. So I went back home and was watching a movie with my mum one night when my dad came into the room. That seemed as good a time as any, and I just said it: ‘Mum, Dad, I’m gay.’ The room became tense. I got asked a lot of things, like ‘Are you sure? What if it’s a phase? What do you mean by gay?’ — ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I’m attracted to men.’ My dad’s next question sticks in my head as bizarre. ‘What do you mean, “attracted to men”?’ I’m like ‘Emotionally, mentally, physically’ — maybe I said physically or sexually, or maybe I left that out, because you don’t say that stuff to your parents — and he responded, ‘I don’t feel you’re sexually attracted to anyone until you know and love them.’ I wish I’d argued his point back then, because I was thinking ‘What about lust and all those terrible things like sexual assault?’, but that’s a dangerous road to start walking down. Then that was it and Mum didn’t feel like watching the movie anymore. The next day I came inside from hanging out the washing and Mum said, ‘You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?’ — ‘Tell them what?’ — ‘That you’re a homosexual.’ It sounded dirty when she said it like that. Her logic was that you don’t tell people that you’re straight, so why tell them you’re gay? Although I accepted her reasoning, to myself I thought ‘Then it shouldn’t come as a surprise if I bring a guy home to family
making. The hands-on style jelled with me, and my teacher said I should have a look at Toi Whakaari’s costume course. I applied and got in, and that’s what I’ve been doing since. I still wasn’t out when I came to Wellington. That first year I worked on making friends. I went to orientation gigs, checked out bands and forced myself on people (or politely said hello). A few months into living here I tried saying that maybe I was bisexual. I’d developed a crush on a guy I knew, and thought, ‘How am I meant to do anything about this if I’m not actually gay? I’m going to have to come out.’ I was friends with his flatmate, and one night I told her that I thought he was cute. She was like ‘Oh, okay’, and except for with my parents I always tried not to make a fuss and keep my coming out as casual and matter-of-fact as possible. Nothing really happened with that guy. In my I’mgoing-to-make-friends way I started going to Imerst, the one gay bar in Wellington. I’d been attending the Pentecostal Equippers Church along with my brother and his wife, and around that time I realised — after staying out till eight in the morning with drag queens and then turning up at church at 10 — that maybe it would be great not to do this anymore. I was still feeling pretty disconnected and just stopped going to church. At the end of high school I’d started losing the spiritual side of my life, but was too involved with the church to give it up. My parents would have asked too many questions. Now I was free from all that. Coming out to my parents happened in between semesters of my first year at uni. I’d been on a couple of dates with a guy and started having a sexual life, and felt it was something they should know. In a small town things go around. I was worried they might hear
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Maybe, I thought, it’s alright now. But late last year I went back home and on the bookshelf found a book by Exodus International. They’re a Christian organisation that specialises in helping people leave their ‘homosexual lifestyle’ and become straight. I told Mum, ‘This is bad. Exodus International is not a working thing, and what they say isn’t true.’ Two of the bigwigs in the organisation got caught up in a scandal and were found to be in a same-sex relationship, so obviously it doesn’t work. I didn’t fully express how upsetting it was to find that book. I thought my mum was coming round, but actually one of the tips it contained was to give that impression. She’s still not quite sure where she stands. She loves me, and then she reads about how being gay isn’t right and gets conflicted.
Christmas.’ Not telling people was okay if my actions could speak for themselves. My dad and I have never been close and we don’t talk a lot, so I don’t feel anything’s changed there. My mum was upset and probably still is a bit. I’ve had conversations where she’s said she’s sad for me because I’ll never get married or have children, and I’ve tried to reassure her that maybe somewhere in life I would. For a while when we were on the phone I’d talk about guys I might be seeing just to gross her out, which was a bit mean — a lot mean, really — and I could hear her awkwardness. Then it became less of an issue and I stopped. At Vic I wrote an article for the student magazine Salient talking about how the Bible doesn’t say anything against homosexuality. I sent it to my mum and got a card in the mail a couple of weeks later, saying she’d read the article and tried to think of all the reasoning against it but was worried that if we argued I’d get angry and upset and stop talking to her. So we didn’t discuss it, but that was worse. In high school I was close to my mum and went to her with a lot of problems. Although I had friends, good friends, there was a disconnect. I felt different and used to tell her about how I was often sad and lonely. Since coming out we haven’t been able to talk as much, and what I tell her about what I’ve been doing I have to edit so much. I can’t tell her about dates or one-night-stands or partying till 4 a.m. What was getting to me was the fact that they seemed to have such a problem with the way I was living that I couldn’t tell them as much about my life. They live in Nelson now, and when I went to see them Mum seemed kind of okay. My friend and his boyfriend were visiting Nelson, too, and I said I’d like to hang out with them.
———— During the time I was at Victoria University I had friends who were involved with running UniQ, the queer support group up there. For a year I was co-president, which was ‘interesting’. I don’t think I had the administrative skills back then to do something so large. Other friends were part of Schools Out, the organisation for queer high-school kids. They were looking for facilitators and I started helping. The difference between how I was as a teenager and how kids are now is fascinating, and so is comparing growing up in a small town with growing up in a city. Part of me wishes I could have gone to Wellington High where everything’s more liberal. Queer Avengers is something else I’ve been part of. It’s more of a lobbying or activist or political group. It grew out of a march called ‘Queer the Night’, which was held in response to a spate of gay bashings and homophobic bullying on the streets. I’d never been faced with that
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a homophobic person would call ‘faggy’, I also call ‘faggy’, but in a positive way. For myself, if I’m talking about who I am sexually I’ll use ‘gay’, and if it’s more political I’ll say ‘queer’. I would say I’m a gay man, and that refers to a lot of the people I relate to and who we’re attracted to. But I also call myself ‘queer’, which is more encompassing and inclusive, and shows that I’m not just interested in what will affect me personally but in a wider community as well. Homosexual Law Reform was great, but I’m also interested in issues that affect lesbian women and the way trans people are treated. ‘Queer’ takes on a more diverse meaning and shows I’m not concerned only with what affects gay men. Gender is different again. On internet dating sites people are concerned with people being ‘straight-acting’ and ‘masculine’. While I don’t think I’m straight-acting, whatever that might mean, I do consider myself fairly masculine or manly, although not in a way that other people might see it. ‘Gender-fuck’ is that somewhere in-between space of neither male nor female. I’d use that word for drag, but not for myself. In my own life I never feel that way. When I was younger I didn’t have a lot of thoughts on what it meant to be gay. Even now, I don’t try to pin it down to one thing. It doesn’t mean you act in a certain way, and if someone tells me they’re gay I don’t make any assumptions. The essence is that they’re attracted to someone of the same sex. The difference between Auckland and Wellington is that while Auckland is larger and seems to have more of a gay community, that’s because in Auckland a lot of the communities are separated, but in Wellington they’re more easily rolled together. So many gay bars have gone under in
and didn’t realise it was a thing, but again people told me about it and I started going to meetings. Last year I emceed the second Queer the Night. I did that in drag. One of the first friends I made when I started going to gay bars was a drag queen, and I thought ‘I could do that, but I’d do it differently, more interestingly.’ When I do drag, I try to break with tradition rather than imitating what everyone else is doing. I tend not to shave body hair. A lot of draggers try to be as womanly and feminine as possible, but I ask, ‘What is a woman anyway? Who are you to say that what I’m doing is less womanly?’ So I don’t try to make believe, but to create confusion. I design ridiculous huge costumes that don’t lend themselves to ‘passing’. I don’t do it enough to have a grasp of how my personality might change when I’m in drag. For me it’s about performance and the buzz of doing a show more than just dressing up, and although it’s fun and interesting it’s a dying thing in Wellington at the moment. When Imerst closed there wasn’t a place to perform, and a lot of the better-known drag queens moved overseas or to other cities. Other friends are doing corporate gigs, but my aesthetic doesn’t lend itself to that market. Currently I’m in a big phase of using the word ‘faggot’. It’s a bit of a dirty word and fun to throw around, as well as reclaiming an expression that’s been used hurtfully for so long. It also refers to certain parts of gay culture, like the music I’m listening to. Britney Spears and the gay icon divas like Cher or Bette Midler are all pretty faggy. So is the outrageous way I dress. I wear lots of short shorts and bright colours and patterns, and sometimes I wear lipstick: all those more feminine or even just less heteronormative traits. In taking away the insult of the word I stick with the meaning. Something that
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gay. I’m quite close to my ex and his partner, and see them about once a week. I’m living in a flat with four others. We study and we work. Just one flatmate who’s gay. When I first moved in it was a lot of female punks, and while they weren’t queer the environment was very queer-minded. They’ve been easy people to live with. I don’t get asked stupid questions about being gay. While I study I work part-time at Kaffee Eis selling coffee and gelato. For a while after I got employed the boss seemed only to hire gay men, and if I’m working with one of them on a Friday or Saturday night we might go out dancing afterwards. Generally if I’m at home I’ll have my computer open on Facebook and maybe an internet dating site. I’ve met people on there. The ones that I’d call my friends are the ones I’ve met face-to-face, even if I don’t see a lot of them. In my life I’ve had one proper relationship. My ex and I dated for three or four months. It felt really serious, but when I look back on it that first-time buzz was there as well. We’re still friends, but when I think about how it was when we dated I’m glad it’s over, not in a mean way but in the sense that it wasn’t meant to be a longlasting thing. We first met through friends in a bar and hung out a bit, but nothing happened. I can’t remember when we actually got together, but one night we ended up in bed and were like ‘I guess we’re dating now.’ Then one evening he said he wanted to break up. We talked about it and he gave reasons, but he also said: ‘I’ve just bought us this trip to go to Hastings for the weekend, so can we break up after that?’ What he said made sense, so it was fairly mutual, a good clean break. He thought he didn’t need to be in a relationship at that point. Otherwise I’ve had week-long flings that turn out to
the past five years, because in Wellington it’s easy for a gay person to have friends and go wherever they want, so there’s less of a specific market. Wellington seems a lot more integrated. Although I do feel part of a gay community, there’s community and there’s scene. Community is the larger group, and scene is the kind of people you see out and about on the town socialising. I’m less a part of the scene, because when I moved here I didn’t get into one of those groups of friends. There’s a weird hostility in some of them. It’s cliquey. I feel like if I tried to make friends they mightn’t want to — but that might be all inside my head and in reality they’re lovely people. The group I did go to have settled down now. They aren’t partying, and I miss partying as much as I used to. Part of my community is the political action side like the Queer Avengers. In 2010 I was asked to speak at Hui Takatāpui, a weekend conference for queer Māori, and I went again last year. ‘Takatāpui’ is a word that’s been reappropriated. The way it’s used now, rather than saying ‘I’m queer’ and ‘I’m Māori’, ‘takatāpui’ encompasses them all in one rather that making them two separate things. It’s tricky to say whether I identify as Māori. I know there’s that ancestry in our family line, but we can’t figure out how the whakapapa runs because of the way it’s been documented by colonial historians. I kind of claim it as part of my identity, but it’s never definite and I couldn’t justify calling it a big part of my life. ———— My social life at the moment is mostly the people I see at school and the people I see at work. I keep up with other friends as much as possible. Most of them are queer or
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lying there losing the plot over what I’d just done. I had to get out. I walked home but left my wallet behind, so he had to bring it back to me the next day. We’d been on a couple of dates, but didn’t see each other again after that. Looking back there was a general disrespect with having his dog there, but my reaction was largely due to a conflict with my beliefs. I was still tied up in being a Christian. From then on, I had a lot of trouble. I might have gone home with someone I met at a club, but it never went past masturbation. I couldn’t do much because I was traumatised from that first experience. Although I don’t really know anyone with HIV, I think about it sometimes. I’ve collected for the AIDS Foundation. I’ve befriended the community engagement officers. I have slept with someone who’s HIV-positive. It’s an issue I care about, but it hasn’t affected my personal life. Although HIV is something a gay person should know about, it’s not a defining part of being gay. I haven’t read statistics, but I’ve heard that cases of heterosexual women with HIV are rising, so it’s not a gay disease like it was in the eighties, and it’s less of a concern now than it was 15 years ago. It can be handled with drugs, even though it’s not a cure. I’m super-adamant about condom use and safer-sex practices, so I’m not so scared. I go for regular checks, and I’m an advocate for sexual health with my friends.
