When I was a little girl I was surrounded by a lot of gay men. Oh man did I love my gay uncles. My grandma was a performer and her jewelry was bought in the very gay part of Oxford St in Sydney at a place called “The Drag Bag” *wonders if it and its hot pink faux fur lined shelves still exist* and all her friends seemed to be male and be gay. My mum had grown up the same way so I wonder how my dad handled it initially after his catholic upbringing…but that’s a though for another day.
So I grew up thinking men could love women or men.
note: I did not have exposure to lesbian anything beyond my dad’s porn mags that I would steal frequently. So I really did spend my earlier years thinking girls together was just a sex thing and clearly for men to look at.
That was just the experience I had. And I am so glad I did. But it was hard when I didn’t understand why people acted like it was strange. I experienced homophobic slurs (as insults…all the words seemed familiar from drunken parties) when I was around 5 when Craig & Craig took me and my brother to Luna Park. The words were the same but they sounded so different. So full of rage and hatred and were spat out. A milkshake was thrown. My brother and I were terrified and crying. All because they were so happy for a moment their hands gravitated together, the way that hands do when you’re in love, and then an awesome fun day was my first lesson in homophobia. All they could worry about was me and my brother. Even though big Craig was shaking when he was hugging me tight. They apologised so many times. The wrong person was apologising.
In the late 80’s I started to notice that a lot of my beloved uncles were sick. A lot of them died. I wasn’t even 10 when I learnt about AIDS … the real stuff about AIDS. I would sit in their laps and hug them. I gave them kisses on the cheek. I wasn’t in any danger. I am so grateful that I got to experience it with the only fear being losing someone I loved. And I still have so much sorrow. I wasn’t allowed to attend funerals as a kid and I can kind of understand…but also not. One day these loved ones were just gone. And that was it. Not all of them let it kill them. Some killed themselves instead of living with the shame, the disgust, the terror…even from their own medical practitioners.
When I was 9 I briefly lived in rural Tasmania. After living in Sydney Suburbia all my life … of it was such an adventure as a kid. Even though we had no hot water. Or indoor plumbing. Or electricity. That was 26 years ago….35 yo me wants wifi and a hot bath at hand 24/7….as for toilets they should always be indoors. At that time homosexual acts were still illegal. I was at school talking to someone and they realised I meant I knew gay men. This time those same words were spat, with the same hatred, from a child. The teacher intervened and somehow I was in trouble. I learnt their love wasn’t even legal. Not just frowned upon. Not just made people angry. But criminal. Loving someone…criminal?
“Tasmania imposed the harshest penalties in the Western world for homosexual activity until 1997, when it was the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality after a United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling, the passage of federal sexual privacy legislation and a High Court challenge to the state’s anti-homosexuality laws.”
At 12 my gran took me to the theatre. Again the privileged life I had in so many ways – theatre was not only a regular thing, but the best of seats and always going backstage afterwards. Afterwards we met up with some friends of hers and went to lunch. They were the sweetest couple. Nothing like the usual crowd (I loved my uncles but they were mostly party animals when they were spoiling me and my brother with grand adventures). They were older and they were talking to my grandma about organising their commitment ceremony. They said it was time. They said they couldn’t wait any longer. Curious I asked wtf a commitment ceremony was (though probably with less swearing – though I was encouraged to use a large vocabulary as a kid, in certain company). They explained. Still so innocent I asked why they didn’t just get married. So that was how I found out that these two little old men, together decades, with one dying, were not allowed to get married. I don’t remember crying until later. I just remember being enraged. I was a child of divorce and from what I remember – a total loveless marriage. My nan escaped a horribly abusive marriage. My grandma had horrible men in her past. But they were so happy. They were so in love. Still. After all those years. Years of hearing all those things. Years of beatings and slurs. They didn’t care who was looking. they snuggled together and ate off each others plates and there was LOVE. Why?
