Kristian (Krit) Schmidt: “I can’t look at this as an imperfection. It’s who I am.”

Kristian (Krit) Schmidt is the son any Sāmoan mother would be proud to have. He’d graduated with a law degree from Auckland University, won a Fulbright scholarship to the US, got his master’s degree, and then beat hundreds to land a coveted job as an MTV host in Australia. There was just one thing. He was leading a double life — and on Mother’s Day, it all came out.

 

ACT I, SCENE I

KRIT’S APARTMENT. MOTHER’S DAY 2017.

Krit, early 30s, sits on his bed in his one-bedroom apartment in LA, handwriting the last of three letters. He signs off the final letter and folds it up into thirds before placing them all into a small box, together with three small softcover books. He places the small box on the dresser and walks over to the bathroom to take a good look in the mirror. He’s not really sure what he’s staring at, but after a few beats, he gives a smile anyway. He runs the faucet and splashes water on his face to wash away the dry tears. He pats his face with a towel and returns to his bedroom. He sits cross-legged with his back up straight in the centre of his bed. He closes his eyes and takes a moment before he pulls his phone out of his pocket and dials “Mum”.

Krit: Happy Mother’s Day, Mum!

Mum: Oh, thank you, darling! I just finished having dinner with the Laumuas. I wish you were here.

Krit: I wish I was too.

Mum: So tell me what you’ve been up to! Who have you caught up with? What events have you been to?

Krit: Oh, I’m just taking a break from all that and laying low at the moment. 

Mum: Well, you didn’t move out there to lay low, Kristian. You need to get out there and work hard!

If you know Krit, you know about his hustle and doing whatever it is he sets his mind to. So for Krit to say he’s taking a step back was out of character.

If you know Krit, you also know how much love and respect he has for his mother. She means the world to him, and his purpose in life has been to make her proud.

And if you know Krit, you know how much he’s like her in what makes them tick, and in how they can escalate any situation in a heartbeat. And just because it’s Mother’s Day, isn’t about to stop them from popping off!

Krit: Okay, sometimes there are more important things to take care of.

Mum: Like what? You won’t be able to take care of anything if you’re not working!

Krit: You know what, Mum? I actually need to focus on myself right now!

His voice has a tremble. Something’s coming. He can feel it in his body.

Mum: Oh well, I wish I had that luxury! I wish I were afforded that privilege. Do you think I ever got to just focus on myself, Kristian? You really need to grow up and stop being so selfish.

SNAP.

Krit: I’M DEALING WITH A LOT.

Silence. He took his mother by surprise. He took himself by surprise. And he begins to cry uncontrollably. It’s time.

Mum: Darling, what’s wrong? Talk to me. Say something.

All choices are grounded in either one of two emotions: Love or Fear. Krit loves his mother with all his heart, but for nearly 33 years he’s been living in fear of disappointing/embarrassing/shaming her.

Krit’s heart races as he takes in a deep breath and, through his snot cry, he manages to mumble the words …

Krit: I’m gay.

Krit had this whole production planned out, how he was gonna drop his truth bomb on his family. He’d bought three copies of Alice Miller’s Drama Of The Gifted Child, and placed a handwritten letter inside each one — to his mother, his sister Leini, and his brother Miki — and they were all ready to be sent off to New Zealand.

But all of that flew out the window. God was like: “Nah, you gon’ do it now.” It was happening on the day that’s supposed to be reserved for spoiling mothers. And, thankfully, Krit has his to comfort him.

Mum: Oh darling, you know that doesn’t change anything. You’re still my baby and I love you and I’m still so proud of you. Is that what you’ve been holding in?

Krit exhales. He feels a sense of relief.

Mum: And if any of my family has anything to say, I’ll fight them! None of them are perfect —

Krit’s body tenses up again. He cuts her off mid-sentence.

Krit: Mum! Listen to you. That’s the problem. I can’t look at this as an imperfection. It’s who I am.

She calms herself and moves to a much lighter tone.

Mum: Oh yeah, I know, it’s just how some people view it.

END SCENE

. . .

Imperfection. That’s how some people view queerness. That included my mum.

