Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Wai Ho: So, here we have Brendan, who is a community development worker for Wellington Gay Welfare Group. What's some stuff that you do in that role?

Brendan Goudswaard: I co-ordinate a group called School's Out, which is a support and social group for queers. I've got two groups going, one in town and one in Hutt, both run weekly. And I also recently set up another queer youth group for 18 to 25 year olds called GBLT Sandwich.

Wai: [laughs] That's a great name.

Brendan: And also we're looking at setting up another group out in Kapiti.

Wai: And does School's Out meet in the schools or is that after school and out of school?

Brendan: School's Out meets once a week either in town or in Lower Hutt at our particular venues, which are queer-friendly venues, after school hours.

Wai: And you've had a long history with School's Out.

Brendan: Yes. Yes, I used to go to School's Out myself when I was in high school, because School's Out started in my high school while I was at high school. So I started attending it as a youth and went for quite a few years, and have now come back as a facilitator and organizer of School's Out.

Wai: You came out at high school.

Brendan: Yes.

Wai: You went to Wellington High, and that's where School's Out started.

Brendan: Yes.

Wai: What was that like?

Brendan: Coming out in Wellington High School was quite easy. I found that once I had come out it was quite a lot easier for me at high school. I didn't get as much harassment and bullying. Before I came out I used to get a lot of people yelling abusive and homophobic stuff towards me, and I didn't know how to deal with it. And then after I came out, people might try and bully me, but I'm like, "Yeah, I am gay. So what?" And that left them with nothing else to say.

Wai: So, were most people pretty good about it at school, apart from the odd people?

Brendan: Yeah, most people were like, "Yeah, we sort of guessed from the 1st day of 3rd form," so no one was particularly surprised.

Wai: And what about the teachers or faculty?

Brendan: The teachers were generally really good. Some of them were really good at stamping out homophobia, and arguing out against the whole, "That's so gay" thing. Yeah some teachers really were great at countering that and sorting that out.

Wai: You would meet a lot of young people who go to a lot of different schools in Wellington. How do other schools in Wellington compare to Wellington High?

Brendan: There's a great variety of different schools and reactions for youth who come out at school. Some of it's fine. Some of it's hard at first, but eases up. Some of them would never come out at their school. Yeah, some would come out and receive a lot of harassment for coming out and get really negative responses, and some of them get great responses and become great role models in their schools. Yeah, there are a whole variety of reactions and responses to youth being out at school.

Wai: And you do quite a lot of education and awareness stuff in schools.

Brendan: Yes.

Wai: How does that go?

Brendan: That generally goes pretty well. It can be quite fun. I can get some interesting questions.

Wai: [laughing] What kinds of interesting questions?

Brendan: Questions around relationships and sex and all sorts of stuff about what it's like being gay, and all sorts of various random things.

Wai: Did you always know that you were gay?

Brendan: I've always known that I was attracted to guys, from a very young age. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that I could actually put a name to it, because I remember when I was a kid, when I was about 7, 8, 9, or 10 years old, watching guys on TV programs and thinking they were attractive.

Wai: On what TV programs?

Brendan: Things like Baywatch and Man Oh Man.

Wai: [laughing] Man Oh Man, I remember that.

Brendan: Ah yes. I swear that part of the thing was that they had to get the guys topless at some point during the program, which I always found really exciting.

Wai: And when you came out at school did you also come out at home?

Brendan: Yeah, they were both fairly simultaneous, along side each other. So basically, when I came out at school, I came out at home. It all sort of happened over a period of about six months.

Wai: And how did your family deal with it?

Brendan: My family overall was fairly supportive. They did take a while to get used to the idea, and generally speaking they weren't too surprised. There were a few variations on that, but generally they were okay with it.

Wai: Do you think they struggled with it at all?

Brendan: I think they did for the first year or so, but over time they've gotten used to it, and they're really good with it and very supportive and talk about stuff with me.

Wai: How did they respond? Like, what did you actually say to them?

Brendan: What did I say? My mother wasn't too surprised, because in one of my sewing classes in high school I'd made a rainbow top, and that was quite a big tip-off for her.

My father was surprised. He always sort of knew I was effeminate as a kid, but it didn't click that I might be gay. And he said that when they were trying for me, they were trying for a girl, and that's why I was gay. That was just one of the things.

And my brother didn't say too much at all. He was like, "Oh yeah, sweet."

Wai: So, he didn't beat you up or anything?

Brendan: Well, he was in America at the time, so... [laughs]

Wai: Did he used to bully you as a kid, or did you always get on quite well?

