Has It Really Been a Full Year?

Of course it has. It’s me. Anyway, hi! How are you? Long time no hear. Sorry about that, I tend to drop off the face of the world and forget about everything.  On the upside, I have had a very creative year! I’ve been writing a lot, and thinking a lot. I’ve almost finished the first chapter of a new book! And I’m hoping that Sidhe will be ready-ish, by the end of the year when I will officially start looking for an agent, or a publishing house that might be interested in buying it. Which is all terrifying and grown up and giving me anxiety like you wouldn’t believe!  Holy hell you guys!

ANYWAY! Today I got my last official rejection as a 40 year old woman. I’m so glad it came through today, because now I can put it behind me and go rejection free into year number 41.

A new, fresh year of rejection letters! I am ready for this. Even when I don’t think I am. So, here’s a piece I wrote for a competition recently and had rejected. I put my soul into this, and I can’t thank these guys enough. They were so open and so deeply honest and I could not have done it without them. I love you guys so much.

It’s pretty long – bear with me though okay? I think it’s worth it in the end. The essay had to be about an aspect of contemporary Australian life, so I chose to interview three of my friends about what they think it means to be Australian right now.

I hope you like it. x

The Queer Australian ‘Agenda’

Moira’s invited us to dinner at her apartment. It’s a small brick, two bedroom place not far from the city. She tells me she plans to stay long term and wants to put floorboards down in the living area but isn’t sure her landlord will approve. “I just want to make it more mine now that no one else is living with me.” She says. She’s preparing a vegan lasagna and apple crumble, both of which turn out to be some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten in a long time.  At 28, Moira is an accomplished burlesque dancer; she’s studying towards a bachelor in Political Science and works as both a waitress and a stripper to pay the bills. “The worst part about stripping is that everyone has an opinion about why I’m doing it. They don’t care about how I actually feel about it.” We’ve met tonight to talk about what it’s like to be young and queer in Australia right now.  There are two others who’ll be joining us and it’s not long before Jess arrives. Moira pours me a wine and gets Jess a cider. Jess is 25 and has just landed her first job as a social worker. Her hard work has paid off and now she has attained her dream job.  Jess is committed to helping the families she has worked with and has a passion for Indigenous families and their rights. Anthony arrives last. It’s the first time we’ve met and I am immediately impressed by his amazing beard and immaculate hair. He’s shy at first, but warms quickly and takes the conversation seriously. I’m won over as soon as he opens up to me and lets me get to know him. At 35, he owns a very successful hair studio that has just come out in support of marriage equality. All three of them know each other through the pole community.

There’s a brass pole in the middle of the room, a pink, glittery box that Moira used in her last routine, and two cats that own everything – especially the box. It’s small and intimate, and she serves us dinner while we talk. Her television cabinet is full of Xbox games and graphic novels. We begin by talking about Indigenous Australia. As a marginalised group themselves, I am interested in their thoughts on racism, and mention that the first thing I noticed when I moved here five years ago is how few Indigenous Australians I’ve actually seen. “Yeah,” they reply almost as one. “There’s such a huge disregard for Indigenous Australians. It’s like they’re not part of Australia at all, but then they’ll be marched out every time society needs a scapegoat.” Anthony says. They discuss the disconnect between white Australia and Indigenous Culture. “I mean they’re treated as just one people, there’s no acceptance that there are actually different cultures between Indigenous Australians dependent on where they’re from.”  Jess says, and the others agree. “It’s really hard to get past the fact that my being here is about the complete desecration of another culture.” Moira adds. In the 1800’s there were 250 Indigenous Australian social groupings and as many different languages. Now there are only thirteen languages regularly spoken of the 150 still in use. It’s obvious they want to do something to help, but they’re not entirely sure what. Each of them grew up in different parts of Australia, but their schooling experiences seem very similar. In one of the more remote parts of Australia, Indigenous Studies was offered as an elective subject like P.E. The class taught the students about ‘dot paintings’ and didgeridoos but not about what happened to Indigenous Australians. “I was 25 and at University before I learned anything about the Stolen Generation.” Moira says.  They move on to “Sorry Day” which all of them agree has no true remorse in it at all. “You get the impression that it’s more just a token offering by a bunch of people who don’t even know why they’re sorry. Like you’ll hear people talk about how they didn’t personally do anything, so why should they be sorry? People are so hands off. They don’t want to deal with it.” They tell me they understand that they’re speaking from a place of privilege as white people, and they know that there is still more to do. Australia’s younger generation is not oblivious to the racial foreshadowing Trump’s America also has on their country’s political future.

