Sam. 25. Balclutha. South Island.
Hello, my name is Sam. I’m twenty-five, bisexual, and I live in one of the most southern parts of NZ in a town called Balclutha. I’ve pretty much lived here my whole life. I was raised here and lived here until I was about 17. Then I left for study. I moved to Dunedin, then moved to Wellington, and now I’m back in Clutha again for work.
Can you tell me more about where you grew up and what that looked like?
So Balclutha has a population of 4 or 4.5 thousand. That’s just the town. Then there’s people that live some really, really rural areas outside of town. There’s some farms and agricultural things like that here. I grew up on a farm myself. There was no cell reception and no internet where I lived so me and my family were pretty much cut off from everywhere. But we had TV and land phones and other modern appliances. There was internet but dial up internet wasn’t really reliable. I went to school in a town called Owaka which had a population of about 400. My school had about 120 people and that was from year 1 until year 13.
What was it like, living in small town?
I guess one of the main challenges was that I was really closed off and isolated from everywhere else which made making friends difficult. Obviously I made friends, but there wasn’t much chance to socialise outside of school because once you left you’d be in the middle of nowhere. Driving to go see a friend was usually a big issue. I couldn’t just walk down the road to my mate’s house. Like we had neighbours just down the road but they didn’t have any kids but the nearest people that had kids were probably 5-10 km away. So it was pretty limiting and isolating.
What was your experience like in relation to not being heterosexual in your town?
It’s hard to say because I don’t really know. I didn’t come out until I was 22 and had left town. Throughout my time in school, I didn’t really understand things like sexuality or anything other than heterosexuality because it’s drilled into you that being straight was basically the way that everyone is. It was especially difficult for me because while others could perceive that I was not straight I didn’t know that I wasn’t straight. I didn’t want to associate with being gay because I was picked on for it. “Gay” was always set up to be a bad thing. Heterosexual was basically what everyone was. When I did have these different feelings and attractions I had no one to talk to about it.
Did you know anyone who was gay or was there any one rumoured to be gay in town?
Nah [sigh], there was no one else that I know of. Actually, there was a couple of guys who had come out after school but I didn’t find that out until I moved back here. So yea, there were two people that I know of in school apart from myself that were gay. Oh, and there were a few lesbians at school but they didn’t come out until afterward they left town as well.
You mentioned that ‘heterosexuality was just the way that everybody was’. What sort of other signs or statements reaffirmed to you that heterosexuality was the right way to be?
I guess it was mostly getting picked on for not fitting in with the norm at school, even though I wasn’t out and I denied being gay. I think I got picked on because I was interested in art and writing and things like that. The other kids inferred that this meant that I was gay. There was this one instance–it’s so long ago–when we were getting changed to go to P.E. and one of the guys made it quite clear that he was uncomfortable with me getting changed in the changing room with him. He thought that I was either probing at him or attracted to him. Anyone of anything associated with being gay was negative–like ya know how people say “that’s so gay”. Well it’s a lot worse when you’re in school because if you drop the ball it’s like “Ugh, you gay cunt” and stuff like that. They even used “fag” and “faggot” abusively quite a lot, especially when you did something that was wrong. And you know, it was the jokes and associating homosexuality with weakness or making a mistake.
You talked about how you were called “gay” because you were interested in art and writing which weren’t the normal things that boys were expected to do. What were some of the other “masculine” things that people did in your year that was the norm?
Rugby primarily. Also building and woodwork because we had woodwork class. Girls were expected to do design and materials while the guys were more interested in woodwork….And farming. A lot of guys were into their farming and all of that labour work. Also cars–cars was a big one.
What was it like growing up in a family that farmed?
Our farm was really small so it didn’t demand a lot of work. But my brother did a lot of the farm work. He’s that classic hyper masculine–well, not hyper masculine–but he is your stereotypical Kiwi bloke in that he’s really into hunting, farming, and talks about his sport and those sorts of things. He was basically my opposite growing up. But because our farm was so small, it didn’t matter so much that I was so different to him. It was definitely clear that I was more interested in working on computers, writing, and doing my own thing rather than wanting to go out and chase sheep everyday.
So since you were different to your brother, did this affect the rest of your relationship to your family, like your parents?
I got on well with my mother. My dad and I got on when he wasn’t upset with something.
Were you out to your parents at that point?
No. I came out to my Mum when I was either 21 or 22. And then I came out to my dad a year after that. So yeah, I must have been 21 when I came out to Mum and 22, almost 23, when I came out to Dad.