be nothing. Sometimes I think I get too infatuated with a guy in a short period of time and weird them out. Although I’ve often rushed, it’s turned out fine, because they’re probably not people I’d really want to go out with anyway. Often I’d meet people through friends or maybe in town, but it’s a long time since I’ve been on a date. I’ve started connecting with people online, but often that’s less dating and more sexual. A lot of friends have internet dating stories. It’s more common now, and an easy way to find people. I’ve wondered if cruising is dying, but it just happens differently. It’s become a technology thing. Being gay isn’t pushed into a dark corner, and we don’t have to hang out in the toilet for someone and tap our foot. We can just get on our iPhone and load up Grindr and see how far away they are. I’d say I’m a very sexual person. When I first came out, sex was strongly related to intimacy and relation ships. If I wasn’t close to a person, I didn’t want to go too far with them. Although it’s still an intimacy thing, I have a far less romantic idea of sex now. I’ve come to enjoy the physical aspect a lot, and don’t mind having sex with someone I’ve just met. I’ve also decided that if you’re not enjoying it it’s okay to withdraw consent once you’ve started. In the past I’ve put up with when something wasn’t the best, but recently if it’s not what I want I’ve stopped. About halfway through that first year in Wellington I was seeing this guy, and that would have been the first time I’d gotten naked in bed with someone. We did oral sex and I freaked out. His tiny little dog was in the bed, too. I’d said that was weird, and he was like ‘No, it’s fine, it’s fine’, but it wasn’t fine for me. I couldn’t come that night. He rolled over and went to sleep while I was
———— I’m ready to leave Wellington, but study holds me down. There’s better job opportunities in costuming overseas. I’d like to get more involved with things like Queer Avengers or social support groups for gay men or queer people. I’ve got a lot of friends in Melbourne, and the
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those are the things I’m passionate about. And there’s something political, to do with queer and gender and racial oppression. It’s more than just the freedom to be who you are. It’s about the things that are going to tie you down. In America a teenager gets shot for being black and wearing a hoodie. He’s allowed to be who he wants, but it still got him in trouble, not due to how he was acting but to how people responded to him. I don’t know how to articulate it, and I’d be a lot more radical in my politics if I read more. ‘Freedom to be yourself ’ is about celebrating diversity and saying everybody’s beautiful, and the message needs to be deeper than that.
big dream is to live in London and work on the West End or with the Royal Shakespeare. I’d like to do New York and San Fran and Chicago, although the USA scares me with its lack of social security. As far as relationships go, I really don’t know. It might be nice to have one, but it’s stupid to go out looking because that’s a bit false — no, not false, but needy and therefore off-putting. I take it as it comes. The way it stands right now I don’t know when my next relationship will be, and it may not even be in Wellington. Most of my creative energy goes into sewing, but I’d like to get back into music. Music, clothing, costume:
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was queer and I got it into my head that this was going to be a queer party. I’d go there and meet other gay people and strike up friendships and it’d be fantastic. I wore that gross pink hoodie with all the stars, and as soon as I arrived a guy who was drunk walked up, looked me right in the eyes, and said in a scathing sort of way, ‘You were a birthday cake in another life.’ I deflated like a pink and purple balloon. ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘this isn’t how the night was supposed to go.’ From then I withdrew, and it wasn’t for another year or so that I made any real move in trying to find the community I had longed for.
oving to Wellington was really exciting. I imagined it would enable my coming out. I was going to meet my people, find myself and make gay friends. I bought colourful clothes: a bright purple jersey and a pink hoodie with stars all over it. Envisioning some sort of metamorphosis, I started wearing nail polish and eyeliner and trying to be more visibly queer, whereas at high school I’d tried desperately not to be visible. Every morning I’d walk to the bus stop trying to work out what was giving me away. People I didn’t even know would be like ‘Fucking faggot’ as I went past. I was pretty sure it was something to do with the way I was walking. Was I swaying my hips too much? I couldn’t cotton on to what it was, and got obsessed with trying to work myself out. But then I’d sabotage myself by dying my hair. Part of me wanted to be visible, and I was at odds with myself. So when I moved to Wellington I was working against that. When I first got to Wellington, one of the fashion designers at Toi Whakaari invited me to a party. He
———— When I was growing up I lived all over North Canterbury, but I spent most of my teenage years at Waikuku Beach, north of Christchurch. In my senior year of high school I auditioned for the school production of The Tempest. I didn’t get the part, but one of the drama teachers invited me to be her props assistant, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to do costume and set design.
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playhouse for surreptitious games of husband and wife. We’d flash each other and pull down each other’s pants, and then afterwards get into a huddle and be like ‘We can’t talk about this.’ I heard about AIDS back then, and thought I had potentially contracted it from these games we were playing. They needed to stop, I decided, but my neighbour was like ‘What if we want to talk about it? We can have a code word. Let’s make it “trucks”.’ And in front of my parents he’d launch into weird, contrived conversations about trucks. In retrospect it’s cute, but it made me horribly anxious. I don’t know where that sense of prohibition came from. In high school the only people I came out to were a boy I was sleeping with and my best friend, a girl. But a lot of people called me on it, and not in a nice way. I was, and still am, a social person. In my core class there was a set of girls that I got along very well with, and a whole circle of guys as well, although I wasn’t as comfortable around them as I was with the girls. People who picked on me would choose their moments. At camp once, a guy who was part of that circle pounced on the opportunity when I was by myself. He came over, looking kind of shifty, like he wasn’t proud of what he was about to say. One of our camp leaders was also called Kerry, and referring to him this guy said to me, ‘Kerry’s a fag. It must be a Kerry thing.’ Then he turned and walked off. It was like a knife in the stomach. That’s how I was bullied in high school. There were people, generally not in my year, who were bolder. I’d be walking to class, or waiting outside, and they’d call me a faggot or hassle me, saying I was gay. There was enough of that to make me anxious about what I was doing to make them think that. I was lucky, though, to
After school I worked in a hotel in Christchurch for a year or two, and then got accepted for Toi Whakaari. At Toi I was flatting with a group of my friends and met a lot of great people, but after that party it was easier to socialise the way I’d been socialising in high school, and I put that idea of a queer life on the backburner. But I felt I was on the fringe, that my experiences were not as authentic as those of the people I was with. I wanted to be on the same page, have more in common, be able to talk about boyfriends and crushes and stuff I wasn’t comfortable talking about with my straight friends — to be able to go to a gay club and not feel they were humouring me for an hour, throwing me a bone before going back to whatever it was they were doing that night. I remember being in my parents’ car — I would have been 9 or 10 — and hearing on the radio that one in 10 people were queer. Sitting there in the back seat, I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be just my luck if I was that one’, and then dismissed it, telling myself I couldn’t possibly be that unlucky. But I’m not a very masculine person and I’d been teased for being girly. As a kid I wasn’t always interested in stereotypical boy stuff — often I’d dress up in dresses, I had a lot of girlfriends, and I got the idea that something wasn’t quite right with how I was behaving. When I was 13 or 14 I told myself that maybe I was attracted to men, but that was alright, I could sleep with men and have relationships with them as well as women, but I was definitely one day getting married to a woman. The idea of being gay made me uncomfortable. As a kid at primary school I had huge crushes on other boys in my class. When we were eight, my nextdoor neighbour and I would go out the back to his
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He’d write me letters and be like ‘It’s okay. None of that means anything. I like being with you.’ And then there was this party. Just before Christmas, Matt had a big birthday party at his house way out in the countryside. Our whole year was invited. At some point in the night I walked out onto the front lawn, and there was Matt, the guy I’d been sleeping with, making out with a girl friend of mine. I was devastated. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Matt was in a position of power. He thought that because our relationship was a secret I couldn’t call him on anything, and he could sleep with me and chase after girls as well. That wasn’t so smart. Eventually I did start talking to people, and that’s definitely not what he wanted. There was only so long I could not talk to someone about it. One day Ainsley and I went to the back of the field, and I held her hand and told her what was happening between Matt and me. That was fine. Because she’d been dropping hints, it was relatively painless. Then I invited another friend, Hayley, around to my house and asked her if there was anything I could say that would make her hate me. ‘If you said anything about my dad, then I’d hate you,’ she said. And I was like ‘I’m not going to say anything about your dad’, and came out to her. For the longest time it was just Ainsley and Hayley and the guy I was sleeping with. I left high school and was flatting before I started coming out to more people. A whole year had gone by since that awful summer. I moved into a flat in Christchurch in November. We were all drinking and smoking a lot of weed, and the story of what had happened at the end of my Sixth Form year became my vehicle for coming out. It was
have a whole clutch of beautifully kind friends as well. One day my friend Ainsley and I were trying to get out of computers. We often used to bunk that particular class, and on this occasion thought we’d go to the counselling office. Ainsley came up with some problem, and I’d had a bad dream and decided to talk about that. But before we got started the counsellor sat me down and said ‘Do you have any issues with your sexuality?’ For a kid who was terrified of being picked out as queer it was a dreadful way to begin a conversation. Even now it bamboozles me. I’d never met her before, and like something out of my worst nightmare the moment she saw me that was on the tip of her tongue. Of course I said ‘No! I’m absolutely fine.’ And she was like, ‘Okay, so you’re just a very sensitive young man.’ Before I came out to Ainsley, she would drop hints and bait me and give me little opportunities, which I ignored until I started having a bad time with a guy in our year I was sleeping with. It was all under wraps and we weren’t talking about it to anyone. In the last term of our Sixth Form year we’d done a photography assignment together. I lived at the beach, and I was trying to tell a story where the ocean falls in love with a boy and in doing so drowns him, so I asked him to feature in the assignment as the drowned boy. He came over at the beginning of the holidays and stayed the night, and that’s when things first happened. For the rest of the holidays we hung out a lot, and then on weekends throughout the new term. None of my girl friends knew anything was happening. We’d be working in the art room and someone would say ‘Oh, Matt was totally flirting with so-and-so in the weekend. Wasn’t it pathetic! He’s got such a huge crush on her.’ That upset me because I thought I was in a relationship with him.