The political light is shining directly on the LGBTQIA community right now as the survey to decide whether to pass a bill on marriage equality has just been launched, it’s why we’ve met tonight. All of us have a personal stake in the outcome. “Already we’re hearing about how people who are queer are the same as people who fuck animals, and as pedophiles. And this is considered respectable debate.”  They’re angry and they’ve had enough. “People keep saying that we shouldn’t bring politics into our businesses. They’re essentially telling us to just be quiet. To pretend its not happening, but we’re not going to do that anymore.” Anthony says. Their passion is inspiring. It’s nice to be in a room with people who truly care about what’s going on in their world. Who care about their own futures, and the future of all the young people who’ll come after them. “You can’t sit on the fence anymore. Apathy doesn’t get anything changed.” They tell me about how difficult it is to have the courage to stand up and fight. All of us have stories about how we’ve been shut down when we’ve tried to stand up for human rights, and it’s even harder when you’re a woman. “As soon as we’re vocal, we’re too much. As soon as we try to stand up for our rights, people come at you about the tone you’re taking with them. As if we have no right to be angry. But this affects us, and the people we love and it’s important. The truth is, there is no compromise when people are telling you that you shouldn’t exist in the world.” LGBTQIA people are afraid for their lives, but they’re not going down without a fight.

I ask them about what it was like for them to come out as queer. All three of them were lucky enough not to have parents who turned away from them. “It’s hard though, because all your life you’re taught a particular gender role. Like, there’s the role of the typical Aussie male. You go into their spaces, and there are calendars of naked girls on the wall, but you don’t feel what you’re supposed to feel when you’re looking at them, so it makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Helping with chores just seemed like the right thing to do, but none of my other male family were doing it and they judged me for wanting to help with ‘women’s work’.” Anthony tells me his mother cried when he told her he was gay, not because he was gay, but because everything made sense to her once she knew. Young Queer people face challenges in every day life that leave them feeling isolated. The culture of sweeping things under the rug and never talking about sensitive issues encourages them to keep their feelings to themselves. The plebiscite has highlighted just what happens when a minority group asks for equal rights.

“Also, there’s the whole lesbian fantasy. Straight guys are all about it, but hate actual gay women. The only acceptable Queer is the one that satisfies the male gaze. As soon as it’s about people truly loving each other they get abusive.” As for dating, Moira tells me that it’s extremely difficult to find female partners who are interested in having a legitimate relationship. Women on Tinder she says, are usually just looking for a threesome partner to spice things up for their heterosexual male significant others. “When I came out as polyamorous my former partner treated me like I was cheating on him with everyone.” She says that every friendship she had was questioned, and in the end, his suspicion and jealousy ended their relationship. “Men will say they’re poly, but then admit to you that their wives don’t know.” Dating is difficult at the best of times, but for Queer people, its made harder in Australia by the fact that they are still not accepted for who they are, and how they love. They are disgusted by the Government’s handling of the marriage equality bill, when so many other countries have already legalised it and moved on. “Love is love” feels like a battle cry rather than the statement of peace it truly is.

At the writing of this article, thirty women in Australia have died this year due to violence inflicted upon them as reported on by ‘Destroy the Joint’. But marriage equality is touted as the real killer of the sanctity of marriage. “There’s so much pressure on queer relationships to be perfect. One bad gay taints the entire community and gives people the ammunition to say that we’re all the same. There’s just a lot of hypocrisy spouted about us that you find in the straight community but they aren’t willing to accept that it’s way more of an issue for themselves. We’re not the ones out there killing the people we promised to love and protect so long as we both shall live.”  It is not the majority of the LGBTQIA community who are committing these crimes. They themselves are often the victims of violence, sexual or otherwise.

In a country where it is legal to marry your own cousin, a complete stranger on television or – with the permission of your parents – marry under the age of sixteen, it is a slap in the face to same sex couples who have been in loving, committed and often long term relationships, to be told that their love is neither valid, or worthy of legal protection. Heterosexual couples are cheating on one another and divorce rates are constantly on the rise – sometimes within weeks of having said their marriage vows, it is a cruel joke to suggest that allowing same sex couples to wed will be the downfall of marriage. LGBTQIA people are one of the highest suicide risks in Australia. Abuse for sexual or gender diversity is common, and queer people face open hostility for simply being who they are.  “What gets to me is the fact that people who don’t even know us, think they have the right to vote on whether we get to have equal rights with them. It’s none of their business what two consenting adults do behind closed doors.” And we are talking about consenting adults. No matter what the “No” voters say, queer people collectively, are not pedophiles, nor are they engaging in sexual acts with animals. “I mean, what does it really say about someone who considers having sex with another human being, the same as fucking a dog?”

