I am in Ballarat library running a ‘Ways to Write the Body’ workshop as part of their queer arts and cultural festival, Frolic. I am in Ballarat and there are eight of us in this room, writing our bodies. Most of us have on yes badges or rainbows of some kind.
One participant tells us a story in the first hour (this is where we talk, and make space, and listen) that spans thirty years (isolation, getting sober, loving writing). Then she says she doesn’t understand a lot of what I’m saying. We talk about Imposter Syndrome. Everybody nods. I set two writing activities that span 45 minutes. They have instructions to follow (make a list from your body, then follow the stories that come), but I have none. I step back into the survey. Into rainbows. Into what it is to live through this moment in time.
Yesterday I went into my regular coffee shop at uni and my favourite barista was wearing a rainbow badge. It made me smile and I pointed it out.
“It’s because of ‘I Can’t Stop Crying,’” she said. I thanked her as tears crept their way out of me. Ordered my coffee. Looked up and the person taking my order had on a rainbow badge as well. Thanked her too. My favourite barista came around from behind the counter and hugged me. More than hugged. We held each other for seven beats, bodies pressed, the fan with eight foot blades chopping the air above us. She smiled into my eyes at the end of the holding, then went back to making coffee. I walked into my morning holding in a weep from gratitude. From the difference small gestures make.
A straight friend tags me in a picture on Facebook of a rainbow YES poster planted in a front yard. A colleague tells me about the number of surveys that have been counted so far and says it will be alright. I find myself susceptible to any song that says ‘everything will be alright’, and am surprised at how many of them there are.
It is my week with Zach and Benji, and as we drive they count the rainbows. Benji talks about all the kids in all the rainbow families he knows. It’s school holidays, and one night, well past bedtime, we plug one of their iPads into a party speaker (it glows pink and red and orange and blue) and we dance. Benji still loves fidget spinners. Zach tells him every time he plays with one that they’re completely annoying and unpopular, and Benji says,
“I don’t care if they’re not popliar Zach,” and Zach replies (because having the last word is a high priority when you’re nearly nine),
“Well I’m just saying, Benji, that fidget spinners are completely over. Also you say popular, not popliar.” Benji screams. Zach laughs and rolls his eyes.
On the way home from the Queensland Poetry Festival I bought Benji a fidget spinner whose arms light up when it spins. He loves it. The speaker glows and pushes music out. We should be getting ready for bed. Zach should be asking me why he needs to put his pyjamas on, and Benji should be holding his toothbrush and crying and saying he’s too tired to brush his own teeth. Instead, we dance. The room is dark. Benji holds his fidget spinner above his head and flicks it. The speaker pulses colour, the spinner makes a circle of whiteyellowblue light in Benji’s hand, and we dance. We dance until we are sweaty and tired, and go to bed with worn out legs and light-traced skin.
I’m on the Rainbow Families Victoria Committee and the day the Heffernan Lane poster was flooding the internet we set up a secret Facebook group called ‘Gaybourhood watch: keeping ourselves safe during the postal survey’. We were dismayed at the number of shares the poster was getting (that kick in the gut every time we saw it) and wanted a place where the no campaign material could be shared strategically; where it could operate as both an archive and a warning. We wanted a place to put it all so that our regular feeds didn’t jump on us each time we opened them. Twelve hours after starting the group we had 300 members. As I write, the membership is close to 1,000.
Many of my friends and queer kin are in this group. Rainbow Families Victoria generates warnings from it:
- Digital NO signage on the corner of Lonsdale and Swanston Sts
- NO flyers being delivered in and around Stott Street and Penola Street, Preston. Stay safe x
- NO door knockers in Glen Waverly this morning…
A friend posts a picture of a handwritten note on a carefully torn piece of lined paper: NO TO GAY MARRIAGE. It has been hand delivered to her letterbox, and her eleven-year-old son is the one to find it.
A trans friend sends me this message: Quinn I want to feel the way you described in the article last week when you were dancing. On the weekend I slowed down as I was about to pull into my driveway, a family was walking by my place, I didn’t want to cut them off. As I let them pass, the father ripped my rainbow decorations off of my letter box and threw them across the footpath – my heart sank so low and I felt so powerless, I wanted to yell at him so bad but I was paralysed by fear of them knowing where I lived.
I stop going to the coffee shop around the corner. My girlfriend has been telling me to stop going for ages.
“Quinn, they misgender you all the time, the staff are treated badly, and the coffee’s not that great,” she says.
“But they know how I like my coffee, and they’re close to home…”
I was calling myself he when I moved to the falling-down weatherboard house near the coffee shop, but hadn’t started testosterone yet. When I was called she by the owner I corrected him, and said I was trans. He has seen me hobble in after top surgery to sit for a while in the outside and read; he has seen my smooth chin and cheeks being peppered with hair; he has seen the shape of me change, but he still called me she, and every time I corrected him with a smile on my face. Last week, a few days after he told me he took the poster down because he couldn’t be bothered putting it back up all the time (people were rubbing against it with their backs, he said) he had a conversation with a new staff member about how many pieces of toast I needed to pay for.
“She had three pieces,” he said.
“No, she had two.”
I’m a he.
“I’m a he,” I said, like all the other times, and the new guy said oh, and kept talking to the owner. I paid my bill. I haven’t gone back. I found a café a bit further away. It has a rainbow flag in its window. The coffee is a bit cold. But I won’t go back.
And while I leak tears in and about coffee shops, pronouns, and rainbows, another person dies in detention on Manus island. 25 more refugees are shipped to the US under a transfer deal. Dylan Voller is arrested protesting peacefully against Aboriginal deaths in custody and youth prisons. A man with more than 10 rifles by his side opens fire on 22,000 people at a music festival called ‘Life is Beautiful’, kills 58, and injures more than 500. In Elliot, a remote community 700 kilometres south of Darwin, residents are told that fracking will go ahead there and that they should try to benefit from it by asking for housing, a supermarket, and a cultural centre. Theresa May wears a Frida Kahlo bracelet to give a keynote at a Tory conference.
The 45 minutes of writing activities are finished. We all stop, stand and stretch. Smile into each other, at the delight of being in a room full of LGBTIQ folk writing their bodies and writing their lives. The woman with the thirty-year story closes her book and we hug. One of the participants pulls a handful of 50-cent pieces out of their pocket in a neat stack and shows them to me. Someone has hand painted a rainbow around the coin edges. They give me two. I imagine them in circulation. I imagine a young LGBTIQ person paying for a coffee and getting a rainbow coin in their change, and what that might feel like. Coloured metal, twelve edges lit up, and the quiet smile that comes from being signalled to.
Quinn Eades is a trans and queer researcher, writer, and award-winning poet who lectures at La Trobe University. He is the author of all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body, and Rallying, and is currently working on a book-length collection of fragments written from the transitioning body, titled Transpositions.
Quinn Eades is appearing in two events as part of The Festival of Questions at the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 15 October, presented by The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne Festival. Book now at wheelercentre.com.