This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Zoe: I grew up in Lower Hutt until the age of about 10 and then my Mum decided she was gay and wanted to live the nightlife so we moved to Wellington.
Jac: And you’ve lived in Australia too?
Zoe: Yeh I’ve lived in Australia off and on over the years just when I get bored. I’m a bit of a gypsy so I like to move around and keep things interesting. I kind of live life out of a bag. Even when I’m in New Zealand I change location every couple of months.
Jac: Where did you go to school in Wellington?
Zoe: I went to Clyde Quay for intermediate and part of primary school and then I went to Wellington East for a year which definitely didn’t suit me so moved to High and yeh definitely enjoyed that.
Jac: What was the difference for you between Wellington East and High?
Zoe: Well, after coming out of Clyde Quay which is such an open and diverse school, into quite a strict school as East is with girls and their attitude, I just didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t where I needed to be and it held me back so at Wellington High it was more open and more likeminded people I suppose so everyone was kind of on the same level as where I was at.
Jac: You were involved in the Butch on Butch Photo Exhibition. As a child, did you identify or were you seen as a tomboy?
Zoe: As a kid I was definitely a tomboy, from the age of two my Mum knew where I was going to end up. My Mum used to let me wear boy clothes right down to undies. Even as a kid I wanted boys undies, boys shorts, boys shoes, boys socks, no frilly things. But my Dad didn’t really let me so it used to upset me quite a lot not having a say in my clothing. Even as young as five I can remember feeling upset and just not right when I was in girls clothes so yeh being a tomboy I guess when you get older it just gets labelled as butch. You stop being a tomboy when you start being an adult I think.
Jac: Was that part of the reason you didn’t like Wellington East so much?
Zoe: Yeh mufti days were interesting. I got abused by a few teachers for, you know, entering a girls school.
Jac: They didn’t recognise you?
Zoe: No, no, they thought I was a boy so I got verbally abused by a few teachers and questioned. And the girls, they didn’t feel comfortable with it and, you know, it just wasn’t a nice situation I don’t think.
Jac: Going to High, that meant for you, you could wear what you wanted?
Zoe: Yep definitely, I wore skate shoes, Dickie’s shorts, t-shirts and skate hats everyday, and no one ever questioned it. No one ever questioned me. No one ever bullied me. No one ever thought twice, everyone was just comfortable with what they were wearing. And I didn’t hang out with a specific group that meant I had to wear their specific clothing. Every day was different whether I was hanging out with the girly girls or the jocks, the nerds, you're confined to those groups, or society does, stereotypes. It was cool we all just wore what we wanted to wear and hung out with whoever we wanted to hang out with. Every group had the different characters and it was a lot more open and accepting.
Jac: Obviously you had a better time at school, but did that mean you could be a bit more relaxed about your studies or what you got involved with?
Zoe: Yep definitely. When I went to East I played bowls because it was the only sport no one else was doing. I love it anyway, it’s a great sport.
Jac: Is that outdoor bowls?
Zoe: Yeh outdoor bowls, lawn bowls. Yeh, the old guys love me down there at Mount Vic Bowling Club. At High I got into all my sports like rugby and basketball because I was more accepted so yeh definitely. At East I kind of avoided changing rooms as well because I was just uncomfortable really. It wasn’t nice.
Jac: Were you out then?
Zoe: Well, no, that’s the thing. Everyone knew I was gay, I knew I was gay but I never said it. It was never a said thing, it was just more, I don’t know, I was happy with myself so everyone was happy with me and it wasn’t talked about.
Jac: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Zoe: I have three half-brothers. My Mum doesn’t have any other kids but my Dad has the three half-brothers. The oldest is six years younger than me, the second one is nine years younger and the next one is 11 years younger. They’re quite young but yeh they’re good kids.
Jac: How old are you?
Zoe: Twenty-four this year. I’m 23, so the next one is 17, 14 and 12.
Jac: So did you grow up a bit with them?
