As a continuation of Nexus’ coverage on queer Waikato issues, Jennie-Louise Kendrick takes a deep delve into how rainbow our region is, and how much it could be.
*Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Waikato is hardly a bastion for queer people. The ultra-masculine, conservative image of our region has alienated diversity and allowed the remainder of the country to give us flack about being blue and backwards. Despite supplying kiwi cowboys with our yodelling versions of Ellen, the Topp Twins, our fair region is not as queer-friendly as could be. On their website, the New Zealand Tourism Guide state that Hamilton boasts a rainbow population of approximately 8,000 – the same populace of Huntly. So, what do we have? How is the Waikato catering for LGBTTQIA+ folk?
Compared to bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington, the rainbow community in Hamilton is grossly underrepresented, with no “gay bars” and pride events that rely on volunteerism. The annual Big Gay Out in Auckland’s Coyle Park features sponsors like Durex, AUT, ANZ, Almond Breeze, and Lush Cosmetics, while Wellington queers were treated to an Out in the Park after party featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Laila McQueen. Next year, the GAG Drag Collective is boasting RPDR Season 9 and All Stars Season 3 contestant Aja. This lack of rainbow-centric events and venues contributes to the disenfranchisement of queer youths and an abstraction of community. As Buzzfeed News Reporter Shannon Keating described, “going to a gay bar at least once is a queer rite of passage”, and while it can be an overwhelming occurrence, the ability to party in a space where you know all the other participants belong to the rainbow community and share an experience of marginalisation in other venues, is liberating. Especially if you are presenting as your true gender as a trans* person, or going to town in androgynous or drag outfits, which may make you more of a target for the homophobic or transphobic slurs of drunken dickheads.
After the closure of Bralais Nightclub in 2017, there has been no centre for nightlife aimed at the rainbow community. Before that, Shine Nightclub closed in 2014 after six years on Victoria Street, hosting drag performances and a live screening of the passage of the Marriage Equality Bill in 2013. Now, there’s a big gap of queer-friendly venues between Auckland and Wellington. There are possibly a few reasons; the difficulty of facing the Lawrenson Group juggernaut, the rise of dating apps like Grindr, or even the growing acceptance of those identifying as LGBTTQIA+. Earlier this year, the country’s longest-running gay bar Urge was shut down after the club’s owner, Paul Heard, struggled with dwindling patronage. In an article about the demise of similar establishments, sociologist Michael Stevens told Stuff that he blames the rise of app-based hookups and the growing acceptance of the community in cisnormative and heteronormative spaces. “In the past, you had to go to a venue to meet other LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] people, today you don’t”. The same article reported that there had been nine clubs close in the previous two years. That was December 2014.
Coming out in New Zealand is hard enough; there’s the anticipation of how family members might react, the confusion and emotional turmoil of the process, and the malignant casual homophobia and toxic masculinity that still lingers in the zeitgeist. Compacted with the melting pot of cultures, religions and upbringings throughout the country, the need for community spirit, that doesn’t revolve around dating apps or operate on the basis of university entrance, is imperative. Creating an environment where rainbow folk can hang out and not feel alone may encourage kōrero about being queer and the intersects that may come with it, might make the transition into being openly queer easier. For rangatahi, ZEAL does a fantastic job providing mentorship and space for baby queers to meet and congregate—like youth group, except without the JC and the over-the-pants handjobs. They even have mentors available who identify as trans*; a fantastic resource for gender diverse Hamiltonians looking to connect with people who have been where they are. Local groups like WaQuY organise meetups and have a secret Facebook group for people to ask questions without the fear of their virtual exploration inadvertently outing them to those on their friends’ list. Thank goodness for the Internet, connecting gays since the ‘90s.
Most queer people could frequent mainstream bars and clubs but they may feel uncomfortable having to “pass” for heterosexual and cisgender to avoid the ire of fellow patrons. They may feel excluded by heteronormative assumptions or feel they can’t dance/talk/act/interact with others as they would if in a club like Family or Ivy. Straight people are welcome at rainbow venues, there’s no litmus test for queerness at the door; you just get asked for your ID like every other half-hammered person in line. However, there is allegedly a trend of straight cisgender men going to gay clubs seeking the women that attend the club. Alex*, a postgrad student, said that they’ve had straight male friends talk about how they go to Family Bar to pick up women.
‘It’s like they think that because 80 per cent of the club patrons are men who aren’t into women, they will be able to approach girls without being predatory—it’s super fucked up—people go there to hook up, sure, but don’t try to lull your prey into a fake sense of safety from being hit on or ogled. You shouldn’t need to con someone into being receptive to your advances; either they’re into it or they’re not’.
While it may seem like a misnomer to call a non-straight venue a “gay” bar, there is a malignant culture of spaces being touted as queer-friendly but being dominated by white, gay men which alienates trans* patrons, people of colour and those not looking to hook up. Jay*, a straight transman, told Nexus that while attending another university, he stopped going to gay clubs, and even the queer space allocated on his campus because he felt pressured by the hook-up culture in the gay scene.
‘I’m a trans dude, I’m with a woman, so I guess that makes me straight. At the start, before I had top surgery [bilateral mastectomy and male chest reconstruction] and still had my dead name on my ID, gay clubs were really the only place I felt that the bouncer wouldn’t ask me super personal questions in line, and people wouldn’t give me funny looks.
