10 Questions with Matt McEvoy


Q1: This is your second book, and so you did know before you began that being an author is not the easiest gig in town. Why did you decide to do it again and write this one?

Perhaps it’s like going back for a second skydive, for some once is enough, others have a mysterious compulsion to repeat the experience.

In the early stages of thinking about what this project would be, I was astounded to find that diverse New Zealand LGBTQIA+ stories have never been collected and told in a single book. That felt like a glaring omission among the stories that are given voice in Aotearoa. Rather than being something I decided to do, it became something I simply had to do. I can’t imagine feeling the same sense of bristling urgency about a cookbook.

Q2: It can’t have been easy, identifying 30 individuals and then persuading them to be part of the project. How did you find them all?

It was an organic process of expanding my awareness beyond the safe familiarity of my urban existence. I kept an open mind, alive to any opportunity to meet people at events or through friends. Some of the well-known people in the book have agents and assistants, and the New Zealand Defense Force has its own strict process to gain access to soldiers; it took persistence to make it through these gatekeepers. I travelled around New Zealand. Some people were from tiny places I’d never heard of. There are people from all walks of life, ethnicities, genders and sexualities. They are a wonderful bunch of people and I’m proud to say some have become my friends. Some groups within the queer community face more difficulties in life and a harsher portrayal in the media than others, so I was careful to ensure everyone was comfortable to share their story.

Q3: Most people seem to have agreed pretty readily. What drove them to say yes?

They believed in the kaupapa of the book. Often, I was told this would have been valuable for their younger selves, or themselves now. Some people were surprised that I would be interested in their story — we often undervalue our own experiences. Everyone has a story worth telling if we only take the time and ask the right questions. I learned how rich life can be if we open ourselves to learning about the experiences of others.

Q4: And saying yes is quite an act of generosity, isn’t it?

Yes, and a very trusting act. I was careful to tread gently so as not to overstep boundaries with such personal stories. Each person had the opportunity to read, add to and edit their story before publication.

Q5: How long did it take to gather all the interviews?

 Nearly three years from the first person to the last.

Q6: Lockdowns can’t have helped?

I loved travelling around meeting people, but the virus can’t beat technology. Some of the last interviews were conducted via video call. It’s a different kind of intimacy — people are comfortable in their own homes, sometimes with a glass of wine. I don’t think anything was lost with this dynamic.

Q7: What’s one new thing you learned while working on this book?

One specific thing I learned is that intersex people are as common as people with red hair, around 2 per cent of us. Many of the people in the book have paths in life so fascinatingly different from my own so their perspectives and philosophies were fresh to me, and I was constantly learning from them.

Q8: Was there a common strand in these life stories?

Yearning for acceptance and fear of abandonment, courage and hope. So often in these stories I’ve seen that a little bit of compassion goes a long way. We shouldn’t underestimate the effect our acts of kindness can have on others — an offer of support or a few words of encouragement make all the difference in lifting people up and keeping them going through the dark times until they make it through to brighter days.

Q9: All sorts of people will gain so much from this book — parents, siblings, teachers, friends, church leaders, politicians among them. But what do you hope young queer people in particular will find in its pages?

Young people often are told ‘It gets better’ and often that’s true. However, it’s not much to hold onto during tough times. The stories in this book tell the real paths people have taken and give practical examples of how they’ve dealt with their struggles.

Q10: Proud of it?

Yes. The LGBTQIA+ suicide rate is five times higher than the rest of New Zealand, and if this book finds its way into the right hands it may even save lives.