Zoe: They were my Dad and my Stepmum. It used to be every second weekend I’d be at their’s and every other weekend I’d be at Nana’s so Mum could party the night away. Which was cool, you know, see family and that. So I grew up with my Mum and then every second weekend I was with my Dad and my brothers and yeh they loved me. I was their oldest sister, I was cool and I was a skater so yeh they weren’t fazed by me. My cousins used to call me a boy, every time I saw them which was every couple of months, it wasn’t like we went years without seeing it each other, they just thought I was a boy, and that was a bit different.
Jac: And that’s how they treated you? As a boy?
Jac: Did that bother you at all”
Zoe: No, not at all. I just used to laugh. It happened everywhere, everywhere I went. My own family doing it, it didn’t surprise me.
Jac: Once you moved to High there was no bullying. Had there been bullying for you earlier?
Zoe: Yeh but I’m not the kind of person to take notice. My friends notice when I get bullied but because I don’t take notice of negative things around me at all. I just brush it off. It goes in one ear and out the other and I go on with my merry way so I never noticed it. But yeh there was bullying yeh but I just left them to it. I used to hang out at what was called the SNU unit quite a bit, with the special needs kids and have lunch with them and just put yourself in positive situations instead of dealing with girls and their judgement. You just find a better way to go about your day yeh.
Jac: When you left school what did you do?
Zoe: I was a builder my whole way through school. So from 14 onwards I used to skip class and build houses down the road. At 16 I built a recording studio across the road from Wellington High.
Jac: Who was employing you?
Zoe: My Dad. Dad was ok with me not going to school if I was working. I passed, I passed every test so I wasn’t behind. C’s get degrees. My teachers let me know when I had to be there for a test or anything like that. And woodwork I’d obviously turn up one day a month and get everything done. I knew where I wanted to be. At that stage I wanted to join the Army so I passed everything I needed to pass which got me into the Army. And then I excelled and got Level 2 as well so yeh I was pretty happy with that.
Jac: You got into the Army? How long were you in the Army for?
Zoe: Ah, well (laughs), I didn’t actually go in. So I passed and I passed the men’s 100 fitness club. I don’t know if any other girl had passed it before. I did exceptionally well at the fitness and the test for it. For orientation day I didn’t go because my girlfriend at the time said if I joined the Army for three months’ basic training she wouldn’t be there when I got out, so that’s something I probably should have done but oh well.
Jac: But you didn’t because of your girlfriend saying that?
Jac: Have you ever regretted that?
Zoe: Yes and no. It gave me opportunities and you know I took other career paths that I wouldn’t have chosen so yeh it was different.
Jac: What did you end up doing?
Zoe: Security. A lot of security, which got me quite far. I did it for about four years. I went from Armourguard to The Hobbit. I was a night security supervisor on The Hobbit. That was pretty intense. One hundred and five hours a week. I don’t know if that’s legal or not. That was a test. And working with Idea Services as well, IHC. That was amazing as well. That was more tiring than any building job, that was mentally draining but amazing.
Jac: How long were you with IHC?
Zoe: About a year when I was 18.
Jac: As a support worker?
Zoe: Yeh as a support worker, in-house, respite, programmes and stuff.
Jac: What did you enjoy about that?
Zoe: Just the appreciation. These kids don’t have anything really like some of them struggle to breathe every breath and they’re just so happy all the time. They can’t feed themselves, they can’t wipe themselves yet they’re the happiest people you’ll ever meet.
Jac: What drew you to that work?
Zoe: Well I’d always done it at school. If I was at school, even at Wellington High, I’d skip classes to take them to class. You know they’d not go to class unless Zoe took them. I’d always done it and it had always been on my mind to do it so I needed a job and yeh I walked in one day and the ladies loved me and gave me a job.
Jac: What else have you been doing?
Zoe: I think I’m a gypsy in the career department just as much as the houses, so I’ve done lots. When I lived in Australia I got my forklift ticket and my warehouse cert three so I did a bit of that. I’ve done a bit of concerts and things like that. I’ve enjoyed doing work behind the bars, I don’t know, lots of stuff, different things but mostly building.
