In my first post on this blog, you might remember, I talked about being gay. I wrote about attending my first Pride Parade and how that made me feel: happy, nervous, excited for this new chapter in my life. Since then, I’ve been silent about this part of myself. I haven’t given much indication how it’s all turned out. Apologies, and thank you for waiting so long.
In case you were wondering, I am still very much homosexual. I can confirm my attraction hasn’t somehow gone away. I’ve had a number of reasons for not speaking about this side of my life since my first blog post. I’m wary about appointing myself as a kind of spokesman when I’m still new to the LGBTQ+ community and not its most active member. I also haven’t “done” much in relation to this side of myself. I haven’t found a boyfriend, but thanks in part to Yi Xin’s post I’m no longer desperate about getting one (though it would still be nice if, you know, he were to appear). Neither have I joined one of the UoA’s queer-focussed clubs or societies. Because of this, I’ve been a bit worried that if I wrote a blog about my experiences as a gay man at university I might run out of things to say. But there is something dangerous in too much silence. The year is nearly over, and by now I figure I’ve got enough to talk about. So here I am, checking in. My experience as a gay first-year probably hasn’t in some respects been as “glamorous” as I was hoping. But it has been healthy in ways I didn’t know to expect.
After my first blog post was published, I got such a lovely reaction from the people in my hall and on my floor. It was really heartwarming; everyone who commented was accepting and encouraging. I was anticipating some sort of negative fall-out, but very little occurred. There was a very small number who kind of… looked at me funny after it was published. But this was the worst it ever got – the vast majority were immensely supportive. Since then, people have not made a big deal out of my sexuality and just got on with their lives. Thank goodness for that: it would be exhausting to be constantly applauded for existing. Most people I’ve met at university have been similarly accepting and respectful. Coming across homophobic comments by students is something rare here, not a day-to-day reality like it was at school. This mentality of tolerance is utterly refreshing, the result of everyone being older and maturer.
This climate probably also has something to do with the level of institutional support. The University itself does a good job of catering and caring for its LGBTQ+ community. Here there are very noticeable institutional forms of support; for me it’s a stark contrast to life at my old school. I haven’t come across a single homophobic lecturer. In academic contexts sexuality is taken seriously; there’s even a whole 100-level history paper dedicated to the history of Western sexuality (which I’m taking at the moment and have a love-hate relationship with, but that’s another story). There are signs everywhere promoting awareness and respect. Announcements of LGBTQ+ events and meetings are pinned to public noticeboards. In my hall, there’s a poster reading “zero tolerance for discrimination”, and after the horrific shooting that took place in Orlando this year there was talk of a celebration of diversity. There’s a constant, underlying message that the University supports queer people.
One thing that makes me believe the university really cares – and that it’s not just all show – is the wonderful variety of structures in place catering for the needs of queer people. The University has an Equity staff team dedicated to evening out inequalities on campus. There’s UniQ, a queer social group that meets regularly for coffee. Furthermore the Auckland University Students’ Association has a dedicated Queerspace on campus, as well as an associated Queer Rights Officer who seems very cool and approachable. There’s also a university-wide, student-staff LGBTI network that stays in email contact and meets three times a year, with smaller networks within each faculty. That’s not even mentioning Rainbow Youth, an autonomous Auckland-wide LGBTQ+ youth group which, I think, does have some affiliation with the university. So yes, there are heaps of groups here doing really, really good things for queer people. I haven’t been very actively involved in them – at least, not yet. But even knowing they exist, that I’d be welcome there if I ever decide to go, has been incredibly affirming.
This culture of acceptance and respect has helped me in so many ways. In this environment, it’s not uncommon to see a woman walking hand-in-hand with another woman, or a man with a man, and whenever I do it’s such a lovely, refreshing feeling (…without being too voyeuristic; that would be creepy). My own internalised homophobia has been brought into focus and has greatly reduced through the course of the year. I’ve learnt to accept myself more through being immersed in acceptance. I can now say the words “I am gay” without choking up. I couldn’t before. Some of the lessons from my sociology and history classes about sexuality have admittedly been hard to swallow (e.g. that sexuality is a social construction, that the concept of the homosexual identity was invented in the 19th century to label and deter what was seen as criminal, immoral behaviour). Yet I feel that through taking these classes, I have gained a more nuanced understanding of sexuality in general as well as my own.
It’s reached the point where my sexuality has become both a normal and important part of my life. I’m reminded of a gif I saw of an interview with Ellen DeGeneres (I think it was about “Finding Dory”) where she stated: “I don’t wake up in the morning and think, let’s go, I’m gay.” The interviewee responded: “I do, every day!”. I’m both people at once – I don’t care if that’s not possible. The LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere of university has played a large role in making me proud of my sexuality. But it’s also allowed to me to accept it as routine, so it’s not always at the forefront of my mind.