This winter in Melbourne has been interminable.
After the bracing thrills of rugged up hot chocolate high heating bills warm food fun of June and July, things just seemed to drag on just a bit much.
Winter started with some wonderful delights: a wonderful exhibition of the art group I am a part of at Abbotsford convent, which included weekend workshops and talks, and a visit from my New York family, a new flatmate, and even a promotion at work.
But then I caught the gastro bug that went around the nursing homes of Melbourne, and then I then I caught the flu of doom, after stupidly throwing myself into completing a work deadline and running myself ragged. The flu of doom included a week of bronchitis, and a week with a middle ear infection, and bouts of sinus pain, and consumed most of September. So now I wheeze when I walk and spend most weekends sleeping.
Part of me wonders if it is a psychosomatic reaction to stress. My workplace is not an easy, stable or calm place of employment, which is not unusual in ‘the sector’. But the other bigger malaise which according to my facebook feed has afflicted many more people than myself is a general feeling of despair amongst queers about the current farcical poll on Gay Marriage.
I am using the term “Gay Marriage” rather than equal love, to underscore how the complex issues of queer liberation has been reduced to a banal homonormative demand of “can homosexuals participate in the oppressive institutions which have subjugated women through heteronormativity”? Of course it is ludicrous that the state would oppose such a banal request, and at the same time it is heartwarming and dismaying that this is the means by which broader ‘mainstream’ society acknowledged queerness. Dismaying, because queerness IS about challenging gender norms and relationship norms, rather than asking for acceptance within current restrictive and oppressive frameworks (remember 1 Australian woman each week is murdered by a man she knows and has loved), and Heartwarming, because even in these narrow terms, it is wonderful to see how many non-queers actively acknowledge the rights for queers to be accepted and loved and to find love.
I feel especially sorrowful for younger queers: those who didn’t grow up when homosexuality was illegal, who didn’t come of age watching the kiss ins and protests of the ACT UP years, but also missed the jubilation of massive mardi gras and Sleaze parties and parades and streets filled with drunken partying queers spilling forth from clubs and bars in the inner city ghettos of Newtown, Darlinghurst, Fitzroy and Collingwood. The 21st century veneer of institutionalised acceptance of LGBTIQ is starting to crack, and young people; already facing terrible financial stress and chronic social isolation and generalised anxiety are suffering.
Older queers know the shape of this feeling: friends of mine are being retraumatised by rehashing old family arguments from their coming out days. Being re-wounded by what lies beneath the thin veneer of tolerance of queer partners by families of origin. Others taking pride and comfort from the support of our biologicals, others taking more pride when our family and friends and as true allies within their circles. I note what my friends do: pull in, pull together, come together, to speak, to hug – oh to hug; to gather and hug and speak in public spaces, which suddenly feels like a political act. My friends have also been dancing, defiantly, which I feel terribly bad about missing out on. I feel like George Michael in Careless Whisper, wondering if my body will remember what dancing is, let alone how to do it. I am still barely up to walking in the sun without wheezing, and have confined my queer peacock splendor to a stylised eccentric ladyness that befits my somewhat astonishing role as a design academic. It feels like a decade since I packed and bound, and swaggered, semi naked and glitter clad – though I’m sure it was probably earlier this year.
I’ve put up the Rainbow Equality posters from trades hall at home and at work – to enunciate my class allegiances and my queer allegiance. To remind myself of the safe spaces I create at home and in the world by living and breathing. I rail at the wretched smokescreen of the expensive opinion poll; the needless and sadistic opening up of another front on the cultures wars assault by conservatives on all of the progressive gains of the previous century, and I fear for what this does to the general public consensus that did exist: which is that queer bashing and queer shaming is not on: bigots have been given money and platform to promote their hatred, and are being emboldened by it.
Alongside all of this rainbow pain, which is largely assumed to be white – which of course it is not – are massive worlds of pain for people of colour. A child who was tortured Abu Ghraib style in a northern territory prison was rearrested alongside his mother by Northern Territory police, while another young father was murdered in a gaol not far from where I grew up. The terrorism that Aboriginal people face is state sponsored: every incident of arrest, of police harassment and death in custody is a reminder that the state quietly condones, and enables the shaming, harassment and genocide of Aboriginal people. Neonazis and poo flinging bigots don’t need to vent their hatred of black people, because our taxes do this already; through the financial sadism of the Basics card, to overpolicing and custodial sentences for crimes of poverty, to neglect and murder in custody.
And don’t get me started on the abuse of Asylum seekers. I don’t have any words left. I spent most of June screen printing hope and hope and hope onto pillowcases in 3 languages, because I feel so damn hopeless. Friends who work less than the minimum wage, who don’t get paid overtime, who are in precarious employment, scraping to save up for expensive medical visits (because they don’t get medicare), who negotiate the labyrinth of expensive user pays new industries (lawyers, English tests, employment agencies, education services, settlement services etc) fed by the booming economy of asylum seeker service providors. Friends who are terrorised and traumatised visiting their friends in detention. Friend in detention who are deprived of food, searched, moved, deported, neglected, isolated in an increasingly punitive and isolating system. It could be anyone who gets forced into this liminal zone of social exclusions/state control; just because Australia is primarily racist, doesn’t mean it can’t direct the exclusion zones against others: deviants, agitators, etc.
But now it is October, and Melbourne is getting warmer. The night air carries the scent of Jasmine, and Wysteria droops over fences. I maybe even start wearing sunscreen soon. Today there was a big queer community picnic in a Fitzroy park today, which I was tempted to attend. Instead I headed to an exhibition opening of artists and asylum seekers: to meet up with a close group of people with whom I have been lucky to share and develop the best parts of ourselves. My queer desires are life affirming and powerful, but so are my creative desires; to reach out, to touch, to remake, to draw; to reimagine; to cross languages and identities and barriers and bodies. My allies in this latter project are the people that remind me of hope; of what can and must be done, every day as monopoly capitalism starts lashing out in its death throes, doing its best to destroy society and destroy the planet.
Next weekend 2 of my queerest and dearest are celebrating a decade of relationship by inviting a gathering of intimates for a weekend holiday on the coast. It’ll be nice to spend some time with queer tribe; and as my mind boggles at how to prepare vegan, gluten free, FODMAP friendly and GERD friendly pancakes for 25 people, I am also really looking forward to being in a queer space, sharing and celebrating love and friendship and fiendship and ratbaggery of the best possible sort.