Jac: Are you doing labouring now, or building?
Zoe: Building. I’m unqualified now but I’m a builder.
Jac: When I came to take the photo of you for this project you were on-site then eh? Can you describe what you were wearing that day?
Zoe: My tool belt, t-shirt, steelcap boots and my cargo pants. That outfit changes between stubbies and cargo pants depending on the weather. That’s about all that changes.
Jac: You’ve got some great tattoos. Can you tell us a bit about those?
Zoe: Yeh they’re a few my mother’s probably not happy about.
Jac: Let’s start with those.
Zoe: Well my latest one is a burger on my left elbow, Ekin Burgers on Cuba Street. Best burgers of my life. I had them once. Enjoyed them so much that I got their logo on my elbow.
Jac: You’re a walking advert for them. Do they know that?
Zoe: Yeh they give me free burgers or cheap burgers sometimes so that’s good. The other one would probably be my dog’s name. I like it, it means a lot to me, Bailey. And then my lovely dinosaur on my right leg that I did myself after let’s just say close to a bottle of gin so that’s always a good one.
Jac: You did it yourself? What were you using?
Zoe: A gun, a tattoo gun, tattoo machine sorry. Upside down.
Jac: Who belonged to the tattoo machine? That’s not yours?
Zoe: No, I do have a machine but no that wasn’t mine. That was a friend’s who was tattooing another firmed at a house and I got a bit intoxicated and asked if I could cross something off the bucket list. It was on the bucket list, it was completely legit. She liked it so much she actually I asked me to do it on her leg after. So it’s on and it just says ‘roar’ as well so yeh. It’s a T-rex cos it’s got little arms and Mum says it looks like a beaver.
Jac: Yeh it does a bit. It’s like a cross between a T-rex and a beaver. What else is on the bucket list?
Zoe: Oh it’s a novel. It’s an absolute novel. There’s probably about 300 things on it.
Jac: Go on then.
Zoe: Festivals, all the festivals you could think of. The Seven Wonders of the World obviously. Travel Asia on a motorbike. Pat a tiger. Swim with sharks, I’ve done that actually. Lots of things. Skydive. Everything you could ever imagine would be on a bucket list is on my bucket list. And also things like paying for the person behind me and do kind deeds and things like that.
Jac: Pay it forward type thing?
Zoe: Yeh pay it forward which I do as much as I can. I just chuck it in my bucket list as a friendly reminder to do it more.
Jac: Have you got anything on your bucket list coming up soon?
Zoe: Snowboarding. I’ve been crossing that off. I took that up after Caroline. I took that up, I’ve been doing that. Wake boarding, I’ll probably cross that off soon, and skydiving. I’m moving to Christchurch so I’ll be skydiving over Wanaka and that.
Jac: Awesome. So just because people won’t know when you referred to Caroline can you just briefly say what you mean there.
Zoe: Caroline was what I consider one of my aunties. So growing up, the gay community in Wellington, cos I was so young everyone was a big influence on me and I consider them all aunties. Like Nic and Erena and Caroline and Debs and Pricey and Jody. The list goes on. Caroline was a big influence. She used to take me surfing. She was always just so positive and so happy and I didn’t get to spend much time with her. A little bit at Vinegar Hill and if I popped into her house but not a lot time, I regret that. She died in 2013 I think on Mount Ruapehu looking for a board. And I always wanted to board but I don’t know I think the fear kind of got to me but after that I just thought bugger it I’ll just do it for her. She’d be happy, she’d be stoked that I was doing it. Yeh I’m nervous every time I’m up there, every chair lift I’m scared, but it’s good, it’s good fun.
Jac: It’s kind of like you’re into extreme sports in a way. Is that right?
Zoe: No, no, I’m just stupid (laughs). No, if I’m scared of something I like to do it. If I’m scared of spiders I’ll try to pick one up or If I’m scared of snowboarding I’ll do it. Because you shouldn’t let things stop you. You should at least try, I say that but there are some things I’m not going to try, but you should try everything once especially things that you’re scared of like heights and things.
