Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Gay Biographies

Late 2014 offers three quite different choices of gay autobiography. Which one will did you find under your rainbow Christmas tree?

Witi Ihimaera takes you inside his childhood years living as an urbanised Maori in a European world, very aware of his ancestral connections and customs. Maori Boy: A Memoir is very personal and meanders its way delightfully as you learn about how Witi is Witi. He himself admits that this spiralling story is the Maori way. He can only be himself if his ancestors are explained and acknowledged. They had big families so there lots of them to cover. His life has been one of two conflicting realities.  "Many are the childhood scrapes I got into when I would insist otherwise. After all to accept  the Pakeha view would have been to erase myself. It created a new narrative that displaced the old."

Always a man who lives his life his way, Graham Norton eschews a straightforward autobiography to instead riff on the things that make his life happy. When you delve intoThe Life and Loves of a He Devil  you will discover  what he thinks of  dogs, making TV shows, men and booze, but not necessarily in that order. He has lots of time for his Mum and his many exes. This book fills in the gaps for the times we haven't been seeing him on our screens. Did you know he has worked and lived in America? With homes in London, Cork and New York it seems he has done very well for himself and the man on telly is the man you meet in this accessible book.

And thirdly our favourite witterer of all Mr Stephen Fry with his third autobiographical instalment More Fool Me.  His writing style is flowery, unique and wonderful. " I'm going to be 36 tomorrow: three dozen, a quarter of a gross. A very favourable number, but otherwise nothing special." This is the book of his adult years. He is self deprecating, clever and in many ways exhibits characteristics we all have, but with him they are certainly amplified. These include his tendency to become absolutely obsessed with anything that captures his interest. This includes computers, snooker ad drugs but seldom popular celebrities. He freely admits that his upbringing has almost turned him into an upper class tosser.

The gay life story has become mainstream. Otherwise these three books wouldn't be published. Each will have its own audience. With a bit of thought and some pretty wrapping paper you should be able to select a gift for someone special from these this season. And then grab a chance in the New Year to read it for yourself.

First published at

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Allergy Cards website

As well as writing reviews and organisng book events for Pride in Auckland, I have also created a website to provide allergy cards in many languages to make life easier for people to eat out when traveling abroad with allergies.
Visit to have a look.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

