My lived experience as a gay man growing up in Lake of the Woods
By: Tyler Neniska
Lake of the Woods: the perfect place for any angler or outdoor enthusiast. However, growing up as a gay man… this brings on a different experience. I was different, as were my love for the outdoors and my love for fishing. Growing up gay in a small town doesn’t only throw your life into bitter turmoil, but disconnects you from the things that you love, even when you are doing them. I grew up with the experience of fishing, hunting, and camping – but not nearly as much as I wished to.
I lost my father at a young age, and this distanced me from his side of my family for what I remember to be years – the side of the family where being the “manly man” seemed to be an expectation, one that I couldn’t prove to be a part of. It wasn’t until the age of about 10 that I felt that I really started to connect with the closest thing to my dad: his family. My family. The camping life was in me: fishing, four wheeling, and sledding. I enjoyed every second of it. I loved it, and finally felt that I was finding my roots, if you will.
No matter the enjoyment, and no matter how much I felt included with family, there was always an invisible barrier between the activities that I loved so much and who I was. I was scared to disappoint by not knowing how to do something that felt as though it was common knowledge for the “young outdoorsmen” of Kenora. I wasn’t one of these little men. I was simply enjoying things that I didn’t fully understand; I was treated differently, almost like I was fragile in some instances because I was known to be “girly”. This is the memory of the majority of my childhood and teen years. Don’t ask questions, don’t look dumb – I lived this way.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, a time where my life seemed to be flipped upside-down, that I really accepted who I was, what I could do, and who I could do it with. To make a long story a little less wordy, her name is Tamara Spence. Some of you may know her as the Sports and Recreation Editor at The Argus, others as a local angler. To me, she’s my support system. She brought culture and knowledge into my life, a greater appreciation for the wilderness, she gave me new perspective. I was unsatisfied with myself as a person and she changed this without me even realizing. It was at this time in my life where my true passion for the outdoors sprouted: fishing the Nipigon River, Black Sturgeon, Lake Superior, and Lake of the Woods. It was through continuous education from someone that I didn’t fear to be looked at as an inferior that I grew.
Becoming a “no fear” outdoors enthusiast changed me. Being gay no longer stood in the way. I am no longer looked at as someone different; I am accepted and looked at as any other outdoorsman. I feel that the questions that I so wanted to ask before have now be answered and I came to the realization that no question is a dumb question if it will enhance your knowledge of the outdoors. No matter how experienced you are, some sort of question will always arise. Being an outdoors enthusiast and angler, there are always new learning opportunities to learn and improve your skills. Like many concepts in life I’ve learned, this fishing analogy rings true: only dead fish go with the flow.