Duncan. 28. Cambridge. North Island.
Kia Ora, my name is Duncan Matthews and I am 28 years old. I identify as a pansexual, pakeha, cis-gendered male. I currently live in West Harbor but I grew up in Cambridge, New Zealand.
I was originally born in Hastings and lived there for two years after I was born. My parents moved us to Cambridge where I stayed until I was 17. When I moved out for the first time , I left to live in Hamilton where I studied at uni four years. In 2009, I moved in Auckland and I’ve been here ever since.
Can you describe what Cambridge looked like?
So Cambridge is quite white and solidly middle class. It’s mostly made up of two-parent families. I knew very little people that had single parent families growing up. There was a lot of money around. Horse breeding is really big enterprise in Cambridge. It’s known for being the place where all of the horse studs are bred in New Zealand. Horse breeding is really profitable but it also takes a lot of money and land to do.
There’s also Karapiro Lake right next to us which is a popular place for rowing. So sometimes Cambridge hosts the world rowing championship. So rowing is really popular in Cambridge too. There’s even a Velodrome in Cambridge now.
What was the availability and centrality of things like in Cambridge? Were services and goods easy for you to get?
Well, I had some freedom since I had a car. But a lot people lived out in the country had to travel a bit further for things. For most errands that weren’t going to the dairy, you’d go to Hamilton which was about a 20-30 minute ride away. There were no bus services like we have in Auckland so a lot of young people relied on car mobility or parents.
What is your relationship like with your parents? As in now and earlier?
It was quite good. I came out to them at around age 19 or so. After that we went through a rocky patch for about 8 years…or maybe it was 6 years. I can’t really remember. There was definitely a period that was over 5 years that was strenuous. I think that was my fault, perhaps. During that time, a break from my parents was needed. I made it really clear that I was looking for acceptance about rainbow issues with my parents and they took a little while to get used to it. But in the last three or four years our relationship has gotten really solid again.
What were some of the things that your parents would do or say that made you want to maintain limited contact?
When I first told my mum that I was bisexual, she just didn’t get it. She was really focused on the whole guy thing. She would mention things to me like, “ What about this relationship that you had with a girl a year or so ago?” And I would be like “I’m bisexual, mum”. It took her a while to understand. I had asked my parents to go to Hamilton Pride with me to expose them to the rainbow community and they basically told me “No”.
That was really difficult to hear from my parents. Part of the reason that I think it was so difficult is because I realised that they only wanted to know parts about my life. They didn’t want to know about the rainbow community stuff I was doing which was increasingly becoming a larger part of my life–and fast-forward ten years when it’s my entire life. So it was difficult. As hard as I try not to be, I’m a bit vindictive so I would purposely not share the details of my life that they would get joy out because they weren’t asking questions about the queer parts of my life.
You mention that your mum had a hard time understanding and accepting your sexuality. What about your dad?
My dad stood by the fact that I was “old enough to make my own choices” when it came to my sexuality. Which to start with, I thought was a good reaction. Then I thought about it and I was like “No, this is not a choice, dad”. I know that I told him a couple times that it wasn’t a choice. He would respond by telling me that he would pray on it. Dad reads the gospel in Church on Sundays and stuff like that so he is very religious. However, my mum’s not really religious at all. But my dad–he was even an altar boy. His religiousness comes from his parents being very religious. His parents were so religious that they would go to church three times a day.
Religion ended up being the final thing that caused me to challenge my parents–dad in particular–about their views of the rainbow community. It was around the time when the marriage equality bill was being passed. There were petitions going around the churches saying to “Keep marriage between a man and a woman”. My mum told me that dad had signed it. She probably just should have not said anything.
What do you remember thinking when you heard that your dad signed the petition?
His actions weren’t good enough to me. Dad had said something previously like “Oh, well if you got married we would support you and be at your wedding”. I said “Well, dad, that’s not good enough because I don’t want you to just support me. I want you to support everyone in the rainbow community.” I basically said that I didn’t accept his concept so I just wouldn’t invite him.
Why do you think she told you that your dad signed the petition?
I’m not really sure, maybe guilt about it? Maybe Dad felt guilt about it and that’s why he told mum? I don’t really know.
I didn’t plan to but I ended up calling my dad and tried to challenge him on his petition signing. I was quite upset when I called. I remember that my mum was yelling at me over the phone which never happens. By that time, I had reached the point in my adulthood where I was like “Actually I don’t need to put up with this”. I think that mum had yelled for about 5 minutes into the phone before she realised that I had hung up on her.
