For Nat, the people who have stood up to their bullies, are their heroes. Upstanders like their Dad, teachers, husband, friends, and colleagues, even strangers.
Nat identifies as queer, non-binary and uses both pronouns they/she. Sadly, they have experienced bullying throughout life; as an outsider at school, working in the performing arts space, and as a bisexual in a heterosexual relationship.
In light of their own experiences, Nat loves the Pink Shirt Day kaupapa and wants to encourage and celebrate people who are upstanders.
“Being an upstander is a way for allies to really step up and show their support for people experiencing discrimination. It’s about being brave enough to stand beside someone and say ‘I see you, and this (behaviour) is not okay.”
The bullying Nat experienced started at school. For Nat, school days were an “absolute horror” and uncertainty about what each day would have in store was anxiety-inducing.
“When you’re not cool enough, when you’re quirky or a bit different than the ‘norm’, you can be targeted. School was a tough time. It felt like other children found it hard to relate to me and I felt so isolated,” Nat says.
During Nat’s childhood, their dad was their biggest supporter - always ready to stand up, call out any bullies, talk to teachers and help to change problematic environments.
“My dad would have his Daddy Bear hat on. He was my real confidant and sharing how I felt with him made me feel safe.”
“You can feel a real shame in being bullied. But it’s so important that you talk to someone. It helps you to process what’s happening, and to feel like you’re not going through it alone.”
As a teenager, Nat struggled with bullying and feelings that their life was out of their control. It affected Nat’s mental health, and they developed an eating disorder, what Nat’s come to understand was a coping mechanism.
“I was a drifter between friend groups. I always tried to be the cheerleader for others and be involved in their lives, but I never felt truly grounded as a person when I was at school. My life always felt chaotic, like I wasn’t grounded.”
“Even then, I knew that I didn’t thrive in chaos, that I needed a regimental schedule in my life; I needed to feel like I had some control.”
Nat is so appreciative of the support of her tight-knit group of friends, who were upstanders for them during this time.
“We supported each other through our own personal struggles as well as the struggles that teenagedom brings.
“I honestly don't think I would have got through some really, really dark experiences in my teens without them”
One of the ways Nat found to cope with bullying at school was to be part of the performing arts space.
“Theatre was always very therapeutic for me. It allowed me to put on the guise of someone else and escape from reality.
“Funnily enough, in this space my weird quirkiness was celebrated and highlighted as being positive.”
For Nat, their love of performing shaped their work choices once leaving school. They’ve been a high school drama teacher, a freelance producer, a burlesque performer and a drag artist with an array of characters to their name. Nat performs in hyper drag (a drag queen who identities as female out of drag) as well as a drag king.
With years of performing under her belt, Nat joined the cast of a reality show, an experience best described as a “roller-coaster” due in part to the amount of bullying experienced within the show, as well as the cyber-bullying they received once the show had aired.
At the time of filming the show, Nat felt they were not ‘bisexual enough’ and called themselves straight due to the internalised bi-erasure they felt about themselves. They were also concerned at the potential criticism they may have received if they wore their bisexuality with pride due to the fact, they are in a long-term heterosexual relationship. Bisexual erasure happens when people question or deny the legitimacy of bisexuality as an identity.
Once again, it was the upstanders who Nat credits as helping them get through the tough times.
“To my friends, whānau and strangers who defended me online, and my fellow cast members who supported me and said ‘No, that behaviour’s not okay.’ I’ll be forever grateful. Their support meant so much.”
“Bullying is never okay. It meant so much to have friends and strangers reaching out to check in on me, and to call out the bullies..”
As horrible as the experience was, it forced me to open my eyes and embrace my bisexuality, as well as my identity as a non-binary person”
Now working for a large organisation, Nat is part of its Rainbow Staff Network, an initiative that helps recognise staff who identify as rainbow, raise awareness of their experiences with other staff and provide a safe working environment.
Nat says that the COVID-19 lockdowns were also a tough time for their mental health. As a free-lancer in the entertainment industry, the constant stress of having to ‘hustle for work’ when restrictions lifted, then having them cancelled when lockdowns were enforced led to mental and financial stress.
Nat recalls bad days when they struggled with their mental health and the “ability to function as a human being.” Diagnosed with PTSD and CAD earlier on in life, they had known that throughout their lifetime that they saw the world and responded to it differently than others. It was during lockdown in 2021 that Nat started the process of getting assessed for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). They were formally diagnosed in March 2021.
“For me, the diagnoses validated my whole lived experience. It helped me to realise why I am who I am, why I do the things that I do.”
Nat believes that calling out bullying and breaking down the stigma around mental health is so important.
“I’ve always been open and honest about my mental health journey, and the bullying that I’ve experienced. I hope that by showing up, sharing my story and being my unapologetic, authentic self, will resonate and show others how important it’s okay to speak up, and that we need people to be our upstanders.”
“By being an upstander, you are showing you’re open to learning about a person, having an awareness of what they’re going through, and an empathy for their situation. You are showing them they are not alone, and that it’s okay to be their whole self.”