Jamie. 22. Timaru. South Island.
Hi there, my name is Jamie. I am currently living in Auckland but I was born and raised in Timaru in the South Island. I’m 22 years old and I identify as a gay, cisgender male.
What was it like growing up in Timaru?
Timaru is a pretty plain place. Growing up there, I sort of ran out of things to do. But I had a good group of friends and we always got together and did lots of things. Occasionally, we would go down to the bay, Caroline Bay.
How long did you live in Timaru?
I lived there until I was 18 years old. Then I moved down to Dunedin. It was a very different place than Timaru. Timaru is a lot more conservative than Dunedin–at least some parts I guess.
How is Timaru more conservative? Like in what ways?
I don’t want to speak bad things about the place or the people, but I find that there are a lot of narrow-minded people there. I found that I had to keep myself in the closet. There were a lot of people that would say negative things about being gay. Those comments usually weren’t directed at me, but it was still a bit demeaning. The people who said those things were not so much my friends but more of my family and my family friends. They all are straight, sorta blokey people. They are always trying to encourage me to go after the girls. It was challenging having to accept myself when there was all of this going on around me.
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.
What are some of things that people would say–in your family or in the community–about queer-identified people?
Sometimes it would just be a reaction to something. Like if we were watching the news and my dad was in the room–he’s pretty homophobic—and something like a pride parade would come on the TV he would make comments like “Stupid people, they shouldn’t be doing that!”. My grandparents are the same.
What other signs and comments were you reading that signalled being gay was not okay?
I managed to find good friends so luckily it was in that friend group so I was a bit sheltered from it. There were times, though, when I went to school where kids that would say that classic “That’s so gay!” comment. I mean, they meant it as a joke but there were also a few kids that did mean it in a seriously demeaning way. There were guys that would pretend that they would kiss or be gay together and then they would shake it off and say things like “no homo!”.
You said that you had really good friends. What made them good friends?
They were really accepting of not only me but everyone around them. They were really friendly and no matter what any of us were going through we would always help each other out.
Were you out to your friends?
Well I wasn’t out until the very last year of high school. I mainly told my closest friends but there were mentions of other people that found out somehow.
What prompted you to want to come out your last year of high school?
I think it was I was just getting to the stage where I was sick not telling the whole truth about who I was. I was really close to my friends and I wanted to talk to them about all of my life, including my sexuality.
The first person I told was actually a guy that I had met not too long ago through a friend. I actually had a crush on this guy. It was really hard time. The first three times I told my friends that I was gay, I told them through message. I’d write them something like “Oh I need to talk to you about something”. This made it so they would have it in the back of their minds that I needed to talk to them, which prevented me getting out of it. I knew I really wanted to tell them and I knew that if I had too much time to think about then I wouldn’t.
There was this time when I texted this guy who I went to karate with like twice a week. I wanted to come out to him, so I messaged him and he come over my house one night. When we were in my room, I was wanting to tell him, but I was taking way too long. In the end he was just like “Okay, spit it out”. And so I was like [whispers] “I’m gay”. And he was like “That’s cool”. Thank goodness. I didn’t have the guts to tell him in that same moment that I also had a crush on him. However, I ended up texting him later that night to tell him that I had a crush on him. And he had a typical response that I’ve had from a few people. He was like “That’s okay as long as you don’t do anything” I didn’t take any offence to that because he was one of my really good friends but…
When he said “Don’t do anything”, what do you think he meant?
I just read it as for me not to push it any further–that letting him know was enough. And it was enough for me too. So I didn’t want anymore out of it.
Did you ever feel like telling him that telling him would be a dangerous thing for him to know or for you to tell him?
Yes. I had to let a lot my friends know I was worried because my dad and his parents are really homophobic. I had to tell everyone to keep quiet when I told them what happened. I wanted that experience to be kept as simple as possible. I didn’t want complicate things.
So it sounds like your house was not a safe place to be out. So where was a space that you felt like you could go where you knew you would be accepted and/or feel safe?
