This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Wai Ho: So, I'm here with Kerry. Did you grow up in Wellington, Kerry?
Kerry Brown: No, in North Canterbury, Waikuku Beach, which is a tiny little town maybe a half-hour drive north of Christchurch.
Wai: And what are the stereotypes about Christchurch and around North Canterbury, and growing up there?
Kerry: Well, I suppose when people hear that you're from a small town they assume that you've experienced a lot of homophobia. And I suppose I did, to a point, but because I wasn't out then I avoided a lot of that. In fact, the most disturbing experience, my most intense experience of homophobia, was in Wellington when a friend of mine was beaten up. And I guess that was because we were in a group and were out and proud, so we were a target, whereas in Waikuku or in Rangiora I was desperately trying to go under the radar.
Wai: So, did you come out once you left North Canterbury?
Kerry: Coming to Wellington, for me, was definitely leading up to it. I had envisioned that Wellington was a place I was going to come to and sort of find myself and come out, and I would discover my community or my people. So, with that in mind, I sort of knew that I was coming to Wellington to come out.
Wai: When you were growing up in North Canterbury, did you know that you were queer or gay? How do you identify, or is that even relevant?
Kerry: I identify as gay. I definitely had come out in my 6th form year to one friend, and then at the end of that year another friend, and then I paced it a friend at a time until quite a few of my friends knew, but I hadn't had a conversation with my family about it until I moved to Wellington. Then I lived with my uncle for about half a year, and that's when I came out, I guess.
Wai: Were your friend's reactions good? What were some of their responses?
Kerry: My first friend that I came out to, and this goes for a lot of my friends, actually, and my parents...
My mum, especially, made it very clear whenever a queer-related news item came on the radio or television, she would make her opinion very clear in support of it, I think for my benefit [laughs], trying to open up a conversation, though I never pounced on the opportunity.
And my friend Holly, who I... [interrupted]
Wai: Was it helpful, even though you never pounced? Was it good to know what her opinions were, or were you like, oh, weird?
Kerry: It was good. My mum's interesting because I always knew that it was never going to be an issue with her, but maybe she was one of the most difficult people to come out to, in a way, because I'm very close with her. I suppose having that conversation with her, for me, was finally addressing it fully for myself as well. So in that way it was difficult, but there was no doubt in my mind, I knew that she wasn't going to disown me or feel any differently about me or anything like that.
Wai: And the first friend you came out to?
Kerry: The same thing. She would always start conversations about queer stuff and try to bait me, I guess. But it took quite a traumatic experience for me with a – I suppose a boyfriend, where I was really, really in need of support – it took that for me to talk to her about it. And she and I were always bunking classes, and we went to the end of the sports field and sat behind this ruined wall and I held hands with her. [laughs] So, everyone has some story, I guess.
And Polly – [laughs] Holly and Polly, the two friends I first came out with – in a similar circumstance, she realized I was really upset about something and wanted to talk to me about it. So I invited her over and had another really pained... like, lead up to talking to her about it. I think I said, "Polly, is there anything that I could say to you that would make you like me less, or make you hate me," which I suppose is what I was most paranoid about.
And she said, "If you said something mean about my dad." [laughs]
And I was like, "Well, I'm not going to do that, but I'm gay." And yeah, Polly is a really wonderful friend because she's so earnest and straight-up, and I knew I could rely on her to not tell anyone; and the same with Holly. I chose my friends who I could really, really trust, initially. And then once I was more confident with it I was a bit more frivolous with who I told.
Wai: So you first came out to your first person in 6th form. Did you know before then?
Kerry: Yeah. It's interesting because I'm sure.... Yeah, I have trouble in picturing or remembering when I first knew, but I know that I do remember, when I was very young, telling my mum that I wished I was a girl so I could wear pink pajamas, and being, like, utterly obsessed with mermaids. [laughs]
But then I can remember driving back from Christchurch one evening and having heard some statistic that 1 in 10 men are gay, and I remember thinking it would just be my luck that I was that 1 out of 10 guys, but almost thinking that it just seemed so unrealistic that that would even happen to me.
And then I guess when puberty hit, it was a pretty hormonal time, so I was having fantasies about women and men. And then once – I don't know; once my hormones settled – I definitely knew. I sort of tricked myself initially. I was like, right, I think I'm some kind of bisexual, and maybe I'll experiment with men, but I definitely want a family, yada, yada, yada, so I'm definitely still with a woman. But I guess I was just easing myself into it.
I totally identify as gay now, although [laughs] in my family an auntie, for instance, identified as lesbian and then flipped. So did, apparently, quite a few members of my family, so who knows?
Wai: So there's a potential that you might have to come out to everybody as straight.
Kerry: When I came out to my grandma it was really, really cute. She said to me that she had had passions for women, as well.
Wai: Well, passions! That's a great term.
Kerry: Yeah, that was actually a really lovely conversation to have, because she initiated it. She came into my room when I was asleep and she sat on my bed and I knew she wanted to talk about something.
