This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Voice 1: Gay people don't kiss, they don't touch each other, they just meet each other anonymously, they don't even know each other's names, and they have anal sex all the time and they have approximately 400 sexual partners per year and they have unsafe sex all the time and they're all full of diseases.

Voice 2: To me, the stereotypical gay person was effeminate, limp-wristed, sneaky or vicious, brittle, unstable.

Voice 3: I remember watching a film called Blackmail, and it concerned a barrister in England. He was certainly married and he had a family and he was involved in a murder. He himself wasn't involved in it, but I think what happened was he had picked up a young man somewhere in London, who was gay, and they had gone off together, and of course, his wife didn't know about this. And then I think the guy was killed or murdered, and he then started to receive, through the mail, sort of A-4 sized envelopes with these large photographs of him, and they were photographs of him with this boy, or this young man, rather. And whoever it was that was sending him the photographs was blackmailing him, because of course it was set in the time – I think it must have been set in the '50s or '60s – when being gay, or at least doing homosexual acts, was illegal in Britain. And of course his family didn't know about it and he stood to lose a lot because he was an eminent barrister and so on.

So that, I'm pretty sure, was the first thing I saw on television or on film about somebody being gay. And I remember watching it with my mother, and I remember her turning around to me and saying to me, "I hope you're not homosexual."

Voice 4: [groans] What is my identity? That's part of my problem; my identity tends to change according to the people I have around me. I don't know if that's generally true but it's certainly part of my make-up that I tend to reflect what's given to me by other people.

Voice 2: I think as a boy I had a lot of fear and anxiety, and I think some of that relates back to what I was presenting to the world about being a boy, about being a boy and about doing things that boys did and about boy's activities and approaches to the world.

Voice 3: When I was growing up I guess the images of being gay were, on the whole, a lot more negative. They certainly weren't encouraging you to, well, even if you could choose being gay you wouldn't choose it because it was really a lifestyle of derision and comedy. All the characters you saw in sitcoms, for example, who were gay, were always people who were limp-wristed, had high squeaky voices, squealed, shrieked, screamed – generally very effeminate – and were the butt of everybody's jokes. And of course there were always jokes about fags and gays and so on, and that kind of person always seemed to be on the short end of that sort of joke.

Insofar as people who weren't in comedy, there simply weren't that many. You see the odd film which deals with homosexuality in an overt way, but again there, I don't know if they're negative or positive but they're certainly pretty wrenching movies, and I'm thinking of movies, again, as the one I mentioned before, Blackmail. But there are some other movies. There's a very good movie called Boys in the Band, which is a 1970's movie and is all about a party at a guy's apartment in New York, and he invites a whole lot of acquaintances around and they're all different types of personality – they're all gay. But nobody is ever happy in it, unfortunately, and you kind of finish this movie, not feeling depressed, but thinking gosh, what a sort of sad bunch of people they are.

Voice 2: I have this very strong memory, I suppose, of some kind of composite picture in my mind about what a gay person was. And I guess, reflecting back, the closest I can make it akin to would be a kind of Kenneth Williams kind of character, but probably even a bit wetter and more pathetic.

I don't know where that picture came from, and I don't identify it with any kind of non-person because, to my knowledge, I'd never met another gay person, but it was carried around as a kind of image in my head, and it was a very negative image, obviously, but also a lot of fear around it in terms of not being like that [laughs], fear that I might be like that. And a lot of energy, I think, went into being not like that.

Voice 4: If I think back into my earlier years, and I'm thinking now I suppose I would become aware of gay issues in the late '50s, '60s, and the only person that I can think of off the top of my head is Kenneth Williams, who was... he presented a sort of characterization that it was never actually stated openly that it was a gay character, but to those that knew the kind of innuendo that went on it was so obviously gay that it was untrue. But with him, it was a stereotype. It was kind of your gay, hysterical, bitchy queen kind of thing.

Voice 2: That was what I knew that gays were like and I was terrified of being like that myself, so that was really not what I wanted to be at all, so that put me off for a long time. The idea of being gay and being like that was completely repulsive to me.

Voice 1: I guess people that were lonely and maybe a bit sort of screwed up, not altogether, just weird, different, guys that wanted to be women, I guess; guys that dress up in women's clothes all the time and talk like women and act like women and want to be hairdressers when they grow up and people that are poofie and can't whistle and don't play sports. Yeah, just negative, negative, negative, negative. Every time I saw that word it was just scary and awful.

Voice 3: I remember spending endless hours when I was around about 11, 12 or 13 – around that age, I guess – watching television quite late at night. I used to sit up and watch the Sunday horrors, which was one of the things I managed to persuade my parents into letting me watch.