I talked to them again, and this time they wanted me to drive and meet them to talk face to face. It was really awkward. But to their credit they have mostly changed their mind about the queer community since then. I mean, they even donate to RainbowYOUTH on a monthly basis.
When you were growing up, when did you realise that you were queer?
Probably about thirteen.
What influenced you waiting until you were 19 to come out?
I think that I was very aware of my parents views about queer stuff when I was younger so I didn’t want to get into that. I also enjoyed the school stuff and actually enjoyed my job that I had when I was like 16-18. Those things kept me happy and busy. I mean, I wouldn’t say that I was the happiest child but I wouldn’t say I was the unhappiest. When I got to be 17 I told myself, “Cool, I’m going to go to university and I want to start exploring this other side of me ‘cause I can’t do this around my parents”.
Aside from your parents, what are messages were getting about sexuality in your community?
The civil union bill, that was passed in 2005, wasn’t it? I’m pretty sure that it was. That was one of the biggest messages I got about different sexualities existing and being accepted. I was on this thing called NZ Dating [laughter]. It was such a bad site. It hasn’t been updated since I was using it in 2004. So I knew that there were other gay people out there.
I was also getting this message from the people around me that the ideal family was one that had a dad working a full time job and a mum that worked part time but still ran around after the kids for like soccer and things like that. They would go to church, have a house with a fence…
Did you tell people at school that you were bisexual?
[shakes head] I didn’t tell anybody.
Did you ever have any experiences calling you “gay” or any other derogatory things?
Yea, but I was quite nerdy. I had a lot of acne and never had the best clothes and I was bit slow on my verbal responses. So you know, the teasing I got was just part of a larger whole of not fitting in. I don’t think that the gay stuff particularly hurt but I don’t think that it encouraged me to come out any sooner either.
What were your friends doing for work sort of stuff–like farming?
Well I went to a high school where my mum worked. Since a lot of the kids there had money, they didn’t work. I was was one of the only ones that worked. I worked at KFC for my entire last year of school. Which was good because I loved working at KFC.
I really liked working at KFC because it was different. I was away from my parents and it wasn’t a thinking thing like most of the other things I did. I was also making money which was making me more independent. Working also gave me connections. I grew up really sheltered in private, Catholic schools but working at KFC connected me to a very different demographic. There was this one old Māori woman who was one of the cooks that I used to work midnights and Thursday and Friday nights with. After our shifts we would sit around and eat all of the leftover food from the night before we cleaned up and have break together. I remember really liking what this Māori woman had to say. She was completely at the opposite end of the social spectrum to what I was used to being surrounded by. She opened my eyes to a lot. Like one night she dropped me off at home. The music that was playing in her car was basically a porn soundtrack. It was the only way I could describe it [laughter].
She helped me to see that while this was my after school job that I worked a few hours a week, there were people that worked there as their full time job. They were living on money that was only a little more than I was earning and supporting their families and doing it for years and years and years. I learned to appreciate what I had.
What’s your overall feeling about Cambridge now that you don’t live there?
I still quite enjoy it. Since I’ve moved to Auckland, I’ve been challenged about the ways I grew up. I realise the lack of multiculturalism in Cambridge. It’s not like social injustices didn’t exist in Cambridge–it’s just that they were a lot more hidden. So when I return to Cambridge after being in Auckland, I am always quite aware of the privileges that I have.
What were some of the messages about being queer that helped you coming out after you left Cambridge?
Well, I worked with some guys that I perceived to be gay. I got along with them really well so that helped me to come out. Another one of the main things that helped me come out was being apart of my uni’s queer group when I was living in Hamilton. The uni group had a dedicated space in student union. And at that time–like 2005-2006–in Waikato, it was still a very conservative and religious area. So just seeing that there was this queer group, made me think “Being gay is an okay thing to be because there are a lot of people who obviously think that the rights of gay people are important”.
Do you ever try regulate what you do or say that people perceive you in a certain way?
Yea definitely. I try not act too effeminate at certain times–like the way I use my hands when I talk. If don’t want to be perceived as effeminate, I make a greater effort to stop myself from doing things that are more effeminate. Doing that can be beneficial to my personal and professional life to be able to do that. So it’s a good thing.
So before we wrap up, do you have any advice or suggestions for queer young people living in rural or small communities like Cambridge?
I think that there should be more visible resources available where people go to look for help about identity like at school, the doctor’s, library, or church. I don’t know if I would have ever used those resources but it would have at least been nice to hear about information about queer stuff existing. For some young people seeing those resources and having access to them can be crucial for their well-being.