Wai: So you didn't pretend to be asleep?
Kerry: No. I was pretty groggy though. I can't remember how she spearheaded the conversation, but we were talking about it and she just said that she wanted me to make sure that I knew what I wanted. I think probably she was really concerned that I would have a hard life as a gay person, probably from what she experienced growing up. But then she said she loved me no matter what, and that she'd had passions for women, and she gave me $20. [laughs]
Wai: She gave you 20 bucks! All right.
Kerry: Yeah, it was really sweet. She cried a little bit and then gave me the $20. It was sweet.
Kerry: I wish coming out to everyone was as lucrative.
Wai: I know! Imagine if you got 20 bucks for everybody you came out to; it would be great!
So, you moved to Wellington as kind of a gay Mecca or queer Mecca, and what did you find when you got here, community-wise or your-people wise?
Kerry: Well, as I said, I guess it was sort of a metamorphosis; I wanted to be gay from the get-go, which I suppose is unrealistic in some ways. And I decided I wanted to dress differently, and I think I just jumped whole-heartedly into it. I was wearing eyeliner.
Wai: What did you wear in North Canterbury, like, Airtex or Moleskins or something?
Kerry: I don't know; my dad's a bit like flannel shirts, like we're a hunting family. [laughs]
Wai: So you traded your flannel shirt in for some eyeliner.
Kerry: Yeah, nail polish and bright colors. I think this T-shirt that I'm wearing right now was one of the first things I bought, and I bought this purple jersey. But actually, the item that sort of, for me, represented my coming out was this bright pink hoodie with stars all over it. And I was just in love with it. I was like, this is symbolic of my metamorphosis.
Wai: Did you feel like a mermaid?
Kerry: [laughs] Maybe not a mermaid... yeah, maybe a little bit like a mermaid.
Anyway, I met a gay guy at Massey, where I was studying, and he invited me to a party, and I knew that it was going to be a gay party and there were going to be gay people there, and I knew I was going to wear my hoodie and I was really excited. I went and took a friend with me to this party, wearing the hoodie, and I sort of walked in with my friend, who was a girl, and I was just sort of hovering and really in awe of everything.
And then this person, this guy, came up to me and said, "Were you a birthday cake in another life?" And it was like he snarled – it was so horrible. [laughs]
And I was like, "What do you mean?" And he just sort of looked at me, and I was like, "My hoodie?" And he just sort of rolled his eyes and walked away from me, and that was really, really disappointing. It was a bit of a crisis point for me, because I was expecting this community and my people, and that was quite traumatizing.
And then I made friends with queer-friendly people in my studies, but not gay people. And I spent maybe a year in that sort of community of people in the theatre, Toi Whakaari, Massey lot before I even really properly started going to gay bars and making gay friends. I suppose eventually I did find my people, but it wasn't as instantaneous as I thought it would be in Wellington.
Wai: So, how do you feel about your people, or the community or communities, now in Wellington?
Kerry: I'm really privileged in that I'm surrounded by really incredible, strong, passionate queer people. Actually, there's just so much variety, there's so much to celebrate within our community, and I think it's wonderful.
Wai: Do you think that if a young man from North Canterbury turned up at one of the queer parties or gay parties you're at, they'd get hassled about wearing a bright pink hoodie with stars on it?
Kerry: Well, potentially. I actually don't know if I'm friends with any of the people that I met at that party, or with that person, in particular. I can't actually remember who it was. I think like any circle of people or any sphere you go into, you're going to not click with people, and probably experience hostility for a million reasons.
Wai: Maybe he had a traumatic experience with the color pink.
Wai: You can never tell.
Kerry: Yeah, totally, and I think maybe because it was so flamboyantly gay maybe he had an issue with it, which I know people do, which maybe stems from insecurities, which is maybe just a place where we are at as a society, which is not very nice but we're working through it now, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
Wai: Can you talk a little bit more about gay stereotypes, and does that impact on you, or is it kind of out there and you know it exists?
Kerry: It impacts me in that I get really upset when a particular stereotype is targeted with hostility. That really bugs me. I don't know; there's just a lot of negative... well, maybe there's not a lot, but you definitely hear negative talk about, maybe, drag queens or sometimes people – I don't know if it's meant to be in good humor – chuck around not-very-nice things about drag queens or lesbians or maybe even the party boy sort of look. I think there's some scorn around that.
What I think is that with drag queens and with people that are really outwardly queer, I really super-admire that because it takes a lot of courage to be visible, and it's those people who are going to be targeted with homophobia and with hostility. And yeah, it just takes a lot of courage to be visible, I think, and by doing that they're serving a counter-community, and I really admire that.
And I think it's just such a shame when you see on Internet forums, or anywhere, really, when within our community there's hate-speak.
Wai: Where do you think that comes from?
Kerry: I know that I really struggled with a sense of identity, growing up, and so maybe when people finally have the courage to be who they are they see that as a really narrow... what's the word? If you don't fit in a certain category or you draw attention to yourself or whatever, people might be hostile in that they feel that you're representing them. Oh, that took ages to get out! [laughs] But do you know what I mean?
