Rex McIntosh reminds us what it was like to come out in a country town 20 years ago, and asks if in two decades how much things have changed.
After my first son was born and another on the way, my wife and I decided to leave the big smoke and have a try at country living. I subsequently applied for and accepted a position teaching in a small country town in Northland and then our second son made his arrival. We moved and settled in and our daughter arrived. We were now a family of 5.
After working for a few years, living in a school house, we purchased a 4 acre property including a farmhouse and implement sheds. The remaining farm was sold to a neighbour. Life was cushy. I was responsible for 2 departments (PR2), began a gymnastics club and a swimming club and produced and directed over 12 major stage productions for the school and a few concerts for the local community, as well as drive a school bus.
I’ve been gay ever since I can remember, but I had to hide it from my father. He would have ‘killed’ me, literally. So I did my best to be the best, academically and sportswise, be the ‘macho’ son he wanted. Before our first son was born, I told my wife I was gay. I couldn’t stand the hiding, the lies that had to be made. It was up to her whether we stayed together or split up. She decided she’d stay with me as long as I underwent ‘help’ to make me straight.
I’d give anything a go. So it was church, baptism, prayers, meetings with psychologists…..I did my best to conform, but to no avail. I knew it was all humbug but I wanted to try, for the sake of our marriage. All was well for 20 years. I was a good boy, a pillar of the community, then I committed an indiscretion, only one, in all that time and it just happened accidentally. But I was seen! My wife was informed, she told me to leave. So I moved into the sleep-out on a friend’s farm while she packed up and prepared to leave for Australia, taking my daughter and second son with her. My oldest chose to remain with me. She left, I sold the house and bought a small cottage in the town and my son and I moved in.
Unfortunately for me, my wife told a friend of hers why she was leaving. Either deliberately or accidentally she had said I was gay. It didn’t take long for word to get round the town that I was a poof, a queer, a faggot. Then came the reaction. Students would see me walking down the street and would cross the road so they wouldn’t have to speak to me. Friends I drank with in the pub turned their backs on me when I walked in. The local minister of the cooperating parish called in to tell me not to play organ in church any more. The church committee didn’t want someone like me leading the singing. One morning my class were lined up outside my room. I came up and ruffled the hair of a cheerful lad and said ‘Good morning, how are you today?”
At morning interval I got a summons to the principal’s office. The lad had reported me to the boss and wanted to charge me with sexual assault! The principal put him in his place, happily for me. But parents had obviously spoken to their children and told them to watch out for the pervert! And so life went on. Gradually things settled down and returned to normal, or so I thought. I didn’t know the plan that was being hatched by the school board.
To get rid of an employee, he/she has to be issued with 3 warnings for poor workmanship or similar. I didn’t blink an eyelid when the Deputy Principal said he was coming to observe a lesson. We HODs observed each other. He came and went. My report was – badly prepared lesson, poor class atmosphere, lack of attention by the children. What utter crap. I had made sure it was a good lesson. Next the principal came to observe. He was a maths teacher so I prepared a maths lesson. Introduction to integers. Plenty of activities, even got him involved. Report?
The same as the DP’s. I had made sure the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. It became obvious this was frame-up. I contacted the PPTA and spoke with a union lawyer. She arrived the next day and we had a meeting with the head and dp. They were adamant I was a bad teacher. Their observations couldn’t be wrong. My final observer was to be a principal from an Auckland school, up for the day at the committee’s expense, to spend the entire day with me. We were to have a meeting afterwards and decide my fate. The principal arrived, a young chap, very personable and friendly. We spent a very happy day together. He got on well with the students and we all had fun. After school, he asked me ‘What the hell is going on?’ I told him the committee wanted to get rid of me because I’m gay. He was livid.
At the meeting all hell broke loose. His day with me was superb, great class spirit, well prepared lessons, full student participation in all activities. I would be welcome on his staff in Auckland if I applied. All this time he was eyeballing the principal and the dp who both slowly got redder and redder. They knew the game was up.
After he left, things returned to normal as much as they could. I was exonerated, but I could no longer work in that atmosphere. So I resigned at the end of the year. The staff gave me a farewell morning tea. No gift? After 16 years of hard work? No. Nothing. I put the house on the market, arranged removal transport and prepared to leave. 2 nights before my departure, a friend rang up and invited me to dinner on her farmlet. I was pleased to accept. It had been a lonely couple of weeks. When I arrived at her place, I found over 150 locals had all come to say goodbye. So not everyone hated me. And we partied well into the night. The same thing happened the next and final night.
Another 100+ people arrived. I was very touched. Homophobia is well and truly alive among the older generation in the country but the younger are more accepting. I have been back a few times to catch up with friends and it has been a pleasure. Not many remain today. That was over 20 years ago, but even today, I guess that’s what it’s like to come ‘out’ in the country.
Article | Rex McIntosh