AM Show reporter Aziz Al-Sa'afin on life-changing homophobic assault one year on

My name is Aziz. I'm a journalist. 

I watch my fair share of Disney and Harry Potter movies, I work out every day and I like to have a boogie every once in a while.

Last year, during pride month, I was beaten up for being gay on Karangahape Road. 

I remember the hatred just like it was yesterday. I remember feeling worthless, angry and scared in a single moment. 

My friend and I were minding our own business. What I later learned in court was that my life choices had really offended someone else. 

I won't name this person. He is going through his own rehabilitation in the form of 11 months home detention. 

All I can offer him is something he did not offer me; love, and hope for him to succeed. 

Remembering how he made me feel doesn’t get to me anymore but for a long time, it did. 

Now it makes me the person I am today, and it will always be part of me for the rest of my life. I suppose that’s what he gave me - a year of regrowth and relearning, a year of rebuilding and reclaiming a part of myself that was shattered in a single punch. 

My physical wounds healed quickly but it's the mental ones that have made their mark.  

I finally understand what PTSD is, and I can make sense of Stockholm. 

Immediately after my attack, I spoke very openly about what happened. But it wasn’t until I got back to my everyday routine did I really have to do deal with it.

Whether it’s an attack, a death in the family, or a traumatic accident, what they don’t tell you is how you start feeling after everyone else goes back to ‘normal’, because your sense of normality changes drastically. 

I muted myself completely for a long time. Crazy Harry-Potter-glitter-loving-fanatic Aziz ceased to exist. My tail stopped wagging, my light was dimmed, and I flung myself into a dark well, eternally falling deeper, and deeper drowning in depression. 

I blamed myself for the attack and became convinced I brought the beating on. It was my fault.

I lost friends that meant the world to me. I disconnected with family and loved ones. I lost my partner. 

I lost Aziz. 

In a world surrounded by people, I was the loneliest person in existence. I didn’t want to exist anymore. 

All from a single punch. 

I wasn’t doing myself any favours by pretending everything was ok in front of the camera. I was very convincing, and no one needed to ask if I was OK - I’ve always considered myself I good actor. 

But one person wasn’t convinced and saw through all the smoke and mirrors, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today.

"Stop pretending. It’s up to you how to channel this energy," they said. 

"You can either use it to throw yourself into oblivion, or you can use it to help others get out of oblivion."

The penny dropped. 

Others have been where I was - they are there today, they were there yesterday, and they’ll be there tomorrow. 

This horrid feeling of decay was being felt by someone else, and by letting it consume me, I was letting it consume them. How irresponsible of me. 

How could I do that to someone else?

With that my year changed into a time spent focusing my energy on helping others and ensuring they feel accepted, loved, and wanted. 

Ensuring the universal message of love is something I practice every day in everything I do. 

Ensuring that New Zealand is a better New Zealand by creating visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community, so they feel safe. 

And by ensuring I love myself, crazy Harry-Potter-glitter-loving-fanatic-tail-wagging-bright-light Aziz and all.

I feel myself getting stronger every day, and although I’m not completely there yet, I will get there one day, hopefully helping others in the process. 

Last year I spoke at Wakatipu High School about Pride, and what that meant. I spoke about my experience and opened up about my attack. 

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

A student came up to me after everyone had left, and simply said, "I haven’t felt normal until today."

At that moment, I too felt a little bit more normal as well. 

Yesterday I spoke to that person that pulled me out of oblivion, now wondering whether they too had gone through something similar. Our conversation ended with something that I haven’t heard for a long time.

"It’s nice to have you back." 

My name is Aziz.

I'm a journalist.

I view my fair share of Disney and Harry Potter movies. I work out every day, and I like to have a boogie every once in a while.

It matters that last year I was beaten up for being gay. It affected my soul in ways I couldn't have imagined. But I will get through it and I will be stronger.

I will prove that an unsolicited attack for my life choices will not get the better of me.