Not anymore, thank goodness, but as liberal and as progressive as my mum is, subconsciously, she, along with the majority of the world, had absorbed the message that being LGBTQIA was a defect. That’s what our society teaches us.

We’re not the default, and so we’re not normal. And if you’re Sāmoan, you can just about forget it, because our culture in its current state is intrinsically tied to Christianity and, in turn, sin and all that rhetoric.

“And if any of my family has anything to say, I’ll fight them! None of them are perfect.”

This sums up the reason why I never came out. I mean, yeah, there’s society’s homophobia — homonegativity is a more accurate descriptor — but then there’s my mum and her family, and they take judgment and manipulation to new levels. I learned from the kings and queens of that shit, trust me on that.

Facing some bullying at school for being feminine, I knew what it was like to be judged. It didn’t last long with the mouth I had on me — but I still felt it. So I was going to do everything in my power to minimise that for my mother. With all the crap my mum’s been through, I wasn’t about to give her family something to hang over her and make her feel inferior. I never wanted to be a reason for her humiliation.

When I say I lived to make my mum happy, that’s the truth. And hiding my truth was one way I tried to do that. I wanted to protect the both of us.

Here’s the thing, though. All my mum’s family were sure I had a lil’ sugar in my tank. I mean, how can you not the way I was singing and dancing in the mirror to TLC and Janet Jackson. That and the fact I never had a girlfriend my whole life. I’ve always had women show interest, but to be in my 30s and not mess with any of them? That ruled out being even bisexual.

My mum completely missed it — although she’ll drop comments like: “I should’ve known with that mouth of yours.”

And her ideas about homosexuality were TRIFLING. I still die when I think about how, after she read one of my pieces, she sent me a text saying: “You’ve gained another level of insight in your writing ever since you came to terms with your gender.” I rang her up straightaway. “You know I’m not becoming a woman right?” After a long pause she was like: “Oh well, I just didn’t know.”

She really thought I was transitioning. I guess it’s a win knowing she’s down for that too.

While that was a laughable moment, coming out to my mum only scratched the surface of my healing, and the healing of our relationship. I had revealed only the tip of the iceberg. The psychological effects had run deep for decades and unpacking it all in order to release it meant revisiting all the ways I chose Fear over Love.

I wrote out a history of all my behaviours and choices that were tied to my deficit thinking that I was broken.

Overachieving. Living in grandiosity. Everything I did was BIG. From leaving Porirua to take up a scholarship at law school in Auckland, dancing in different crews, travelling around the world, schmoozing with celebrities, winning a Fulbright Award and earning a master’s degree in the US, and then becoming a TV personality.

These things attracted all kinds of attention that gave me status. And no one in the family had any room to put me or my mum down. This was how I overcompensated for not being enough.

Friend Collecting. Much like the glory I got from my material achievements, I collected “friends” as another means of validation. All my relationships were transactional where I invested in you to get returns — whether it was through an ego boost or an opportunity you could provide me with. If I wanted to get close to you, I found a way to do it.

Everywhere I went, I had an entourage in tow, and every city I visited, I had the hook-up — Tokyo, Washington DC, Rome, Jerusalem, Kingston. I was that ho who knew everybody. And as the saying goes, never trust that ho who knows everybody. I think that’s a saying. If it’s not, it should be.

Sex. This deserves its own chapter in my tell-all book. As far as everyone else knew, I was too pure to engage in sexual relations and I was judgmental about anyone who was active on that front.

Meanwhile, in secret, I was sleeping around all over New Zealand, Australia, the US, the Caribbean, Europe — you name it. Physical intimacy was my primary source of self-worth. What started out as a way to explore my sexuality at 18 quickly became an addiction. It acted as both a way to feel something and a way to avoid feeling anything. I was hooked. My count was in the hundreds. I probably had more sexual partners than everyone I knew put together. Meanwhile, everyone thought I was an uptight virgin.

Self-loathing is a trip. I attended mass every Sunday and asked for forgiveness, not for being gay, but for being promiscuous. We’re taught that sex and sexuality are bad, so I’d carry that Catholic guilt every week until I got my reprieve in receiving communion. I reached an internal understanding that we’re all blessed with both positive and negative attributes and being gay was a pretty good trade-off for being able-bodied with some brains.