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Chatting online we both had rose-tinted lenses on, and when we met things were different. It didn’t work — it was that chemistry thing — but it spearheaded part of my coming out. Embarrassingly, before he came down I called up my mum and said ‘I think I’m about to enter a really serious relationship.’ I wanted to let her know I was gay. And of course she was super-supportive and probably totally relieved. I don’t know why I’d felt so crippled about coming out to my mum, because whenever there was a news article about gay rights she always made it clear that she was in support. I’m sure she did that deliberately, suspecting I was gay, but because I’d obsessed so much through high school about seeming queer or looking wrong, I was barely able to admit it to myself. And if I couldn’t admit it to myself, how could I have told my parents? During that call I said to Mum, ‘I know Dad probably won’t want to talk to me about this. He might not understand.’ She stopped me and said, ‘Your dad loves you and is absolutely okay with this.’ They must have talked about it already. And now I think about it, although I thought I was being terribly espionage-y on the family computer, creating a labyrinth of folders with a collection of shirtless guys right at the very end, I’m sure Mum was checking out what her son was looking at. She must have had a pretty good idea. Later on, my aunty told me that when I was at Playcentre one of the other mums pulled my mum aside saying that if she wasn’t careful about me dressing up in girls’ clothes I might turn out gay. And according to my aunt, something blossomed in Mum at the moment she was confronted by that poisonous other mother. She was like, ‘Actually I don’t mind at all if Kerry turns
uncomfortable for my friends because they were friends with Matt as well. In Christchurch I had a horrible job working nightshift at a hotel where I had some kind of fling with one of the porters. I was clueless — I didn’t know what was and what wasn’t a relationship — and we never had a conversation about what was happening between us. Initially it was nice, but I wasn’t the only person he was sleeping with, and it came to feel like a repeat of what had happened with Matt, where I didn’t have any sort of agency. Other than the porter I wasn’t seeing anyone else for sex. I was meeting people online a little, just for friends, for the exhilaration — engaging with the scene in a rather roundabout way — but never seeing anything through. I didn’t know a lot of gay people — I was nervous around them — but I’d get huge crushes on friends and not know what to do with that. I hoped things would change when I came to Wellington. ———— When I very first got to Wellington I carried on meeting people through social networking sites. I was eager to start having the queer experience and getting boyfriends, and to start with I thought connecting online was the best way to do it. I was naïve. There was no physical grounding in those friendships, no way to tell if you had one-on-one chemistry. At 20 I was making mistakes straight people would have made when they were much younger. When it came to romance, I was floundering. I met a guy online who lived in Auckland and took a night bus all the way down to Wellington to spend the weekend with me. That was a huge deal for him. He was in a similar situation to me, and not out to his parents.
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socially charged and not afraid to go out on the town by herself. She’d been successful where I hadn’t been, tapping into different queer circles, and so she became my introduction. She’d bring me to parties, and we’d go to gay clubs and hang out and smoke a lot of pot. Lindsay was a sort of Odysseus, a real wanderer. We’d just turn up somewhere, and because she was so confident other people were immediately fond of her. That gave me the confidence to stop being weighed down by my own expectations and nervousness. She held my hand and led me where I’d wanted to go from the start. Those parties were very different from what I’d been doing online. Meeting people in the flesh stirred up a lot more chemistry — not necessarily romantic chemistry, just social chemistry. Lindsay ended up being deported. She decided to drop out of Toi and study Geography, and after she went home for the summer of 2007/2008 wasn’t allowed back in the country. Things weren’t working out for me at Toi either. I was having a lot of fun, especially when we got to do performance-y classes with the actors, but I didn’t have much energy for the costume and set design we were supposed to be doing. I told Penny Fitt, my head of department, that I was struggling. It was the scripts, not the design work, that interested me. What I really wanted to do was write. Penny gave me a nudge. She got Bill Manhire’s creative writing book Mutes and Earthquakes out of the library for me, and said, ‘You’ve got to do what your heart’s in, rather than treading water. If that’s creative writing, you should be working towards that.’ I’m very grateful for that nudge. So I left Toi and worked as a receptionist for a year before enrolling at Vic, where I finished off my BA in
out gay.’ I remember being in Farmers and turning to her and saying ‘I wish I was a girl’, and she said ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘So I can wear those pink Peter Rabbit pyjamas.’ When I was very young, five or six, I had a friend, Matilda. My dad and Matilda’s dad were hunting mates. They’d take us on weekend trips to a bach out in the country, and Matilda would always bring a basket of My Little Ponies. I loved the ponies, and I suppose because Dad saw how much they meant to me, one day after work for no reason at all he gave me a present. I unwrapped it, and it was the sea-green My Little Pony with a rain cloud on its hip and a blue and white mane and tail. My dad and I are completely different, and when I came out I wasn’t sure how he would feel about it. He’s a man of few words and so I thought we’d never talk about it. But whenever I’m feeling like that I remind myself about that My Little Pony, and how he did something for his five-year-old son that a lot of dads would have felt uncomfortable doing. In his quiet way there was recognition and acceptance in that gift. At the moment I’m going through a difficult breakup and on the phone Dad seems out of his depth. Mum is more confident in comforting me and talking about emotions, but I’m sure that if Dad thought buying me a My Little Pony now would make me feel better, he would. ———— During my two years at Toi Whakaari, 2006 and 2007, I made friends with Lindsay, an amazingly cool girl from Baltimore. As soon as I met her I had a good idea she was queer and wanted to be her friend, but she was stand-offish and took the best part of a year to warm up to me. Once she did, we became very close. Lindsay was
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and I never felt I had to censor myself with her. On the other hand, I knew that Grandad had been difficult with me coming out. He was all over the place. One minute he’d have seen some news article or documentary and burst out ‘Gay people are fine, they’re just born that way’, and the next thing I’d hear I was banned from the property. And if I visited, he wouldn’t be able to look at me. I never came out to Grandad directly. A very lovely friend of mine, Alessandra, came down with me to Christchurch, and while we were there we visited my family. Grandad was awfully excited and took a real shine to her. After we went back to Wellington he apparently kept asking ‘How’s Alessandra doing?’, and Grandma was like ‘She’s not Kerry’s girlfriend, you know.’ So Grandad asked ‘Is Kerry gay?’, and Grandma said yes. That was that, and then there was this choppiness. He’d move from being okay with it one minute, and not okay at all the next. Grandma would send me these long beautiful texts saying how she and Grandad loved me nonetheless. She very much wanted Grandad to be okay with me, but I don’t think he ever will be, really. A few years down the track I was down south visiting. Grandma and I were hanging out at a café, not talking about anything in particular, when out of the blue she told me a story that she’d heard from Grandad when they were first married. In Auckland when he was younger, Grandad and a few other friends knew of a gay pick-up spot, an old bus shelter where men would meet up and socialise and have sex. My Grandad would pose as gay and go and pick someone up. He’d take the man back to where his mates were waiting, and they’d knock him around and beat him up. When he told Grandma about it he was boasting, as if it was something to be proud
English Literature and then got into Kate Duignan’s post-graduate short fiction workshop. I loved it and knew I could get results. It was a dream come true. I wasn’t interested in marks or the certificate at the end — I was just thrilled to be in a workshop environment with nine other people writing full-time. That year, 2011, I completed a short story inspired by a conversation I’d had with my grandmother, my mum’s mother. Most of my first year in Wellington I was living with my uncle. Then my grandma came to visit, and this happened to be the very same weekend that my online friend from Auckland had bussed down. I hadn’t said anything, but she and my uncle must have been talking. My friend had gotten up in the morning and was getting his breakfast. We’d been in separate beds — it was clear after that first day hanging out that nothing was going to happen — and Grandma shuffled into the room and plonked down. It was a horrendous conversation to wake up to, but she said, ‘Kerry, I always thought you were more hetero than homo.’ — ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘I’m having this conversation with my grandma, and I don’t know what to say.’ She had a tear in her eye, and said, ‘I just want you to know that whatever you decide, I love you and want you to be safe.’ And then she pulled out $20 and gave it to me. Afterwards I thought that if I did it the right way, coming out could be lucrative, but that was the only money I ever got. It was sweet. She told me she’d had passions for women when she was younger, but for her they were fleeting. The life I was going to live could be hard, she said, and she wanted me to be sure about it. After that she and I were much more candid with each other. We’d talk about boyfriends and how I was going,
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and at the beginning of the novel we learn that the position of village lamplighter is being dissolved and the grandfather will be retired. Part of his role is to pass down the folklore-ish stories about what it is that haunts the darkness he lights his lamps against. The grandson has become a dead-end apprentice, and he has the next few weeks to figure out what those stories are all about, uncover the seed of truth in his grandfather’s favourite story, and find out which of his monsters are real and which aren’t. There are 20 writers on the MA programme, and last year when Lamplighter was singled out to win the Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing it was incredible. Just participating over the year had been amazing. I wasn’t angling for a mark, and definitely wasn’t expecting the award. And now I’ve had a couple of meetings with a publisher and I’m polishing up the manuscript. I was so upset for so long about what my Grandad did, that the prospect of having it published is like an atonement and a catharsis both at once.
