Ben. 18. Ngatea. North Island.
How do you identify?
I identify as a gay cisgender male.
So where did you grow up?
Well I lived in South Auckland until I was about 5. Then my family moved to Ngatea which is about an a hour and half southwest of Auckland near Thames.
Are your parents from South Auckland?
Yea, both my parents are from Auckland so they are born and raised Kiwis.
How long did you live in Ngatea?
I lived there for about 13 years and just moved back to Auckland for uni last year.
Can you describe Ngatea?
Flat. Very very flat. Open. Always seems to be sunny. I mean, of course I remember some storms there but the happy memories make it seem like a sunny, happy, rural town. It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere if you’re a city person. There’s just four roads leading in and out of town and they go on forever. There were two schools in Ngatea. A full on primary and a full on college. Ngatea is the “hub of the plains”. I mean it’s not huge but it’s a big town for that area. Thames is our closest bigger town and it takes about 20 minutes to drive there.
What did you like about growing up in Ngatea?
You only really realize what it’s like when you move away. I guess that’s because it’s always been my baseline. Like that Ngatea is home. It’s a lot slower than in Auckland. People in Ngatea might have plans but it’s not like Auckland where everyone’s busy and everyone’s doing something and there’s hundreds of people. It was really rare to have two cars on our road at the same time. If you happen to see three cars you’re bound to think something like “There must be a party somewhere!” [laughter]. It’s quiet just ‘cause there’s less cars. Everyone knows everyone. You know? It’s the classic rural stereotype. I didn’t really realize it in Ngatea. Everyone knowing each other was the norm. I would never just strike up this deep emotional conversation with someone in Ngatea, but in Auckland you see someone and then you never see them again. In Ngatea you either know the person’s name or where they’re from or at least the area in which they live. You just recognize faces all around Ngatea.
What did your relationships with other people in Ngatea look like?
Well, we didn’t have too much family there. I mean we have some whānau down there: mum and dad and three siblings. My nana lived down the road as well. But I had really good relationships with everyone, like all my friends. We went to each others houses all the time. Besides it was a small town so there wasn’t that much else to do. Each one of us would take turns hosting a game night where we would play cards and have dinner. It was cool.
Was there anything difficult about growing up in Ngatea?
Probably the fact that if you wanted to go shopping you had to drive to Thames. I mean there’s a Four Square and a couple of shops but everything is so much pricer. So if you want to go clothes shopping you need to go to Thames. We were always dependent on someone to drive us to Thames. In Auckland you can just walk down the road and take a bus. The fact that you needed to travel by car was hard if you wanted to get anywhere when you’re younger. That sticks out the most for being the most difficult thing. I would usually just wait until someone I knew was going to Thames and hitch a ride with them.
Were you out when you were living in Ngatea?
I only really figured my sexuality out at the end of 2015. So it’s recent. I sort of figured it out in 2014 and sort of came to terms with it over the next half year or so. I spent time just trying to figure out who I am–like what kind of person I am. Sexuality is definitely not talked about down there. I wasn’t very informed about it. I went on sort of a research binge for a month online trying to figure my sexuality out. There’s no visibility for LGBT people down there, like not even that anyone I knew. Maybe it’s because it’s such a small sample size. Such a small population might affect visibility quite a bit, right? I did know one person that was gay. He was like the token gay guy of the friend group. He was out too, so he made a good resource.
How did you feel about coming out?
At first I was awfully confused ’cause I would always think that gay people are those people who live overseas. But yea, I never expected to be gay. It was never something I ever thought about. It was sort of a huge shift in the way I thought. I was like, why me?
So your research mainly took place on the internet and from this guy you knew, but were there any resources that you knew of in Ngatea?
No, not that I knew of. I knew that my college started a LGBT support group sort of thing about the start of 2014. I didn’t go to that group until 6 weeks or so before I left high school. I joined the group because I figured it sounded like a good idea. I like the idea of being surrounded by other LGBT people and the whole sense of belonging thing it offered.
What did coming out look like at home with your family?
At home? Well I never came out at home.
So your parents don’t know?
Well I told my mum halfway through last year. And she was cool with it. It was mutual. She was like “so what” sort of thing. I never ended up telling my three other siblings at home. I told my brother Matthew who lives in Palmerston North, though. We grew up in the same bedroom and we talked a lot and had a lot of the same interest in electronics and computers so we had a lot nerdy conversations together.
Have you thought about talking to your dad about it?
Yea but it doesn’t seem that important. When I was first coming out to people I wasn’t too sure about it myself. Telling other people helped me to validate it more. Maybe not “validate” it, but it helped me open up and talk about it more. After I told my friends I told my mum. After that, I was like “Oh well cool. That’s that”. I just didn’t really feel the need to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to raise any more awkward conversation topics.
What did you envision that conversation looking like with your dad if you did have one?
I think it would just be fine–that he’d just be fine with it. I mean we have a family but not much of an extended family–just us. My dad likes to keep to himself. Our whole family just keeps to themselves. Yeah, he supports us and I don’t know what else to say about that.
