Interview by Anna Day
Photography by Natrydd Sigurthur
All of Natrydd Sigurthur’s work is underlined by a focused, noble motivation: to see a better world by taking tangible, deliverable measures. This has taken them into a Graduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning at UniSA to understand “why our cities are designed and function they way they do, and what we could be doing better to make our communities more sustainably liveable.” But perhaps Natrydd’s biggest legacy at UniSA has been with the Rainbow Club. As the Rainbow Club’s president, Natrydd works with immeasurable enthusiasm, advocacy and care to create a safe and welcoming space for UniSA’s queer community.
Verse spoke with Natrydd about how their experience growing up with refugee parents has influenced their approach to leadership and shares a wealth of knowledge on queer perspectives, including Natrydd’s own identity as non-binary, pansexual. We even got a bit of sex advice from them, too.
Can you tell us about yourself: Where did you grow up? What are you studying at uni? What are you passionate about?
I grew up in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs, but my Hungarian refugee parents struggled financially. Being a poor kid at school was a hard lesson in inequality that shaped my political views. Things are better these days, and I visit my parent’s hometown every few years to catch up with relatives. It’s my dream to move there after I eventually finish my Graduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning. Studying part-time feels as if I’ll never finish, but at least I have time to work, volunteer, and relax. Because of my upbringing, I’m passionate about making positive change in the world, especially concerning the environment, economy, and human rights, and of course urban planning. I’ve followed politics since primary school but didn’t join a political party or become involved in student politics until 2016. There are many brilliant people in my life who give me hope for the future and inspire me to do more than I already am.
It’s been a crazy couple of months. How is 2020 going for you so far?
I had a great start to the year having spent most of the uni break sightseeing around Victoria with good mates. I’ve reconnected with some old friends and made some new ones too. I usually have an active social life, so hopefully technology will lessen any negative impact caused by social distancing. There’s a steadily growing pile of assignments on my to-do list, and my perfectionism is yet again testing their deadlines. Being a pessimist, I cop a lot of flak for generally assuming the worst-case scenario but at least I’m emotionally prepared if it happens, and I expect a fair few in coming months.
“I don’t believe in selling out on my values to gain power because then I’d just end up perpetuating a status quo I don’t support.”
How will COVID-19 affect the queer community?
There’ll be unique challenges, and we need to make some tough choices to ensure we get through this. Our lives are about to change socially and physically. The medical community’s priority will be to fight the pandemic, so medications like hormones may be out of stock for a while, and affirmation surgeries will need to wait. Maintaining good lung health is vital, so give up the ciggies and durries if you can. Trans and gender diverse people who chest bind will need to reduce the time spent binding. Restricting lungs from expanding can lead to fluid building up within them, and this is incredibly dangerous during respiratory infections like COVID-19. This’ll be a difficult time for people who experience body dysphoria, but the alternative is risking severe illness or worse. Another concern is that due to their age, we risk losing older members of our community who spent their lives fighting for the rights we now take for granted. Decades of wisdom and experience could be lost in mere weeks.
Dating also just became even harder. It’s bad enough having a limited pool of potential partners compared to straight cisgender people, but we’re now expected to keep a minimum physical distance and avoid eating out. Hook ups are a common part of queer culture for many of us, but currently you shouldn’t partake. Definitely don’t hook up if you’re showing symptoms, although if you do hook up please talk to your potential partner about whether they’ve had any symptoms and ensure you all continue practising good hygiene. Stay at home and give yourself a hand.
How long have you been involved with the Rainbow Club? What is your role as president?
I joined the Rainbow Club in late 2015 at the Inaugural General Meeting where I was elected as Secretary, and I later took over as President in March 2017. My main role as President is to be the club’s spokesperson, so I do the bulk of our interviews, articles, meetings, but also coordinate the Club’s overall direction and activities. There’s a misconception that I’m the boss who calls all the shots, but this isn’t true at all! No one on our executive committee outranks another—we all have our roles and responsibilities, but we help each other out. If one of my ideas isn’t good, the rest of the exec won’t hesitate to tell me. I’m motivated to achieve the Club’s goals by building up support among staff at UniSA and USASA, in addition to the broader community. Running the Rainbow Club is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Before I joined, I never saw anyone like me in leadership positions. It meant that I’d wrongly believed people like me weren’t meant to be leaders. I didn’t fit the typical mould of having a high ATAR or GPA, being middle-class, private school educated, and somewhat narcissistic. By contrast, I’m from a disadvantaged background and have a leadership style that emphasises collaboration and empathy. I don’t believe in selling out on my values to gain power because then I’d just end up perpetuating a status quo I don’t support. I don’t feel the need to suck up to people nor suck them off in order to achieve my goals.
What’s been the most challenging thing during your presidency at the Rainbow Club? And what’s been the most rewarding?
