Jake. Kerikeri. Your Story Matters.

Jake. 19. Kerikeri. North Island.

Hi  there! My name is Jake and I am 19 years old. I currently live in Papakura but I consider Kerikeri to be home.

How do you identify?

I identify as takatāpui and gender fluid.

How long have you lived in Papakura for?

I’ve been there for about 8 or 9 years now. Before that I lived in Kerikeri which is in the Bay of Islands up North.

How long did you live in Kerikeri?

I lived in Kerikeri from year four until year seven. It’s where I consider home.  After that, I would visit Kerikeri a lot. I’ve in a lot of places though.

So you said that Kerikeri is your home. Why?

I consider it home because I grew up there. I feel like I belong most in Kerikeri. It’s where I felt–well not the most comfortable–but it’s where all my family was that I felt safe with.

Who from your family lives in Kerikeri?

My dad, stepmum, and my 2 siblings. There’s also almost all of my stepmum’s family there too which is basically like my own family–they’ve adopted me in as such. I’m really close with my dad and stepmum’s side of the family.

Are both your parents Māori?

Well, my dad and my stepmum are both Māori. My biological mum is Pakeha, though.

Do you have a relationship with your mum?

Yea. I live with her at the moment so I see her almost every day. I had been living with my dad and stepmum from age 3 to 11. I have lived with my mum for about 8 years, now. My parents split before I was born. For a while I went back and forth between them. I eventually got put to live with dad permanently. When I was about 11 or 12, my mum started to come back into our lives. So it’s been about establishing that relationship with her again. It’s going pretty good but we still have our moments.

You said that your stepmum and dad are Māori. Are you very much involved in Māori culture?

Kind of. In primary I was in Māori education. I can’t speak Māori but I’m slowly trying to learn it. It’s hard to learn because there are so many different dialects. So depending on where you go you have to know what dialect to switch to and how to speak it.

What iwi does your whanau belong to?

Tainui. But I have been adopted in Ngapuhi as well since I lived up North where that iwi is from.

Can you tell me more about Kerikeri?

I hated it. It was good in the sense that school was more integrated grade wise so I could learn a bit ahead of other kids my age. When I moved to Auckland, I found it really hard to adjust. The intermediate school in Auckland did a lot of stuff that I was doing in primary school in Kerikeri.

When did you come out?

I came out as “bi” when I was fourteen and then I came out as gay when I was sixteen. I figured that people would be more accepting of me being bisexual. Also, I wasn’t fully out to myself at that point. I came out sort of backwards. I came out to other people before I ever fully came out to myself.

Was that the reaction you got?

It was a good reaction mostly. People were supportive and told me that they just wanted me to be who I was.  So I waited for about 6 months before I told them that I was gay. Most people’s reactions was that they already “knew”. I wanted to be like, “Then you should have told me!” 

Why do you think that you were reluctant to come out as gay?

I was worried that people weren’t going to accept me, try to beat me up, or ridicule me. I was was worried about whether I would have a home to go back to if I came out. There was all of that pressure going through my mind.

You mention that you were worried about not having a home. Why was this a concern for you?

I had just seen so many stories about people being kicked out of home when they came out. I was so worried that it would happen to me too. I had no idea who else I could have gone to for a place to live.

Where would you hear these stories about people getting kicked out of home?

I would find them on Youtube when I would search for coming out stories. A lot of people would talk about how they would get kicked out and would have to live on the streets. I got so scared.

What was your parent’s reaction to coming out when you did?

My dad was pretty much over the moon about it. Mum was hesitant at first but slowly came around to the idea of it. She’s just a bit odd about queer stuff. For example, she has said before that gay people are fine but that transgender people freak her out. I was like “Mum! You can’t say that! You can’t just support one part of the community and not another.” So I’ve  been training her to accept it.

When I told her that I wanted to be a drag queen she was worried that me wanting to do drag also meant that I wanted to transition to being a woman. I had to explain that I just wanted to dress up in heels and a dress when I felt like it. I think her main worry was that she didn’t want me to get beat up doing these sort of things. She tells me that she doesn’t want me to get hurt. I see where she is coming from, but at the same time, I still want to live my life and not have her control me.

So you said that you wanted to be a drag queen and before that stated that you identified as genderfluid. Can you talk to me more about your gender identity?