I can understand. Like, when I was struggling with my sense of identity, I was like: Well why are they behaving like that? That's not doing me any favors by being so flamboyant, or whatever.
And maybe it's just been more recently, when I've had the privilege of being involved in more things like KAHA youth huis and forums for discussion, I've had the opportunity to do a lot of learning and a lot of self-reflection.
Wai: So, is there stuff about Wellington's queer communities, or queer community, that you'd like to see change or like it to shuffle towards, or just happily doing its thing?
Kerry: Yeah, I suppose I would like there to be a lot more celebration of variety within our community, and more tolerance of variety within our community. Maybe that just has to do with the time that we're in, because I suppose it's in the last 20 years that queer people have been able to sort of be more present and visible, so there's going to be some growing pains. And as a people, we're working things out.
Wai: How do you find other queer people or gay people in Wellington? Is it just around bars and nightclubs, or have you just got a group of friends?
Kerry: The circle in which I sort of operate now, I was introduced through a friend I went to drama school with. But I'm sure there are lots of entry points. There are the gay bars; I know that's not everyone's thing. I really struggle with striking up conversations in gay bars. Yeah, I suppose there are so many things actually going on in the community that if... I can't even actually remember any of the names now, but if you look in the gay newspapers or on websites and things, there are film festivals and stuff like that. But yeah, I just found my entry point through friendships.
Wai: So, you socialize and you have your circle of queer friends and stuff that you do, and that kind of thing. Do you do other stuff, any kind of community work within the queer community?
Kerry: Yup. It's been quite important to me to sort of get involved, and there's a lot of opportunity for that – to volunteer for things. I did face painting at Out in the Square, and I've done really mundane things like wrap condoms.
Wai: Mundane but useful and important.
Kerry: Yeah. Yeah. And that's really fun as well, putting condoms in packets and prep for Out in the Square, in that you got to sit down and do repetitive tasks with people and just chat.
I've also been involved in UniQ, which is actually a perfect way to meet people. I believe I overlooked that before. If you're a student, UniQ is sort of a Victoria-based social group for queer people, and it's usually in the evenings, a movie in the evenings or lots of social events.
I got involved in some queer mentoring through UniQ as well, and some mentoring with BGI, which isn't queer related but I did a lot of really useful learning there that has served me in other and queer areas, as well, through that.
Wai: So I guess that would be kind of a supportive role, and you hear people today and they say things like, "Oh well, you know, homosexual law reform was ages ago," blah, blah, blah. Is there still a need for queer support and is there still homophobia?
Kerry: Totally, especially at the youth level. Like, if you're supporting the youth, you're empowering them to have well-being in every area of their life, not just how they identify. But I just think it's so important with young people to make sure that they have it, that they're just empowered to feel good about themselves, no matter what.
Wai: You said a while back, earlier in the interview, that when you were going through puberty, all hormonal, you were kind of liking boys and girls, or men and women, and part of that, with the women at least, was about families. Is that still relevant now? Do you still think about families now?
Kerry: Yeah, it's a subject that I do a lot of thinking about. I don't struggle with it, but my opinion is always sort of changing. I know that if I want a family I can have a family, I just know that it will be different.
There's a play called Cherish, by – I can't remember his name – a local writer, and it was at Circa Theatre. It's sort of about, I think maybe with our generation, in particular with my generation, there's a sense that you can get whatever you want, and maybe within older generations there's a sense that you can't always get what you want, which is a line in the play, which is a Rolling Stones song. And I think there's a balance with that.
After reading that play, I found it quite a traumatic experience and I was really upset that I might not be able to get exactly what I want. But the whole point of the play was that you should cherish these things that maybe you don't have access to or you're denied, because they shape you. And while I might not be able to have the vision of a family that I grew up wanting, I can have something very similar to that and which is really special in its own way, I guess.
Wai: Cool. So, what are your plans in the next... maybe we don't need to talk about it and it's premature, but do you have plans for the future to stay in Wellington and continue community stuff?
Kerry: Yeah, totally.
Wai: Or are you going to go to Hollywood and be a mermaid?
Kerry: [laughs] Maybe that's something I should look into in the near future – dressing up as a mermaid and living out my childhood fantasy.
Wai: You could be a cake mermaid
Kerry: I am always wanting to be more involved in queer stuff like when I was able to attend KAHA – how far out was that – in 2008?
Wai: It was a while ago. I can't actually remember when.
Kerry: That was something that I'll always remember, and things like that are just so empowering and so good for your spirit and for your well-being. I don't think even if I do flip and become straight [laughs], like apparently I have the potential to....
Wai: You can flip back again.
Kerry: Well, I think I'm always going to be queer, whether I'm in a heterosexual relationship or not, and even if I did decide I wanted to be with a woman, I think I would always want to be really involved in the queer community and I would always identify as being queer. It's just something that I really cherish now, and something that I really try to celebrate in my life.
Transcript by cyberscrivener.com