Tackling queerphobia, both on-campus and within the broader community has been incredibly challenging. I’ve had students report incidents of homophobia, transphobia, and sexual assault to me. It’s heartbreaking whenever a student discloses abuse, which is why I and our Club’s executives undertake training around mental health and sexual violence. It’s been rewarding to see progress made towards achieving the Club’s goal of improving the lives of queer students. Years of forging close working relationships with staff at UniSA and USASA have produced great results. UniSA’s Ally Network is close to being launched, we’re working with the USASA Student Board to get better queer student representation, and we’re looking at room audit data with Facilities Management to find a suitable queer space on-campus. Winning leadership awards for my work with the Rainbow Club has been an honour.
How do you think the internet and social media have changed conversations and understandings about sex and sexuality?
It’s definitely made information about sex more accessible and broken down many taboos around discussing topics relating to sexuality and gender. Queer people have the opportunity to connect with each other like never before, especially through platforms like Facebook and Instagram. If you like heaps good memes and daily articles that’ll make you question the world, chuck the Rainbow Club’s Facebook page a like. No longer constrained by geographical location, we’re able to reach people outside our social circles and communities with ease, and work together with our allies to amplify our voices. Dating apps have also given us a way to meet others and pursue a variety of relationships, whether that be platonic, sexual or romantic. The overall increase and accessibility of porn, nudes, and dick pics isn’t exactly wholesome, but the reality is that people will use technology to meet their sexual needs. That said, we have a social responsibility to keep things legal and consensual.
“There’s an attitude that Marriage Equality was the pinnacle of queer rights and that we’re now all equal just because we can marry each other.”
How do you think the queer space will continue to evolve in the 21st century?
There’s an attitude that Marriage Equality was the pinnacle of queer rights and that we’re now all equal just because we can marry each other. But marriage is just one right we’ve fought for and won. Hopefully as more people feel comfortable being openly queer, this will result in us being more accepted due to increased visibility. There’s a queer “look”, and this comes in various forms across our communities, but unfortunately many people who are perceived to be visibly queer face discrimination. Society is still less flexible with gender than sexuality, so this is especially pertinent for trans and gender non-conforming people who still face being shunned for being too different. I hope to see workplaces, institutions and society in general become more accepting of people being themselves, including those of us who have disabilities and chronic health issues. That said, queer people will always be in the minority, but there’ll always be a good community out there who have your back. Unfortunately, there are organised groups of people who don’t want us to exist and are working in the opposite direction of our goals to be accepted.
For our taboo column this edition we’re talking about STIs. Is there anything you want to say on STIs and the queer community?
There’s no shame in having an STI. Approximately 16% of Australians will get one at some point. But you can and should take the following steps to avoid catching one.
Condoms and dental dams. Using these properly and consistently is the best strategy for avoiding STIs. They come in different sizes, flavours, materials, and can be sourced for free from USASA Student Spaces, health clinics, and of course the Rainbow Club. Keep one with you, whether that’s in your pocket, bag, or even a discreet condom tin (they look like lolly tins, so no one will know what’s inside).
Test often. If you’re sexually active, test every three months if you can. Even if you haven’t been sexually active recently, test at least yearly, as STIs can be asymptomatic. Queer-friendly health services like SHINE SA and SAMESH both offer free and low-cost testing without the need to book an appointment, and UniSA Medical at the city campuses also bulk bill STI tests for students.
Get on PrEP, or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis. While it does not protect from most STIs, taking prescription daily PrEP, or event-based PrEP is effective at preventing HIV infection. The doctors can talk to you about PrEP, if it’s suitable for you, and get you a prescription.
What have you been reading, watching and listening to lately?
I read a lot of journal and news articles about urban planning, which is one of my passions. Although, I legit enjoy doing my course readings, I love to engage with creative literature through publications like Verse. Recently, I’ve been catching up on episodes of the Danish show Bedrag – I’m a huge fan of the Nordic noir genre. Lately I’ve been listening to Hungarian artist Wellhello, and Russian singer Alekseev’s album ??? ??????. While studying, I like to listen to WMD and the Adelaide band Brokers.
How do you practice self-care? What’s your advice for others to take care of themselves?
Well, my mates would say that my self-care is me venting to them and making bad jokes. But really, I try to find balance in my daily life. I aim for eight hours of sleep every night, go for walks, connect with nature, and eat well. My mental health is usually fine, but sometimes stress gets to me and I fall into a slump. There’s no shame in admitting when things aren’t okay. Reach out to people you trust and seek professional help. Actively try to unlearn self-destructive coping mechanisms. Create a supportive network around you by joining Clubs like batyr and Raising the Barre, who both do wonderful work around coping with mental health issues. The counsellors at UniSA are a free service, so book a confidential chat with them. Also, anyone with a Medicare card can see a GP to set up a free Mental Health Plan and get a referral to a psychologist. Everyone goes through challenges in life, some more than others, but you’re not alone and there’s people out there ready to help you.
What’s one piece of sex advice you wish everyone knew?
If you want to give someone an orgasm, just ask them how they masturbate. It seems like an awkward question, but people know their bodies and how they like to be touched. Always practice consent – ask beforehand if the other person is okay doing something, ask during the act, and ask again afterwards. An enthusiastic “yes” during sex is an even bigger turn-on than moaning. Also, don’t date or sleep with anyone ashamed to be seen with you in public. They don’t respect you, and they know you don’t respect yourself enough either. You deserve better.
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