Anonymous (Christchurch)

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I am gay, and I have freely admitted that for over two years. Honestly, I wish I had come out much earlier. For LGBTQ youth who have come out, we all know how terrifying the prospect is, with doubts like: “will we disappoint our families?” However, when I did finally pluck up enough courage to come out, it was over so fast and we went back to making dinner! I came out in my second year at university because I felt that coming out at my school was no easy matter.

Other schools have a more open approach towards LGBTQ students. Systemic homophobia existed whilst I was there, and it came from several different fronts within the peer group. Being LGBTQ at school really entailed one of two options: either you came out of the closet and you owned it, or you went deeper and deeper into the closet, never letting a word pass your lips in the process. I say this because if there was any suggestion that you were gay etc., and you didn’t take control and owned that fact, you would have been horrendously bullied from then on, and school life would have become very difficult. I envied other schools in the area, which were known for having a great culture and approach towards LGBTQ students, and where it is easy to come out without fear of being persecuted for being you.

During my time there, there were numerous incidences of my coming dangerously close to being involuntarily ‘outed’ by someone. I found rowing a sport that was a particular breeding ground for homophobic ‘banter’ – I think this came down to the very close fraternity culture inside it. The summer camps were particularly difficult as we were around each other all the time, thereby giving people the opportunity to push each others’ buttons significantly, in the hope they would discover something potentially sensitive and throw that out into public knowledge. I made the mistake once on a rowing camp to reply, “I have no preference” to a question about sexuality and dating. I said that because I panicked; the pressure was intense. Rugby was also notoriously bad – the ‘lad’ culture is, again, a breeding ground for homophobic remarks.

On the other hand, I definitely saw the arts more as protection, rather than a potential issue; we could definitely be ourselves, and use the individuality we posses to achieve great things. Of course, sadly, the arts got far less air-time than sport did, so any achievements that we made in that arena would be under-reported, and I think that contributed to the culture of secrecy and homophobia around it – it was seen as ‘different’ from the outset, due to that underreporting, so I think that is where the ‘drama fag’ connotation arose from.

I remember people constantly harrying me about the girlfriend that I had at the time, and were making insinuations about having sex or questioning my identity and whether it was a cover-up for my undisclosed homosexuality. I recall an incident where someone said on my eighteenth birthday: “Are you going to go have birthday sex with your girlfriend?” – implying that I wouldn't because I was, in their mind, incapable of doing so, and was just using her as a shield to deflect questions about my apparent confusion over my sexuality. Ultimately, the pressure got too much. The vast majority of the homophobia that I experienced came from the sporting realm; never did I feel supported or safe when I played sport. Of course, it was the arts that allowed me to make good friends, whom I would later come to trust enough for them to be amongst the first to know about me when I finally did come out, after school.

University allowed me to really open up, and forced me to confront what I had been hiding for the past five years (I said this to my father when I came out, and it stunned him that I had kept the secret for so long). I credit my flat mates for giving me the courage to say, “I am gay”. I am infinitely happier now as a result, and many of my friends have remarked how much nicer and more relaxed I had become. When you are no longer hiding something from your loved ones, you are freer to live your life and be yourself. I am gay, but I do not let it define me anymore. I have realised that being gay isn’t anything that special; rather, it is just who I am.

Once I realised this, I definitely felt more relaxed. The whole reason why I struggled to come out in the first place was that fear of rejection, purely for being different, yet for being totally myself. But once I discovered that most people are essentially ambivalent towards it, I could breathe a lot easier.

In respect to my school, I sincerely hope that the culture and approach towards the LGBTQ community has changed. However, my fear is that homophobia will continue to be perpetuated by students because of their idolising sports players who make homophobic remarks. The Wireless (Radio New Zealand’s youth-oriented online platform) put out an article stating that, “rugby culture often reflects our country's ugliest attitudes.” If the sporting elite make homophobic remarks, it continues the cycle of abuse at school level, because students look up to these people and think that if it’s acceptable for them to say, “here come the gays,” “homo,” and “faggot,” then they will continue to do that.

School boards and staff must apply constant pressure to break this cycle inside schools. Schools have a moral responsibility to ensure that their students go forth into the world with the knowledge of what acceptable behaviour is. Ideally, having pro-LGBT support/pressure groups would be the solution. And making them relevant and accessible to all, otherwise it would be branded as “the gays’ club”. Counselling services are good for the moment, but more funding from education authorities would be good.
School in the Christchurch area
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