And among the films I watched quite late at night were... I tried to watch every movie I could that I thought might possibly have somebody in it who was gay or homosexual. And it was quite interesting because of course a lot of the movies didn't have anything. They seemed to have story lines which might be leading that way, but I guess what I was sort of screaming out for, or crying out for, was to have a gay character with whom I could identify because it was very difficult. I mean, there weren't films with gay characters.

All the gay people you saw in films were sort of pink handbag swinging people in dresses and so on and so forth, and I knew that wasn't me. I knew that wasn't what I was all about, and I guess the only thing I could identify with at a very early age was the sexuality part of it rather than the lifestyle, because there was nothing when I was growing up and certainly in my early teenage years, of people who were gay and it was okay, and they lived normal lives or whatever lives they wanted to live.

Voice 1: Everything I'd ever heard or seen about these homosexuals was negative. I just knew it was a bad thing. I can't work out how I knew; it must have been almost a subconscious thing that it was never, ever talked about. No one ever talked about it in a positive way. People at school would, if you did something that was maybe considered to be a bit sissy or not what was expected of a man or a boy or a male, that was sort of labeled as a homosexual act, whether it be if you tripped over or, I don't know, if you weren't going to go and play rugby. Yeah, it was always a negative term, and I knew that it was sinful and immoral according to the church.

And the only images I had were people, men, who just wanted to have sex with other men in, like, public toilets and in parks, and they used to go and pick each other up in bars; almost people that were screwed up in terms of not living a proper lifestyle, which I thought was a man and a woman living together in a house in suburbia somewhere with two kids, a cat and a dog and a car. That was sort of the only image I had of how people were meant to live their life, so that when I started realizing that I wasn't going to fit this model, which was the only way of life that I knew of; that was quite scary.

And I do remember – I would have been 14 or 15 – I made a decision once that I would just pretend to like a woman and get married and have kids and have a nine-to-five job and just sort of go and secretly relieve my urges with other men and just sort of meet them in secret and deal with it that way.

Voice 5: I always saw myself as quite different. I didn't see myself in that swishy way at all, actually, and as I got older and I met other people like that I certainly didn't find them sexually attractive at all. I was always attracted, of course, to the First Fifteen and big butch boys.

And in fact, when I left school I was 18, and my first sexual experience was getting picked up by a nancy-boy, a real femmy creature, in a public toilet in New Plymouth, which was a horrific experience – one that scarred me for years. I was just really curious and horny, I guess, and I wanted to know if this was what I was, and if this is something that I would find attractive and interesting to me and all those things. And he took me back to his place and I remember just shivering in fear and repulsion, but kind of letting him do things to me because I just wanted to go through with the experience and was probably too scared to leave anyway. But it was horrific to me and I didn't have sex for years and years after that. So, I suppose all those years of those kind of effeminate caricatures had obviously seeped in there and I was very prejudiced against them.

Voice 2: I think I had this funny idea, this sort of really irrational idea, that if I admitted to myself and to the world that I was gay, I was somehow overnight going to turn into this strange kind of... that I was going to undergo some major personality shift, and that suddenly overnight I would become this kind of weird combination of characteristics and attributes that I had sitting in my head as what a typical homosexual gay person was.

Voice 3: And I remember, when I was at school, being teased as a child or as a young teenager for being gay. People used to say to me, "You're gay," and I don't know if the kids really knew what it meant, but children have this peculiar way of picking on weaknesses or things that are different. And certainly as a child, as a young boy, I was perhaps a bit different to some of the other kids, although looking back now, not a lot different to some of the other kids there. But certainly what happens is you get a group of children and you get the strongest among them who end up being bullies, but also end up influencing the people who are easily influenced, and they end up picking on who they perceive to be the weakest in the group, or somebody who's different.

And I was teased to some extent, and what that meant for me, because there was no assistance for me in the media – nothing which said to me: Hey, it's okay to be gay; it's all right if you're like this – I ended up developing, certainly when I went to high school, quite a different persona, so that by the time I did come out to my friends when I was about 16 or 17, at school, they were surprised – not shocked, but certainly surprised – that I was gay because I had spent a good three or four years turning their minds off that so that they wouldn't think I was gay, because that was the only way I was not going to be teased. I couldn't, when I was 13, say: Yes, well so what if I am gay? That's all right, isn't it? It just didn't work like that. I had to create a situation where people either didn't think about it at all or they didn't think I was gay.