12 express 09 - 22 FEB 2011 09 - 22 FEB 2011 express 13
everyone stopped and watched. They were a
real spectacle.
“Then we had Captain Condom, which was
hilarious. We put him up in a harness and he was
flown around the room handing out condom
packs. We didn’t rehearse the act and we didn’t
know how it was going to go and he didn’t
realise that he was going to be in pain!”
Rex says that although they had to hire private
security guards for the event, there weren’t any
incidents that required muscle… well, not that
kind of muscle.
“One of the things that’s always amazed me is
that they were these huge events with no aggro,
as you would find at other dance parties. It was
a very, very safe place.”
Looking back on 27 January 1991 at a lunch
on Auckland’s waterfront, Rex, Andrew and
the committee celebrated 20 years of gay
expression and celebration in our biggest city.
There were plenty of laughs, glasses of wine
and a lot of stories. Some of these stories were
about those in the committee who are no longer
with us – John Draper, Sean McDonough and
Neil Trubhovich. Rex remembers Neil fondly.
“He was a photographer by trade and also a
bodybuilder. Neil mentored a lot of the young
guys who got into bodybuilding and was very
inspiring for these people.
“Neil had found out he had HIV around the time
of the first Hero party, but he did a lot of stuff
towards both the first and second Hero parties.
I remember after the second Hero party, which
was this extraordinary event down at Princes
Wharf, Neil saying he’d sat up above the party
watching everyone. He said he was happy but
found himself in tears because he knew he
wouldn’t be around next time. To hear that…”
Rex’s sentence trails off and I decide not to
push him to finish it. The wishes of that teacher
all those years ago had, in a way, come true – 10
years after my scolding and 20 years after
Hero’s start, I’d learned a lot about where this
poignant time in GLBT history had begun.
At the end of our interview, Rex talked about the
things that made him proudest when looking
“Here in New Zealand we don’t have a huge
community and it is quite a job pulling something
like Hero together; for that I’m proud. But back
then there was a real need to have community
visibility – now you can go to the television or
the internet to get all the affirmations about gay
pride you need. Hero was one of the things that
really got that started.”
“But the thing I’m most proud about when I
think about organising Hero is that so many
young people come up to me and say that
Hero was important to them in terms of them
coming out and feeling good about who they
are as gay people. For me, that’s a great enough
achievement in itself.” | Hannah JV
My first Hero celebration was the last that
would ever be. It was a wet and cold evening
and I, being a school-hating but Britneyloving
17-year-old, decided to wear my junior
high school uniform to the parade – shirt tied
up, tartan kilt hiked up and hair in pigtails. A
teacher from my school spotted me that night
and I was hauled into his office on Monday
morning. We never touched on the fact that
both he and I were at the Hero Parade or what
that meant – he was much more concerned
with telling me to “have some respect” and
“learn some of your history”.
Little did this teacher know, but 10 years later
I would be learning history, but it was’t school
history. Instead, I learned a bit about GLBT
history by attending the 20-year anniversary
of the very first Hero party and meeting those
who organised that first big shebang on 27
January 1991.
I was invited to cover the event by Andrew
Rumbles, express’ book reviewer who runs
Dymocks booksellers in Ponsonby. These days
Andrew spends his time buried in books – and his
most recent late night was caused by an errant
alarm call out at the book store – but 20 years ago
Andrew was a 24-year-old taking in what little the
gay community had to offer.
“There wasn’t a lot of community back then,” he
says. “There were saunas, there were two gay
bars – Alfie’s and Staircase. Other than the odd
group like the tramping group, the only way that
you knew there was any kind of community was
by going out and getting drunk at bars”
It was around this time that Andrew came into
contact with Rex Halliday, who was working at
the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) in
the prevention division. Rex had been running
a campaign about safe sex and the dangers of
AIDS but had decided to do something positive
for the community.
“My thought was that we needed to have a
celebration of being gay to counteract these
negative messages,” says Rex. “There was
research to show that successful compliance to
safe sex was very much tied up with self-esteem
and community identity. Our community didn’t
have any kind of strong identity at the time –
there weren’t a great deal of places for us to
congregate, so finding or creating a space like this
was part of my agenda.
“I had the idea that a festival would be great, but
we’d have to start off small with something like a
party. However, I was loathe to host a typical gay
circuit party because they are a celebration of
drugs and sex.
“I wanted to put on a community celebration –
something that would actually make people feel
that being gay is an incredibly good thing. There
was almost nothing that said that in our culture
back then. I thought it was all very well for us
to put out these negative messages about HIV/
AIDS, but we needed to emphasise that it’s okay
to be gay. So we
decided to run a
party and have
50 per cent of the
profit go to HIV/
AIDS prevention
and the other
50 per cent to
So a committee of interested people was put
together – these people were charged with
organising the party, drumming up interest so
people would come along… and finding a name.
Andrew says, “We tossed around names like
Sleaze and all that sort of stuff but none of
them were really on message in terms of what
we were trying to create. But then Don Badman
came up with the name Hero. It didn’t stick at
first, but then Rex thought about it a lot and
came back to the committee the following
meeting with his argument.
Rex says, “Initially none of us thought ‘Hero’ was
‘gay enough’. Heroes at the time were action
movie guys and that was not what we were going
