People surprise me. There could be a few reasons why, but the result of this surprise of late is an increased faith that the straight world around us is truly capable of doing the right thing, at least when it comes to us gays, and that they’ll return respect when we’re open with them about who we are.
I don’t live in Auckland where being PC rules the day and there’s generally safety in numbers. I live south of the Bombays and the gumboots in these parts can be occupied by hard-working country folk who might not have ever met a gay, at least any they know of.
Of course we know better, as deep within the fabric of this country we all know countless gays and lesbians who quietly live their lives, keeping their sexuality on the DL (that means “down low” – keep up). They’ll find no judgment here. I certainly don’t parade across the Waikato sporting a rainbow cape. I look “normal” enough to the untrained eye, probably taste normal too (someone else answer that please), and even my coworkers who have all met my partner forget I’m gay. Framed within the life I currently lead, I’m just another bloke getting by.
However during this past week both my husband and I were inadvertently called on our sexuality a couple of times, and by quickly replying with honestly we received impressive respect in kind.
Story One: After a quick lunchtime workout at the Squash & Tennis club near my office I had to take a call in the changing room. My accent exposed me as an American to those around.
When my call was done, an outgoing Maori fellow left in the room asked where in the US I was from. I proudly said San Francisco and through further chat divulged that I’d moved here to be with my partner. I would normally leave it there and let people deduce what they want, but things carried on.
“So did you find a nice Kiwi girl?” he asked while casually pulling up his pants.
“Actually, a nice Kiwi guy.”
Without batting an eye this friendly fellow was all smiles and thumbs up, with “Right on. That’s great! What do you think of gay marriage?”
It was an uplifting chat from there. My honesty about being gay in a locker room in a professional squash club in the TRON probably wasn’t what he was expecting, but his engaging and respectful response was heart warming.
The funny part was when he asked, “Is your partner from Te Aroha?”
It was fine being gay, but having a lover who was a Crusaders fan from Christchurch was suddenly a no no. His face dropped and all he could utter was a deflated “oh”, as if to imply that sleeping with another guy is cool, sleeping with the enemy: not so much. It look a quip about the loser making the other breakfast for a week to brighten him back up and as I returned to work we left our encounter realising that our differences were nothing compared to our similarities.
Story Two: Last weekend we flew down to Christchurch for my first steps on South Island soil. There was lots on the agenda: meeting family-in-law and friends, trying to see the city’s original glory through the crumbling rubble, some crunched outlet shopping, and a highly anticipated TranzAlpine day trip through Arthur’s lovely Pass.
Growing up my mother wouldn’t fly, so until I was 18 all our family trips were by train. I love ‘em! So since I first learned about this mountainous trek I’ve been keen to make it happen. Thanks to some great planning on my husband’s part we found a cheap flight (far lass than the cost of the boutique train ride) and a huge thanks goes to our mates Toby, Carlos and now Rufus for letting us crash in their bed while they were away.
We set out pre-dawn for the station, excitedly burrowed into our seats, and soaked up the emerging scenery with glee despite a large pack of Japanese tourists firmly occupying choice space on the open-air viewing car. Their departure at Arthur’s Pass came with audible relief from the remaining riders on the car and from there we were more able to get up close with the passing snow caps, frigid rivers, and gorse for Africa!
About 45 minutes before reaching our West Coast destination of Greymouth a band of increasingly merry (okay, drunk) passengers at the other end of the car called us out, one stocky broad with a butch, burgundy-dyed doo in particular.
“Hey you. Yes you at the end of the car. What’s your story?”
“We’re enjoying the train trip. How about you?”
By the sadly empty bottle of smuggled Jim Beam on their table and the ramped up volume of their antics, the answer was obvious. They were kicking off a party weekend in Greymouth – who knew!?
After some jovial back and forth with our new curvy friend she shouted out “Where’s the misses?”
Well it really could have gone anywhere for there. As an afterthought, it would have been great to say “Ever seen Brokeback Mountain? We’re going up to our hunting lodge.” It makes me smile to think of what the cranking wheels in their minds would have sounded like as they caught the reference.
Instead, my entirely unsubtle husband raised his arm, pointed down at my head and yelled, “He’s right here!”
Amidst a blend of chuckles and silence I nodded in agreement, forcing the reality into her lubricated CPU. Her eyebrows went up and mates waited to hear what would come next.
“Okay” slowly leaked past her lips, along with more thumbs up, and with that the collective blood pressure in the room slipped back to normal. Ten seconds later she was asking where we were from, banter about cherished memories from Te Aroha were exchanged, and we all turned back to nature’s show. About 20 minutes and a few more belts later we were beckoned, more like commanded to join them and urged to consider staying the night to party with them in Greymouth (again, who knew?). We politely declined and were then saved by the conductor who came through and busted them trying to pass their empty bottle off on their neighbours.
Although they were surprised at the untraditional response about our wives, there was no fuss raised and we were all equals on the train, soaking up dramatic sights and no one was there to judge – neither us her dye job, nor them our orientation.
Being that gays and lesbians mostly “look” normal, the coming out process can happen at any moment, and in these cases it was with complete strangers who had enough gumption to feel our business was theirs. They got what they wanted – perhaps a little more – and they all took it well and in stride. With each encounter like these we become more than news items or political platforms. We become touchable and approachable, just living our happy lives like them. I look forward to more little surprise “outings” like these and the increased faith in our straight counterparts they’ll bring.
| Leif Wauters