of, but she said it was an awful, disgusting thing to do. He just mumbled that he wouldn’t do it again. That was her story. It was over, and she didn’t have anything else to say about it. For a long time I couldn’t stop thinking about that episode. Abuse had been done. In Wellington once I was out with friends and we were knocked around by a bunch of scary, rough bullies, but some people from across the street helped get them off us, and we reported it to the police and were able to talk to our families and friends about it. But the guys my Grandad beat up wouldn’t have been in a position to seek support. The crimes that were done against them would never be addressed, and my Grandad and his mates would never be held accountable. How horrible it would have been to go home from something like that and not be able to talk about it to anyone. It weighed on me. I would never find out who those men were, but that conversation with my grandmother was the seed for the short story I wrote in 2011. It was the only way I could imagine of giving these nameless people voice and addressing the hurt I felt for them. In the Masters in Creative Writing I did the next year I extended the story into a novel called Lamplighter. The conversation with my grandma happens pretty much word-for-word in the novel, but in a whole fictional world, a New Zealand very much like our own but where older traditions have survived into the now. The grandfather in the story is a lamplighter, and every evening he walks up and down a stopbank that separates the village from the wetland, lighting the lamps that guard against the swamp. The lamplighter has an apprentice, his grandson,
———— I mentioned that I’m in the middle of breaking up with someone. It might be difficult talking about it, but I don’t mind trying. We were together for three years, and right at the beginning we had a conversation about openness. We laid the foundation for our relationship in a monogamous kind of way, but agreed that if we were ever having feelings that we wanted to open it up, we’d both be willing to engage with that. It wasn’t taboo. That made me feel safe — I was able to let go of any anxiety about being cheated on, and also I’d been in relationships before where I’d be thrown into disarray because I’d get a crush on someone else. So it was good
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bit and supporting me financially. Towards the end of the year things weren’t going well for him and he was unsettled in his job. Jeremy is clever and has always been successful when it comes to academic stuff, where I’m not academic at all. When I got the award he wasn’t able to be happy for me about it. I didn’t understand why, although I’m beginning to understand it now. When I say that it wasn’t until Jeremy that I started enjoying sex, that’s not entirely true — it was just a lot more bumpy. I’d go out clubbing and meet people at parties, and I had a string of boyfriends. Much of the time it was nice, but mostly I felt quite uncertain. Jeremy hadn’t had the same experience, and felt he’d missed out on something. Two or three months ago, at the beginning of the year, he started acting distant and cold, and eventually said he wanted to break up. Then he retracted that. He felt he’d made a mistake. Even though I’d moved out we were still sleeping together, and he called it back on and then he called it back off again. I was still completely in love with him and excited to see him every day, and a bit clueless as to what exactly was going on for him. Little pieces of worry started condensing in my brain, things that would have been obvious to other people. While I’d been away over Christmas visiting my family I thought he might have cheated on me, and he denied it on two separate occasions. I’d found a pubic hair in our bed for instance, but totally accepted that it was some sort of phantom from the previous tenants in the house using the washing machine. Eventually we decided we’d have a six-week break, but the next day I rang him up and said, ‘Before we get started on this six weeks, I need to know whether you cheated on me, so I can factor it in.’ And then he
to have had that conversation and know it was always something we could talk about. Jeremy and I were introduced — set up, actually — by a mutual friend. We used to see each other at parties and barely be able to speak. One day we’d been at a lunch thing for the whole afternoon and were both in the same van on the ride home. Just as I got dropped off, he blurted out ‘Goodbye, Kerry.’ I was like ‘Goodbye’, and the van left. It wasn’t a few months until a friend of ours started inviting us over for parties, except the parties would be just her and her girlfriend and the two of us. From there we started dating. In the vast majority of my previous encounters I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I wanted. Quite often I found myself in relationships with people that I wasn’t necessarily attracted to. I got it into my head that sex wasn’t something I was ever going to be properly engaged with or particularly enjoy. But with Jeremy that changed immediately. I started really, really enjoying sex. It was a super-fun time. We were completely connected, emotionally and sexually. Having convinced myself that I’d never have a fulfilling sex life, that meant a lot to me. Eventually we moved in with each other. We’d go and stay with each other’s parents. I fell in love with his mum, and Jeremy would come to the beach to visit my family. I had a sexual awakening, and Jeremy enjoyed the affection and the closeness. His parents had split up, and he said that he’d never seen them being affectionate together. Jeremy’s a year older than me. When we first met he’d got an A+ for his Masters thesis. Then last year while I did my own Masters he began working full-time. I didn’t have much money and he was earning quite a
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I like the word ‘gay’, but I warm more towards ‘queer’. It’s not a word I heard a lot growing up. Even now, ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’ hits me in the heart, because if I was being teased or bullied it was mostly those words that were used, along with ‘gay’. ‘Queer’ is a safe, warm sort of word, and it’s more inclusive as well. It’s an umbrella term. You don’t have to have a concrete idea of how you identify. If you like fluidity or you’re uncomfortable with labels, you can just be ‘queer’. ‘Gay’ might be more limiting. It seems to me there are intersecting circles of who one is attracted to emotionally and romantically and sexually. Then there’s that spectrum of how your sense of gender fits on the line from masculinity to femininity. And there’s another intersecting thing about fitting in, or where you’d put yourself on the spectrum of social conventions and norms. That’s potentially a larger thing than just sexual or gender identity, and can include the ways we construct relationships or where we put ourselves on the political spectrum. A whole set of concentric circles. After moving to Wellington and becoming more comfortable with my sexuality, I started appreciating my queer ancestors and the struggle they had in creating the opportunities and wellbeing that are available to me now. Right from when I was a young person I had some kind of anxiety around HIV, and I think that had to do with how queerness came part-and-parcel with AIDS: growing up and seeing stuff on TV that drew a relationship between the two was frightening. When I started shedding that fear, I was hugely grateful for the men and women who had come before me and done so much. Previously I’d been thankless. In my own self-interested worries about being queer
told me that he had, more than once, over New Year. And I said I wouldn’t need the six weeks to think about whether to stay together, and we should meet up. And we did, and talked about the relationship, and he said he’d made a mistake and thought we should get back together, which I wanted to as well. I hadn’t been sleeping and wasn’t the most rational person at that stage. We decided to get back together, but it wasn’t a good idea, and all it meant was we slept together another couple of times without talking about any of the hurt or moving towards repair. I’m still in the throes of it, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on. We called it off again, I think, and started the six weeks again. So at the moment I’m on week three. Once I read in a magazine about a guy who was talking about a former relationship as having had a healthy arc over three or four years. Even though it had ended he saw it as a positive thing. Whether Jeremy and I stayed together or not, I was confident we could have a healthy arc, and I’d be able to look back on our relationship with fondness, as something I could be proud of. How I felt about him seemed to resemble how he felt about me. I understood that pull to be sexually explorative, to experience clubbing and hooking up and being promiscuous. We should have been able to talk about it. When he decided not to have that conversation and just go about sleeping with other guys, I felt robbed of that sense of pride, robbed of that healthy arc. I know eventually I’ll be able to look back on our three years and pull the nice memories out of it. But it’s always going to be a little bittersweet. ————
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bit of writing, and then stash my bag and go for a walk under the trees. The sanctuary is one of my favourite places in Wellington, maybe even in the country. Being there charged my batteries. It’s in places like that that I feel I’m getting close to having some sort of relationship with God. When I won the Adam Prize and had to go to Te Papa and read out part of my book, I was feeling dreadfully nervous. My mum reminded me that everyone was on my side and no one wanted me to crash and burn up on stage. ‘Everyone’s got your back,’ she said. I admire her sense of spirituality, and that sense of everyone having your back sums it up. She doesn’t identify as Christian or pagan or anything like that, but she believes that everyone is essentially good and that you can tap into God in a hundred thousand different ways.
I’d pushed it off my radar. It breaks my heart a little that I’ve absolutely no memory of when Civil Unions came about and the protests by the Destiny Church — those meetings between opponents of queer rights and the people who supported them. It’s heartening to see pictures or videos of those events. Was it in 1984 or 1985 that being gay was made legal? When I allow myself to think more about that, and the Salvation Army’s door-to-door campaign against Homosexual Law Reform, and what people were standing up for and standing against, it gives me a lot of courage — courage that I wish I’d been able to draw on when I was growing up and coming out. When I was writing my book, I’d go up to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in the morning and sit in the café with my computer to read over my notes and any writing I’d done the previous day. I’d have a cup of tea and do a
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by being generally lazy. Our suburb, Ranui Heights, was on the top of a hill and quite middle-class, but my mother had family and friends in less-affluent Cannons Creek and Waitangirua, so we’d also go down there. It was a mixed bag in terms of experience. My dad is Pākehā and worked in insurance. My mum was in adult education for a Pacific organisation. She’s Samoan and came here when she was 17. Her father had three wives, so my mother had maybe 24 siblings all-up, and as the eldest of the second marriage she holds a lot of the family history. There’d be holidays where we’d visit relatives I’d never met before because our family is so huge. Mum didn’t speak Samoan to us, mainly to accommodate my dad. But we’d hear it at family gatherings, so we knew some words and phrases. My mother’s Samoanness was present in every other way apart from the language. Amongst friends and family I wasn’t devoid of brown faces. Until I was 15, I went to church. It was an Englishspeaking Presbyterian congregation, but my mum would
ou can know yourself in 9 ways out of 10, but still have one thing you need to figure out. ‘Gay’ was a term that I could use to explain that one thing. I’m aware that before 1986 homosexual acts were illegal, but Law Reform isn’t a big part of my consciousness. My sexuality and everything associated with it are a very small part of all that I’m interested in. A lot of the time other things are emphasised. I was born in Papakura in 1988. We moved to Porirua when I was one, and I did primary school there before we moved again to Hamilton for my grandmother, who was in a rest home. Those were the formative years of intermediate and high school. I’ve got four other brothers, two younger and two older. The eldest, Alan, is 10 years older and gapped it when I was a kid. He and his partner, Dean, decided to be a couple in 1997 the same day that Princess Di died. I was eight years old. Most of the time it was just the youngest four of us. We played cricket in the back yard and hit the ball through windows. As children we were boisterous, beat each other up, rode our bikes and frustrated our mother
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The body-image issues were very much attached to people making fun of me and accusing me of being gay. That was Form One. In photos I had this specific thing where I’d purse my lips because I didn’t like how full they were. It looks ridiculous now. Along with that I carried baby weight a little longer than my brothers, so I was a bit chubby. Photo time was horrific because everything was on display and it was permanent. To call it like it was, I was bullied severely. For a long time I didn’t tell anyone. I can see the humour in this now, but I’d come home from school and cry in the closet. One day my mum found me, but I didn’t really have the words to articulate what was going on. She asked if there was anyone I got on with outside of school, because we still went to church and youth groups, and I said no. I felt cast adrift. I’d see people at school, but then I’d go home and read, or sit on the stairs writing. I wrote a little novel in a 2B5 exercise book. At high school I turned up to class, did all my homework, and established a closer-knit group of friends to shoot the shit with at lunchtimes. The bullying was less intense, because in some way I had built myself up and didn’t fall as far every time it happened. In intermediate I was the only dude who played the flute, and in high school I did saxophone, which was better but still pretty unsexy. I got graded in squash, but my life was mainly volleyball. Until I got into volleyball I didn’t do anything exceptional. I was 14 and tall, and because I stretched the baby weight spread out more evenly, so I was asked to try out. While I was still a junior I got onto the senior side, and played right through until Seventh Form. We went to Australia and won the nationals. While I enjoyed playing and hanging out with my
pop off and do the odd Sunday at the Samoan Assemblies of God, as well as all the family funerals and weddings. At home I had to close my eyes and bow my head for the prayer before dinner. When my Samoan grandmother came to stay, she’d get us all into the lounge for devotions, and the religiosity was ratcheted up significantly. Even though I make jokes now about bursting into flame when I accompany my mother to church, that didn’t have any bearing on me coming out. I stopped going for a very practical reason that wasn’t attached to sexuality: I got bored. When I did come out, I’d been out of church for a decade and it wasn’t even on the radar. ———— In Porirua I pretty much got on with everyone in my class. The groups weren’t exclusive, and we played football or went to the school library together. I had one friend who was into Star Wars, so we’d go to his house and nerd out over that. Moving to Hamilton was significant. I had that transition between primary school and intermediate and didn’t have anyone around me I’d grown up with. That was the first time I became aware of people not liking me, but for a specific reason: ‘Todd, you’re gay.’ Self-esteem-wise it wasn’t good. I had no idea why people were saying those things. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about myself, and I was confused as to what it was. Someone told me I acted like a girl, but I always felt like a boy. As a person I was very modest, and doing PE would get changed in a cubicle instead of out in the open area. That became a thing. I developed body-image issues and it was all tied up together. I started second-guessing how I was coming across, but generally I didn’t understand because I didn’t see myself in the way in which they were seeing me.
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me did wonders for the self-esteem. It was a revelation when I realised that I could accomplish something and there was something good about me that other people could see. What dragged me down was anxiety around what to do next and the pressure of people around me who knew what they wanted. Towards the end of Seventh Form I got very depressed and wanted to reject everything and retreat into myself. I was worn out, so I spent the year living at home, accompanied my mother on a trip to Sāmoa, worked for a bit at McDonald’s, drew, read and tried to figure out what to do. One or two times my dad told me to go out and get a job, but generally my parents were accommodating and understanding. I think they were worried about me. In 2008 I came up to Auckland and lived at Interna tional House, where I met my first girlfriend. Madison was the quintessential Californian girl, over here doing a semester of Fine Arts. She was funny, a go-getter, and made me want to go out and do things that I usually wouldn’t. I was excited, and so were my parents. I was in love with her. Some people thought I was gay, but I didn’t have any super-intense reaction to that and just shrugged it off. That wasn’t how I saw myself. I used the fact that I was in love, and those feelings were real, to combat those comments. We’d been going out for three or four months before she went back to the United States. I’d fallen hard and fast. I was 19 and lost my virginity to her. The sexual side of the relationship was pretty good. We made out often, and she wanted to take it further. It was fun. I’d never gone the whole way before, and it was good that my experience was in a relationship with a level of investment on the other side in me having a good
team mates, I wasn’t entirely comfortable. A few of them were a bit older, and from having brothers I knew what a group of guys would do. There was a lot of masculine posturing. The first time we went to the New Zealand nationals they made up a hazing ritual, and told me that either they’d come into my room and shave all the hair off my body or they’d get a lighter, pull out my foreskin and hold it over the flame. Maybe they saw me as part of the team but not as a friend, so I felt on the outside. And even though I was thinking ‘This is ridiculous. This is not a thing that happens’, I obviously internalised it because that night I didn’t sleep in case they did come to my room. They often talked about girls, and on tour would do all these hilariously homoerotic things like playfighting on a bed in their underwear. I’d be reading in the corner and thinking, ‘You’re accusing me of being gay even though I don’t see it and don’t care, and yet this is what you’re doing! You say that Todd has all these hallmarks, but what about this behaviour?’ There were guys on the team that I got on well with, but it was a weird time. During my teenage years I was pretty non-sexual. Even thinking myself heterosexual was not on the radar, and nothing else was either. I lived in my own head. A lot of the time what was inside my head was more exciting than what was outside of it, and I could sustain myself. ———— After finishing school I had no idea what I wanted to do at uni. I knew it fell in the realm of English, but in between high school and uni I took a year off. I’d peaked right at the end of high school. In Sixth Form I became more visible, and in Seventh Form I was head boy. Knowing that my fellow students wanted me enough to vote for
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entirely me, but I got more open to talking about sexuality. It was the start of working through a lot of stuff from when I was at school that I hadn’t thought was an issue. I didn’t know where to put it all in my head. I finished uni a semester later than I should have, because in the second half of what should have been my last year I crashed and burned over a guy. I would study on level two at the library where the English collection is, and he studied there, too. When I talked to him later, I found out he wasn’t doing English at all. I don’t know what it was, but I always noticed him, and he used to stare at me. Then I found myself changing plans so I could be in the same place at the same time. It became a little obsessive. I didn’t know where that came from, but I knew I was interested. One day I went up to him. I didn’t want to have an awkward approach conversation where other people could hear, so I wrote a note saying Hi. Do we know each other? My friends had told me, ‘Don’t ever write him a fucking note! That’s so weird’, but I was confident it would work out. He laughed, wrote No, and gave it back to me. I was standing right there next to him, so I was like ‘I’m Todd.’ To explain what I’d written I said, ‘Growing up I was always meeting family members I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure if you were part-Samoan and were looking at me because you knew who I was, but we hadn’t met. Are you a third cousin or something?’ Afakasi can look any which way, so he could have been Samoan, and I asked him ‘What’s your last name?’ The question was to gather information so me and my friends could stalk him online. It was the most ridiculous conversation ever. He said he was studying a paper called ‘The History of Sexuality’, and I thought ‘Okay, here we go.’ In my head that was like a sign.
