Bright Lights, No City is a project dedicated to documenting the stories of LGBTQIA+ youth from country WA. We thank Community Arts Network for funding this project.
The Centre for Stories collected a number of written and oral stories. Each participant’s story has been thoughtfully crafted with the help of Oral Storytelling Trainer, Sisonke Msimang, and Writing Expert, Susan Midalia. This project was funded by Community Arts Network (CAN). CAN manages the Catalyst Community Arts fund on behalf of the State of Western Australia through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.
In this story, Peehi Blake worked alongside Sisonke Msimang to craft and perfect his story.
About Peehi: I am Peehi Blake, I’m a supermarket deli queen most days and a self-taught makeup artist every other day. I’ve spent the last five years of my life in the mining town of Kalgoorlie and coming out to my friends and family has definitely been a wild ride.
Copyright © 2018 Peehi Blake Tahana.
These stories have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of these stories, please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was originally published on May 20, 2018.
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Most people say that Kalgoorlie is just a big man’s town in the middle of the desert. But for me, it’s definitely been somewhere where I can flourish and grow. So I grew up in New Zealand in a small town with a population of about a thousand people. So everyone knew each other’s business, couldn’t really keep secrets in that town. I was with my birth parents for six months. They decided they wanted at least one of their children to have a decent shot at life. So my mother gave me away to her sister, and I grew up calling my birth parents aunty and uncle, and my aunty and uncle, mum and dad. My birth parents had four other children, who I also referred to as my siblings, and my aunty and uncle also had a daughter, who I referred to as my sibling. So it was a bit confusing.
School was pretty horrible because most of the people that I went to school with, I grew up with, and they knew the ins and the outs of who I was. So, you know, no hiding anything from them. I had a lot of inexperience in the gay world. So I’d never met another gay person. I had nothing to reference anything, other than the Internet. So I felt very disconnected from just, like, I guess, the gay world, and I felt very isolated.
So in 2012, my family and I moved to Kalgoorlie. They moved there for money, and I obviously had to go along with them, being 15 at the time. And I thought of this as a fresh start. I thought of – it would be a fresh start for me. So I, you know, became a different person when I came over. I pretended that I was not gay. I clung to a group of big rugby boys. They were my friends in Kalgoorlie. So I kind of used that as a, sort of, armour, so no one would really mess with you. You’re with the big, tough boys at school. Yeah. So I faked my way through year 10. And I spent a lot of time hating myself because just – you know, not really knowing much about myself, didn’t know what I was, know what I was feeling. And that’s, sort of, around the age where you’re starting to question a lot of things. So, yeah, it was difficult.
Oh, 2014, school got a little bit better. Everyone was too focused on what they were doing to, like, be worrying about what I’m doing. It wasn’t a lot of verbal teasing. It was just, like – just a look. People can say a lot with their eyes. So I – you know, I got a lot of looks at school. But looks are easy enough to ignore. And, yeah, I also met a lot of other queer people who were very comfortable in their own skin. And I figured that, you know, why can’t I be as comfortable being myself as they are? And spending a lot of time around them, I really did learn to love myself a little bit more, or, sort of, like, accept myself, I guess. I was out to pretty much everyone at school, but just not my family. I didn’t really think I needed to have a coming out because I felt, you know, I – I’m a little bit self-explanatory. I’m flamboyant. And, yeah, so school was just a – a breeze. School was a breeze. I was able to focus on important stuff, rather than stuff like that.
And 2016, I thought, you know, I’m a – I’m an adult now. I need to, like, start figuring out what I’m going to. I need to start figuring out who I am because I’m getting a bit old. Well, not old, but – and I – I – I was always obsessed with watching, like, make-up tutorials on YouTube. And I was very – I gravitated towards the, sort of, transformation from something ordinary to something extraordinary. So I was, like, I could definitely do that. I could definitely do that. I was also, like, really obsessed with watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, so I was, like, I can do something like this. I’m attracted to pretty things. So, yeah, one of my friends was, like, “Why don’t you just start doing it now?” And I’m, like, “I don’t have – where do I start?” And her name was Lily. She took me to Kmart, and she helped me buy my first make-up kit, which was all just very cheap make-up, so, like, Fifth Avenue, elf, all of that. But it was a start. And I went home that night and sat in front of the lighting area and butchered my face.