Is your family religious?
No. Not religious–not even comparably religious.
“Comparably”? So was religion a big part of the community in Ngatea?
I wouldn’t go that far. I mean there’s two churches which might seem like a lot in your perspective ‘cause it’s so small. Then again, there’s also two fish n’ chip shops and two schools.
Do you go back to Ngatea often?
Not really. It’s my first time going back next week since I’ve moved to Auckland. I’m really looking forward to it ‘cause I really miss the place. I want to catch up with the family mostly. I also want to see all my friends—the whole town is my friend. I just want to go around and catch up with everyone. It’ll be nice to see the old place.
Are you worried about going back at all?
Nope. Not at all. Just purely happy about it.
Going back to living in Auckland…tell me about living in Auckland having come from Ngatea?
The hills took getting used to. [laughter]. But I really like the buses–that’s quite a novel concept: being able to be driven everywhere. In Ngatea I biked around everywhere even though it took 10 minutes to walk to the other side of town–but some people lived on farms which was a bit further away. But yea–buses. And shops! Shops absolutely everywhere in Auckland. You’re spoiled for choice. The bakery just down the road is nearly half the price of everything you can find in Ngatea.
How about your social life? How has that changed since moving to Auckland?
When I moved here, I didn’t know anyone. All the other people from school moved to different cities. It’s weird even though Auckland is a quarter of the size of NZ’s population, everyone I knew moved elsewhere–places like the University of Otago and Hamilton. A whole bunch that moved to Hamilton. Then there’s just me in Auckland. So I had to start my social life up again from scratch again.
How did you try to start a new social life in Auckland?
I really didn’t know what to expect moving to Auckland. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to be up here, and the only people I know are the people I’m boarding with since they’re family friends.
When you came to Auckland did you have any expectations about how you were going to continue to explore your sexuality?
Not really. I was just going to be Ben.
Have you explored the gay community in Auckland at all?
Well I went to the Big Gay Out for the first time. When I first arrived to Auckland the Big Gay Out was in a week. So that week before the Big Gay Out, I explored Auckland a bit. I didn’t know how to meet any friends though! I was like how do people meet? I’d go out and come back home to sleep each night and then go back out again to explore the next day. I was like this is so cool but there’s no one here to share this with! But yea, that happened for like a week, and then I was like, “Okay, the Big Gay Out is today”. I told myself that as soon as it starts I would be there and I was going to make friends. Well, I went and the first hour passed, and the second hour passed. I was like “How do i make friends around here?”. I went to different booths, signed different petitions–like something about caged eggs in supermarkets. I even helped people set up a booth and they were like yea, thanks but it wasn’t really like friends. By the time it had got to 4 o’clock I was like this is getting a bit ridiculous.
I’m sorry that had to be so frustrating! Have you tried to experience any other parts of the queer community in Auckland? Like have you been to any clubs or bars in town?
No. The first time I went clubbing was when I was in Wellington a couple weeks ago. I don’t really know what the fuss is about. I think you have to be wildly drunk or something and I don’t like to drink.
So if you don’t have too many friends in Auckland, do you still hang out with a lot of people from Ngatea?
Yeah I try to. They’re pretty irreplaceable. When I was preparing to leave I kept worrying that I would just make new friends in Auckland and forget about my old friends in Ngatea that I had grown up with. I was thinking like “No! This can’t happen! What’s going to happen…?” So I make it a point to travel a lot. Oddly enough, I have traveled a whole lot more in the last couple of months than I have traveled in my entire life.
Do you like to travel?
It’s fantastic! I like being able to explore places. I also like being able to catch up with people–mostly my friends. Hamilton is my favorite place to visit since I know so many people there. Just good times. Also it’s really flat so I can skate a lot around there.
I never thought traveling would be something that I’d be interested or would be able to do in since I’m a poor student without money. But Naked Bus does one dollar tickets! That’s amazing!
Where do you think you’ll be after you graduate?
I’m not too sure. It’s sort of an open thing. If all else fails, the pathway is that I’ll do the level 6 course and the 7 course. Or perhaps I’ll find a job before then. Perhaps find someone who will find me extremely useful in town and give me a cool as job. I’d go anywhere for a job offer but Auckland would be most convenient since I already have a room here. I know the place and it’s all good. I can’t just run away now.
So do you consider Auckland “home” or would it be a more a “mean-time” place to stay?
I actually don’t even know what I think about home these days. Home always used to be Ngatea. Then I moved up here and it’s not really as much as a home as the place that I sleep. I’m kinda always busy, so I’m usually out of my room doing something. I haven’t been home all that much in the past few weeks. I’ve been off in Wellington and Hamilton. I’m almost nomadic. Wandering around the countryside. [laughter] on a cow.
Before we end the interview, I was wondering what advice would you give for someone in a rural town who was figuring out their sexuality?
Probably just go to–if there’s groups for LGBT people there–to talk to and be themselves I’d say would be the best thing.