Voice 1: I think the way I sort of dealt with being gay when I was at university was to go and search out all the information I could on this homosexuality thing. I'd just go to the computers in a dark corner and type in gay into the computer, being really nervous and my hands shaking typing in those three letters. And then I'd go to the gay section and look at the books, and I'd take about five out and sit in the corner and just read the whole books, cover to cover, one after the other, and it used to take hours, and I used to go several nights a week until I'd read everything I could. And I'd look at the pictures, if they had pictures in them, and try and relate to the people in the pictures, and try to think, oh, he looks normal so maybe it's not such a bad thing.

Voice 5: I remember being on holiday with my parents when I was in my early teens and going to the Bay of Islands and stealing that book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, from a bookshop and taking it with me to a public toilet across the road from the bookshop and devouring it. Especially I went straight to the chapter on homosexuality. I suppose I would have been 13 or something like that at that point.

And, you know, it's quite a negative thing. It's really full of lots of very negative stuff about being gay and what the gay lifestyle is all about. So, I was fascinated by that, but obviously it was a bit disturbing to me as well. I can't really remember the details, but it was a lot about, I seem to remember, the whole promiscuity thing and anal sex and things that were described in a way that was sort of vaguely disgusting but with a slightly liberal standpoint on it. And the idea of multiple sex partners and not being able to find true love and being desperate for sex and all these sort of ideas that really I didn't want to hear, either, but I just believed them. I knew that this man was an expert and it must all be true.

Voice 4: I suppose the most striking thing that I've observed is when a gay character has come into a mainstream kind of program, and I think that happened with Billy Crystal in that send up of soap operas called Soap. I think that was kind of a landmark occasion. You see, there's always been material around if you want to go and get it, both on film and in books. It's just a matter of knowing where to go and pursuing that sort of line. But for it to enter the mainstream as it did in Soap, even then Billy Crystal played that character as a totally natural person.

Voice 1: It seems to me that every gay character in the film and movies is portrayed to appeal to straight people as opposed to maybe being a role model or being a gay person that gay people could actually relate to and think, oh, that's quite realistic, or wow, what a really cool person, or whatever. They just seem to cheapen the whole thing about gay people.

Voice 3: In most programs you wouldn't see gay characters doing the things that you not only see, but expect straight characters to do.

Voice 1: You never see the kissing, the touching, the stroking, the rubbing, the hugging, the licking; you never see any of the best parts of sex.

Voice 3: If you saw gay people in films or on television – you very rarely saw them on television – they certainly weren't touching other gay people. There was no sexual contact. There was nothing overt about the person. It was fine to have a gay character, it was fine to have a gay person, so long as they didn't do anything.

Voice 2: I suppose all these things just reinforced, in my mind, what I grew to believe that being gay was all about, really, which was pretty much a tragic lifestyle. It was something you really didn't want to tell your parents because you knew how upset they'd be because of all those things: you weren't going to have that warm family environment with children, and chances are you'd be some lonely old tragic thing who everybody despised. I mean, it's just the idea I think a lot of it was about being alone and furtive and scared and weak and a victim. I think a lot of it was all about those things, and there was no concept of love and respect and things which took me quite a while to learn were possible as well.

Voice 4: The trouble is about presenting gay characters onstage or in film or in books, a lot of what came about in probably my formative years came through the American media. And America, to me, has never really reflected what's been natural in New Zealand. To be gay in America, you've got to form a political kind of stance. It's a political thing just as much as a lifestyle thing.

Voice 3: The other film which I think has had a profound effect on me was Torch Song Trilogy, which I didn't see until I think I was around 18. It was when I moved to Wellington and went to university. And of course, that's an incredible film. I watched that a number of times and I think I bought the video of it and I kept watching it. I haven't seen it for a couple of years now, but I always enjoy it whenever I do get to see it.

And that was probably the first film that was not only unashamedly gay, but it portrayed gay people as being able to live as normal and lead as normal and happy lives as anyone else, and that was very refreshing. I mean, it's a sad story, of course, because one of the main characters, played by Matthew Broderick, dies, and that is very sad. He's beaten up by a bunch of thugs in New York because they live in the Village. But by and large the film is very good and you come out of it feeling sort of sad and contemplative, I suppose, but also thinking that, yes, this is the nearest I've seen to what could be real life, and it makes you feel very good about yourself. There's no apologies; it just is what it is, I guess.

Voice 1: I remember reading in the Evening Post last week of two gay guys living together in Churton Park, and I could really relate to that in terms of, well, that's pretty normal to me. That's the kind of role model or model that I would have liked to have seen when I was a lot younger.

Voice 3: It's about seeing something which you can identify within your own life, reading something that you can identify with in your own life. And I guess the beauty of watching it on a movie or reading it in a book is that, again, it's confirmation that it's okay, it's fine, it's normal for you and nobody minds about it.

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