And what was the reaction like from them?
My mother was very good. Well, coming out at bisexual is strange because you’re still attracted to the opposite sex. I like to say that I’m half gay and half straight. So when I first told Mum she was good with it. When I first told dad he was good with it too. I think that because I told him that I still liked the opposite sex, he remained hopeful that I was going to marry a woman, settle down, and give him grandkids–that sort of thing. So when I told him that I had my first boyfriend later on, the reaction was far from positive. Even now he’s still not that great about it.
Did you have to explain to them what being bisexual meant for you?
I kind of did to Mum. I’m in a relationship now but when I was single I would go out and tell her that I was interested in dating both men and women. She understood that and dad got that too. When they would found out that I was in a relationship with a guy, dad never stopped understanding my sexuality. I still think he sees it as being gay completely.
What about your brother? Does your brother know?
Oh yea, yea. I live with my brother so he knows. It’s weird, because I haven’t come out to everyone. I just expect people to know. And I don’t see the point in being like, “I’m going to sit you down and explain to you that I’m not just attracted to men”. I haven’t come out to everyone and don’t plan to. However, I will never say no to talking to someone about my sexuality.
Are there places in Balclutha where you can safely and comfortably be out as bisexual?
Yeah, nah. I can’t off the top of my head. It’s a very hetero-dominated area. I have asked my boyfriend to come down here and go out but he doesn’t even feel comfortable going to a bar with me here. And when I was in school here that wasn’t a place either since there was no specific gay safe area. Everyone just lumped together.
Do you ever get frustrated that you don’t have places where you can go? Or how do you go around that?
I haven’t really thought about it. I tend to do my own thing. I mean sometimes I get posts from the UniQ page on Facebook that will say something like “We’re having a queer night and we’re watching an LGBT movie”. And when I see those posts I think like “Aw I wish I could just go through and watch the movie but it’s an hour drive away”. I can’t get to peeved about it. I’m more worried about not having a place where I can just be out and not have to worry about being mistreated.
Are there any places outside of Balclutha where you feel safe being totally out?Well, I guess the nearest place where I could most safe is Dunedin. But even there I’d pick the right places to go to. I am of the mindset that even though a place not be entirely safe, I will still go there to make a point. So like if I went to a bar–ya know the typical hetero-dominated bar–and I was there with my boyfriend I’d want to be comfortable enough to hold hand and do that sort of thing. So I’d hold his hand to prove that I have the right to be there too. If they had a problem with it, I’d just be like “Well, get over it”.
Do you know anyone who’s gay, homosexual, or gender diverse who had those sort of reactions that you worry about?
There was this one guy from school. I hate using stereotypes but he had what a lot of people call the “gay voice”. It was more obvious that he was gay, so I guess he got teased a bit in school. I don’t know much else about what it was like for him growing up, though. He just post recently on Facebook that he was called a faggot walking down the street where he lives now in another small town.
You mention that it was harder for this guy to avoid being bullied because he was more obviously gay’. Why do you think it’s easier for you?
I think I can pass as straight pretty easily. Especially since I play rugby in Balclutha and everyone on the team is basically straight as far as I know. When I first started, one of the guys was like “Hey bro, have you got yourself a missus?”. Everyone just assumes you’re straight.
There was another time when one of the guys was using the word faggot as they do a lot on the team. I was just like “Hey, there’s enough of that kind of language around here.” And he was like “Sorry, man. I didn’t mean to use it”. But yeah, I can pass as straight but sometimes I do very gay things which makes it more obvious.
Do you try to look “more straight”? Or do you like to present as gay and/or gender variant?
I just dress as me. And “me” is very colourful. So, I do wear bright coloured clothes. Not because I’m trying to dress to a stereotype or to my sexuality or anything. It’s just that I like bright colours. I mean, I’ve got rainbow socks. My sexuality doesn’t define me, and I wouldn’t say I dress to it or you should pick someone’s sexuality based on their look. But I think that if you were to look at me, you’d probably think “he’s obviously not straight based on his clothes”. Or I could just be very metro.
Have you ever traveled you feel like you can be more safe and accepted as gay?
Yeah, so my boyfriend and I lived in Wellington together last year and there was a gay bar there–two actually. It was handy. Ya know, we’d go out drinking and dancing and not have to worry about straight people giving us the eye and things like that.
