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Philip Patston on

Sun 9 Jul 2006 In: Comment

I suppose I should have my twopence worth on the 20-year anniversary of gay liberation and legitimacy in NZ. For anyone reading who doesn't really know what all the fuss is about, you're probably also too young to know what twopence is (and that it's pronounced “tuppence”). Sorry about that chap. Keep reading – we'll get to the nineties soon and you'll be on familiar ground. I've been out for nearly as long as NZ. In 1986 I was 18, fresh-faced, acne-ridden, angry and I'd just left home. Though I was not quite yet out, I'd had plenty of boy-on-boy action, but it wasn't gay – it was just what a couple of mates and I did at school sometimes. It was quite hot, from what I remember – quick mutual jerks in empty classrooms, toilets and once in a hostel bedroom. All a bit public and risky really, back in the days when "risky," "sex" and "death" we not yet synonymous in NZ. It wasn't about love or boyfriends or anything like that. It was just fun. Or maybe there was a boyfriend. One mate, who lived around the corner, was often home alone. Boring Saturday afternoons were spent reading Cosmopolitan magazines and having sex. Once we were nearly caught by his older brother coming home early. Dodgy. Great stuff. But at 18 I wasn't gay. What I was doing wasn't gay. Even though I'd had a gay teacher, gay didn't come into the equation. It was play, not gay. And it was a very, very big secret. All that changed a year later. I watched Consenting Adult, a made-for-TV movie about an 18-year-old coming out and it was like looking in a mirror. A week before I'd had guilty, unfulfilling sex with a guy from out of town – we'd talked about whether it made us gay. Neither of us was sure. Having recognised myself in the movie, I excitedly called my rural buddy, declaring, for the first time, “I realise I'm gay.” He said he was getting married to his girlfriend. Unfazed by his refusal to be my coming out buddy, I set about declaring my realisation to all and sundry. No, this is not my coming out story – well, it is an abridged version but I tell you not so you know the facts. What I find telling as I reflect on my gay coming of age – which mirrored that of NZ society in a strange way, being a year after law reform – is that, other than my teacher and that movie, images and examples of “being gay” had played virtually no part in my social architecture. An androgynous Boy George had appeared on my TV screen two years earlier and, as he had intended, totally screwed my middle class notion of gender. But even he wasn't gay – he just “preferred a cup of tea.” Of course, that would be a Tui ad today, but back then it was plausible and his coy subterfuge was easier to accept than to challenge. By the by, I've always been disappointed that androgyny never survived really past the eighties. It was full of promise to be a totally liberating trend and incredibly well pulled off by Boy and his contemporaries, the likes of Pete Burns, Annie Lennox and Marilyn. It was the nineties that killed androgyny, I reckon. The drawback of liberation is the tendency to veer from the fringe towards the mainstream. As we celebrated our successfully achieved goal of having human rights, we began striving to become more than legal – we wanted to be normal! Straight-acting! Unsprung! To pass! Androgyny became far too obvious, drawing attention to difference and the goal now was to be the same. And so through the nineties and into the new millennium we did just that – we became the same as everyone else. The same clothes, same hairstyles, same jobs, the same TV shows and, with the passing into law of the Civil Union legislation, even the same relationships as straights. Well, almost. Now, the only difference between them and us is with whom we sleep. But even that changed with those Brokeback boys – suddenly it was suggested that we didn't need to be like them because they were already like us. But we knew that all along. As I celebrate 20 years of being out and proud, along with the rest of New Zealand society, I am disappointed I wasn't invited to Mayor Hubbard's civic reception on Saturday. Alas, I am obviously still too different. But moreover, I hope that we don't become too similar. It would be a shame if our future generation, facing their own awakening, began missing us again – not because we are shrouded by stigma and fear as we were in the past, but because we are so busy fitting in that we become indistinguishable among the crowd. Gay, disabled, vegetarian Philip Patston has performed professionally for fifteen years and is well-known for his live and broadcast comedy, including the stand-up comedy show “Pulp Comedy” between 1997 and 2003. The year of his ‘straight' role of Josh Sinclair on “Shortland Street” in 1999 he was named Queer of the Year by TV show “Queer Nation” and received a Billy T James award for comedy. He's a recovering social worker and human rights activist who spends his time running Diversityworks ( and choosing his gigs. Philip offers his unique spin on the important things in life – including love, money, sex, peanut butter and anything else you suggest – every fortnight at He welcomes your comments, and may even comment on them, to: Philip Patston - 9th July 2006    

Credit: Philip Patston

First published: Sunday, 9th July 2006 - 12:00pm

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