Sam Purwa-Jones

This interview came about after I saw someone make horrible remarks to my friend Sam one night in the city. It stuck with me because it opened my eyes to the bubble that a lot of us live in – it made me realise is that it’s easy to forget how much of an issue this is in society, and it made me want to talk to Sam about it.

 

I am beyond grateful for my friend and his openness in talking about deeply personal topics. It is important to note that this isn’t just about his sexuality, also his way of thinking and the way his unique experiences have shaped him as a person.

Primary School and the Politics of the word ‘Crush’

Sam started our conversation about his memories as a child, noting that he was “surrounded by girls” when he was younger. He would often spend time with his female cousins, fitting in with them by doing any activity that they would for fun – whether it was playing hairdressers or dress-up. As he remembers fondly how much the time spent with his cousins stuck with him, it’s clear this period “without any masculine figures” was so positive and influential that it helped in forming everything from his choices in clothes at the time (those cheap necklaces that came in books) to his thought process on his relationship with his father many years later.

Within school, he was part of the “nerdy” group, made up of a mix of girls and guys. It was there that he discovered the unfortunate politics of the word “crush” in the last few years of primary school. As many of his classmates started declaring their ‘crushes’, Sam had the meaning slightly confused, thinking that it just meant a friend for life. As such he announced his ‘crush’ on a friend of his, completely in the dark on the ramifications such a statement brought with it, especially in the cutthroat and ever shifting social landscape of his primary school. He admits this probably weirded her out and broke up their friendship but it remains a formative memory of his.

 

Sam still remained completely oblivious to the actual meaning of ‘crush’ but began to notice his classmates forming relationships with the opposite sex, in a boyfriend/girlfriend capacity – but to him, the attraction was only with the same sex. His first actual ‘crush’ was a boy in his year who he would give his chocolates to every day, which drew the attention of his classmates who questioned his sexuality. Whilst he denied being gay to his classmates, he had only really begun to understand what being gay was – mostly through his early interactions with social media. “I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but I knew it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have” – with neither his classmates nor himself.

High School and Taking a stand over a sock

As it is for many of us in High School, Sam’s way of thinking and self-image began to form rapidly over the span of a few years. Coupled with navigating anxiety surrounding his sexuality and how he could tell his family and friends, it created an environment where he felt powerless in his own life.

 

In his first year, he began to have the conversation with himself that he had been putting off – “I started realising I am gay – everyone’s talking about girls, and I don’t have those same feelings”. His first instance of ‘coming out’ occurred in his math class, by passing a note to his friends saying, ‘This is hard for me to do, but I’m gay’. This quickly spread in the year and it became generally known – he was the first openly ‘out’ person in his year.

 

Following this, Sam began to come out to some members of his family. “The hardest person to come out to way my mum, because she’s always been there for me, and her opinion really matters to me.”. Talking to Sam, it is clear that his Mum’s support back then (and still, now) was an incredibly important milestone in allowing him to be comfortable in his own skin, and with the person who matters most to him. At a young age, Sam was openly ‘out’ – his classmates, cousins, brother and mother knew. In a sense this whole period saw Sam begin to take power back for himself, but he still despised the whole High School experience –

“I hated it, I didn’t like anything about it at all but I don’t regret it because I’d be a completely different person without it.”

Photo: Gabby Roache
Photo: Gabby Roache

In Primary School, and the first few years of High School, he was “the quiet kid” – but he soon found confidence in sticking up for himself against teachers. One instance of this that particularly stood out was when he took a stand against a teacher singling him out for “incorrect socks”, which everyone else was also guilty of.

 

Instead of following the original punishment of writing an essay on the importance of correct uniforms, Sam instead wrote an essay on the importance of disciplining all students equally. This eventually led to a meeting with him, his parents and the headmaster – which resulted in them apologising to him. Sam sees this as a “major milestone” – whilst it may have seemed trivial at the time, it represented one of the first instances of rebelling against an authority which signalled a change in Sam’s thinking process, as well as his confidence in himself. In a way Sam’s whole demeanour changed after this, instead of resuming the role as “quiet kid who sat in the back”, he became more outgoing and more receptive to social situations.

This isn’t to say that Sam felt completely confident in social situations quite yet – there were some situations in High School which he noted set him back. He recalled instances where classmates would jokingly flirt with him – “that really fucked up my social skills, because I never knew how to respond.”

 

Sam eventually dropped out of High School towards the end of Year 10, opting instead to study filmmaking at TAFE. Whilst only being a span of 4 years, it is clear by talking to Sam that, like all of us, the foundations for his self-image, confidence and way of thinking were the products of his experience in High School. The issue of socks being a prime example, this ultimately gave him the ability to take stand up for what he believed in – which would be the basis for his responses to social and familial issues he faced after leaving school.

Navigating Familial and Social Relationships

“Being straight, you don’t have to ‘come out’ or tell anyone, so being gay I don’t have to tell anyone either”

 

As Sam noted – there isn’t an ‘obligation’ to formally come out to his family, he assumes that most people, like his Grandparents, already know about it. Following him leaving High School, Sam enjoyed his newfound freedoms by getting his ear pierced – and when posing the question at the dinner table to his family about getting his hair dyed blonde, the question of his sexuality was raised by his father.

