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Sam Rodgers

Writer, Sydney

To most, writing your memoirs at the age of 31 may seem a tad premature. Surely tales of heartbreak and wisdom are few and far between in a writer so young? Not if you’re Sam Rodgers, the free-spirited Sydney-sider who’s doing just that. Having already travelled to every continent on the planet, Sam’s writing is intelligent and well-informed. He describes his book, An Odd Geography, as a coming-of-age collection of humorous essays, discussing queer issues, national identity and pop culture.

We chatted to the Australian writer to hear more from the man behind the words.

  • Joseph Perry

    Words

  • Luisa Brimble

    Pictures

  • 03 Sep 2015

    Published

  • 10 min read

    Length

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Tell us briefly about your background and how you got to where you are now.

I was born in Melbourne but grew up in Adelaide, Australia. As soon as I could, I started traveling. I went to the UK when I was 17 and lived in Bath for 12 months. I was quickly bitten by the travel bug, and spent the next 10 years of my life going overseas, back and forth from Adelaide. I also lived in Spain for a while which is where I began teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). It was just one of those jobs where my parents said “you’ll learn more doing that than working in retail or hospitality.” So I did a course when I got home and started teaching at a University in Adelaide. That was about 7 years ago.

A couple of years later, I set up Format Arts Collective with a friend of mine in Adelaide. We focussed on grassroots stuff – zines, counter-culture, subversive graffiti art – all the stuff that became cool with the hipster movement. That led me to being involved with an undercurrent of artists in Adelaide. We had a zine shop, a gallery, a live music venue and a bar which was cool for a few years.

Then I went overseas again, this time for 5 months. When I came back I disassociated myself slightly from Format and tried to focus on my writing, having completed my Masters in Creative Writing in 2010.

I moved to Sydney in 2012 and since then I’ve continued writing but still teaching ESL full-time. I constantly wish I had more time to write but I’m a bit more pragmatic than giving up the day job and becoming a freelancer. There’s certain things in life I want – like traveling to Iceland this year, for example!


Tell us more about your book
An Odd Geography.

My book is a memoir which focuses on queer issues, national identity, pop culture, the psychology of spaces, and personality of place. My goal with it is to share my stories of travel and maturation without succumbing to neat life-lessons or grand literary observations. I find that sort of philosophising off-putting, especially when I’m muddling my way through life still. However, I hope the book is entertaining and I especially hope that it might offer comfort for any young queer people who feel as though they have no idea how they fit or what they’re doing in life.

How do you use social media to promote yourself and connect with others?

I find social media to be a job in itself. It’s a very strong element when developing readership as a writer. Most of my connections these days are cyber. It’s basically like the movie Her. I guess my introverted personality is to blame. I operate better when I can control my interactions with people.

The narcissist in me spent a good deal of time on MySpace back in the day, which prepared me for A LOT of the etiquette required to be on the social media spaces that have superseded it. I started operating the Twitter account of Format, the arts collective I was part of in Adelaide, and became a fan, so started my own account, accruing some of the collective’s followers, and then tailoring my feed to my own interests. I have a WordPress blog and a Tumblr blog – both called An Odd Geography (this is my way of making sure I finish the book), and I enjoy posting intimate (but quite vague at the same time) pics on Instagram, too. I’ve made some close friends through these platforms, and being quite introverted, they give me a way to interact with others at my own pace.

Most of my connections these days are cyber. It’s basically like the movie Her. I guess my introverted personality is to blame. I operate better when I can control my interactions with people.

Your writing often has a sentiment of place and its impact on you. Tell us a bit about your childhood in Adelaide and how it influenced the person you are today?

My childhood was so ‘gay by numbers’. I was in dance class, gymnastics, ice skating and piano lessons. I wouldn’t say I was flamboyant as a kid, more headstrong. If I wanted to do a dance class, I’d do a dance class. In high school I started to develop a more Daria-like persona to disguise the confident gay guy (who secretly loved to dance).

Before I went travelling I was working at Big W as a night-fill assistant. Going to the pub after work I would always get quizzed by my colleagues about my latest crush. I found it all really tiresome.

I came out in 2002 when I was 18 and travelling around the UK. I guess it would have happened regardless of where I was but I think the distance helped. It was my way of protecting ‘future me’. I didn’t want to get home and be forced to lie about how many girls’ hearts I’d broken!

Deep down, I always knew my parents would be OK with it. My Mum had said certain things here and there that I’m sure most gay guys have experienced. Things like “I’m so glad you’re not gay because it would be such a hard lifestyle for you” which temporarily pushed me back into the closet. But on the whole I knew they’d be fine.

