This is a story, written by Damien about himself. Damien has kindly given us permission to publish this here.
ON ‘COMING OUT’
In so many ways, I have been very lucky and to a degree the Heavens (for want of a better phrase), have always smiled kindly on me. But don’t get me wrong, there is a full chapter on struggles. However, the lighter and stronger side of my story is, in my opinion, well worth sharing.
A little about me to help paint a clear picture of my ‘coming out’.
I was brought up in two homes; one with my mom, dad and two siblings. The other with my nan, grand-dad and me. I’m Maori with heaps and heaps of cousins, uncles, aunties, nephews, nieces and other stragglers that keep appearing at family occasions.
I went to a private religious boarding school, my immediate family are devout active Mormons and I am in my mid-twenties. Growing up in a semi-rural community with my nan living across the paddock, several aunties down the road, cousins always visiting, there was always opportunities to hang out and bond with male folk.
From an early age, I found I gravitated towards the males whether it be as simple as being picked up as a five-year old being used as a football by older cousins, or simply by them talking to me about the latest movies they’ve seen or their long summer day at the beach with their high school mates.
Thinking back, my teenage cousins were very good to my brother and me, taking us for horse rides, catching greased pigs (and to this day I have no idea why we did that), pushing us on the swing, or throwing us in the car for many, many adventures into town for my favourite Peanut Slabs.
Growing up with so many men, me being the youngest at the time, the smallest, and probably the most spoilt, meant that there was always someone older than me to put me in my place or pick on me. This came in quite useful when I got older as, in the wider-community in which I lived such as school and so forth, when my sexuality was the subject of ridicule I found the ‘tough love’ my cousins and brother would subject me to as a kid was good training ground to deal with bullies who wanted to ‘take me on’.
My announcement came when I was 15.
There were two people that I considered would be the hardest in the whole entire world to tell. The first was my nan.
When growing up, my nan was always around. My earliest memory of my nan, was the times she took me aside to teach me how to clean, cook, bake cakes, do the washing, pay-bills and so on. As young as four she would entrust me with these tasks. I lived with her more often than living with mom, even though there was just a paddock separating our homes. Nan would ensure the fire (coal range), was lit before I woke up, to ensure the house was warm, my clothes pressed and ready, breakfast cooked, and school bag packed. With all the grandchildren she had she would make everyone of us feel like we were the only one’s in her world.
She helped me through a lot of problems, one being my father/son relationship which even to this day is non-existent. He is Maori from up north where Maori is his first language and brought up very strict and hard. I guess he couldn’t find other ways in bringing me up, so he did the best he knew. I later found out from my mom, that due to his up-bringing, having a son who was different, he constantly thought himself a failure. Men worked outside, not in. Men played rugby, not the piano. Men were tough, not skinny and looking under-nourished (but I’m sure he’s to blame for that). The biggest struggle he still finds difficult is his failure in rearing a fag for a son (strictly my reference, not his).
My nan, as if receiving magical messages from my mind, would turn up on the doorstep, right when my dad and I were about to clash, walk in, pack my bag, and take me away for days at a time. To this day, I still haven’t figured out how she knew when I would be at the lowest point at home (I think my mom played a role there). This happened from as early as five years old right through to 16.
Having the deepest respect for my nan, I considered her to be one of two tough people to tell, and yet I had convinced myself that if I could tell her, I could tell the second and many more. On a warm Hawkes Bay night, with the rural night-life noises buzzing around the bedroom window, I took her a glass of cold water to her bedside and sat on the edge of her bed. I told her I wanted to tell her something really important. She sensed the heaviness I was carrying so she got out of bed, and sat by my side. I said something like… “Nan, you know how you always ask if I have a girlfriend?” She nodded, and before I continued, she placed her hand on my lap, and said “I already know mokopuna (grandson). I have always known.”
Being the fragile fag of 15, I cried and cried (one of those real deep, crippling, earth open up and eat me moments). For me, this simple experience lifted quite a few fears I had, and my initial thoughts were right, if I could tell my nan, I could tell anyone. And then there was Lorenzo*...
Lorenzo and I have been mates since six-years old right through to now. We are opposites in every way, me Maori, he Cook-Islander, me shortest in school, he the tallest, me the puniest, he the strongest, me the nerd, he the jock, me a budding fag, he ‘straight’ and homophobic and yet we always look out for each other and still enjoy sharing stories.
Shortly after telling nan, I walked over to my mate's where we shared a smoke on the front lawn. Talked about a whole bunch of nothing, trying to get myself in order, then, just came straight out and told him. He finished his smoke, went inside and shut the door. We never spoke, or crossed paths for a full week.
At the end of the week, he came to see me. Asked me a few questions like, how long had I known? Did I think he was hot (and sorry folks, yes I did, so I lied)? What did I do (that’s how he asked it, and admittedly, I wanted to share some stuff, but glad I lied about that one too)? After a few more menial questions, he told me it didn’t matter.
To this day, it hasn’t. My fear with him was, being the staunch islander that he is and like many other males confronting themselves is, if this person, who plays an important part in my world, would throw me out. Luckily he didn’t. On a funnier note with Lorenzo, at one party, drinking etc, he and I made a promise that if we weren’t married by the time we were 30, we would marry each other. I am pleased to report, with recent law changes, he and I are still single, and I have reminded him, that if he doesn’t get his act together, I will be planning our wedding in the years to come. As a good mate would, he jokingly pushes it aside, but is fearful he would have to go through with it.
Now, as I have moved through my teens, I get to hang out with my younger nephews, nieces, cousins who are coming through at 15-19 years old. We often share stories, laugh, cry, laugh some more, talk about positive relationships they’re in, talk about absolute crappy relationships they’re in, and just listen to each other. They accept me, as much as I accept them.
In fact, Mr Straight 15 Year Old, who attends private boarding school, recently had one of his school mates from back in the day come on and out to him. I guess I share this because of the manner in which he dealt with it. He didn’t shut his mate down, just accepted it, and shared with him that his uncle’s gay as well, and all’s sweet. I encourage my cousins to be and make good friends, even with fag’s, after all, we do have the best fashion tips, and there is nothing better than dressing up your cousins/mates to look hot, going out, and telling all the masses, you're with them!
I strongly believe that, as a gay male, bi male or curious, (or, if you don’t like those labels, make a new one) you are human, with thoughts and feelings that need to be protected, no matter what side of the closet you’re on. If you need to discuss what you’re feeling out loud, I would encourage you to find a person to do that with. You might be surprised at how positive it turns out!
* Names altered.
If you liked Damien's story you might also like Kim Ho's film `THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE'.
Also from the Dominion Post, Wellington, 17 Dec, 2013 an article on Coming Out - College support a happy surprise - Johann Go says it took him nearly two years to build up the courage to tell his friends and family that he was gay. Now he has been awarded a university scholarship for his actions as a role model for gay teenagers.
Olympic rower Robbie Manson comes out as gay
Robbie Manson, Olympic rower for New Zealand, comes out publicly as gay, talks about the struggles in the closet and coming out to friends before the 2012 Olympics :- http://www.outsports.com/2014/11/4/7153765/robbie-manson-gay-olympic-rower-new-zealand
Posts from Amelia published in The Huffington Post
Amelia is a mother, wife, partner and breadwinner who posts articles in the Huffington Post related to young people who are gay.