Viewing: Reflections - View all posts

Holding My Man – on the day of Marriage Equality in Australia 

'As I walked him to the station John said, 'I wish we could hold hands properly.'  
The weight of what he said sank in. 'Maybe one day, when things change.''  

Tim Conigrave wrote this in his swansong memoir, Holding The Man, about a time just under 40 years ago, when being gay in Victoria was illegal. Today we have gone a long way to set that world right. To go from criminal to marriage equality in 40 years shows that, although we are not yet an ideal society, we are progressing in the right direction. And it is important to recognise that, because although we may assume based the bubble of history in which we find ourselves, that the direction of social change is always progressive, countries across broader human history have and do go backwards. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Ottoman Empire (what is largely now the Middle East) in 1858 – over 100 years before Britain. Now queer people in those territories are among the most persecuted in the world. In Uganda, being LGBTQIA+ was never a problem until Colonisation; it is illegal now. After celebrating this victory, we mustn't rest on our laurels, as there are so many more human rights to win. We must be vigilant, and make sure that we are always moving forwards towards equality, love and compassion. 

Photo of Matthew Briggs (my boyfriend) and I by Susan Belperio (my Mother).

We made it: A reflection on the Plebiscite and 'Dear Malcolm Turnbull' 

Trigger warning: this post contains reference to recent homophobic events.

The weather has turned warm, the sun shines more often, and October the 27th has passed.  

I am rejoicing because, according to the ABS, this is effectively the end of the Plebiscite campaign.  

To say that it has been a harrowing time for gender and/or sexuality diverse (GSD) Australians is an understatement. I personally underestimated the scale of hatred and fear that would be released: how these emotions pervaded the climate like pathogens; how in Sydney, homophobia was scrawled across the sky.  

To be honest, I spent most of the time in disbelief – that a purportedly fair country characterised by ‘mateship’ could spend millions of dollars to give a platform for the further vilification and marginalisation of an oppressed people.  

True to our fears, many of us felt the crushing mental health repercussions of being the subject of a toxic debate. The Canberra times reported a significant spike in calls to mental health services by GSD people, including a 40% spike recorded by Beyond Blue.

However, like great human rights struggles across history simultaneously bring out the best and worst in human nature, so too did some people’s actions, and some events, shine amidst the darkness of the time.  

I am referring to advocates such as Naomi Stead, who wrote eloquently about the ethical implications of making a voting public the arbiter of a particular group's human rights. A similar argument was articulated on a more personal level by Matthew Lee Robinson in his haunting open letter to the government. Another friend of mine, David Geddes, blew me away with his compassionate plea to root a debate with ‘no’ voters in unconditional love, and to react to their bigotry with pity.  

The rallies, full of Australians of so many walks of life, were immensely heartening, and exhibited to me the normalcy of GSD rights in most people’s minds.  

The event that I found particularly rewarding and a little bit miraculous was the reaction to Dear Malcolm Turnbull. It was somewhat mind-boggling to receive so many messages from strangers, telling me that this song made them feel uplifted – or even that it brought them out of a dark place. Several commenters wrote that the song made them reconsider how they will vote – which probably speaks more to the flimsiness of their pre-existing views than anything else – but nonetheless, it was encouraging to hear.

Some of the comments on the Facebook video

Yes, in this ‘debate’, there was a profound lack of understanding from the active and passive perpetuators of persecution, whose comfort and privilege clearly blinded them to the acts of vicarious violence that they were committing. It was hilarious, therefore, to watch such people get angry at a four-and-a-half minute pop song, which had by its subject matter alone aggravated their pre-existing prejudice. (If you haven’t read the stand-up-comedy routine of a blog post that was Andrew Bolt’s article, go and do that now).  

It made me immensely proud that for a fleeting moment in time, we balanced out some of the hatred present in the media. When News.com published their story, it appeared directly above (homophobia trigger warning) the following article: 

 What impressed me the most in this period of time was the allyship that I received. About 60% of the friends I called on to make the song (for free) were straight and cisgender – yet it was indistinguishable who was GSD and who was not by the volume or passion with which everyone proclaimed this message. I wish I could find the words to convey just how optimistic and valued that made me feel. 

Later down the track, I had the privilege of meeting Hayley Horton. Hayley is a special person who, despite not identifying as GSD herself, had listened to GSD perspectives with such openness and empathy that in all of my conversations with her, she seemed to understand our struggles almost as if she had lived them herself. Our plight motivated her to spend weeks of her time organising an elaborate fundraiser at which I performed this song. After hearing me speak about our chosen charity, QLife (national GSD counselling hotline), she was so moved that she decided to donate most of the funds raised to them.  

I could go on and on about remarkable moments surrounding this song’s development and reception, but what I really want to say is this: to everyone who watched, rewatched, or shared this song: thank you so much. You amplified this message to almost a quarter of a million people. To everyone who bought the song, thank you so, so much. With the combined sales from iTunes, my website, and the aforementioned fundraiser, you raised over $3,000 for QLife.  

We chose to support QLife because the threat posed to the mental health of some of our country’s most vulnerable people was the very motivation behind creating this song. There are so many heartbreaking statistics of GSD suicides because of the way our society systemically makes many of us feel that it is wrong just to be ourselves.  

So amongst the crushing callousness in this plebiscite, to have perfect strangers reach out from across the internet and show that they understand exactly what is at stake, and made a tangible action to change that, means the world to me.  

Dear Malcolm Turnbull will continue sit here, on iTunes and my website, available for purchase (if you have not yet done so), and every cent that we receive from it will continue to be sent straight off to QLife.  

If you are GSD and reading this, allow me to reiterate: we are strong. We have been through hell. But there are allies all around us, who understand. And like our people have suffered for milennia and survived, we did too.  

And this isn’t the end.  

If we are truly honest here, this was never really a debate about whether a loving couple should be allowed to get married. Its very existence as a debate belied its more insidious nature: 

This was a debate about whether we are a loving or a fearful nation.  

Whatever the outcome, there will always be a percentage of ordinary Australians who chose fear over love.  

That is why this song is so much more than a singular event to decry an isolated injustice.  

This song is an early step in my public journey to use the power of music to both recognise our own humanity, and our shared humanity; and where possible, encourage positions of love over fear, understanding over bigotry.

My next step in this journey will be the Adelaide Fringe season of my first cabaret show, Scarred For Life, which is about fear and anxiety, but also about how the love of my boyfriend effectively saved my life. 

And my step after that will be an exciting new show.

A friend of mine and another shining light during the plebiscite, Mama Alto, once wrote 'music is love rendered tangible'.  

This is the quote around which I will build my second cabaret show, about the power of music, and love, to be staged in June 2018. 

It will feature words by Nelson Mandela, who spoke of humanity's goodness as 'a flame that can be hidden, but never extinguished', stories of my grandmother's endless love and how that inspired my music, and my own coming out story and journey to self-love.

I look forward to you coming with me on this journey.