Francis McWhannell Writer and exhibition-maker

Coming out in practice

Considering Shannon Novak’s Sub Rosa

In 1995 I lost my virginity in the New Plymouth Public Library toilets whilst waiting for my shift to start at PAK’nSAVE. It was an unplanned event that unfolded like a slow dance. We never said a word to each other; it was all eye contact. It was during a time I had no other means of meeting men in New Plymouth. I somehow felt and knew that the library was where I was supposed to be, where it was supposed to happen, behind closed doors, in a safe place away from home and the outside world.
—Shannon Novak

Before actually going, I was afraid to go. The prospect of spending time in an avowedly gay space tends to produce in me an acute anxiety. I fear being judged: on the basis of my looks, my age, my ability to dance. At the same time, there’s a thrill. I am one of the lucky ones; I don’t spend my days hiding my homosexuality as it is clear some others do. Yet to have homosexuality as the norm is – to state the obvious – not the norm. Here at the dance party, I’m typical. Indeed, I might even be a little strait-laced. To my left is a young man in a jockstrap. To my right an older man in some sort of leather harness. I only have my shirt off. …


Continue reading on The Pantograph Punch, where this essay is titled ‘Sex in the Gallery: Shannon Novak’s Sub Rosa’.

Francis McWhannell Writer and exhibition-maker


Francis McWhannell (b. 1985, Aotearoa New Zealand) is a writer and exhibition-maker based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. He is Curatorial Adviser for the dealer gallery Visions, and Curator of the Fletcher Trust Collection, a major private collection of Aotearoa art founded in 1962.