Losing your father, finding yourself: David H’s story
By: David H
This story was first published on Staying Negative, a website that aims to emotionally engage and inspire gay/bisexual men, including trans men, through the sharing of personal stories. Read more about how you can share your story here.
I grew up in Auckland, which is the biggest city in New Zealand. A week ago it was my dad’s 14th anniversary: he died of a heart attack when he was 40, around Father’s Day 14 years ago – that was the starting block of my childhood.
He and my mother were quite young. It was a shock because he was quite a high earner and he and my mother had just had three kids. They were really into things like gardening, improving things and having a really nice space.
I was lucky enough to do a lot of travel when I was young. When my father was still alive, we won a trip to Thailand and when I was 11, we went to Europe for six weeks as a family. I’ve been to Europe a couple more times after that. I feel like I’ve been set up for a global view of the world from early childhood and I’ve been pushed into creating independence.
I remember I didn’t cry the night that my dad died.
I went into hospital to stay the night while everyone else had gone home. I feel like it was both my nature and my learning, to expect that of myself, to be that that presence in the house.
I feel like it’s quite a clichéd thing to be a father figure, but I guess lacking that, I was void of one. I was trying to search for something to replace that, while also just starting puberty. Growing up trying to identify as something you feel suits you and is true to yourself whilst being left without half of what you’d normally base it on, leads to a more independent way of self-determining.
I feel like I took it upon myself to stand up as the big brother and the man of the house. A few people had said to me, if only ironically, “Oh, you’re the man of the house now,” because I was the eldest male.
In retrospect, I find it quite a Victorian-era style of speaking. I was eight years old but I definitely took those comments on board, thinking I had to step up, and try mature really fast. I’ve never been much of a recluse and I took on a hyper-masculine presence, which didn’t go well. This idea of responsibility and feeling like I had to be quite active developed throughout the years that I was at high school. I was quite interested in attention and tried to have a lot of friends.
I’m not that way now. I feel like those traits were a product of circumstance, rather than a natural progression towards who I was. Now I’m reasonably reserved when it comes to new people. I like to speak last. I like to listen a lot when I first meet people.
I have a sister who is 18 months older than me and a younger brother who is some obscenely old age now. He’s my baby brother and I can’t bear it: he’s growing up and already at uni.
Among my siblings, I was the know-it-all and my sister was the petulant teenage girl. I feel like all of those roles that naturally occur were exacerbated. They were hyper-roles where everyone was a massive personality. I feel like we’re still massive personalities, but considered, rather than charged. My little brother has always been the most chill guy – to the envy of my sister and I.
While I was at high school, I got with my friend when I was 14, and it was all a bit taboo.
We were all young but he had developed faster than us, whereas I was the shortest in my class until I was 16. I was quite innocent and I grew up very ‘straight.’
I think we were playing some stupid card game, staying up late, and it become some sort of dumb strip poker. We got naked, he had his dick out and we were all enjoying how naughty it felt. It was more like a curiosity, that it was there and it was a lot larger than anyone imagined was possible. Then he said something along the lines of, “I wonder what dick tastes like.”
It felt a bit naughty, it felt taboo. It felt like I was pushing boundaries that I wasn’t supposed to push. It felt like I knew I was going to regret it in the morning. I don’t regret the act, but I regretted how it happened.
No-one found out, which is surprising in an all-boys Catholic high school. After that point I started dating girls and got together with my first girlfriend.
I didn’t actually come out to my friends til the end of my first year at uni – first as bisexual. Stigma kept me from coming out when I was 14, and it took another five years to be able to say, “okay, this is definitely what I am and how I identify.”
The only reason I wouldn’t have come out earlier would’ve been due to fear of friends reacting differently and then being stigmatised from them. I wouldn’t have stigmatized myself by thinking of myself as any different. It wasn’t necessarily a scarring time, personally.
I came out to my mother on my 21st birthday which is kind of a funny story, but also not that funny. Before my 21st, I said to all my friends, “Hey, if you want to do speeches, just make sure it’s gender-neutral in terms of sexual exploits, on the off chance I don’t tell my mother I’m gay before my 21st.”
Everyone agreed and said, “That’s fine, I can do that.”
Anyway, there was a friend there who I’m pretty sure had a bit of a crush on me at a point in the past. Regardless, we’ve always been close and so he got up to speak and kept on speaking about the first time I had sex with a man, in front of all my family, all my family friends and all of my friends. He finished the speech and then my mum, who is just an angel, spoke just after him.
I was sitting there thinking that was pretty traumatic – ‘I cannot believe this, you have ruined my entire night, you have made this entire night about you.’ Then I got really drunk and then went to bed and despite the drama had a fantastic night.
It was a bit odd as it turns out my mother didn’t actually hear. One of her friends mentioned that one of my really good friends had outed me on my 21st and her response was, “Oh, I must not have heard.”
She said to me, “This is totally fine. But why are you friends with them?”
She’s a nurse and her one major concern was HIV or other STIs, unprotected sex and things she would’ve seen as a nurse in the ’80s. It was more of a: “I care about you. You can do literally what you want, but just be safe.”
By this stage, I had had sex a few times, but it definitely accelerated after I left Auckland because I didn’t feel like I belonged with the gay community there.
The few times that I had, I wasn’t really that safe at all. Now I’m quite well-versed in sexual health, but I got told in my high school sex-ed class that the anus is an exit point only and it’s medically wrong to put anything in there, which was their way of saying that anal sex is wrong.
I feel like my mother would’ve had faith that I would’ve picked up what to do to have safe sex. But no, I didn’t get any information about gay sexual health until I worked it out myself.