Brendan: Oh, about as much as any siblings do, I suppose. There's always a bit of push and shove between siblings. I remember one time when I was a bit older, he was trying to get my cell phone off me and I kicked him right across the room.

Wai: He kicked you?

Brendan: No, no. He was trying to get at me, and I was on the bed or something, and I kicked him and he went flying across the room.

Wai: And you kicked him.

Brendan: And that was the last time that he ever tried to get at me. I had quite good leg power.

Wai: So, what else does School's Out do? Is it a support group or is it a networking group or...?

Brendan: It's a combination. It's both a support group for youth if they do want support and stuff, and it's also a good networking group. And it's also great for the youth because it's a place where they can go and meet other people like them, going through the similar stuff, and so the labels of being gay and being queer and being abnormal and stuff just completely drop away. So yeah, they get to be themselves and they get to be known for more about who they are and what their skills are and stuff, rather than the fact that they're queer.

Wai: There's a kind of perception that everything's all sweet as since they've had all these law changes, and young people are really accepting and fluid and la, la, la; and then there's also the perception of queer kids who want to kill themselves and self-harm and are really depressed all the time. Are any of these stereotypes true?

Brendan: In a way, I think those are both sort of true in some ways. In other ways they're completely not true, and nothing's fine and it's a little bit of a chaotic mess at times, I think, particularly for a lot of teenagers.

Wai: Do you think there is stuff that queer youth face, still today, that make things more difficult than being straight, or is it just normal teenage growing up things?

Brendan: No, I think being a queer teenager today is a lot harder than being a heterosexual teenager. I think there's a lot of hard stuff they've got to get through and face, and challenges.

Wai: Like...?

Brendan: Like coming to terms with who they are, telling their family and telling their friends, coming out to their classmates and stuff. If you're straight you never have to come out and say, "Hey, I'm straight," you know? You never have to declare that.

Or maybe if you're questioning your gender you.... Generally, people don't have to declare what their gender is, except maybe on forms and stuff, and so if you're gender fluid or unsure about your gender and stuff, you've got to work out what your gender is and identify that and pronounce that.

Wai: So, are you coming across quite a few young people who are gender ambiguous or questioning their gender and that kind of thing?

Brendan: I come across them every now and then. They probably are bi, so they keep themselves a bit more underground and harder to find because there's such a big issue, and it's probably even scarier and harder than just being gay or lesbian or just queer.

Wai: I've been hearing a new kind of term that people are identifying with - asexual. And someone was saying, no, no, it can't even be under the queer banner, but at School's Out it's one of the descriptions.

Brendan: Yes. Yeah, at School's Out asexuality is definitely something we've taken under our umbrella and our wing, and we do have quite a few, three or four youth, who do identify as asexual and might be gay and asexual, or might be bisexual and asexual, or whatever. And that's cool.

We even have a few straight people at School's Out as well, and that's fine too. We're an open group, open to anyone. We don't discriminate.

Wai: So, you did School's Out voluntarily for many years, and you've just started being paid now, part-time, for it. What other community stuff are you doing? I know that you do quite a chunk of it.

Brendan: Yeah. Yes, I do School's Out. I also am part of the Out Wellington committee, which organizes Proud Festival and Out in the Square. We've recently just had an art exhibition which went really well and was really successful. I'm also on the SS4Q team.

Wai: What does that stand for?

Brendan: Safety in Schools for Queers, and we've just got Pink Shirt Day coming up tomorrow.

Wai: Tomorrow!

Brendan: Tomorrow. [laughs]

Wai: Tell me about Pink Shirt Day.

Brendan: Pink Shirt Day is an international day where it's an anti-bullying campaign. And it's not necessarily homophobia or anything, it's all bullying across all sorts, from gender to race to size to just anyone who doesn't fit into the ideal, I suppose, or the normal, or anyone who gets bullied and harassed, and most people have been bullied at some point in their lives. So yes, it's a day to help fight or to work against bullying. And so it's just people at all these community groups and high schools and primary schools and preschools and stuff will wear pink shirts on Wednesday.

Wai: So, it's a school thing?

Brendan: It's not just a school thing. Businesses get involved, as well, because bullying can happen at workplaces, so it's everyone, I think.

Wai: And how did that start up? Did the SS4Q start that or did it start somewhere else?

