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Space to be ourselves, in Taupo

Wed 14 Jun 2006 In: People

It can be tough being gay in small town New Zealand, but one straight woman in Taupo is doing her best to change that, and make life a little more enjoyable, particularly for local LGBT youth. Trina Marama recently hosted ‘Camp at the Clubhouse', held over three days last month. The event didn't attract the numbers Marama was hoping for, but she's not fazed, and vows to push on in her bid to provide LGBT locals with events to look forward to, and perhaps bring some colour to an otherwise straight Taupo in the process. Marama is a “fifth generation Taupudlian”, happily married for 20 years to “a wonderful man.” She was surprised not to have been asked about her sexuality sooner, when responding to queries about gay life in Taupo. “It's not a crazy question,” she says assuredly. “I wondered why it took so long for someone to ask!” It may seem odd that when local gays wanted to stage an event they came to Marama to request her help. But Marama is a friendly sort of straight woman and it seemed natural for her to do what she could. Her sister is lesbian “and she and I are very close.” Marama's sister has a partner of many years, plus an eight-year old daughter the two adopted. “I can't say they are like the Brady Bunch,” says Marama, “but they are as happy as any family on God's green earth.” So Marama took up the challenge and ‘Camp at the Clubhouse' went ahead, in spite of the “worst weather.” “We had torrential downpours,” says Marama, “which wasn't helping at all.” But the rain turned out to be more ironic than fitting, with revellers from Rotorua, Hamilton and Taranaki braving the slippery roads to join with locals and a few overseas guests in the warmth of the Clubhouse and the warmth of Marama's hospitality. Partygoers enjoyed “karaoke and the DJ proved very popular as did the wine and cheese.” Around 70 people turned out for the Friday night, and 40 showed on Saturday night. “Our gay community is mainly made up of older lesbian ladies, and they turned up in force, which is great to see,” says Marama, but it was the enjoyment of the few young people that made it all worthwhile. “We have very young, 18 or so, gay guys” in Taupo, “and they so looked forward to the weekend. They dressed freely and had a great time with no hassles.” “Two young guys really enjoyed themselves. In particular, one young man called Steven – it was his first time to go out in a dress in Taupo.” This was a significant achievement from Marama's perspective. She explains: “You must understand that when you have been brought up in Taupo it is very hard to go against… ummm … the norm, so he was very brave and thoroughly enjoyed himself.” Unfortunately, the drag and lip synch competitions were cancelled due to the low number of entries. Marama knows who would have won though. “The winner of the drag show would most definitely have been Marina. She looked absolutely beautiful. She is only young and really out there.” Marina was disappointed the event was cancelled. “I really wanted to win the money!” she says, “but it was still cool.” Marina is transgender, which is certainly unusual for Taupo but “completely natural for me.” She has no local gay friends and hangs out mostly with women from the salon where she works. “It's a pity that the gay crowd are quite conservative,” says Marina, who has no issue with being different in a largely straight town. Marama has already decided to plan the shows differently next time, “and there will be a next time,” she stresses. She will link the prize money with the number of entries, and have the events stand alone, so people can enter each individually. Taupo is definitely becoming gay-friendlier, says Marama. “A gay night was held once before and the venue had no less than 80 nasty phone calls. I was prepared for this but not one phone call.” She would just wish that more local gay guys would come along, not for the sake of the event, but for themselves. “There are still a number of local gay guys who just can't or won't let themselves be true to themselves.” There were quite a few who said they'd come “but couldn't quite bring themselves to do it.” “It seems to me that our gay community is quite clicky, and still not accepted as maybe in other parts of the country.” Marama hopes to do her bit to change this, with plans to hold “a mini heroes parade or a mini Mardi Gras in our little street, or maybe a Rio de Janeiro night!” That would certainly rock the locals, but that's not Marama's motivation. The enjoyment of young gay people and giving them space to be themselves is Marama's driving force. So while the ‘Camp at the Clubhouse' was “nowhere near as successful in regard to patronage," as she had hoped, "with regard to building self-esteem it excelled itself.” The young gay guys, in particular, really let their hair down, she says, “so for their sakes alone it was well worthwhile. It was their night and they loved it.”     David Parrish - 14th June 2006

Credit: David Parrish

First published: Wednesday, 14th June 2006 - 12:00pm

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