Jac: So it’s about the challenge?
Zoe: Oh yeh it’s about pushing yourself, cos when you do it, it’s better than any feeling in the world. You know you just become, it’s like a drug you know. I didn't think I could do that, I didn’t think I could jump off that ledge you know. I did bungy jumping and I stood up there for 30 minutes convincing myself that I couldn’t do it and then I did it and I just wanted to keep doing it. I love that feeling. Not the adrenalin. I’m not an adrenalin junkie, I’m just stupid (laughs).
Jac: How much do you see your Mum?
Zoe: Not as much as she’d like. We have a good friendship I suppose, I don’t know, I don’t see her too much. She doesn’t like that.
Jac: She’s in Australia?
Zoe: Yep, she’s in Brisbane so I stayed with her a little bit. So I quit my job and stayed with her for a couple of weeks before I flew back. So she does get to see me yeh but probably not as much as she’d like. She voices that quite a bit.
Jac: Do you socialise much in the queer communities?
Zoe: Well everyone knows who I am. But most of the people I hang out with aren’t queer but in saying that I go along to events that mean something and you know and try and show my support and that and I was the bouncer at Ivy’s and I got to know a lot of people. I’m fortunate enough to know because of Mum and because of me being out so young I know every age group of the queer community right through and I’m talking from 17 right through to 60. I know all of those groups because they’re kind of grouped off in five year sections or 10 year sections.
Jac: So the people you hang around with now are they old school friends?
Zoe: Just like my locations, with my friends I jump around. I hang around with all of Mum’s old mates. I like to hang out with them. Like Rhianna and Pricey as well as Nicky and Debs and that. I also like my mates, some of them are from school, some of them are from the queer community as well. Yeh I suppose, yeh I suppose actually, everyone. I get so bored. I like variety, I don’t like one thing. Everyone’s got different views on things and I like that, I like to be challenged and I like to learn new things and I feel like if you just have one group of friends you just talk about the same things every week. It just drives me bonkers. Yeh I hang out with lots of people.
Jac: When we took your photo you were hanging out with one of your old mates eh?
Zoe: Sam’s a good bloke yeh he’s a cutey. Me and him have pirate life. So we go kayaking on the water, take blow up dinghies on the water, things like that.
Jac: That’s why you couldn’t make it to the opening of the exhibition eh? Weren’t you on the harbour?
Zoe: Yes on a blow up dinghy made for a pool. I was like literally in the middle of the harbour. It took us hours to get there on a blow up dinghy that’s like 20 dollars from the Warehouse and we had to take a pump because it kept deflating and we had no life jackets. I don’t know what we were thinking. And I realised what day it was and where I was meant to be and I tried to get hold of you and yep I missed the exhibition because I was in the middle of the harbour on a blow up dinghy.
Jac: Yeh you sent a photo and we all looked at it and went that looks so dangerous. You should be here on land at the exhibition right now.
Zoe: I also sent photos to my mother too. She wasn’t impressed either.
Jac: So are you in a relationship at the moment?
Zoe: I am, ah, I’m seeing someone.
Jac: There’s a difference?
Zoe: Apparently I don’t know, yes? I don’t know, I go with the flow, I do what I’m told.
Jac: How long have you been seeing her?
Zoe: Two months, so just getting to know each other which is cool. She’s very cool.
Jac: What do you look for in a woman?
Zoe: They have to be easy going like me otherwise I will just stress them out, they have to be fun and just ready to up and do something. I don’t plan things like ending up in Russia that just happened. So if I get a girl who likes to plan things and work it all out over months, actually now I think about it I think she does but that’s ok. They have to be spontaneous and down for a good time and adventurous and want to jump out of a plane.
Jac: What was that about ending up in Russia?
