UPDATED 11/1/16: I will always be grateful for the incredible experiences that I had at Grammar and how those experiences helped me to become the person that I am today. I benefited greatly from being in a competitive environment which valued academic rigor and sporting success, and was even fortunate enough to be appointed Head Prefect in my seventh form year.
Outwardly, I gave the appearance of an enthusiastic, untroubled and motivated boy as I aspired to become what I assumed the ideal ‘Grammar man’ was. But at about the age of 14 I started to realize that my feelings of being ‘different,’ which I’d felt since a young age, might be because I was gay. For the next couple of years I denied this to myself, scared of accepting who I was and ultimately bringing a lot of stress upon myself. Learning became magnitudes more difficult than it should have been. I would often struggle to focus during school hours, especially during my final two years. Sometimes I’d arrive home and lie on my bed for hours on end before I finally managed to start my work, usually around 10pm. I averaged 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night as I struggled to achieve the results I did. During seventh form I finally accepted who I was but certain homophobic slurs and comments (“gay” being used as an insult, “faggot,” “homo,” etc) made me fear coming out, so I remained closeted.
However – and this is the important part – when I did finally come out to my close friends and family about 6 months after finishing Grammar, I received an overwhelming amount of support. While the latent homophobia that existed while I was at Grammar made me fear coming out, I suspect that the source of most of it was not any targeted animosity or hate, but rather a lack of awareness of the impact of off-hand comments and the such.
Now, I get at least 7 hours of sleep every night at university and find myself able to relax and focus in class, without a fear of being discriminated against. At Harvard, and when I return to visit my Grammar friends who are now at university, my sexuality is a very small component of my identity. I’m much happier and less stressed, so hopefully that provides some inspiration to students who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and/or gender. Things get better with time and once you’re able to accept yourself, it’s a huge weight off your shoulders.
That being said, things would have been much easier if the culture while I was at school had been different. These issues are real – a recent Auckland University study connects school culture to LGBTQIA wellbeing, and countless other studies link LGBTQIA communities to a higher risk of suicide and mental health problems. If you are ever feeling depressed or are contemplating suicide, get help. Talk to Mr McKain, talk to a close friend, and call 111 if one of your friend’s lives or your own life is in danger.
The good news is that Grammar’s culture is changing for the better. With initiatives coming from both the leadership team and the student body itself, LGBTQIA students should be extremely optimistic about the tremendous change that we expect to see in this year alone, and in future years to come.
Per Angusta Ad Augusta
Joel is a student at Harvard University studying for a A.B. in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology. He graduated from Auckland Grammar School as Head Boy and Captain of Rowing in 2012.