time. We broke a chair once trying different positions. Madison stayed on a bit longer for me, and then I was going to see out the second semester before going to visit her over the Christmas–New Year period. We Skyped often and I missed her like hell, but after three months she was worried about practical things like what would happen after the visit. Her life was in California and mine was in New Zealand. To cut a long, very emotional story short, she broke up with me. That was shit. For a while I didn’t sleep. Felt super-empty. Didn’t eat. Showed all the signs of a broken heart. Went through that misery cycle. I’d made another good friend at International House. We were doing English together and I grabbed hold of her. To get through it I just had to get outside myself. That was the end of the second semester, and when I got back from the summer in Hamilton we went on to become flatmates. For two, possibly three years after breaking up with Madison I didn’t do anything sexual with anyone else. From the outside I guess I looked asexual, but I didn’t care. Sex was all around me, but I wasn’t really interested. I concentrated on uni, read a lot, and hung out with friends who were much the same. During that period I did watch online porn, straight porn, and then branched out to stuff with two guys and a girl. Because I didn’t see the whole sex thing as a massive deal, that side of me was on the backburner. ———— The door had been opened a little bit through hanging out with people like one of my flatmates who identified as gay and meeting some of his gay friends. Although there were things I resonated with, I still felt it wasn’t
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in me or in her?’ Although I was thinking that maybe I went both ways, I still didn’t label myself as anything.
I was fishing, fishing, fishing. Eventually I had to go, but we became Facebook friends. When I moved to a new flat I invited him to the flat-warming, but he said he couldn’t come. To this day I have no idea if he was interested in me in the way I was interested in him. We didn’t have any sort of relationship. It was always just an obsession at a distance, but that was enough. It became such a big thing — not him in particular, but those feelings and me trying to deal with them — that I let studying slide and had to withdraw from three or four papers. It was a bad time, and I took advantage of the free counselling at uni. All the trauma from my past resurfaced, and I realised I had internalised the bullying to the extent that I associated being gay with negative things. Even though objectively I knew it wasn’t bad, what I felt was very visceral. I finally had to come up against not just sexuality but body image and the general aimlessness I’d been feeling for quite a long time. For the first time I told someone about the way I’d purposefully anglicised myself in photos, so we discussed being Samoan and whether I was trying to erase parts of myself to make it appear I was something else. With not finishing three out of four papers I got a compassionate consideration, and in 2011 I thought I’d start anew. I needed my flatmate’s help with getting through assignments, because I very nearly did the same thing I’d done the year before. I wanted to reject it all and not be around, and needed help to combat everything that was in my head. It was in that extra semester that I entered into a sexual relationship with another girl. Our on-again-off-again status was never formalised, and that was when I started realising that something was missing. ‘What is it?’ I wondered. ‘Is it
———— As an arts grad you have all these ‘transferable skills’, but they don’t actually transfer into any single job. I had no money and was desperate, so I got a customer service position at the Auckland Museum while I saved up to go overseas. It was just before the start of my trip, when I was 25, that I came out. Because I was leaving the country, I didn’t want my family not to know before I did so. By then I’d fooled around a few times with a guy I’d met through another flatmate. Jumping in to see what it was like was a bit of a relief. We got to the stage before penetrative sex, but the relationship didn’t go anywhere. Coming out was a practical decision. I wasn’t really conscious of the gradual shift from saying ‘I don’t know’ and not identifying as anything or being sexual at all, to possibly being bi but still not really defining it, to saying I was gay. It was partly when I was having sex with that girl and became aware of something missing, and partly working through my issues with myself and gaining clarity. One day I looked inside and was like ‘Oh right — it is that.’ All these categories have their downsides, because this is a spectrum, but they’re helpful in giving people a solid ground to stand on. So for me ‘gay’ was the term that I could use to explain what this thing was, that tenth way of knowing myself. It made sense of a lot of the confusion. My parents were up visiting me in Auckland. It was a Sunday. They were in my flat with work the next day and a schedule to keep, and I was trying to tell them to hang on for a minute so I could talk to them, but my
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just glad that I’d reached a point where I felt happy. Over and over again I’d asked myself ‘Am I gay? Am I not? If I’m not, what am I?’ And then when I answered ‘Yes, I am gay’, I had to ask myself ‘What does this mean to you?’ It’s intensely personal, and I had to work out how that was different from what all those people in my past had thought I was. If you tell someone you’re gay and they’re like ‘Oh, I knew ages ago’, then you have to reply ‘No, you didn’t know before I did. The gay you thought you saw and the gay that I am are separate things.’ Earlier on I was so incredibly non-sexual that it was on other people’s terms that they brought all this stuff up, and I didn’t accept it because it was like being bullied. But now I’ve decided, and this is me thinking about and defining my sexuality. It’s not that I didn’t know I was gay the whole time. My three other brothers were all living in different places so I had to come out to them by email, and I wrote: At school you may have known that your friends thought I was gay or asked you about it. This doesn’t mean that any of those people were right, or that if you ever said no you were wrong and I just didn’t want to tell you. I was very explicit about that. Coming out was a release. I was relieved to be able to know myself better and make the choices I wanted to make about who I am with, who I love, where I go and what I do. Slowly I’d realised that I wasn’t being myself. Being gay made sense of so many things, like my obsession with that student in the library, and gave me a way of explaining stuff that happened even before then. There was a guy on my volleyball team that I got on well with, and then one year at nationals I felt a thing and didn’t know what it was. What’s before infatuation? A fascination? There was something I wanted but couldn’t
flatmates were in the same room and I didn’t want to bring it up in front of them. My dad likes to stick to his schedule and was like ‘Just talk to me now.’ I said ‘You’ll want not to be in this room when I tell you’, and we were all hungry so we went to eat. I came out to my parents in a Subway restaurant. Dad was impatient and wanted to leave. ‘Hurry up. What is it?’ he asked. I said ‘I’m gay.’ He put down his foot-long sub and was silent. My mum said ‘That’s okay, son, that’s totally fine.’ I didn’t set a precedent in my family. My brother Alan did. My mum had already been through that process, so she knew how to deal with it, although Alan had a different father. So we went back to the car because my dad didn’t want to keep talking about it in a public place. He said, ‘This is not what I expected or wanted for your life, but I completely accept that this is how you are. I just need to get past the fact that I won’t get any grandkids from you.’ I guess it wasn’t such a massive deal for him when Alan came out because he wasn’t tied to him by blood. I knew I was never in any danger of him not talking to me again or rejecting me in any way. He had to work through the grandchildren thing, and I was willing to give him time and space to do that. Alan had always been good when I was getting depressed earlier on in uni. We’re the same person in a lot of ways, and it’s easier to discuss certain subjects with him than my other brothers. I’d talked to him via Skype or on the phone about breaking up with Madison, and filled him in when I had that bad semester at uni, so all I needed to say was that I had come out to Mum and Dad. My friends had been there through the phase of questioning ‘What does it mean to me?’, so they were
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For a month or two when I got back in January 2014 I wasn’t working and had no money, so I went back to the museum. I wanted to save up to return to London because, although we’d just had this casual thing, the guy I’d met there was always like ‘Update me when you’re coming back.’ I ended up being on five apps, living in a friend’s garage, and might have hooked up with three or four guys. It wasn’t super-often and there was one over the phone, so if phone sex counts it would have averaged one a weekend. After I left the museum I got a job as a librarian at the City Library. And then on one of the apps I met someone who became my boyfriend. Dylan’s smart and funny, and I stayed with him for six weeks in between flats. He’s the same age and was into things I wasn’t necessarily into, but like with Madison he was good for getting me out and doing new stuff. The relationship lasted a year. When I lived with him it was hard to find my own space, because it was his life and his house and everything was the way he wanted it. It was less intense when I had a place to go back to. I quite like silence, but he would fill up the silence with talking and I wouldn’t have time to be in my own head. I’d hang out with his friends more often than he’d hang out with mine. More and more towards the end I felt I didn’t see enough of myself in the relationship.
name. I was having those thoughts, but my reaction to that part of myself was to push it down and leave it there. ———— Four months into my six-month trip I got Grindr and met up with an expat teaching English in Bangkok. Travelling by yourself is quite lonely when everyone around you is straight and hooking up and having experiences. It wasn’t hard to find other people to travel with, but now that I was self-identifying as gay those apps made it easier to engage with my sexuality and explore that side of myself. I spent two nights with that guy, and then when I came back I lived with him for a month and fitted in with his routine. Even though I was travelling it was just like the life I live here except I had a backpack on the other side of the room, weird but enjoyable. That’s when penetrative sex happened for the first time. It was more pleasurable than sex with Madison, because I was more aroused by the male as opposed to the female body. Emotionally it felt good because it made sense and seemed to fit. I was more into it the whole time, whereas with Madison and the other girl it was on and off. I left to fly to London. The guy I’d been living with wanted me to stay, and I could have applied to teach English in Bangkok, but when I got to London I realised I didn’t want to do that and had to break it off. I was staying with Alan and Dean and I still had Grindr, so I met another person and that was great. Because I was new and my photo hadn’t popped up before, there were interested people in the neighbourhood, but I got frustrated with all the lame chats and didn’t have any other sexual connections.