During uni in Auckland, I was living with guys in a house and they were from the most expensive private school in Auckland – all extremely wealthy, and some with unchecked privilege.
One of these guys whom I was living with was a friend and openly homoerotic, even though he identified as straight at the time. There were a lot of people like that in Auckland, especially in that more privileged society that felt like they can act however and behave in any way.
So, one night I went home from a club with this friend I was living with. He put on his lava lamp, dimmed the lights, put on the latest Beach House album and got it really moody. We were lying together in each other’s arms and started making out and had quite a frisky time. It was maybe an hour of just us hanging out, but quite physically intimate.
I had work in the morning, so I went to bed and when I was home after work the next day, I got back home and we hadn’t spoken about it yet. Then I get a text saying, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I’m really unhappy with how things happened last night, because you know I’m straight.” With some sad face emoticons.
My response was, “oh shit, I’m so sorry, didn’t know at all,” and he asked me not to tell anyone!! I said, “that’s fine.”
A few days after, I was feeling pretty dark about it so I mentioned it to my best friend and she said, “What the fuck? What the fuck has happened?”
“I know, I’m really sorry. I said sorry to him.”
She was so angry, “No!! He was 100% complicit and consensual in that arrangement. To then turn around and pretty much say that you forced yourself on him. You should absolutely not apologise for that. He should not be speaking to you in that way.”
That was really weird and I ended up falling out with him.
At the start of this year he was trying to get back with his ex-girlfriend, who I was really close to, so I got told everything that was being said about me. He was trying to describe how emotionally upset he was at a certain time and even said, “I was so much of a freak at that time, I even got with David.”
It was kind of like the nail in the coffin, in terms of feeling like I did not belong in Auckland. Whatever I did, it felt like I didn’t quite fit, or I wasn’t behaving in the ways that people were expecting me to.
The first time I had sex was with, again, a guy who was supposedly ‘straight.’ We were all out and I was leaving to go home. This guy, who I had met for the first time through a friend of mine, was like, “Okay, cool, I might come with you.” He didn’t walk with me, which I found out later was because he didn’t want it to seem as if he was gay. I actually knew of him because most of my straight female friends had crushes on him.
So he walked about 5 metres behind me and I got Macca’s while he stood outside. He asked me, “do you want to Uber to my car and I’ll drive you home?”
I thought, ‘he’s really hot but really, really straight?!’
I ended up in the car with him, at 3am on a Saturday morning wondering, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”
We chatted for two hours and ended up having sex in the front seat of his car in the middle of winter which was really uncomfortable. I don’t know why, considering my house was literally 30 seconds away. It was my first time too.
It was painful because I think he thought that a vagina and an arsehole work the same way. I had to semi-jokingly tell him, “No, you have to lube this up somehow, try your best.”
So, that was uncomfortable.
I got his number and while I was sitting next to him in the car, I rang his phone to see if he gave me the right number. That was one of the most shameful things I’ve ever done, I reckon.
When I was opening the car-door to leave, he turned to me and said, “Hey, so just forget this ever happened.”
“What?!” We literally had this half hour conversation about how I didn’t want to him to be my first time and he turns around and says, “just forget this ever happened?!”
Are you fucking kidding? You got to have sex with me. Decimated my self-worth and degraded me, I just gave you my first time and you’ve just said fucking forget about it?!
I saw him twice after that, one time we had sex, the other time we were too drunk.
Sex is funny because you’re going to have some shit times too, and not all sex is great. Sometimes it’s going to be on a cold winter’s night in the front seat of a car if you really want it, but not everything’s fabulous.
I do want to say that having sex with really hot straight guys is really bad. Even if they act gay, even if they want to have sex with you, even if they just want a blowjob, they will fuck you up. I’ve had too much experience of that.
Whenever I hear a friend say, “There’s this guy that’s straight, but he’s down for guys sometimes.” I will say absolutely not, I don’t care how attractive he is, I don’t care how hot he is. It’s always a bad experience.
You enter into that arrangement where you’re vulnerable, but then to be vulnerable to the extent to have someone make you feel uncomfortable for being gay, is so bizarre. Sex is such a vulnerable thing anyway, and when someone reacts like that, it’s so shit.
Since the second year of uni, I was feeling super trapped in Auckland. I really didn’t want to be there, I felt pretty lost and didn’t feel like I fit in at all.
I moved to Melbourne the year after I graduated uni. It’s crazy the pull that Melbourne has! It’s such a good place and I feel like I belong here, which is strange. It is such a random mixture of people and it’s nowhere near as cliquey as anywhere else.
It’s so diverse and so accepting. I feel like everything is a queer space in Melbourne. I think you find some sort of inner happiness from finding those places.
If you met me two years ago I would not have been myself. I was working three jobs, had uni, and I was very stressed out, very highly strung. I had time for my close friends and that was about it.
Even after uni, I definitely didn’t see myself with a boyfriend because of the perception I had of myself. I felt I was a difficult person to be around, because of what people had told me in Auckland; that I wasn’t fitting in, that I’m abrasive or hard to get along with.
My boyfriend and I have been together almost one year and we’ve lived together as of one month ago.
Even though I have had pretty rough times in the interim with interpersonal battles and stuff, I feel like my story has been relatively positive because I have managed to accept myself as a queer man.
I feel like I’m still searching for questions about my father but I really feel like I would like to give support to other young people going through the same thing, whether it’s losing a parent young or they were going through the process of self-identifying. I think that’s important.
Staying Negative profiles the real life stories of both HIV-negative and HIV-positive gay and bisexual men, including trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Read more about how you can share your story here.
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