Article Title:A Kiwi experience - Far from home, and finding herself
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Matt Akersten
Published on:20th March 2007 - 12:00 pm
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Story ID:1638
Text:Siobhan Bligh Eighteen-year-old Siobhan Bligh is from the small town of Lincoln in Lincolnshire, England. It's typically described as ‘a rural area where the pace of life is generally slow'. She finished school recently, and then came out to her parents… but they didn't take it very well. Now in her ‘gap year' before university, she decided to leave an English winter behind to stay and work for a month here in New Zealand. It was a warm February in Auckland, the Hero Festival was in full swing. A holiday romance, the Big Gay Out, a tongue piercing, some ‘party pill' paranoia, a meeting with kiwis (the feathered kind!) and lots and lots of weeding later, it was time for her to get back to ol' England. So how did Siobhan ‘handle the jandle?' On her last night in Aotearoa, this young woman with a newfound spring in her step happily spoke of the trip she describes as life-changing trip. “I arrived here all by myself. I didn't find the gay scene straight away, but staying at the backpackers, it's quite easy to meet people. Everyone's really nice and friendly there. We're all in the same boat, traveling and trying to get along. It creates a really good atmosphere. But the only bar near there is the ‘Globe' bar, and that's full of seedy men and people who are only after one thing. It was a bit intimidating, because it's not what you want, when you've got off your flight and you're just trying to chill out and have a drink. "Oh God, it took me ages to find the gay people here! Before I came, I thought I'd find out where all the gay bars are, and I tried talking to people on Gaydar Girls, but they just gave me street names – that was no help to me because I really had no idea where anywhere was! “I went around looking for the first week or two, but it was awkward to ask people, and I didn't want to offend anybody. But I found [now-closed] Witch, and when I saw Family bar, I thought it meant ‘a bar for families', only open during the day. I was really confused. Eventually I went to, and it was talking about the Hero Launch Party, so I thought I might as well try that. I met a few guys there, and before I knew it, the gay scene was open! Once I found it, it was good times. “There's a lot more ‘gay pride' here. Like we really take pride in what we are and we're not going to be shy about it. Whereas it's sort of the opposite in England, we have pride in what we are – but we're gonna be quiet about it. Try not to kick up a fuss. Whereas here, I came to the Hero Festival, I was like ‘wow, an entire festival devoted to being gay!' We certainly don't have anything like that at home – we're so malnourished with our gay scene. The bars here are small, but they're so much fun, and it's like the atmosphere is so much friendlier. That's why I've really enjoyed my time here." “At home, the place where I live is very conservative and quiet. There's only one gay bar and it's quite small. Well, we try. And there's a ‘Mardi Gras' there now, which is good. We've started trying to do it, but the feeling is still like we're doing something a bit naughty and a bit wrong, if you know what I mean. But I came here, and everyone's just so open about it, and it's a lot friendlier. I just started talking to some gay guys and before you know it, you're part of their group. Making friends at the Big Gay Out “I went to the Big Gay Out and I thought it was absolutely amazing. It's got to be the best weekend I've had in my life. I was walking around holding hands with a girl… no-one fluttered an eyelid. I'm used to walking down the street and having a couple of people look the wrong way at you – I've had that quite a bit. But at the Big Gay Out it was just full of straight people, full of gay people, there was such a blend. I'm going to have to try to force something like that to happen at home! Like I say, it was ‘we're gay and we're proud of it - we're not going to rub your face in it, but this is what we are'. It takes you for a ride, and it's just so much fun. “The first week that I came here, I met a straight girl who was ‘curious'. You know - one of those! Well, we had a drunken fumble. I got her number but I didn't call her back. But then I met a girl… she seemed really cool. She's from Wellington, and it was her ‘chilled out' attitude that really got to me. I was on the little ‘party pill' things and could not shut the hell up – even though my brain was telling me to! But we danced, and I went back to her place. I had a really good weekend with her, and I'm going to meet up with her tonight again. So I stumbled into a holiday romance! You know, when you're on holiday you always want to have a bit of the fling with somebody. Getting her tongue pierced! “Your ‘party pills' aren't legal in England, and I've never done any sort of drugs ever. So taking them was like ‘popping the cherry'. I took the strongest one, which was a big mistake. For the first couple of hours I was having a completely euphoric happiness – talking and getting on with everyone I met. Then the paranoia kicked in. I got absolutely terrified. It was like I wanted to be alone, but I needed someone with me. So I grabbed my friend and said ‘look after me'. But my experience wasn't too good, but I'm sure it's different from person to person. It was too much for me though. “I wanted something to do while I was in New Zealand. I was going around parts of the North Island and working in the national parks. In the different areas you work with a Ranger who gets you to do forestry work, planting trees, weeding, and pest control. There were good days and bad days. I actually found it was 90% bad days, but yesterday we got to work in a kiwi enclosure, which was really cool. Not many people get to see them close up, so I was lucky. Doing the work also made me grow up a bit, I think. “This is my gap year, between college and uni. When I get back I'm going to study directing – either film or theatre. I feel so silly saying it, because there's so many people wanting to do it that might not be actually serious, but I'm very passionate about it. I think stories can change the world, so I want to do my little bit. “I just came out to by family, and when I got their reaction – which was a bit negative – I caved in and thought ‘is this a bad thing for me?' But coming out here and seeing people waving rainbow flags, loving each other, and straight people just accepting it, it's given me a lot of confidence – the confidence to sort out a lot of the problems when I get home. “I'm going to talk to my family and say ‘this is who I am'.”     Matt Akersten - 20th March 2007
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