———— We aren’t together anymore. The night I moved out of his flat he brought up the fact that he had told me he loved me but I hadn’t said it back. Going into the relationship I thought I was being super-healthy. I’d learned from Madison that you need to cultivate yourself so you can be complete people and not collapse into each other. I was still planning on leaving New Zealand to study
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issues with having sex with men, and with the blossoming of my sexualisation I started getting checked. I became hyper-aware of how casual sex works and status being a thing to communicate, and how you broach the subject. Even when I was with Dylan we’d get checked and tell each other, just wanting to be safe and know that we were healthy. We weren’t having sex with other people and we started not using condoms. There were no complications from that.
overseas, and would often talk about that with Dylan, and I had to face the reality that I hadn’t included him in those scenarios. Over that week we gave each other space. I didn’t know — and I’ve never been less sure of anything in my life — whether I loved him or not. If yes, what did that mean? If not, is it okay just to hope? When someone feels that way about you and you don’t necessarily feel the same, and can’t tell if you’re going to feel that way later, how do you know? And I didn’t, even though people said that after a year I should. None of the avenues I went down led anywhere. I was stumped and had to talk to friends multiple times to work it out. Eventually I decided that no, I didn’t love him. That was in March, but I didn’t stick to my decision. We kept seeing each other for six months without defining our status together. We weren’t willing to face it. In September he came back to me and was like ‘We can’t keep doing this.’ The tables had turned, and I got angry and frustrated. For a while there was nothing. My life consisted of feeling like shit, going to work, and marathoning endless TV shows with my friends. I needed time to repatriate. Recently I started seeing someone but it isn’t official, and he’s planning on leaving in May so I want to keep it where it is now, which is pretty casual. I’ve had a discussion about what constitutes sex. I don’t keep a number, but my friend does, and by their count my number would be 30 because I’ve had penetrative sex with 30 people. They don’t include fooling around as sexual acts, but I do. It’s the same feelings and there isn’t that much of a difference. If you ask about HIV, I don’t know anyone who has it. I always knew about safe sex, but there are potential
———— I don’t think I’m particularly spiritual. I don’t believe in God, but I’m open-minded and not a militant atheist. As human beings we don’t get a choice as to whether or not we worship something or put all our value into it. For some people those things are visibly religious, but just because you’re atheist or don’t want to believe in that shit doesn’t mean you aren’t practising those behaviours in another way. I’m fascinated by the idea that a lot of what we create — whether that’s having kids or building fucken huge monuments to outlast us — is to deal with the fact that we will die, because the idea that we just go freaks us out. So I can see why someone chooses to believe in God and finds safety in that. The next time I travel I want to be living somewhere, but I very much want to leave. The job at the library and ultimately the relationship weren’t enough to change that. Five weeks ago I started looking at MFAs in Creative Writing overseas, but it was expensive and I was too low on energy to do all the applications. A year seemed a long time to wait, so I’m going to do one of the Creative Writing Masters programmes here in Auckland. Writing is the way I communicate what I think. I spent so long not doing the thing I really want. Later
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of getting where they want to be — with varying degrees of success and failure — versus dealing with why they aren’t there. It’s important to be able to improve on myself, feed my brain, continue to learn, and articulate what I have to say to more people than I currently do. I want to have a simple life, but the simple life that comes from dealing with complexity rather than the simple life that comes before doing any of that work. I don’t have a lot of things and I don’t want to acquire a lot. You don’t need them, and I like to remain portable. I’m not interested in owning a house or caring whether my socks match. I haven’t figured out what that means for me, but it finds its way into my writing.
on I’d like to teach, but for now I want to get better at matching what is in my head with what is on the page. The decision has given me clarity. Staying in New Zealand was my last resort, but when I do leave I’ll have something practical in my hand, so I won’t be going sideways. Science fiction and fantasy have traditionally allowed people on the outside of society to whom injustices are done a way to imagine futures and create worlds where they’re at the centre. What I’m writing now are short stories about people not being where they want to be in various ways. How much of that is their fault, or other people’s fault, or for geopolitical reasons? I’m putting them in futuristic settings and unravelling the processes
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shifting here felt like I was coming home. I’ve been extremely blessed to have a close family. Everyone knew my Grandad’s house. They call it ‘Neha Corner’. Every day after school, whether I was walking to my mum’s or my dad’s, I’d stop in to see my grandparents, and my friends came in and stole ice blocks from the freezer. We were tight knit into the Fairfield community. I felt safe and loved growing up there. I have two brothers by my mother (they’re the ones I grew up with), as well as three sisters and another brother by various other mothers and two step-brothers. My mother had five brothers and sisters, a big family for Pākehā, so we’re close not only to my Māori whānau but to my Pākehā whānau as well. My mother struggled a bit, because my dad and she divorced when I was five, but she had support from her amazing family and none of my friends at school had parents who were together. My dad had plenty of relationships and we went with the waves. My mum was still close to my grandfather and the rest of Dad’s family, and we never felt that the separation screwed up family life for us. It all flowed.
Ko Pirongia tōku maunga. Ko Waikato tōku awa. Ko Tainui tōku waka. Ko Ngāti Maniapoto tōku iwi. Ko Ngāti Apakura tōku hapū. Nō Ōtorohanga ahau. He uri tēnei nō Te Nehenehenui. Ko Tongaporutu Neha ahau.
’m 27 and was born and bred in Fairfield in Hamilton. I went to Fairfield kindergarten, primary and intermediate, and to Fairfield College, so my upbringing was pretty staunchly Fairfield. I call King Country home because that’s where my grandparents are from. There’s a lot of Ngāti Maniopoto families from the King Country in Hamilton. I’ve been in Huntly for a year now. The local tribe of this area is Ngāti Mahuta, and our family also descend from Ngāti Mahuta ki te Hauāuru, meaning the Ngāti Mahuta of the west coast over by Kāwhia, so in a Māori context
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have a term, ‘mātāmua’, the eldest of the lot, and we’ve treated her as the eldest in a logical, practical sense. It’s in the more spiritual, cultural, Māori context that I take on the elder mantle within my family, especially on the marae. I’ve always been staunchly connected with my culture. I was the more argumentative, the more passionate. My brothers didn’t want to be Māori. They wanted to fit in and be normal Kiwis, but I didn’t mind sticking out. One of my uncles knows all the whakapapa, and because I was quite nerdy they looked to me to take on that role as the future historian. My relationship with my dad was complicated. I wanted to vent about my needs and anger at the same time as acknowledging that he’s been a great dad. We’re in a brilliant place at the moment. His work was travelling with television, but he’s been there when it matters, and was always at the main events where my friends’ dads weren’t. It’s in the Māori context that we truly click. I’m proud that he’s been part of the Māori language regenesis, and we usually agree on political issues. My mum’s worked for ACC since we can all remem ber. She didn’t drive, so we caught the bus to go and get groceries. We had lunches, the pantry was always full, and she was there looking after us. All of her brothers and sisters are happily married with whitepicket-fence lives, and she had a strict image of what she perceived as a functioning family. My mother was the only one out of her family to marry a Māori and things went wrong, so when I was so passionate about my Māoritanga she didn’t understand and we had a lot of conflict. They were Catholics, and she thought she’d done a bad job because us boys grew up differently from them. She stopped going to Mass, and it gets to her when we come to family baptisms
Schooling-wise we were good students. I had an issue with being half-caste, so I never wanted to be a statistic and made sure I excelled at certain subjects. ‘Half-caste’ was a blatantly derogatory term that’s not used now. Māoris and white kids both said it: ‘Shut up, half-caste dirty arse.’ I hung out with a lot of girls, but I could still get around with the boys. I was lucky I was alright at rugby. I got a few awards at school, but I earned my brotherhood badge by trying to defend the boys in class. I knew how our brown skin kids and particularly our boys were perceived. I was the good Māori boy who didn’t get into trouble, but certain shit that I saw didn’t sit well. The teachers were stressed, too, but their interactions with our Māori boys affected me. The boys’ energy was seen as dangerous. I’d go ‘Why are you yelling at him, sir?’ and he’d be like ‘You stay out of it.’ That’s where I started getting into trouble at high school. There was a secret understanding between my circle of friends and some of the more ruckus boys in class. They knew I had their back and understood that they may have been upset about something that had happened at home. Even though I got good grades, a huge part of my identity was trying to support our underdog brothers. That’s stayed with me. It’s about not following the toxic masculinity narrative but seeing why it exists, seeing the pain and hurt and trauma in our boys growing up in a community that was sometimes hard to grow up in. I was lucky I had two strong, supportive families, but a lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t. They had beautiful, loving families, but some hard shit went down in our community. Out of all of my siblings I’m the eldest, but I’ve ignored that. My little sister just became a lawyer. In Māori we
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the connection to where you’re standing. My dad brought me up with a lot of reo and Fairfield kindergarten had a bilingual unit, but I’m still not a native speaker. I’d class myself as fluent, and in a Pākehā sense I’ve got a good academic understanding. In high school it started vanishing, and I had to come back to it at university. A lot of my anger towards this country is that I don’t know my language. I use the words ‘passionate anger’. People say I just get crazy, and alright, I’m an idealist, but I’m not angry at a person. I see my anger as my drive, my fire. I’m scared that if I’m too placid my passion will dry out. It’s driven by my love of my land, and land in the human context is stories. People can go and look at a lake and feel its spirit from the wildlife and everything that’s growing there. That’s watching God, but the more stories I know about a place the more it amplifies God. The stories connect me to the divine in so many more ways.