Brendan: SS4Q started the New Zealand Pink Shirt Day. Pink Shirt Day itself began in Canada because a boy was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. His mates caught sight of this, thought it was pretty stink, and that afternoon they went down to the local shopping mall and got a whole lot of pink shirts and pink tops and stuff. And then the next day they handed them out at the gate to show support for the mate who'd gotten bullied for wearing a pink shirt. And the bullies were never heard from again. The guy who was bullied, the victim, was just blown away by how awesome his mates were and how supportive they were. Yeah, that was a few years ago that happened.

Wai: So, you're on those committees, and you also have an alter ego.

Brendan: Yeah, yeah. I also have an alter ego. Ellie Kat is my stage name, which I've been doing for seven years. So I do quite a bit of community work with her, and do shows for all sorts of things and travel the country with it, as well. Yeah, I do quite a lot in the queer community.

Wai: And do you ever get hassled for being a drag queen, or is it Wellington and it's, you know....

Brendan: I do get hassled for being a drag queen. I get it a bit in Wellington. I'd probably say in smaller towns around the country I get more of it.

Wai: Do you think it's jealousy?

Brendan: [laughs] Yes! Yes, it's totally jealousy. The guys wish they could get girls like me, and the girls wish they could be girls like me, and girls wish they could get girls like me, and I don't know. No, I think it's more just a fear of the unknown. And yeah, I think we could possibly be intimidating in some ways, as well.

Wai: Do you think it's because it's not clear that you're...?

Brendan: Yeah, because we do push the boundaries of gender and what is gender and stuff, and I think people can be sort of taken aback by that and can find that quite confronting.

Wai: Do you experience homophobia as a gay man, when you're not in drag?

Brendan: I do a little bit. I think I get more than what I notice. I don't think I notice it so much anymore. I've been getting bullying and harassment from such a young age I think I've just sort of grown a thick skin about it.

Wai: Even when you were little - like, little, little, little?

Brendan: I think I've been getting bullying and harassment from when I was in preschool.

Wai: Wow! That's a really long time.

Brendan: It is, about 20...

Wai: Who would have thought preschoolers, hey? Sheesh.

Brendan: 20-odd years of being bullied and harassed. But yeah, I think I've just come to ignore it and stuff, and have headphones. You just sort of have your headphones on and just keep walking, and it's so much better. And I do get bullying and harassment as a grown-up gay male, and depending on the situation will depend on how I deal with it, for me to just keep on walking or making a comment back. I'll throw a comment out and it just completely throws them off.

Wai: So, you do quite a lot of community work. Why? It's definitely not for the money.

[laughter]

Brendan: No, one thing is that I like to keep busy. I like to live and enjoy life and try new things, but I think the other part is that I like to get involved and do stuff. I think it's important to get involved in the community and do your bit for it. Yeah, I like to get out and do stuff.

Wai: Why is it important for you?

Brendan: I think because I've always been quite outgoing myself, and I've always been quite out and proud, and I've also known people who aren't quite out and proud, so I think it's easier for me to get out there and do this stuff in the community to maybe help those people who aren't so out and proud. It might help make them feel more relaxed and okay with who they are.

Wai: Like a role model.

Brendan: Yeah, a role model. Yeah, and I just really enjoy it.

Wai: Did you feel like it was really supportive for you when you came out, as in, did you know it always existed?

Brendan: I didn't know that there was so much gay community stuff out there, but I definitely felt that once I got involved with it. I definitely found it was a great support network and a great way to meet other people and a great way to get involved. Yeah, a big queer family, basically, sometimes.

Wai: So it was socializing and that kind of thing as well?

Brendan: Yeah, yeah.

Wai: And what are the other ways that you socialize, not just volunteering in the community?

Brendan: I guess going along to other community events which I may not have organized. I go to things like Out Takes and I'm looking forward to the big Outgames here in Wellington next year, which will be fun. Also just going out with mates and going to the movies. Not always just going to queer stuff, but going to just general public stuff, as well. I always love theater and arts and entertainment, so I like to get out to those things, as well.

Wai: And would those ways be the main ways that you'd meet people or other gay men?

Brendan: Yeah, I guess I do meet gay men that way, otherwise it's through friends. I've met lots of mates and stuff through that way, and could potentially meet a partner or something, but nothing at this stage.

Wai: So, as a big sweeping question, as a gay man in 2010, how do you feel that you're treated by others?

Brendan: Generally, I'm generalizing, I'd probably say I'm treated fairly well, fairly equally. Maybe not completely equal in some places, but generally speaking, fairly well.

Wai: So would you say there's still a fair bit of homophobia in society?

Brendan: Yeah.