I definitely feel a big difference between how I was as an 18 year old gay guy to how I am now. In the last three years I’ve become so much happier and more content with myself.

Although in my teaching job, I still feel high amounts of pressure around the subject…


In what way?

As most ESL teaching contracts work on a casual basis, teachers are usually kept on due to good feedback from students. At the moment, I receive great feedback but I don’t know how that may change if I was out in the classroom.

Maybe they’re irrational fears but they’re definitely fears. Maybe it comes down to my personality too. I like to be a bit private, especially with my students who see me more as a friend than a teacher. Playing my cards quite close to my chest is important for me to keep respect in the classroom.

Why did you choose to leave Adelaide?

My sexuality definitely played a role. A big role actually. A huge reason of moving to Sydney was because I had gay friends here. I never had close gay friends in Adelaide.

I think I also just got to a point in Adelaide where I felt like a big fish. I think the more ambitious you are the bigger the pool you need to be in.


How did you establish yourself in Sydney?

In the first 6 months of moving here I was more focussed on establishing a sense of my gay self. I felt that part of my personality was hugely repressed living in Adelaide. All of my mates in Adelaide were straight. All the people like me, who were gay and interested in fringe culture, had already moved to Melbourne or Sydney.


So were you actively looking for a gay community when you moved to Sydney?

Yeah absolutely. Living in Adelaide, I found it very easy to do the whole ‘only gay in the village’ thing. Finding people who were like-minded was really difficult there.

Moving to Sydney helped me get over a lot of my gay demons – where do I fit in and how am I validated by other gay men? It doesn’t really concern me anymore, but back when I was 26 they were still things I hadn’t figured out. I felt very much on the outside, with no community – community purely meaning friends who have your back, not just acquaintances. Finding that was really really important for me to feel secure in myself.


How affiliated do you feel with the gay community in Sydney?

Being a part of the mainstream gay community doesn’t really concern me. When I first moved here, there was a slight curiosity about what the gay scene had to offer, on Oxford St for example, but I soon discovered it was very much the same as every other Australian city.

What are your favourite spots to write or be inspired in Sydney?

I only write at my desk on my crappy, old laptop, which is so sensitive that I can’t use its keyboard or trackpad without it freezing up – so taking it to a cafe and setting it up with plug-in mouse and keyboard stresses me out. My desk faces my bedroom window which faces a blank wall of terrace houses across a street.

I’m inspired to write whilst I run around the harbour near my house in Glebe, like Blackwattle Bay and the docklands in Pyrmont. Also when I visit any of the local bookshops, like Gleebooks and Sappho Books, or the Kinokuniya in the city. Basically, anywhere that I go for flaneur-style walks around the leafy Eastern suburbs, the grungy Inner West, exploring the Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese shops around Haymarket, or any of the beachside walks on offer here.


How do you think the national identity of Australia on gay equality (where same-sex marriage is currently illegal) affects the attitudes of gay people living there?

Australia still has a very big machismo problem. You can certainly notice it if you meet straight British guys. They’re way more comfortable with the physical expression of friendship than most Australian gay guys.

But it’s hard to say. There are some really great gay Australian comedians making waves over here at the moment, like Josh Thomas and Rhys Nicholson. So things are happening. But as soon as you step out of the inner city it returns to a macho wasteland.

I think a lot of gay guys in Australia also feel a strong sense of isolation. The pressure to go to New York or London and expand your horizons is immense.

Australia still has a very big machismo problem. You can certainly notice it if you meet straight British guys. They’re way more comfortable with the physical expression of friendship than most Australian gay guys.

Do you still feel that pressure?

I feel a desire more than a pressure, due to my travel bug. My instinct is to live somewhere else again. I’d love to live in New York but the practicalities of it just make it impossible at this point in time. I think a big part of maturing is just feeling OK wherever you are.

How do you find travelling and being gay?

Backpacker culture is very heteronormative. If I was straight and in my 20s that culture would have totally been my thing.

Through writing this book I had that realisation that I still carried around a lot of my own homophobic stigma about sexuality and sexual capital. There used to be a part of me that cringed whenever I would use my sexuality abroad, go to a gay bar or use Grindr, for example. It’s only on my latest trip to Taiwan that I truly got over that feeling. I realised in the heteronormative world people use their sexuality all the time.


What are your future aspirations?

Getting my book published would be great. I’m still waiting for my CV of published work to get bigger before I approach agents but hopefully that will start to happen this year.

Future aspirations? I’d like to work more creatively and collaboratively for sure. I’d love to get into screenwriting or work as a copywriter on a project. I definitely need more project-based work.

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