Shame was my best friend for a long time and we went to the darkest of places together. The only spaces I would meet men was through online apps, using fake pictures because I didn’t want anyone catching wind of what I was up to. I took certain precautions. I never hooked up with Islanders because our community is too small, and I only got with guys who were five or more years older than me to lower the probability of them knowing anyone I knew.

New Zealand is small and with all the work I was doing in the university scene, coupled with me knowing half the country, I was extremely vigilant to keep my “down-low” game on lock. My go to, therefore, became older white men.

Now I’ve always been very open about my encounters with racism throughout my journey, yet here I was living this double life where I frequently subjected myself to be treated like an object by men who often were ignorant and disrespectful. (I accept I played my part in objectification, too.)

In public, I was calling out prejudice left, right and centre, but in private, I overlooked all of that because I needed my fix. That’s what happens when you think you’re not enough and that’s all you deserve. You lose self-respect and punish yourself in all kinds of ways.

The more my profile grew in entertainment, the more secretive and insidious the places I would take my sexual behaviours, until eventually, I got caught up in another world of self-destruction. I was introduced to meth. Keep in mind I had made it to the age of 30 and never tried so much as weed. (My self-righteous ass made sure all you druggies knew it, too.)

Then I went straight to what’s arguably the most dangerous drug out there. Typical Krit — all or nothing. And it brought me to my knees.

. . .

When I think of the abuse and all the harmful energy I was exchanging and picking up off men all over the show, I did some serious damage to my spirit. I was reckless with my body and it’s only by the grace of God that my blood tests are negative across the board. I was in a hell of my own creation. Sex had once served as a coping mechanism but we were way past that. I was in torture.

Still, no one had any idea what I was going through. I was “high functioning” and kept it all under wraps.

When you’re living the way I was, you really have no will to live. I wrote about hitting rock bottom last year, and while I experienced a certain degree of freedom from it, things got much worse. The level of unmanageability was insane, to the point that it was life or death. The stakes were that high. It was either die or face my truth. Because our truth is the only way out of our shit.

This is what led to me finally deciding to get honest with my family, but, more importantly, with myself. Opening up to my mum about being gay was probably the easiest part.

It’s been everything after that’s exhausted every fibre of our beings. Picture me dumping all of the above on my mum — this is what really shook our relationship to the core. She questioning where she went wrong and what role she played. Me questioning if she can ever look at me the same again.

For all the parents out there, I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear that your child has put herself through so much suffering in what’s ultimately an attempt to please you. At times, my mum felt like I was blaming her. At times, I suppose I was. There was a period where we didn’t talk for weeks. You have to understand, I talk to my mum every day, but we were both hurting so much.

Still, I clung to my belief that no matter how hard it was for us to confront these truths, it would only strengthen our relationship. I knew deep down that, as painful as it was to come to terms with the choices I had made, she would love me and support me. Rough doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it paid off.

Today, we’re the closest we’ve ever been. We’ve always been very close so I didn’t think getting closer was possible. And we have an understanding that we can’t help each other with things we don’t know about, so there’s no holding back on what’s going on anymore.

The same goes with my brother and sister. By bringing down my walls, they’ve been able to share parts of themselves with me that they might never have if I hadn’t been honest with them. Never in a million years would I have expected Miki to ask: “What’s your type?” Eww. My gosh. Stop. But seriously, this is the simple stuff that’s beyond my wildest dreams.

My friends — my chosen family — have been a blessing, too. Some knew, others didn’t. It really doesn’t matter to them. What matters most is that I’m taking care of myself. And now we have the capacity to support each other on far deeper levels. I view all my relationships the same — romantic, familial, friendships. They all need to be honest and grounded in love. I use trust as a measure of closeness. Not time or history. Trust.

Never underestimate your loved ones in what you think they can handle when it comes to telling the truth. I know it’s not going to work out the same for everyone, but letting go of expectations has been a huge learning experience in what love is at its root.

I can love without expecting anything in return now. If people can’t accept you for who you truly are, they don’t need to be in your life. You don’t owe anyone anything, family or not. The idea that blood is thicker than water is such fluff to me. It’s outdated.