It makes you wonder what Australian children are being taught in schools. If people consider intimacy between consenting adults of the same sex to be akin to bestiality, where are they getting their ideas? I asked them about sex education in schools, and all three of them look between one another and shrug. “I learned how to put a condom on a banana” Jess says. “We were also taught about sexually transmitted diseases, and that the only way to truly be safe, was to abstain.” Jess’ partner is with us during the conversation. A heterosexual 22-year-old male, who tells me that the first time he ejaculated during masturbation, he thought he was dying. “I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I honestly thought that I was going to die!” He was schooled in rural Australia where sex education wasn’t really covered at all. We discuss the Safe Schools initiative, which aimed to create safer and more inclusive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families. They groan when I bring it up. “Safe Schools had the potential to be something amazing, but parents complained, and government officials did too, and now it’s being stopped in a lot of schools.” In June of this year, South Australia ceased to provide the Safe Schools program completely, as did New South Wales.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself said in a tweet that it was “good that NSW is scrapping the so called Safe Schools, a social engineering program dressed up as anti-bullying.” The backlash against providing a program aimed at addressing and normalizing the sexuality and gender diversity of young people was fierce.  Queensland’s Baptist Church Minister Reverend Saunders agreed with Abbott saying; “whilst Safe Schools presented itself as an anti-bullying program, it really was all about normalizing and effectively promoting the same-sex agenda.” In the room with me, are four young people of different ages and lifestyles, and none of them are promoting an agenda. None of them know any other queer folk promoting an agenda. The reality is there is no same sex agenda. There is only a community of people for whom love does not mean a man and a woman to the exclusion of all else. “You know what Safe Schools really did? It offered young people sexual advice and acceptance that wasn’t available anywhere else.”  All of them agree. “One of the biggest problems is that no one understands what consent actually means. Safe schools could have helped with this, by providing an inclusive sex education that fostered acceptance of differences and taught that no means no. If you consent to one thing, people often think that means you consent to everything, and that’s a real problem.”

“Most young people’s first introduction to sex is porn, which is rife on the Internet now, and porn doesn’t teach you anything healthy. It isn’t about loving relationships, or even about pleasing your partner. A lot of porn is based on rape fantasies, and the male gaze. And then we wonder why our young people are out there committing violent sex crimes. It’s porn or abstinence. There’s no healthy middle ground.” Abstinence is proven not to work, the more young people are told not to do something, the more likely they are to rebel. The removal and vocal dissention of the Safe Schools program only managed to isolate queer young people further, and give bullies the ammunition they need to continue to marginalize a group of people whose only true crime is in loving someone.

So what does it mean to be a Queer Australian in today’s climate? Each of them grew quiet and thoughtful at the question. They think about it carefully. “Can we give one word answers?” Moira asks. “Assimilation. Compromise. White. Privilege. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Invisible.” The words spill out of them and I can feel their hurt. These young people are living in a country with a government who would rather spent one hundred million dollars on a postal plebiscite than give them the legal rights afforded to everyone else. They’re angry, and hurt and tired of being made to feel like it would be better if they didn’t exist all. They are being told that their voices don’t matter, that they are second-class citizens who need to shut up and stop their whining.  But they aren’t going to keep silent any more. They are tired of being told that they are deviants. They’re tired of being beaten and murdered for simply being who they are. They are strong individuals with degrees, ambitions, dreams and desires. They own their own businesses. They’re talented performers and artists, caregivers and service workers. Tolerant, accepting, kindhearted young people who welcome you into their lives and share themselves with an honesty that is refreshing.

They tell me that having queer role models is important for their self-esteem, and the fact that each of them has found one another has helped them navigate their way through what has become for them a political nightmare. Politicians are parading them through the streets with giant red ‘Q’s on their chests while society publicly stones them and degrades them as deviants who are turning their children queer with their ‘gay agenda’.  In terms of the plebiscite, all they want is the right to marry who they love. To be given equal protection under the law, joint property and inheritance rights, and to not have the will of their deceased partners overturned by blood relatives. Australia is falling behind in the war against discrimination. Marriage equality has already been passed in many countries and for those who are affected, it does not give them much hope for having the many other issues they face dealt with in a fair and humanising way. These are real people, with real feelings who have had to listen to people degrade and abuse them their entire lives, and now they have to suffer through a survey in which any homophobic person can air their prejudices about the LGBTQIA community in a public forum.  They aren’t just worried for themselves, but for the already vulnerable younger queer generation who have to listen to the voices of prejudice tell them exactly why they don’t deserve equality. What does it mean to be Australian?
Invisible. Unheard.

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