and weddings and can’t take the Jesus bread with our Pākehā cousins. Questions of whether she should have married a Māori hit me hard, and that half-caste nature influenced my perception of the world and helped me see both sides of the family. I was always very staunch on my Māori side. We live in the Pacific Ocean. We live in New Zealand. When I was younger I looked at everyone else and wondered: ‘What are they doing in this country? Why the fuck don’t they know our language and our gods?’ I got really arrogant. It wasn’t until I got to uni that I truly understood what had happened with imperialism and world history. It was natural to me to be Māori in Aotearoa, and at high school that pushed me to look into my European history. I got into fights with white kids who’d be like ‘You’re white, Tonga, you don’t know your ancestry’, but I did. I know exactly where I’m from. I descend from Kerry in Ireland where the potato famine hit the hardest, and from the highlands in Scotland. I’d struggled with the Catholic thing, so I looked into my pagan roots and tried to embrace my Celtic heritage. I often introduce my Pākehā side in Māori, and I love blurring those lines of colonisation and saying that the Irish were the first niggers of the world. Māoritanga is not just cultural. It’s the connection with the land, and you can’t truly connect with this land until you know the first tongue that was spoken here. Everyone has a spiritual connection, but knowing what those words mean adds more layers. They describe what you see, feel and experience when the ponga unfolds or waves come onto the beach. I was born here, and to understand the land I’m going to know its history. That’s my most inner being of what it means to be Māori. It’s about the wāhi tapu and the stories and
———— High school was amazing. For a good five years from intermediate my identity was carrying a basketball around, even if I was just playing pitter-patter. Basketball is beautifully fluid. Women and men play against each other and there’s none of that gender bullshit. The basketball crew at my school were chilled and didn’t cause strife. I hung out with a hell of a lot of girls, but because of that basketball guys felt they could talk to me, too. I never truly realised I was gay till probably 17, when I was like ‘Okay. I’ve got to start accepting some things now’, at the same time as thinking ‘Nah. I could still find a wife.’ Certain women were too beautiful to ignore, but I was denying the fact that I wasn’t sexually attracted. I
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the dating scene. I was the pure greenie protester. On reflection I can see how denial contributes to anger, but it was a passionate anger, never brutal. By the end of our senior years, we were lucky to have a quirky, random crew, and gender-wise it was mixed. When I was 16 going on 17 I was so comfortable in my family and cultural identity that I was good to stall the homo shit, even though I knew back then and was okay with that side of my identity as well. People were always kind about it. With my close friends the big question wasn’t ‘Is he gay?’ but ‘Is he bi?’ I was good at haka and held my own in certain masculine roles. I know that’s not how we should analyse it, but as a kid you do, and I confused the fuck out of people. Because I was a proud historian, I knew homo existed. Maybe even before then, when I was about 16, I remember watching my first gay porn and going ‘Okay, I’m liking this’, but then thinking ‘This is just fucked-up fetish shit.’ The way America was trying to portray being gay — and I did see it as American, even though it was happening here — wasn’t what I knew to be true in history. The family didn’t talk about it, but in Māori culture there was this overarching knowing. I’d heard the story of how takatāpui were the masculine role with helping women through birth. They always had a place, so it wasn’t like the Destiny Church, but the kind of gay I perceived coming from America was some new shit. Doing Classical Studies I saw Greek culture as a very beautiful insight into European history. None of those men saw themselves as gay. Maybe there was some gay behaviour happening, but it wasn’t the whole ‘I’m homosexual!’ shebang. The Celts were probably more in line with our Polynesian scheme of things, but
was seeing pure beauty and respecting their majesty and grace. I’ve always had a huge respect for our wāhine. I’ve been a History nerd from high school, and I loved my History teacher even though I found her very Eurocentric. Most of my teachers were Eurocentric and I got into a lot of healthy debates. I think they appreciated me in the end. Science I had issues with. I was going through my Greenpeace days and thought the experiments were a waste of resources. ‘Miss, where are all these potions going?’ I told my teacher. ‘Into my fucken river!’ Other than that I honestly loved school. I was involved with peer mediation and all that jazz. Often I was teacher’s pet, but there was that struggle in Sixth and Seventh Form when everyone else was starting to date. That identity of the historian, or what you could even call hermit, was probably what I was trying to portray to escape certain truths and get away from the whole thing of ‘Why doesn’t he get a girlfriend?’ My best mate was a girl, and when it came to the Seventh Form ball I went with her instead. In the very fucked-up gender-role way, I was still boy enough to pass, so I never felt totally insecure. I wasn’t in the category of some our more flamboyant boys, and I’m ashamed to say I was proud that I wasn’t perceived like that. There were a lot of gay boys at Fairfield and they were accepted in a way, but with me it was like ‘Tonga’s just weird. He’s all into culture and history and shit.’ People suspected a certain fluidity, but there were a lot of white boys who were fluid as well. I felt quite innocent. I didn’t drink until just before I turned 18. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I didn’t smoke weed until I was 20. Bros from school were getting pregnant and sometimes leaving at 15 or 16, but I wasn’t on
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knows other interpretations of what it is to be takatāpui, what it is to be gay. Our gay Māori uncles and aunties knew there was a different side to it. They were the ones I respected. They were working in both worlds, and I thought ‘Perhaps I can one day, but for now I’m not ready.’ Maybe I had a wandering eye, but I was in total denial. Even getting dressed in the PE sheds I switched it off. It wasn’t fear of getting caught. It was pure respect for the brothers. If I met some gorgeous new lad, it’d be ‘Turn it off and greet him’, especially because Māori have a much more engaging way of saying hello. It’s either a hongi or a handshake shoulder-to-shoulder, and there’s a physical connection. I didn’t want them to sense anything or wrong them in any way. I saw that it was going to be a struggle. That was our place in the world. I didn’t mind it if the thought crept up in my mind ‘Oh yeah, he’s cute!’, but even then I’d put it aside and embrace him as another human. I got asked out by girls, which was cool, but I was not ready to go fully that way either. I wasn’t going to fuck up her life as well, so if a girl was flirting with me at a party I’d find a way to avoid her. Again, I perceived it as not wanting to wrong people, but constantly switching it off was not healthy. Earlier on I never understood how guys could be attractive. To me, a girl had shapes that you could look at, but a guy was just that. I didn’t get it until I was probably 16. Maybe I was just dumb. I don’t think it was denial, because I knew when I was switching shit off. I had an out-there circle of friends, and the girls would be like ‘Fuck, he’s fine!’ but I’d be going ‘What are you seeing?’ Then I started noticing it: legs, calves, jawlines. In a really clean sense I’d never shy away from
this new American thing of people getting kicked out of their homes and finding a new family and hanging out with other gays and forming a whole new race — I didn’t like that. ‘Gay is not a race’ was the theme of a lot of my conversations back then. The village would have created a role for our takatāpui whānau, or that’s what we like to believe. We all had our queer uncles and aunties, but with this gay culture from America I was like ‘What the fuck’s that?’ It wasn’t the feminine, the diva, because a lot of our uncles were divas. It was the Madonna, the Lady Gaga, the bourgeoisness, the ostentation, the capitalism. You couldn’t be gay and poor. You had to be going to clubs and all that bullshit. That perception is broken in me now, but back then it was staunch, and it stayed with me through my university years. As Māori constantly trying to find our indigenous selves within a capitalist mould, we didn’t like it. We saw it as lost people searching for a new identity, where in our friend circle the constant narrative was ‘Go back! Go back!’ At the marae the very butch Māoris that cut the pig are fine with one of our gay uncles bossing around all the women in the kitchen. They know how to deal with him because he’s in a certain role. It’s me being outside cutting the pig next to them, and them still not knowing, that’s probably scarier. Gender roles still exist at the marae, whatever blurred lines modernity has added, and I believe in those roles. It’s not about fulfilling the patriarchy. It’s acknowledging the place our wāhine hold. For what I’m trying to describe, we would have used the term ‘keha’ — like ‘Pākehā’, keha — and said ‘That’s the keha gaze.’ Say a Māori moves to San Francisco and tries all of that life, in the back of his head he still
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I was around family having a lovely day in the purest context, and it probably stopped me making moves and decisions as to my own being. So while I was at uni I only experimented with girls, but I started firstly with embracing within myself that I was okay, even if I was shutting it down. I had a huge twenty-first, and I remember going to my Grandad’s grave and saying to him in my head: ‘Grandad, I think I’m fucken homo, but I’m just going to stall it some more. I’m happy with my life right now.’ I never hated myself. I just wasn’t ready. For the first two years I lived with my mum. I was lucky: I had dinners when everyone else was on noodles. I went to live with one of my best mates because we were smoking weed and I couldn’t do that at my mum’s. Then I moved into the busiest five-bedroom house I’ve ever been in. That was true uni life with party after party. Sometimes it got too much, and I often went and got high in my room by myself. A lot of fine lads went through that house. Some of them would come and coma out on my bed and I’d be like ‘Fuck, God, why are you testing me? Why are these niggers always sleeping in my bed?’ Still I didn’t do anything. They were weirdly alright with knowing that I was possibly open and could be their little experiment, but there was a competitive bone in me and I wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. It was a strange kind of tension. They’re typical guys. The gay jokes and the physical jostling are always there, but when they came up to my room I was like ‘What the fuck are you doing now, bro? That’s a bit fucken homo!’ By then I was like ‘I’m definitely gay. What am I going to do?’, but I still kept stalling. As queer people we have our own narratives of the
acknowledging beauty if I saw an attractive couple or an outstandingly handsome guy, but I truly was fuckedup. I was watching porn and never looking at the guy. ———— I was 18 when I started at Waikato Uni in 2008, and because of Obama it was a very potent year. I felt I was entering a new era filled with hope and change. I’d passed Seventh Form with flying colours, and I did a Bachelor of Arts majoring in History. I was obsessed with spirituality and my back-up major was Religious Studies. I got full A-pluses in those papers every time, and immersed myself within the Māori and Pasifika community. Uni was wonderful. I was starting to drink, so I mucked around a bit. People who were away from home were more reckless, but I was still in my home town and felt somewhat conservative. I saw my nan and my family all the time. Waikato is a very pro-Māori university, and I’m grateful for how I was able to extend my own feeling of who I am and be another advocate for Māori while I was there. Through the uni years I missed opportunities with guys, which was gutting. When I was around 20 I’d just started smoking weed and was around very fluid people. Certain guys gave me that vibe, but I was never going to make the first move. I was still like ‘Hold it down.’ Then this one beautiful guy straight-up texted me: ‘Do you want to suck my dick one day?’ I was at a family event and I was furious, because my little nephews and nieces played with my phone and could’ve seen the message come up on the screen. I was like ‘You fucken creep!’ That warped my views of homoeroticism. I saw him as dirty and sinful, and it gave me a twisted image of it all.
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never let myself get fully dazed by it, and then when we went to Raglan with a lot of our other mates he asked me to go with him on to the coast. We stayed in a tent. He had everything planned. We’d talked about how important Raglan and Karioi are to me, so he made all the right moves. We sat outside on the beach, and he exposed a bit of feelings and had a few tears. He was thinking ‘When I come back to New Zealand, is there any chance . . . ?’ I reciprocated my absolute gratitude, but I said ‘This is a cool night, but I don’t think so, bro.’ It probably cut him deep, but he was mature about it and still loving. We went back to the tent and it was lovely. He took it slow and answered all my questions, a lot of questions. He knew that on the top I was alright. I’d had a taste of being in that position with the wāhine and he wanted to have a go at being bottom, but then he was like ‘Do you want to try — thing?’ and I went ‘Yeah’ because that’s what I was curious about. When it came to sodomy I was still very Catholic, so I had to get over those perceptions and see the beauty in those aspects of eroticism. Obviously we still used protection. I tried it, and by the end it felt good and I liked it. Cuddling afterwards I felt I’d fulfilled a weird Catholic duty. It wasn’t anything like marriage, but I’d saved myself for the right moment. Going to sleep I was proud I’d waited till then. It happened under one of my sacred mountains, and I thank him for that for the rest of my life. He’s a gay angel who was there for me when I needed it. When I’d been with girls I was almost too awake. I was aware of my role of pleasing her and didn’t completely lose myself in the act, where my first time with a man I got totally lost in a beautiful, mystical way. It was the ecstasy, the way I breathed, and it felt so right.