I did her make-up, and I think she saw how much I enjoyed it and how much it made me happy, and she kind of was like, okay, it’s not so scary.
Also that year, I came out to my parents. I was, sort of, forced out of the closet, though. Mum came into my room one day, and she found all my make-up in one of my drawers, and she texted me, asking me if I was gay. And I was, like – I said – I think I denied it. And I sort of felt guilty because not only was she finding out that I was gay, but I’m also liking – I’m also wearing make-up. So it was like a bit of a one-two punch. And, yeah, so that was really hard for her, and we didn’t talk for a while. I was – because I was scared to come out to them anyway because my sister did have a really bad experience coming out with them. So I was, like, I don’t really want that to happen to me. So that was mum.
And with dad, we don’t really speak about stuff like that. We’re not really – we don’t have emotional talks or anything. We don’t show a lot of emotion in our family. So we’ve never had that – we still haven’t had that conversation. But I know he’s G. He – and he supports me. But with mum, yeah, it was – it was a little bit difficult for her to come around. I remember one day asking her just, you know, out of the blue, “Would you like me to do your make-up just for fun?” And she was, like, “Sure. Like, let’s do it.” And I did her make-up, and I think she saw how much I enjoyed it and how much it made me happy, and she kind of was like, okay, it’s not so scary. You’re – not you know – and now she fully supports me. She supports everything that I do with all that, which is good. I’m really glad.
But, yeah, a lot of – a lot of that kind of stuff in my family, I’ve dealt with in silence. I couldn’t really talk about it. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable talking about it anyway just with the whole no emotions in our family. But in 2017, I kept practising and practising and practising my make-up and getting better and better. I was posting YouTube videos as well. The whole idea behind the YouTube channel was, sort of, a documentation of my journey becoming a, sort of, novice with make-up and just becoming something beautiful, just being the person that I see in the mirror, like, outwards, if that makes sense. And, yeah, I was – that was all going well and things only got better.
I was approached by one of the producers of Kal Fashion Week to see if I wanted to participate in Kal Fashion Week and host a workshop. The theme for that year was diversity and acceptance, and they thought I’d be perfect to be a part of it. And I said, “Sure. Like, of course. I want to take every opportunity that I can.” So, yeah, we spent a lot of back – we did a lot of back and forth over the next few months just about how we’re going to do things, what we’re going to do, how it’s all going to work. And, yeah, the week of Kal Fashion Week, I got a message asking if I would like to do an interview with GWN7 about Kal Fashion Week and my workshop. And I was, like, “Of course. Of course.” And so, yeah, I went down and did my interview. And they pretty much asked me what it was like growing up in – or not growing up, but being in Kalgoorlie as a gay person, just, sort of, fitting with the theme of diversity and acceptance, and also what it was like growing up in a small town in New Zealand as a gay person. And, yeah, it was really fun. That was – it was different. It was a different experience, so that was one of the positives.
When it was time for the workshop that – when the time of the workshop came around, I remember getting there, and all the girls were sat around the table, and I was just a little bit shook about how they actually wanted to come and see me and see my artistry, I guess. So I pretty much taught them how I do my make-up because a lot of people in Kalgoorlie don’t know how to do that. And, yeah, it was really fun. We had a bit of a laugh. And afterwards, I asked the girls if they felt like they’d learnt anything, and they said, “Yeah, we have. I really feel like I’ve learnt something.” And that did feel good. Like, I felt like I’m doing something right.
And after – even afterwards, at work, I had people coming up to me saying that they saw me on the news and that I should be proud of me being me and just to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m doing a great service to myself. And I think it’s in those moments when people, like, strangers, are telling you to keep being you and that you’re doing, like, something good, it really makes you feel like you’re doing something right by living authentically as yourself.
And I think, overall, my experience in Kalgoorlie as a young gay person hasn’t all been glitter and rainbows. It’s been, you know, tough at times, but I guess sometimes, if you follow the rainbow, you’ll find whatever pot of gold it is you’re looking for.