I didn’t really understand how I identified until year 10 when the teacher talked about gender identity. I was like “Huh. Well, sometimes I wake up and I want to wear a dress and identify as more feminine than I do masculine.” I haven’t actually come out as genderfluid yet because mum has mentioned in the past that if I come out as trans than she can’t accept me.  I feel like I can’t tell her about how I identify with one gender more than the other sometimes. I also feel confused when I want to use the bathroom. I wish they had more gender neutral bathrooms.

What was your dad’s view about your gender identity?

He’s more of the mindset that I should do whatever makes me happy. He’s much more chill. Once, I asked him hypothetically what would happen if I wanted to buy heels. He was like “Cool. Go do it.” And my stepmum is the same. She’s has the mindset of “you do you”. I told dad that mum was sort of anti- but he reassured me that I shouldn’t think too much about what she thinks.

Did doing more “feminine” things ever get you into trouble growing up?

At school it did. We had this thing called the Fire Brigade Cup which was an event where they had four different sports: football, netball, rugby, and field hockey. I would play netball and I was the only guy that would play. So all the other guys would mock me and tell me that I was playing a “girl’s sport”. I was damn good at netball, though, so I didn’t really care. That was at the school in Kerikeri.

Was there any other instances where gender and sexuality was something that was challenging?

All of my school years, really. I just in general remember walking around school and people calling me “fag” and “gay” and “queer” and “poof”. It dug away at me. I would think about how to change myself to act more manly so I wouldn’t have to be called those names. I never actually tried to be more masculine, though. I’m pretty defiant.

Were there a lot messages that you were receiving from the community in Kerikeri about being queer or gender diverse?

I remember that there was no resources up there. I was doing some research about LGBT groups up north. The closest group was in Whangarei which is an hour away. That’s a really long way to go for just a support group. People are just very hush hush in Kerikeri. No one talks about sexuality or anything. Everyone keeps it to themselves because it’s such a small community. I guess that people didn’t want their sexuality to get out. When I was there it was still quite conservative. I lived there before the marriage amendment was passed so it was still quite like “gays are gross so don’t associate with them.” So no one ever publicly talked about their sexuality. I noticed a few people around that were. I mean they weren’t out and proud about it but they definitely were gay. It’s not like Auckland where people are out and proud advocates in schools. In Kerikeri there’s nothing like that.

What were the messages you received about being takatāpui that you received from the Māori community in Kerikeri?

There was literally nothing to do with takatāpui up there. People wouldn’t even really know what takatāpui meant if I mentioned it there. Takatāpui is still quite a taboo concept in Māori. It’s still not really okay to talk about lesbian, gay, and trans things in Māori culture. I think that there are a lot of Māori who shut themselves off from that. They don’t want to accept that that’s a part of being Māori. I know that in Pasifika culture there’s still people that don’t want to associate with queer titles, too. I mean, I didn’t even know that takatāpui was a thing until I moved to Auckland and people were talking about it.

What did that feel like to hear that there was a Māori word that was in Māori culture that encompassed your identity?

It made feel so good that there was a word in existence for how I identified that was part of my culture. I had always thought that if there wasn’t even a word for being queer in Māori then I definitely wasn’t going to be accepted. Then I found out that there was this word, “takatāpui”.  At that moment, it felt like Māori culture was shifting and that we’re getting more accepting of all members of our community. Like now there is this word that can be used for people that aren’t just cisgendered and heterosexual.

Why do you think that there was such a lack of acceptance and recognition for being queer in Kerikeri?

I wish I knew. I want to figure out why rural communities are like that. I guess there is still a lot of old school principles in rural communities. The church still has a lot of influence on people in Kerikeri. They haven’t been liberated in the same ways that Auckland has. The church still has a major influence. There’s a lot more diversity in Auckland. In Kerikeri, people are still quite scared and sheltered so people are scared to come out. There are a lot of queer kids in the community but they are too scared to show up for support.

If you were to give advice to someone in Kerikeri who was queer, what would you want to share?

I guess I would tell  people to be themselves and not to let the community tell them who to be or who not to be. Also, to really try to get resources and learn as much as you can about who you are as a person–what you want and don’t want. I’d suggest that they try attend some Pride events in Auckland or Wellington just so they can immerse themselves in the community and get a feel for it. Like it’s important to leave your rural or small town even for a little bit to find things that are queer related.

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