plague, but for African Americans it caused just as much strife for straight families. I was never judgemental about the gay side of AIDS, but the notion of a d-low getting some action in the toilet and then taking it home to his wife destroyed any sense of purity. Now I see the complexities, but back then I was like ‘Nah, sodomy’s destroying us brown and black folk.’ I saw merit in stories of cleanliness and health and monogamy. The possibility that two guys cuddling could turn into something else and lead to that irked me. After my degree I did Māori and then a year of teaching, but decided not to pursue that career and got my first job visitor-hosting and curating at the Waikato Museum. My nan was sick, so I was working at the museum during the day and taking care of her after work. The main struggle was trying to fit in my weed. I looked like a bit of an addict, because I’d be like ‘Okay, I’ve got three hours. Let’s go smoke the bomb and then get round to Nan’s.’ I’d go ‘Nan, I’m wasted again’, but she was just grateful I was looking after her. I started having Wednesdays off to take her out to the kaumātua group at the Poihākena Marae at Raglan. ———— It was a boy who pushed me to come out. We had romance, but not in the full sense of going off into the sunset. It was more our intelligent conversations around homosexuality that helped me with everything I’d been mulling over for years. He was Pākehā, born in Alabama, and told me my perception of America was completely warped. This boy was going home to America, and I think he was feeling the strings pulling. He was part of a new crowd I’d got to know. Although we had chemistry I
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sinking in, but none of them gave a flying fuck. There were no questions, no smirks, just ‘Did you have a good night?’ Two months later I started talking to my friends. I told my flatmate first because it happened to be her birthday. She was single again and saw it as perfect timing. We could start scoping out the scene together. My other best mate was in a healing phase and was like ‘I’m going to leave you bitches to your fucken single life.’ I eventually told my other mates, but I didn’t want to come out thousands of times so I just put it on Facebook and totally forgot that I hadn’t told my mum and dad. I had to do the backtracks and work out who I should tell in person. Dad said ‘Okay, bud, but I’m a bit shocked. I always thought you were a good man, and I knew you had a lot of girlfriends.’ I was like ‘I’m sorry, Dad, if it’s hard to take’, and he goes ‘I don’t fucken care, bud. I’m just saying I’m shocked.’ Mum didn’t really understand. The acceptance was absolutely there, but she had a lot of questions about what being gay meant. My little brother — he wasn’t 21 yet — was the hardest. ‘You’re just being dramatic again,’ he said. ‘You’re doing this so you can fight another crusade.’ My friends said ‘You just want to fuck now, don’t you!’ I was ready to get into gay life, and the next day I hopped on the Grindr and went for it. I was very academic about it. I was lucky I came out at 25, because apparently 26 is fucken old and I was like ‘I’ve got a year of my youth remaining.’ After my first experience I let go of all the bullshit that I’d been holding, but with the online thing I realised how much bullshit other people still have with them: the whole ‘top, masc-formasc’ posturing, the contradictions, the racism. It’s been eye-opening to see how much internalised homophobia
Before any penetration there was a lot of hugging back and forth, and I was like ‘God, that’s why those Greeks were wrestling!’ I enjoyed that weird male tension. I thought I’d liked the tight-knit puzzle of a woman, but when I tried challenging the puzzle pieces with a man it was very fucken good. I found that I wanted to have a guy embrace me that way. We understood each other because we both had the same buzz. It was hugely spiritual. Being in a tent helped. After we’d talked about all my questions, not a lot more words needed to be said. There was a certain enfolding of each other. He was an American boy who came to New Zealand to try and discover his indigenous self, and I was slowly starting to embrace my queer side: spirits searching and meeting each other. In these kinds of things our Māori words are better. ‘Whakautuutu’ has to do with reciprocation. We both felt we gave as much as we took, and it was all fair and balanced. Another word is ‘ako’, which means to learn and to teach at the same time. Regardless of being versatile in the sexual sense, whatever was happening we were both reciprocating with each other, and that’s what I found most beautiful. That made me understand that positions don’t have to matter. They’re just tools, a way of expressing what’s under the layers. During the night I woke up and went down to the sea by myself and couldn’t stop smiling: ‘I’m here now and ready!’ I was still proud of myself for waiting. I’d probably overthought every aspect of homosexual life, as if I had to get some kind of degree, and now I’d just come out to the beach and embraced the moment. That first time with another man was everything I could have hoped for. Every insecurity was soothed. The next day we returned to the crowd and my anxieties started
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That guy was much older, and I didn’t feel like a young boy until that night. It was the way he looked at me. I was so glad I’d waited till 25 to be fucked. I get scared for our younger boys. One of my nephews might come out as gay and go on Grindr at 18. I know he’s a man, but I’m still scared, especially if he’s more on the receiving end. I saw a beast in that guy that I’ve never seen before. I was so afraid of him that I had to sleep over for a week. That episode had me analysing the last 50 years of our queer behaviour. I had to talk to my girl friends about it, and their reactions were beautifully confronting. I already knew it was a certain type of crazy, but they confirmed that it was completely out of line. It’s one of my most traumatic experiences. Back at that last flat in Hamilton my flatmate and I had a wonderful year going clubbing and being tragic together, and then out of nowhere she bought this house in Huntly and asked if I wanted to live here with her. My nan finally passed, and we shifted in a week after she was buried. I was so grateful for my mate and the timing that I couldn’t stop crying. On top of everything, last year I started doing waka ama, outrigger canoeing, and we had our waka wānanga out here on the lake. We were welcomed onto the marae at Wāha pā, so I’m tangata whenua here. Those things solidify us in Huntly. Since I left the museum I’ve been doing contract work for my tribe. I represent 12 of our marae on the regional management committee for Ōtorohanga Council. Then I represent Te Nehenehenui at the Maniopoto Trust Board, and my third role is as an independent iwi coordinator doing cultural impact assessments, research and archive work. Our treaty settlement won’t be until 2020, but I’ve done all the big research.
is there, even when people look like they’re out and embracing who they are. It’s a little alarming that I’ve still never had that staunch experience of a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s been more a lot of sexual experimentation. My cousins on my dad’s side were like ‘Hard, cuz. Get as much as you can.’ Sexual connotations or sexual disses come into everything, and most of the times I can join in on the banter. Five of us were having drinks outside and one of them says ‘How’s it all going, bro? The gay thing.’ I’m like ‘Cool, cuz. You’re not even interested.’ — ‘Nah, we’re interested. Tell us.’ They’re asking me and I’m like ‘It’s all good, cuz, I’m getting some.’ The oldest male does this to all the cuzzies, and he goes: ‘’Cause what, do you do alright? You carry that Neha gene in you? You been bonking good, bro? You been impressing the family?’ I’m like ‘Shut the fuck up!’, and someone says ‘Well, do you bonk or do you . . . ?’ — ‘I do both. Been on the top bunk mainly.’ And they’re like ‘Atta boy!’ Otherwise I like to think I bring out a bit of romance, even if it’s just your random hook-up. This is going to sound arrogant, but guys feel like they can talk to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever had someone who’s just gone ‘Thanks, bye’, and left straight away afterwards. I’m scared to string people along, so I don’t want to be too connecting, but I’ve always tried to remain chilled and calm even if I’ve got some anxiety and I’m faking it. The only time I’ve been scared was when I got with two guys who were partnered. One of them had a gaze in his eyes that maybe on another night might have been hot and steamy, but he came up behind and nearly entered straight in there. I pushed him back and just about got in a fight. I was like ‘I’m not calling you evil for wanting that, but I’m going to need yous to leave.’
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off. I’m nervous about next year. I’m nervous about next month, ’cause I’ll be meeting some of these fellas, and I’m close to avoiding it all just to keep myself safe, but at the same time it’s a happy, giggly kind of feeling. Writing that first love letter was a big moment, and I’ve got to write two more. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I know we all play the field and I shouldn’t, but this is a whole new kind of buzz. Every queer fella thinks they missed out on doing all this shit at a certain time in their life, so I’m not special in that way, but I do feel a bit ‘laid in the reins’. Other people have wisdom around relationships that I don’t. I’m an amateur. I don’t know what certain feelings are. My friends say it’s stupid, but it terrifies me if I’m into someone and they’ve already had a lot of relationships. They know what the kaupapa is. I’d appreciate someone who’s in the same boat, who’s fresh, so we can be even.
The contracts will come in more after we have our money. I planned ahead. Seeing I’ve been catching buses my whole life I’m going to do a bit of bus driving. Waikato Tainui bought Go Bus with Ngāi Tahu in 2014. I can speak Māori, so I’ll probably be their poster boy. One day my sister wants me to create my own history tours, but even if it’s just a year driving buses waiting for our tribal settlement, maybe I can go back to my research and archive work. Recently I wrote my first love letter, and I feel guilty, I feel stupid, I feel great. There’s three love interests on the horizon to be exact. Right now I feel very free and very young. Polyamory’s becoming more common, especially in our queer circles, so there’s no guilt. I’ve probably been stringing certain guys along and giving them hope for the last two years. I realise that now I’ve caught the feels with certain individuals myself. It’s great and tortuous at the same time. I was concentrating on the sexual side, not the romance. I didn’t feel like I needed any princess or prince. Having a bunch of friends where our parents have all failed on the relationship front, we’ve all said ‘Find some happiness if you can.’ The last two guys appeared in the late run of this year, but the other one’s been very slow-pacing. He’s Māori, and I closed my blinkers because I was challenging my own biases and wondering if that was the only reason I wanted him. I hadn’t seen him for a while, and then all of a sudden he turned up at a rugby game and I was like ‘Fuck!’ I never believed those stupid Hollywood movies where a girl falls in love with a guy who turns up out of nowhere, but I felt I was in one that day. In the romance field I’ve been in drought season my whole life, and then suddenly it’s raining. I could’ve had romantic connections before, but I know I closed myself
———— I knew about Homosexual Law Reform back in high school. I felt I could critique the gay community, but the social justice side of me was always concerned with the history of how gay people were treated. I can’t help but be optimistic that some of those fellas who voted against the reform laws might have changed their mind even if those old traditional ideas still exist within them, and I’m hell of a glad it passed. It was a big moment when we passed gay marriage. I hadn’t come out and was upset and happy at the same time. If I’d been born before the 1990s I would’ve been very conservative or very deviant. I get sad that we’ve gentrified ourselves. Pride’s all family-friendly now, but I’d be like ‘Take your fucken kids home ’cause you’re going to see some shit.’ When Civil Unions were passed,
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‘lesbian’ has a connotation, but ‘takatāpui’ is so pure. The Samoan word for gay is ‘pila’, meaning ‘crooked,’ and when I came out that’s what I wanted to embrace, not the straight and narrow. ‘Queer’ means the crooked path, the unseen path, the going in the forest. It’s more fluid. We’ve all got a little bit of queer in us. ‘Gay’ has drink-the-wine, élitist origins. My greatest fear coming out was of being perceived as bougie. My friends would’ve chopped me, like ‘Do you want to go and fucken live in Ponsonby?’ It’s easier for a lot of white people to embrace a new gay identity because they don’t have the same cultural identity as us ethnic folk. Even if that cultural identity may be crippled and fucked-up, you’re jeopardising it if you embrace the gay one. That’s the Polynesian struggle. Being gay is perceived as being less Polynesian. The past two years that I’ve been out I’ve realised that is absolutely not true, but no matter how modern and tolerant we get that perception keeps on going down. The most disabling thing for our children still coming up is that they think they’re going to be known as gay rather than as Māori or Samoan or Tongan. It’s hard for a lot of gay white men to understand that, and it’s the disowning part of that comparison that hurts. I’m always going to embrace my gay identity. If I’m around other homos who’re just normal human beings and don’t really identify as gay, that’s cool, but if I’m around gays that who love embracing their gay identity I expect them to understand why I’m so staunch about my Māori identity. My argument has no logic for someone who says ‘I just want to be human.’ I agree we’re all human, but, especially as I’ve been embracing my queer identity, I can’t let that ever become more than my Māori identity. All boats will rise up with my tide of pride.
gays felt they’d got what they needed and some of the spark went out. That’s why I’ve searched for these different queer identities, and this year finding the Radical faeries has been huge. The first gathering I went to was for the autumn equinox at Raglan. I’d describe the Faeries as an alternative queer circle who explore their pagan roots without the dogma. To find your inner faery is to find your inner self, however you want to express it. The main activity of the faery crew is the heart circles where you can talk about anything and be heard, and listen to someone and try and understand them. After doing so many heart circles I don’t know what people do without them, and I talk to my friends a lot. With the faeries I found a space where I could truly connect to my gay self and understand the term ‘queer’. There’s this whole rainbow lineage that’s been hidden under the radar. Everybody’s got a bit of gaydom in them, and I see my indigenous self coming out as well, just without the staunch rules associated with village life. Before that I hadn’t wanted gay friends because I thought I was limiting my gene pool. This year I have slept with friends. You can do that and remain really healthy, even though there’s sometimes tension. There’s all those words that we use so casually. I prefer ‘queer’, but when I do use ‘gay’ I try to use it more proudly because of what it means for our children. They say ‘That’s gay’ for something that’s dumb or inferior. ‘Gay’ is very modern, very post-industrial, very magazine. ‘Queer’, even if it’s a new word as well, implies so much more history, and I’ve no issue with ‘homo’. In Māori we usually say ‘taka’, for ‘takatāpui,’ and that’s a respectful term. The saddest thing about English is that there’s no word relating to male-on-male shit that’s untainted. Even
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