Steve Penberthy

Sheep Farmer

I grew up in deepest rural Cornwall, in a family known to the majority of the local farms, where my dad and both grandfathers were engineers (one taught engineering at the local technical college) and so I thought that coming out as gay just wasn’t an option for me.

I can remember, as a teenager, watching Queer As Folk on the TV in my bedroom with the volume turned down so I could barely here it and feeling almost ashamed of the feelings I had and what it all meant.

All the way through my school life I was never academic and really struggled, leaving school with only two GCSEs of note – Design and Technology and Motor Vehicle Studies. My dream of joining the ambulance service as a paramedic went down in flames.

Two years in sixth form college and I was still a lost soul. But two summers working on the local college arable farm where a friend of the family was farm manager had sparked my interest in agriculture and really appealed to my practical side. I enrolled with Duchy College on a three-year Foundation course in Agriculture.

I can remember the first day turning up at the college’s farm seeing the group of laddish young farmers all from farming backgrounds and thinking this could be a challenge. At this point in my life I wasn’t out to anyone other than one very close friend who I confided in. I always seemed to avoid the awkward conversations about girls and girlfriends with the guys at college and even in social situations with friends

When I was 20, I was confronted by my dad one evening after a long day’s work on the farm. He told me that “he knew what I was, and it was never going to happen under his roof.”

This caused my world to crash down around me. I went off the rails to say the least and left the house that night not to return for a few days. This forced my hand somewhat and, before I knew it, everyone at the farm knew and so did my college friends.

The hardest part about it all wasn’t the farm crew or my college friends knowing, it turned out they all fully supported me and nothing changed apart from a bit of laddish banter and I quite liked that. It was the fact that my dad and grandfather had stopped talking to me or acknowledging me. This absolutely destroyed me inside. These were the two people I looked up to the most and they had cut me off. It took 12-18 months of work to build those relationships back up. To this day I haven’t actually said to my parents “Mum, Dad, I’m Gay”. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, or if I even need to.

I definitely don’t hide my sexuality from anyone and I’m proud to have the rainbow flag flying at the farm alongside the Cornish flag.

Roll on 15 years and I’m now farming a tenant farm on the south coast of Cornwall running 250 sheep, and lambing twice a year. I feel fully accepted in the local farming community and feel like the other estate farms have taken me under their wing. I out-winter my sheep on a couple of local farms and I’m treated no differently to anyone else.

As I’m sat here trying to put my story down on paper, it got me thinking about how LGBTQ+ people connect and how meeting like-minded people face-to-face has become more and more difficult. This has been made even harder by the pandemic and lockdown restictions. I have been following the stories from other Agrespect contributors for the past 12-or-so months and comparing their experiences to mine.

Recently I found myself running the farm on my own and wondered how being gay, the farm commitments, and having a full-time job as well would fit in with meeting new people – it can feel like you are fishing in a very small pond. But already the friendships that I have made through chatting with other people who have connected with Agrespect has made me appreciate the value of it and I can see the power of connecting people in rural communities who feel isolated by their sexuality.

I personally cannot wait for the world to return to some sort of normality and am looking forward to get with amazing,like-minded individuals and also attending my first ever Pride event

I hope that putting my story out there will help other people in a similar situation to find the courage to be whoever they want to be and to be proud of that and I send them a very warm welcome to the LGBTQ community. You will be amazed how welcoming and compassionate people can be and you have a fellow friendly face here in Cornwall, assured discretion, a listening ear, and the kettle is always on. Instagram @the.salty.shepherd

Matthew NaylorSteve Penberthy