When I was in my mid teens I used to love it when my gran would take me to her big lunches at “no names” (not sure if that’s what it was actually called). This was when I would actually see her female friends. Always a crazy booze up (and yes I was always given a drink…my family was pretty fucked up in lots of ways) in the booth covered in pictures of her and all her famous friends. This one time there wer just two women there. This was the first lesbian couple I met. This is when I finally realised I could be more than just someone who has sex with women. I could have all that fluff that others got. She was a very famous Australian sportswoman. They were not openly affectionate. in fact I was sat between them. “just in case”. By then I had learnt to hold my tongue a little. And I was still reeling from the realisation that I was definitely gay and women could be in love. In the car I asked “why?” my Gran, who normally loved throwing names around, told me this was one I had to keep secret. I could tell people I met her, but I could never talk about anything else. I felt it sink in at the same time as the realisation of my own sexuality. I had asked why so many times. But for the first time I realised it was me too. “Why do they hate us?”
It took me another 15 or so years to come out. I was 32. I sent my best friend a text saying “I think I’m gay” and as soon as it was written I knew I couldn’t, WOULDN’T take it back. I told some close friends. It went ok. I told my beautiful children and they were so accepting and loving and extremely bored with a conversation that changed nothing in their life. Then my eldest daughter told us she was Bi. It was perfect. It was time to share it with the rest of the world. It was time to be completely out. A long time internet friend told me I was a pervert and demanded I stop commenting on her sons baby photos. The shit hit the fan with my ex husbands religious family. Eventually I told my catholic nana. We have since had two fights about it. The women who never raises her voice yelled and demanded to know why “the gays” wanted “their word” … she didn’t believe “the gays” should get to use marriage as a word. As I sobbed and tried to explain that I couldn’t speak for “all the gays” but I wanted to get married. I tried to tell her the reasons. The bible didn’t come out…but the dictionary sure did.
I swore I would never put myself through another hurtful conversation with her. I believe you can CHOOSE your family. And I was done. But a big family thing came up an award for her first husband who died. Famous motorcyclist in the late 50s/early 60s. A man I had been fascinated with since I searched the school library catalog for my last name and found a book with the face of a man that looked just like my father. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I went. It was actually really depressing. Awards for a bunch of people who died in horrific crashes. And all my family at the one table. At some point I got shuffled around and ended up next to my dad who I had only seen at a funeral a few years earlier after 14 years since he disowned me (before he even had a chance to know how gay I was). I was polite. My family has gotten used to me talking about gay stuff and I realised my dad might not know what was happening. So I just told him I was gay and went back to eating my steak. He seemed to think I was seeking his approval. To which I very bluntly responded that wasn’t why I told him. Then he said something about his neck and literally swiveled himself away from me. You have to know my dark sense of humor and that I grieved for a father lost long ago to understand how amusing I still find this…so uncomfortable to be next to his own daughter…in black tie (it was a black tie event and my super butch tux vibe on top – with a huge fluffy tulle skirt and a fabulous hat – was my visible protest to a family who may not hate me…but are so uncomfortable with that part of me.
As the night dragged on amusement was all gone. It was exhausting and sad and I looked around at everyone who seemed miserable and felt just as miserable. Shuffling had happened again and I was next to my nan. We hadn’t talked since she hung up the phone on me. Still something I can’t believe happened….the never swearing, always calm, went my whole life without yelling at me, teeny tiny, preschool teacher nana yelled abuse at me and hung up. She was making an effort. She asked when I knew I was gay. When I said I knew I liked girls since I was about 4 she was shocked. It seemed like her world was imploding on that tiny factoid. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
I looked at her with what must have looked like a mixture of confusion and grief and frustration and pain and she changed the topic.
People have told me things have changed so much. That I should be grateful. That I shouldn’t have feared coming out. (I knew my parents wouldn’t kick me out for being gay…but dad kicked me out at 14 and mum at 15. They didn’t need a reason other than me just being me). That things are still changing and fast. But I look around and I see the same things. Same sex couples still can’t marry in my country. One of my own friends thought I was a pervert. Others thought any hugs were me coming onto them. My own never-yelled-at-anyone-in-her-life nana demanded to know why I wanted the right to marry someone I loved. Countries that made progress are going backwards. So many human rights are being taken away.
I see politicians debating our humanity in parliment using the same hateful words spat out in the same hateful way. I think of my 3 queer babies. Listening to their rights being debated like they aren’t rights.
And I think “nothing has changed” and I think “Why do they hate us?”