Pretty much anywhere if I had my friends with me. We would usually hang out in big groups together. We would usually go to friends’ houses or we had this small room under my house that we would always hang out at. We called it the “shag pad” [laughter]. Nothing actually happened there, though. It was a place where we could talk about anything and watch movies. Even though it was at my house, where my dad was it was still separated and I felt like it was our space.
Did you have any resources about sexuality or gender in Timaru?
We didn’t have much. At one point after I came out to my dad and things were going a bit badly, I went to a place called YouthLine. It was on the main street of Timaru. One day I drove to town and walked in and started talking to someone. They gave me a contact number of someone who was gay in Timaru that I could talk to. So the next week I had coffee with him and talked to him. It was nice to be able to talk to someone about the stuff I was going though. Even though I could talk to my friends about it, they wouldn’t be quite as understanding to my situation as the guy I was talking to.
I told him about what was happening with me and my dad, and he would tell me about his parents and how they were not that understanding. He explained that as long as you keep some sort of connection with family and not put the brakes on and go back into the closet, their ideas about sexuality can change over time. So that got me thinking that maybe I could do that too.
Did you have a sense that your living situation in Timaru could be better elsewhere? Did you ever had a sense that there was something different?
Yea, I always felt there were never enough people around to talk to. Visiting other places in New Zealand–the bigger cities–I could see that there was much more “on offer” in those place. Since I was stuck in Timaru for so long and had learned I my way around there, I knew that there was really not that much to offer other than that YouthLine I visited. If I had stayed in Timaru, I would be very miserable.
Do you ever see yourself moving back to Timaru again?
No. It doesn’t seem like a place I would want to be for the rest of my life. It’s just such a closed and narrow minded community. I can’t see myself being able to be myself there. Even though I still had friends there it would sort of be a bit difficult to live my life authentically and fully there.
Did your dad ever try to explain to you why he was so against being gay?
Never. I can only guess. I would say that it was because of his religious background, from his parents, and his friends. I know that he and his friends would do like make fun of gay people. I know that sort of ideology was what he grew up. I can unfortunately understand why people are so ignorant but that doesn’t make it okay.
When I came out to my mom we were at home. It was just her and I at home and I thought that this would be a good time talk to her. I’d been wanting to tell her for a while at that point. I was sitting at the breakfast bar and mom was sitting in the lounge. I was like, “Can I talk to you about something?” And she was like “Of course.” I haven’t had a very good relationship with my parents, but I just basically said “I’m gay”. I didn’t even ease into it. I looked around and she looked like she was going to spit her food out from shock. The first thing she says is “Have you told anyone else?” And I was like “Yea, a few friends”. Then she asked me why I told my friends. And I explained that since they were my friends they should know. At that point, she was just like “Don’t tell anyone else” which I totally disagreed with.
In the end she said “You can’t tell your dad or your grandparents.” I thought that was fair enough because I knew they’d have a bad reaction. After telling my mom, I lost my appetite and decided to go for a drive and loosen up a bit. When I went home, everything was fine. Every now and then mom will talk to me about my sexuality. It took a little while, but she’s got very used to it now and completely fine with it.
Is there anything that you felt like you weren’t able to do in Timaru that you can do now that you live in Auckland or when you lived in Dunedin?
Well one of the things that I thought I would never do when I was living in Timaru that I could do when i was living in Dunedin was holding my partner’s hand in public. It was kind of a big thing in Timaru. You almost get the feeling that you can’t hold hands there because there will be people that will see you and say something. Whereas in Dunedin or Auckland, I’ve seen people walking around holding hands. People are a lot more accepting of it in the city, and it’s nice to know that there are actually people that don’t mind.
If there was somebody in Timaru who was gay, what would you want that person to know or what resources would you want them to have?
I would want them to at least have resources and people to go and talk to. It would be great if they had a small group of people–sort of like a small gay community that would get together now and then to talk about experiences and support each other rather than having someone whose job is talking to you and listening.