Wai: What does it look like?

Brendan: [laughs] What does it look like? Well, it has....[interrupted]

Wai: I guess, when you're in drag, or even when you're not in drag, do you fear for your physical safety or is it other forms that homophobia takes?

Brendan: Sometimes it's fear for my physical safety. Sometimes it could possibly be more to do with just work.

Wai: How do you mean? Do you mean people not giving you jobs?

Brendan: Yeah, or not being able to advance as far as you might like to, or as far as you might be able to if you were heterosexual, possibly. Or having more society pressures. It's hard to say. I think a lot of people, if you're not queer you don't think about the queer community and how a campaign or how a workplace activity or something may come off as being very heterosexual, hetero-driven, I suppose.

Wai: So, doing a whole bunch of community work, as well as being in quite regular contact with young people who are requiring support or coming out and all that kind of stuff, what are some things you'd like to change or have society change or change in society?

Brendan: I think one thing we do that would be good here would be being able to get married. Civil unions are a good step, but it's not...

Wai: Not the same.

Brendan: Not the same. Being married is different. It's still not quite equality. And I guess also things around adoption and other areas we could change, and also this gender identity stuff and updating and making things a bit more flexible.

Wai: Law-wise?

Brendan: Yeah, law-wise and just with forms and toilets and stuff. They're very gender-binary, and it would be good to be able to open that up a bit more with unisex toilets, or instead of just having male and female, having male, female and other, and then you'd be able to put in what you identify as. Or do it as a scale option from male to female and you put yourself somewhere on the line.

Wai: So, some legal things and some practical things that could change. What about attitudes? What are some attitudes that you'd like to see changed?

Brendan: I definitely think some attitudes could change. I think there are still a lot of attitudes around sexuality and gender identity.

Wai: Still, in 2010.

Brendan: Still, yeah, and assumptions that are made.

Wai: So, generally about being straight or gender expression, as well?

Brendan: Yeah, or about fear and gender expression and stereotypes.

Wai: What are some of your thoughts on stereotypes? I remember coming across someone saying that the really camp gay guy is just propping up the stereotype, and the really butch lesbian is just propping up the stereotype.

Brendan: Yeah, it's still going, because I must admit I do generally fit quite well into the gay stereotype. I don't know if it's so much a choice, it's just who I am, but I also know there are lots of queer people out there who don't fit into stereotypes and don't fit into the camp gay stereotype and the butch lesbian stereotype, and I don't think we should have to. And I think there are a lot of people out there who don't realize that sort of thing.

Wai: So, more about just being able to express your gender how you need to.

Brendan: Yeah. Yeah, I think there's also similar to racial stereotyping. I think there's a lot of that, as well.

Wai: So, what are your great plans for the future? Will you continue doing School's Out or community work or working with queer youth?

Brendan: I think on the queer youth side of things, one of my ideals would be to have a drop-in youth center, where youth could come 24/7 if they were out for the night and didn't have a way of getting home, or had been kicked out of home, or were just too out of it to make it home, or just needed somewhere to go, it would be a nice, safe space. And we'd hold meetings there and have access to facilities and all sorts of stuff. That's one of my dreams - my ideas.

For me, I'm not sure. To continue with youth work. To continue with my other passions.

Wai: What are your other passions?

Brendan: Costuming and fashion have been one of my longest-standing passions. I guess drag is another passion. I really like modeling. Hmm, too many. Lot's of things on my plate.

Wai: And do you see yourself leaving Wellington anytime soon? You grew up here, didn't you?

Brendan: I did grow up here. I like the idea of possibly being overseas at some point, and in particular, exploring Europe. But yeah, I'm not sure. I take things one day at a time and see where I end up.

Wai: And if someone was to want to get in touch with School's Out, either a parent or a young person, how would we find you, or how would we find School's Out and your other... was it LGBTI Sandwiches or GLBTI Sandwiches?

Brendan: Yeah. For any of the groups I've mentioned, the easiest and most direct way to get in contact with me is through the work phone number, which is 027 763 9793, that's 027 763 9793. You can also email me at queer_schools_out@hotmail.com or just try googling School's Out.

For the GBLT Sandwich you can find us through Facebook.

Wai: Awesome.

Brendan: Yeah, it's an open group so anyone can join.

Wai: And how often do they meet?

Brendan: They'll be meeting fortnightly in town, on a Friday evening. It's a nice way to wind down the week.

Wai: Yay! Thank you very much for having a yarn with us!

Brendan: Yeah, well thank you!

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