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Sunday 11 October 2015

Robbie Manson - Pt2: Being out and proud

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By Jay Bennie - 1st January 2015

[Robbie Manson - Pt1: The path to success]

Olympic rower Robbie Manson (above left) says his homosexuality was always something that was in the back of his mind in his younger years.

“I was aware of it. But it was something that I always tried to push down, sort of like I didn’t accept it,” he says. “One of the hardest things is you hear so many homophobic comments at school and just in life in general. It makes it harder … I thought to be gay was to be 'less than' and felt sorry for other people who were [gay] because of all the homophobic language you hear. When you are gay and you know that you are, it really strikes a chord. You take it really personally and that makes it even harder to come out and accept yourself.”

He says people saying "that’s gay" as a put-down and snide comments about people who were gay and out were things he found hard to hear. “That’s one of the biggest ones. If you see people who are already out and then you hear other people making fun of them or making digs, it kind of affects you.”

Manson says as he has grown older he’s become almost immune when people say ‘that’s so gay’, “whereas when you first start hearing that when you’re younger, it’s a lot harder to deal with. I don’t think it’s right for people to say ‘that’s gay’ but you hear it so often nowadays, and I guess I am so comfortable with myself now, that it doesn’t bother me the same. But when I was struggling with it, I’d take it really personally.”

He says he did have gay role models, “but hearing people making fun of the people you look up to makes it hard as well”.

Manson says he would take it personally, and feel bad about himself when he heard this type of rhetoric. “It hurt. It’s almost like a knife through the heart. You feel like they’re talking about you when you hear comments like that. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt since coming out is that even people that have made comments like that in the past, they were just saying them, it was just an off remark, it’s just the thing to do, is to say that sort of thing, and they are not actually meaning it personally – and have been fine with me coming out and really supportive – but it’s just, especially for school kids, just a thing to do almost, to make homophobic comments. To them it’s nothing and if they knew you were gay they probably wouldn’t say it and would feel really bad – but they don’t know that and you don’t know that. It’s not until you come out later on in life. Some of the people that I thought would’ve been really homophobic have actually been really supportive.”

Manson has in fact not had a single bad reaction since coming out, which is not what he expected. “I don’t know what people say behind my back but I’m sure 99 per cent of people are 100 per cent supportive. But I haven’t had one person say anything bad, or had a bad reaction at all.”

He says his parents were fine when he fronted up about his homosexuality. “I told mum a long time before I told dad, and she was really supportive. My older brother’s gay as well and he came out a couple of years before I did, so obviously knew it wasn’t going to be a problem with mum. But then you think ‘oh shit, one in the family’s ok, what about two?’ and then you worry about that.”

It took him a bit longer to tell his dad. “He was a bit quiet for a start and didn’t really say anything. And I think that was more because he didn’t know what to say. But now I talk to him about anything and he’s fine and doesn’t have a problem with it at all. I think dads just probably don’t know what to say, or how to handle it initially.”

Manson says although his first relationship only lasted a few months, being with another guy had felt “really normal. It just felt right. I had tried to have a relationship with a girl in the past. It felt like we were more good friends. But when I was in a relationship with a guy it just felt normal, like it should, like how I imagine that other people felt in a relationship.”

In fact he says it felt so right, it almost seemed even more special. Now he’s so comfortable being gay he wouldn’t even think twice about the fact he’s with another guy if he was out to dinner with them, or wherever. He's just begun seeing someone but it's early days.

He says he believes in ‘the fairytale’ romance thing, ‘the happily ever after’. “I want to settle down with someone and, in a way, have a conventional life. I’m not sure yet what that entails, whether it means getting married and having kids – whether that happens or not I want to be with someone and have that kind of thing, whatever it is.”

Of course the demands of being a national representative rower make it difficult to have a relationship and he says his future really depends on what he does when he finishes competing. The Rio Olympics are looming in 2016. He has also just started studying and is interest in the sport, exercise and nutrition field, where he possibly sees a future.

It was almost two months ago that Manson came out to the world via a personal essay where he stated he was proud and glad to be gay – and wants to show people that "not only that it's ok to be gay, but it's a good thing, and it won't change who you are or limit what you can achieve."

He tells he has always looked up to gay role models and wanted to come out in the hope it would make others’ paths easier – as others did for him. “In the year or two before I came out I watched a lot of YouTube videos and stuff of people coming out. Also any time there was a story about a gay athlete, like [UK rugby international] Gareth Thomas and [Australian Olympic diver] Matthew Mitcham … stories like that have always struck a chord with me. I think every person who is in the public eye in some way who comes out, it makes it easier for other people to do so. And I feel like now so many people are coming out and it’s not an issue.”

Manson is surprised by the publicity his own story gained, saying he’s not a high profile athlete in New Zealand. “Hardly anyone knew who I was before. At the same time I’ve been completely living my life out to all my friends and anyone who knows me for the last two years, so it wasn’t something I needed to do. I just thought that in some way, someone might read that article and it might help them. And, I don’t know, I might be able to be a role model to them in some way. Because I thought at one stage that I wouldn’t be able to row if people knew I was gay – I thought it was that big of a deal.”

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Jay Bennie - 1st January 2015