for. But I thought about it on the way home and
thought that ‘Hero’ is in actual fact a very powerful
word. Being a gay person is such a heroic act.
How many people have to face coming out and
standing proud as their true self while others seek
to judge them? If that’s not heroic, what is?”
Andrew says, “Hero was exactly on message for
what we wanted to do. His argument for calling
it that really made us feel like it was a word we
could really hang our beliefs onto.”
From there came the organisation of the party.
Rex worked on a Hero newspaper, committee
members such as Bruce Petry – now an
architect – had building skills they could bring
to the table, whilst John Draper, a local artist,
made the now-iconic poster.
Rex says that to this day he is still amazed by
the extraordinary people working on the project.
“John Draper did a lot of the visioning of what we
could do with the space, which ended up being
this huge rail warehouse in Parnell. John was
so enthused about the whole thing - he had all
these grand ideas of what we could do and you
couldn’t help but be
swept up in it.”
From there came
the hype. The Hero
paper came out in
December and the
organising team put
postcards around
all of the venues.
Andrew laughs, “With all this promotion, we
knew we had to make it great from the get
go! No one had really put in this sort of effort
before so people knew something different was
happening. This really drove us to make sure we
delivered something amazing.”
Rex says the team hyped it up by talking about
it a lot – outside of the Hero Paper and the flyer
drops the group did radio interviews and spread
the word amongst friends. “We even tried to get
into the mainstream media, he says. “That didn’t
go down so well, because back then papers like
the Herald wouldn’t use the word ‘gay’ to mean
homosexual.” He laughs, “So yes, we had some
real trouble there.”
Andrew says the party was bankrolled by
the NZAF, which was forthcoming with
cash eventually – once they had a couple of
guarantees. “The NZAF had agreed to lend us
the money to fund the party, but Rex and I had
to sign personal guarantees that if the money
wasn’t paid back through the party it would be
on our heads. That’s a lot of money for someone
my age at the time – I didn’t even have a car!
Maybe now I wouldn’t sign my life away like that,
but I think at the time that something like Hero
had to happen for the good of the community.
I’m pleased that it did happen, because it
carried on into the future so well.”
For the party, the team utilised the steam engine
left in the shed and also converted large reels
that were stored there into dance podiums.
“Everything was done on the cheap,” says
Andrew. “That first year we just didn’t have the
money to do this extravagantly.
“The thing we did with the first Hero is that
we knew what we could do – we knew what
festivals worldwide were capable of but we
also knew what we were capable of. We started
small and put together a party and then Hero
just blew up from there.”
And blow up it did, but not straight away. Ticket
sales were slow leading up to the event, leaving
Andrew fretting right up until an hour before
doors opened. “Like most things in Auckland,
people leave everything to the last minute,”
laughs Andrew. “Kevin Hague [now an MP for
the Green Party] and I were standing upstairs
in this old office wondering if anyone was going
to turn up, but then we looked out the window
and there was a line out the door and all the way
along the road – you couldn’t see the end of it!”
Rex, however, was cool as a cucumber. “For
some reason I was really confident about the
night – I wasn’t worried about not selling enough
tickets at all. I said to people who were worried,
‘This isn’t just Auckland and we’re dealing with
gay boys. They wait until the bitter end to buy
their tickets, just in case they get swept up by
someone and taken to San Francisco that night’.
Hey, it could happen!”
The number of attendees is sketchy – Andrew
says 2000 were there, Rex thinks 1500 – but
what can’t be argued was the enormity of
the event.
“It was huge,” says Andrew. “To see the teeming
masses dancing and enjoying themselves was
just great. We had these amazing performances
from body builders and a Madonna tribute – and
the best part was that during the performances,
hero at year zero
0800 NEW KIA
NZ Standard specifi cations may vary from those shown. To receive $2000 discount please
present this advert at your nearest Kia dealer. O er applies to Retail Registrations only.
Memories of the first Hero
“20 years ago? Oh my God! It seems like, well, 20
years ago! But seriously, we were all heroes and
the whole thing was a blast. Congrats on your
successes and careers. Well done.” Paul Safe
“On the night I remember Nick Marsh dressed
as Captain Condom being suspended from the
gantry crane, then the gantry moving across the
packed dance floor with me on the ground at
the end of a long rope (attached to Nick) on one
side, tossing condom packs to the crowd, and
someone else on the end of another long rope
(also attached to Nick) on the other side of the
dance floor. We were both dressed as penises.
We had modified bike helmets as the heads, and
big long pink sack/sock things as the shafts. My
counterpart wore the outfit but shy retiring me
didn’t want to be dressed as a complete dick
so went for the so much cooler dickhead only
option.” Justin McNab
“This reunion brought back many good memories
of how much we achieved with the first HERO – H
for the Rugby Post, the bastion of New Zealand,
HE for the male in us, HER for the fact that we
are integrated with our feminine energy and O
because we are whole and complete; we are
heroes. (With thanks to Rex Halliday for this!)”
Charles Otter
Thanks to Flickr’s Archmage01 for additional imagery.
Hero in the making where Auckland’s first GLBT festival began
Organisers of the first Hero, left to right: Steve Lovett, Nick Marsh, Don Badman, Andrew Rumbles,
Andrew Douglas, Rex Halliday, Jack Atherton, Scott Johnston, Bruce Kilmister, Bruce Petry
“I wanted to put on a community
celebration – something that would
actually make people feel that being
gay is an incredibly good thing.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eminent Outlaws; The Gay Writers Who Changed America