 

“My Dad asked ‘why are you doing all these things to your body like a girl. What are you gay or something?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I’m gay’.

 

“He said, ‘When you were younger you used to be healthy, now you’re sick, what would your wife say?’. I basically just said ‘I’m not here to let you attack me, I’m not going to sit here and take it and I’d never treat someone like you’re treating me’”

 

After his confrontation with his dad, Sam’s brother and mum came to console him, where he cried “tears of happiness” because he came to an important realisation.

 

“My dads never been a father figure to me, he never came to any sports or did anything with me. He’s never been there in my life, what difference does it make now? I’m really grateful all the people that make an effort to be in my life accept me for who I am. If he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t understand – I’m not going to fight for his love and affection.”

 

Following this, Sam and his father’s relationship has been almost non-existent. Apart from in very specific scenarios, they haven’t spoken for 4 years even though they live in the same house. Although Sam doesn’t hold a grudge for his fathers’ views on his sexuality, he takes offence to the disrespect that his father shows towards him – in his view, if he has never been there for him as a father how does he expect respect back?

 

“Sure at the dinner table I’ll pour him a glass of water, but I’m not going to go above or beyond for him, or listen to him”

 

This remains a point of conflict between Sam and his dad, even though they very rarely talk.

Unfortunately, within his house isn’t the only instance of homophobia that he has experienced in recent years. One instance was during a recent Mardi Gras, “These kids starting following us and saying ‘faggot’ and ‘you’re going to hell’. I just thought, this poor kid.”

 

Whilst the years following his departure from High School into tertiary studies and beyond has been turbulent in many ways – in many other ways it has opened up Sam’s opportunities to understand and express himself better. Most notably in his creative outlets – through fashion and also through the filmmaking he has done during his studies.

 

“I don’t really dress masculine or feminine. I get bored of how I dress, so every time it’s a new aesthetic. I’ll wear a dress one day and not think anything of it – it isn’t a statement of sexuality its just how I want to dress on that particular day.”

 

Through his interactions with people at TAFE in his filmmaking course, Sam found a new rapport with adults – “it was so different from being treated as a baby at school”. Specific people he met in this course, like the very confident classmate Gabby and her “I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude” was in a way inspiring – people in the ‘real world’ didn’t give a shit about things that don’t matter like they did in High School. In this, even though he had to deal with projects he had no creative connection to, he found the whole experience as liberating.

 

Along with finding a new group of friends, his experiences following High School has been one of unprecedented independence – which has allowed Sam to continue being genuinely himself.

 

But with this, brings with it a whole host of social situations to navigate. “I want my relationship with guy friends to be the exact same as with girlfriends, but I’m always worried they are going to get the wrong impression… I don’t want to push people away if they think I’m flirting with them”. In a way, Sam notes that in social situations he has to think twice about everything in order to make sure he isn’t stepping over any ‘lines’. This has stemmed from experiences when he was younger, as mentioned above – but also from new found pressures and stereotypes, especially the supposed role of ‘gay best friend’ which he hates.

 

Sam’s sexuality was generally the topic of our conversation, but it isn’t the basis of his identity. He has found it hard to keep his sexuality only a part of who he is, rather than have it define him or be the way people remember him.

“I don’t want people to see me as gay before seeing me as Sam… and I don’t see myself as ever not being me.”

Sam’s Way of Thinking

 

In our long talk together, the main takeaway for me wasn’t regarding Sam’s sexuality, his own self image or the experiences he has had – it was the way that all of these things have shaped his perspective. Sam’s way of thinking is rooted in his ability to not allow negativity to change his view on himself or someone else. Rather than passive indifference or overthinking to the point of jumping to conclusions, his position on many things that we talked about shows that he generally doesn’t allow most things out of his control to have an effect on his mental state.

 

 

“I don’t really care about what people think of me anymore… I have to be at peace with it because I don’t have control over it. I used to struggle with making friends because I’d make a lot of effort and if I didn’t get that reciprocated, I’d be really bummed – I guess it’s the same with my dad. There’s no point fussing over something I can’t change, so I just move on.”

 

 

His outlook on life and his way of thinking is a build up on all of his experiences – through this, he notes that he isn’t basing his happiness on whether people accept him or whether they “come around”: “I’m not shutting anyone out, if one day things are different, then they are different. I’m always up for second and third chances – I really think people can change”

 

Whilst Sam’s process of self-discovery is one we can all empathise and relate with, his unique take and view on issues which could have toppled him mentally and emotionally as shown throughout our talk is hopefully as prominent for you as it was for me.

 

As such, I hope that the key thing to take from this interview is Sam’s way of thinking and his way of responding to the experiences and circumstances that have been thrown his way. His perspective on both positive and negative experiences he has had is really inspiring, and represents an incredibly mature outlook that focuses on the factors he can control rather than the ones he can’t. It is interesting to note that this way of looking at things isn’t the result of an ‘aha!’ moment (as it is usually represented to be in books, tv, film), it is instead the result of his life so far.

 

As in my previous interview with Cécile, where she stated “If something doesn’t resonate with someone, they will do the filter – I don’t have to”, Sam shares a similar view which is incredibly admirable and something we should all strive for.