Do I still want to make my mum proud? Of course. But that doesn’t mean I have to live my life for her. In the past, she was pushing me to return to study to get my PhD, but that’s her dream for me. I have to live out mine, and I’ve come to learn that the only person responsible for my happiness is me. I can’t rely on anyone else for it, the same way no one can rely on me for theirs.

So I’m being selfish in loving me (not my ego, there’s a difference) and finding my own happiness. I know Mum’s proud all the same now. And I couldn’t be prouder of her — the shifts I’ve seen in her, and her acceptance of everything she’s been taught not to be accepting of. (But I wish she’d stop telling me about every documentary that comes on Viceland that has to do with gays. I’m gonna need you to upgrade your resources, Mum.)

Not everyone has the support system I do. I’m really lucky to have a strong crew in my corner. I wish everyone had that because it’s hard being isolated. People shouldn’t have to come out. And people shouldn’t ever feel like they’re alone in this.

That’s what’s inspired me to write. To encourage anyone going through this that you can come out the other side stronger if you get help. Even if you’re a complete stranger, you can reach out to me. Living in LA, I’ve got access to centres and support groups and therapy and activities you wouldn’t really get back home in New Zealand, so I’m trying to pass on what I can.

I’ve always shared about my experiences and whatever knowledge I’ve gained through them in order to help my students and my peers. Already I’ve been able to help a few young Pacific people in their journeys of self-love. With all that I’ve been blessed with, it’s only right I share what I have.

What do I have? I have healing. I keep reaching new heights with it and I keep striving for more. Life still happens — fark, does it ever — but I have far healthier ways of dealing with whatever comes my way.

Urges arise but I have tools to help manage them. Like calling up Best Friend or just breathing. Every day, I practise sitting with myself, focusing on love and light, especially in moments where I feel less than. I’ve reached a place where I can sit with my feelings without turning to distractions. They pass. Always.

Church isn’t so much a part of my routine any more, but my faith and my partnership with God has grown into something I never imagined. Once in a while, I’ll go to mass to feel connected to my family because I know they’re doing the same thing back home, but these days I tend to do all my prayer and meditation in my sanctuary, my room, alone.

Self-dates are an important part of my recovery, too. I try to take myself on one every week, going to the movies or taking a hike or reading in the park, and I’ve gotta say, I’m a bomb-ass date. I used to wish I could meet someone who liked all the things I did and would put up with my music and my stories and my commentary during movies — and that someone’s me!

I’m teaching myself how to enjoy my own company more and more so that I don’t have to seek out validation externally. I mean, it’s nice, and we all need love from others, but that need should never outweigh our love for ourselves.

Greatness. We all come from Greatness. I remind myself of that every chance I can to stay in gratitude and in strength. I don’t have to settle for anything less. In fact, it’s not till you do a clean sweep of the experiences that don’t represent who you want to be that you can make room for that Greatness you choose.

Pain isn’t unique to any one group of people. We’re all going through trials and we all hear those voices in our heads that tell us we’re not enough. Those voices aren’t real. When you have that awareness, you can catch yourself and save yourself the turmoil of beating yourself up. It doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Whoever reads this, I want you to know you’re perfect in every sense and choosing Love over Fear will never steer you wrong. I still have my struggles but I’m the happiest and freest I’ve ever been, and every day, I push myself to choose Love. I pray you can do the same. Ask for help when you need it. True strength lies in vulnerability.

To think that, just over a year ago, I had conceded I was never going to come out unless I met someone spectacular who made it worth the drama and stress, to now having met myself in my entirety and professing this facet of my identity and not caring who knows.

To think, a year ago, I made the decision to be free of all drugs and alcohol, to now being a damn vegan.

To think, a year ago, I was dead on the inside, to now being grateful every moment of every day, knowing I had to go through that mess to recognise what being alive truly is.

As for Mother’s Day, it’s taken on a whole new meaning for me and my mum, and neither of us would change a thing.

 

Kristian (Krit) Schmidt is a New Zealand-born Sāmoan, who grew up in Porirua, Wellington, and is now living in the US. He has a background in law, Pacific studies, education, broadcasting, and acting, and balances his passion for the arts and entertainment with being an advocate for change.

 A version of this story was originally published on Krit’s blog.

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