From a broader perspective I have just completed reading Eminent Outlaws  by Christopher Bram.  He takes a close look at the last 50 years of gay writing from America,  Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and James Baldwin all feature heavily in the 1950s post war period.  They were often friends but also combative competitors. 
Their writing was often criticised for being too homosexual or read as homosexual pretending to be straight.  Baldwin suffered under the charge of not writing as a black man when he wrote a gay story.  It is these writers who along with Christopher Isherwood and Edmund White showed that gay writing could be good and did not always have to include suffering homosexuals.  Straight people had difficult lives and gay people often lived happy lives. 
The literature produced could be entertaining, informative and for the publishers even profitable.  The details of the plays, poems, novels and essays produced in the second half of last century is amazing.  This could be a book in which to find your future reading lists.

Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

The famous author of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov seldom mentioned the brother he left behind in Europe.  Paul Russell has very cleverly reconstructed this gay brother’s life from the few known facts.  It is a beautiful journey from the decline of St Petersburg in the early 20th Century as the time of the Tsars is brought to a close through to the end of Hitler’s Germany and Sergey himself. 

Sergey lives and loves an amazing life.  His father was immensely intelligent and he idolised his gay uncle who ignored him, while focussing his attentions on the elder Vladimir.  Sergey becomes friends with many famous people of the era such as Cocteau and Alice Toklas.  This is the story of an emigrant community and an overlooked brother.  It captures a changing world over a period of just a few decades. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Queen of Iron Years

By Lyn McConchie ad Sharman Horwood published by Kite Hill Publishing

Its 2035 and the world has gone to pieces.  Just like AIDS did in the 1980s a new disease known as Tensens is causing panic.  It appears that the hormonal balance of transsexuals means any Transgender person infected with Tensens and having sexual relations causes their partner to die.  Our transgender hero Cean finds his life is getting more difficult and the discrimination he suffers causes a halt to his life and his journey to becoming female.

The story progresses to Cean using a friend’s time travel technology to travel back to the first century and the time of his heroine Boadicea.  The subsequent tale is a brilliant example of historical fiction.  The details ring true as we read of battles with Romans and simple village life in early Britain.  Cean is hoping that he can change the future by helping Boadicea win war against Rome, rather than lose as she had done in our history.  Cean uses his knowledge and a stock of antibiotics to gain trust as he integrates with these more primitive people.  By changing the past a better kinder world where female strength is valued may come to pass.

You will enjoy reading this book.  Co-author Lyn lives in New Zealand.  Give her your support.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Naked Truth by Rachel Francis published by Penguin.


The sex industry in New Zealand occurs in dark back streets, busy street corners, strip clubs, massage parlours, brothels, and all places where gritty real sexual encounters occur.  This is Rachel’s second book, a book where she endeavours to share with all of us the truth and reality of this industry.  Through her interviews with a wide range of people Rachel wants to demonstrate the validity of what these people do for a living.

Sex workers can be entertainment as we see in night clubs and strip bars, while they can also be a safe sexual outlet for people who would otherwise be tempted force sex on someone in their lives.

At the book’s launch a wonderful variety of humanity was on show. These were the people from the book.  The female with long blond hair and great tits on show had grown up to be a farming bloke from provincial NZ, the couple who run a swingers club, young and old sex workers, the memory of Flora Mackenzie and Carmen Rupe who polarised our county’s attitudes to entertainment at the sexual boundary of society.

The interviews are revealing and engaging.  Rachel’s own self comes through in each of the introductions.  This is a woman who has lived life and is proud to be able to share her world with readers who have only glimpsed this one previously.

And then we come across our community’s hero, Miss Ribena.  Miss Ribena tells us she learnt to be drug and alcohol free from her first Madam.  This self control is what delivers spot on performances and a caring person to clubs like Family.  By challenging norms and creating allure she also gives a role model to us all.

Go on, do buy and read this book for its salacious details of the sex industry, but also for the wonderful stories of our fellow Kiwis.

Reviewed by Andrew Rumbles,