‘As it turns out, there’s loads of cisnormativity in the gay community and lots of emphasis placed on masculinity, whereas femininity is still viewed as weak and unattractive—there’s a total pecking order—then, there’s race. I have friends who are gay Asian men who feel discriminated against. Some dudes on Grindr have reduced it down to “yellow fever” and “no rice”. It’s upsetting that most mainstream images of the queer community are white dudes with other white dudes, or drag queens, like RuPaul who has made derogatory comments about trans women performing drag’.
The Waikato has some fantastic tourist attractions; there’s Hobbiton in Matamata that brings oodles of sightseers hoping to see a little Peter Jackson movie magic, Waitomo Caves and their spectacular glowworms, and the hippy commune on black sand beaches that is Raglan. Our fair region is also the gateway to other tourist hotspots like Taupō and Rotorua, so it’s no surprise that there is a decent amount of people visiting Hamilton. According to their webpage dedicated to “Gay and Lesbian Travellers”, Lonely Planet succinctly wraps up their understanding of gender and sexuality diversity, “generally speaking, Kiwis are fairly relaxed and accepting about gender fluidity, but that’s not to say that homophobia doesn’t exist. Rural communities tend to be more conservative; here public displays of affection should probably be avoided.” While Lonely Planet should be commended for even bothering to provide a section targeted towards non-heterosexual travellers, the confusion of heteronormativity being related to gender fluidity, and the specificity of just gay or lesbian people being interested in travel, is exclusive and confused when the intention seemed noble. While New Zealand may seem to be accepting of the queer community, there’s still a lack of visibility of the assortment of complex identities. Hamilton could be a hub for gender diversity and a paradise for beyond heteronormativity – and stand to benefit from queer tourism.
Adjacent to the constant smell of silage and the taste of Lemon & Paeroa, there is a distinct undertone of diversity. The dominant Pakeha image of a white farmer in Red Bands and a Swanndri doesn’t do us justice. Waikato is a pick ’n’ mix of ethnic and religious diversity; we should celebrate it and allow the queer members of society to enjoy the relative liberal environment of our progressive little island. The Waikato could be a sanctuary for queer people; Hamilton has the largest Somali community outside of Auckland, a diaspora where Islamic Sharia law holds a death penalty for same-sex sexual intercourse in their country of origin, alongside the effervescent of the unique expressions of gender from our Pasifika population. From the original drag kings and iconic power lesbians, Lynda and Jools Topp, to the Samoan fa’afafines and Māori takatāpui, rainbow mooloos are out there and a safe space could be more than an LGBTTQIA+ room at the University of Waikato; it could extend to the whole region. ROYGBIV cowbell, anyone?
(via RainbowYouth: https://www.ry.org.nz/friends-whanau/useful-words/)
- Agender: Agender individuals have no gender identity and/or no gender expression. Often they identify as a person rather than a gender.
- Asexual: Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex. People who identify as asexual may still identify with other sexualities and be romantically attracted to other people and have fulfilling relationships.
- Bisexual: Bisexuality is a romantic or sexual attraction to people of the same and different genders.
- Cisgender: (Cis for short) is a term used to describe a gender identity that matches an individual’s sex. So, if your birth certificate is marked ‘Female’ and when you grow up you identify as a female woman, this means that you have a cisgender gender identity.
- Cisnormativity: This is a viewpoint that is based on the assumption that being cisgender is the ‘default’ or ‘normal’ gender identity, instead of being just one of many possibilities. Cisnormativity is often expressed subtly but can be seen in advertising, print and electronic media, education, lawmakers, and a range of attitudes expressed by society in general.
- Fa’afafine: Fa’afafine are Samoan biological males who behave in a range of feminine-gendered ways. Fa’afafine falls into a third gender, separate from male or female. They have been an integrated part of Samoan communities for centuries.
- Genderqueer: Usually, an umbrella term used to describe those whose identity is non-normative (not male or female). It can also be used as a stand-alone gender identity itself, pertaining to feelings of being neither male or female, both, or somewhere in between.
- Heteronormativity: This is a viewpoint that is based on the assumption that heterosexuality is the ‘default’ or ‘normal’ sexual orientation, instead of being just one of many possibilities.
- Intersex: The term intersex is a general term assigned to those whose reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t fit the typical definitions of either male or female.
- Non-binary: Usually an umbrella term for those who do not proscribe to the separate definitions of male and female (for example, gender variant, gender non-conforming, genderqueer).
- Pansexual: Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, is the sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. It differs from bisexuality, which is an attraction to people of the same and different genders, in that pansexuals can be attracted to all gender identities, not a specific gender.
- Queer: Queer is a reclaimed word that serves as an umbrella term encompassing diverse sexualities and those who are not sure. This word is used by many people, but it may not be the preferred term for everybody.
- Questioning: People who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity may not yet be sure how they identify.
- Takatāpui: Takatāpui is a Māori term that historically refers to a partner of the same sex. Today, it is also used by people who identify as both Māori and queer. It’s a culturally specific term – which means it does not comply with western ideas of gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Transgender: An umbrella term encapsulating gender identities where an individual’s self-identification or gender identity does not match the one associated with their assigned sex at birth. A transgender individual may identify with any gender identity (not only male or female), and may or may not have undergone gender reassignment surgery or hormonal treatment.