Zoe: So in 2013 my Dad took up sumo wrestling and told me that I had to do it. So I went along and I actually enjoyed it for about a month and then it kind of just happened that I got a ticket to Russia in October. So in April I took up wrestling and in October I was in Russia at the World Combat Games representing Oceania for sumo wrestling so that was pretty cool. So that’s a bit of how spontaneous I can be. Mum didn’t know I was doing it and I called her up and I didn’t have the money at the time for the visa. I needed 75 dollars for the visa so I called her up and said ‘Mum I’m going to Russia in a couple of weeks and I need 75 dollars for the visa’ and she's like ‘what for?’ she didn’t know, no one did.
Jac: How did you go?
Zoe: I got my butt handed to me. Yeh the Russians really know how to sumo. I was the lightest in my weight as well and that didn’t help and I put on heaps of weight for it.
Jac: So what weight were you and what weight were you up against?
Zoe: The weight divisions go 65 and under, 65 to 85 and then 85 plus and when I started I was sitting on 90 and over those months I got up to 130 so I really packed it on. People were asking me ‘what’s your training?’ and I was just eating, I just needed to eat. I was still the lightest. I was 120 something, I was up against girls who were 160 plus and with technique and strength and they weren't lazy girls, they were strong, and scary, really scary.
Jac: When you finished that competition did you carry on?
Zoe; No, I’ve been meaning to like I can but no, I’ve been moving around too much. I’ve missed a few opportunities. I missed an opportunity to go to Columbia, I was a bit disappointed, but they’re always there, they’re always come around.
Jac: What other sort of sports would you get into?
Zoe: Everything, I’ve played everything, I enjoy everything, cricket, rugby, bowls, I actually love bowls.
Jac: Do you have all the whites for bowls?
Zoe: No I don’t I should though that would be fun. I just wore a a team shirt. Over in Oz I played, they love it. They just drink and play bowls all day, all ages, so I wasn’t the only young kid. All colourful. I think if you compete you have to. I wasn’t that serious. My cousin plays for New Zealand.
Jac: So what was your outfit for sumo?
Zoe: I wore the nappy thing. It’s called a Mawashi. So I wore than and I wore bike shorts and a singlet underneath so I was covered yeh.
Jac: It sounds gorgeous.
Zoe: Yeh really sexual.
Jac: Or sexy even.
Zoe: Yeh I was bit worried going to Russia. A few years ago I think it was 2010, I had a heartbreak and I got a tattoo at the time, stars on my shoulders which at the time the internet told me not to get and they’re really dangerous and I was advised off it because they’re Russian mafia tattoos. But I thought to myself and I said this to my friend at the time ‘I’m never going to go to Russia, and if I ever go to Russia why would I take my top off?’, and there’s me the other year in Russia with my top off in a singlet wrestling. I kid you not the moment I took off my top, my t-shirt, and just had a singlet the whole audience gasped. They’re Russian mafia tattoos. A big no-no.
Jac: But nothing came of it other than they just squashed you anyway?
Zoe: They laughed at me. This lady stopped me afterwards and said ‘you, you look so big and tough but you’re so scared’. Yeh it was really embarrassing. It was funny, it was really funny but nothing happened. I got in trouble in Russia. I thought I’d get in trouble more for being gay, you know they’re quite conservative and that but no I got in trouble for wearing jandals and a t-shirt in the snow. I had pants on, it was really hot.
Jac: Who told you off?
Zoe: Random ladies in the street, abused me in the street for wearing jandals and a t-shirt. In St Petersburg it was snowing and that. It was really hot because we were walking around but if we stood around we got cold.
Jac: They were probably just a bit worried about you.
Zoe: I don’t know what they were saying but it sounded aggressive.
Jac: I know you don’t like to plan but what have you got coming up in the next few months?
Zoe: In the next few months I’m going to Christchurch, going to save up some money. Go snowboarding, see my Godson who was just born down in Queenstown and cause havoc in Christchurch I think. I really want to do my two year OE in Europe so I’ll save for that, and on the way to that I want to spend six months travelling Asia on a motorbike. So the next few months is all about saving and planning which is not what I like to do but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve told the girl I’m seeing to take my eftpos card and give me an allowance so hopefully that works.