And what about Dunedin? What was Dunedin like when you lived there?
It’s a bit odd. It’s mostly alright. There used to be a gay bar there but it got shut down – not that it wasn’t allowed. The bar was making no money and the owner got into a lot of trouble. But even though there was that bar, it’s still very conservative in the city as a whole. My boyfriend and I were dancing at a different club once and a guy came up to us and told that he was gonna punch us out because we were dancing on the dance floor together…and that was one of the more accepting, progressive bars as well.
It’s hard because I actually really like Dunedin. But it’s just unfortunate if you’re a part of the LGBT umbrella, you always need to make sure that you are safe when there’s a lot more straight people.
How do you feel safety-wise about living in Balclutha?
I think I’m alright, but I know that if I was bring my boyfriend down and we spent a lot of time together here, I would start to feel less safe about the both of us.
So I wanna go back to when you were high school age for bit. When you were figuring out that you were bisexual what resources did you have to support you?
I didn’t have resources. No information–nothing at all. I didn’t understand sexuality let alone homosexuality or bisexuality until well after I left high school. I mean, I had feeling and inklings that I wasn’t straight, but I wanted to suppress them while I was in high school. There was no information to tell me that these feelings were both natural and that there was nothing wrong with them.
Did you talk to anybody about how you were feeling?
Nope. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. We did have a school counselor that assumed I was gay. I look back at it now and she was trying to make me come out in high school by asking me leading questions about my sexuality. She suspected I was gay but didn’t want to outrightly say so. I think she wanted me to come out myself. She would ask me things “Well, you’re not like the other guys are you, Sam? You are different from the other guys, you know.” And I would be like, “I don’t want to be different from the other guys”. I don’t see myself as different and I didn’t see how my sexual orientation made me different from anyone else.” I don’t think there should be this idea of “The Straights” versus “The Gays”.
What was it like finding information about your sexual orientation for the first time?
I don’t even really remember. I just came to a realisation on my own. For so long everyone was just like “Are you gay?”. That was always the question, and it was never anything in between. It was either you’re straight or you’re gay. So I came to the realisation on my own without having any information about it. I guess you could say that I slowly came to accept it.
And did you grow up with a religious background?
Yea, I’m Christian. We went to Sunday school and all that sort of stuff–the whole sha-bang. Even had religious education at school.
Did you find that that influenced your identity?
Yeah it did when I was younger. I have some family that are quite religious. They were very vocally opposed to the marriage amendment bill. And that was all over Facebook. I was in the closet, so to speak, at the time of the marriage amendment bill. But because I’m reasonably intelligent, I was able to write–with my knowledge of religion too–a very sound argument that showed that the Bible does not actually oppose homosexual relationships or marriage.
Other than that time you were told that you were going to be punched because you were dancing with your boyfriend, has there been other times where you have received negative reaction about being so open?
Well one time I was just walking down the street and a guy called me a faggot because of the way I was dressed. I get a lot general abuse like that. Dad was very negative when I entered into the Mr. Gay NZ competition. He’s not exactly the prime example of “supporting”. He had seen an article written about it in the paper and the headline was like “South Otago Man Looking Forward to being Mr. Gay” or something like that. I forget exactly what it was. He told me off for broadcasting it around town. He said something like, “Once people hear about this sort of thing..” He was not happy at all.
What sort of queer resources do you think that your town would really benefit from?
Anything on gender diversity or sexual orientation. I think that what would be most important–this is something that I think that’s dropped out a lot in discussion–is that while it’s really good to encourage LGBT people accept themselves and educate them about sexual orientation, we forget to tell the straight people to not treat LGBT people like crap. So I think there needs to be more resources for straight people to say “Hey, this person is gay, or bisexual, or transgender, asexual and it doesn’t make them any different.” So just maybe educate straight people more. I think people just assume “Okay we just need to support the LGBT people”. And like I said, we do need to do provide LGBT people information, but just educating them is not going to stop straight people from acting so ignorant and belligerent.
It’s like the example of my school counsellor telling me that I wasn’t like everyone else. Okay, sure, I was different but I still would have liked to have been accepted and seen as just another guy that happens to like guys. Instead of saying “Well, you’re gay, bisexual, and different”, we should say: “You’re gay, bisexual, and that doesn’t make you different”. We especially need to say this to straight people because the moment a lot of people hear the word “queer” or “gay” a wall goes up and they block out the rest of the discussion. So we need to give everyone resources about LGBT people.