Reality TV star Julian 'Julz' Tocker has opened up about online abuse - which included homophobic slurs and other cruel comments about his image - which saw him consider quitting TV.

The talented dancer, actor and model returned to New Zealand last year from a highly successful 15-year stint in America with an expectation New Zealanders would be as accepting as overseas fans of his flamboyant confidence.

Instead, the star of Dirty Dancing USA copped abuse online after he hit our screens for his debut in a leading role for everything from his hair, clothes and assumed sexuality.

"Last season I had a few keyboard haters on things that were just not necessary," Tocker said.

Advertisement

"One night it was about my curly hair, which is naturally this curly, then someone said I looked like I was just out of prison.

"After 15 years of being away and working on some of the biggest shows in the world, I wasn't quite expecting that back home."

Tocker, who is straight, said there were remarks about his sexuality with people assuming he was gay, just because he is a male dancer.

"I've had that since I was a kid because some people think dance is not the definition of being a man. But what is? I just switched off to it.

"It shouldn't matter what your sexuality is, what you are wearing, how your hair is.

"It's sad we are living in that culture."

Despite his confidence, Tocker said the constant remarks took a toll and he questioned his return to reality TV as a dance judge.

It was when he worried about his outfit choice the next week that he knew he had to call out the online abuse.

"I was a little hesitant in coming back for another season but I thought I'm not going to let that pull me down," he said.

"I thought, 'Hang on a second. Screw you, I am who I am and I'm going to own it'."

For a society that prides itself on being inclusive and accepting Tocker said New Zealand had to keep reinforcing to young people that it was ok to be themselves whether it be dancing, rugby or science that they loved.

"What they learn when they are young carries through and they say those things as adults.

"I think that's what I struggled with most, that I was still getting these comments as an adult, it was a shock that my image was even a conversation.

"I was wearing NZ-branded clothing, young Kiwi designers and I had pride wearing this, and I was getting bagged for it," he said.

"Haven't we moved on from this."

Tocker, who is straight, says he has faced remarks about his sexuality with people assuming he was gay, just because he is a male dancer.
Tocker, who is straight, says he has faced remarks about his sexuality with people assuming he was gay, just because he is a male dancer.

Tocker - who has returned to New Zealand for the upcoming series of Dancing With the Stars - wanted to share his experience to "call out" haters and send a message to young New Zealanders to take pride in who they are and do whatever it was that made them happy.

Since his return to New Zealand, he had visited schools to show children what a positive affect dancing had on his life.

"As a male dancer you get teased your whole life and I have a platform now where I can say this is not on, it's not ok and it shouldn't happen."

"I was in a school the other day and spoke to a boy who did ballet and had kept it a secret, it shouldn't be like that."

Tocker said he had grown up with bullying but had the confidence to get through it.

He remembers the fearful journey on the school bus as it passed through the Hataitai tunnel in Wellington and the boys yelling "lights out driver" before beating up a selected few.

"I would defend myself but some kids don't have that confidence at 13 or 14 to stand up for themselves," Tocker said.

"It can make a kid or break a kid and I just found out the whole 'lights out' thing is still happening."

Tocker said he was passionate about empowering young people and planned more school visits.

"Between 11 and 14 you are going through so many changes already so we need to get the positive message out there early.

"We have to take a hard look at ourselves and call out the negative talk."

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.