This piece is the final installment of Quinn's seven-part series on lived experience during the marriage postal survey. The first six pieces can be read can read here: one; two; three; four; five, and six.
On the day the postal survey results are announced the kids are with me. I wake up late and have to rush them through breakfast, into uniforms, and out the door. My girlfriend and one of my oldest friends come along to drop Zach and Benji to school, so that we can all go to the State Library to find out what the number is. How many people said Yes? Even more: how many said no?
Benji is teary and tired (sleeping hot does this to him) and won’t let me near his hair or teeth. He walks into school carrying a backpack half the length of his body, knotty hair long enough to go past his shoulders, head down. We don’t talk much about the vote. I tell them their dad will pick them up and drop them to me at the Rainbow Families silent disco in Northcote. Benji’s hunched body. Zach running to not miss silent reading. The way children cut us open.
The night before the postal survey results are announced I am on a Queer Activism panel at Loop Bar. Crystal McKinnon asks us to rethink what activism is. To understand that there are many forms. I tell the room that writing is my activism. That life writing, being willing to tell stories, makes space for others to speak. The lights are hot. I’ve hurt my back and I am on a low stool. I talk about growing up in the lesbian community. About marching before I could walk (land rights marches, peace marches, women’s day marches). About painting protest signs at aftercare (that time my sister and I painted an Aboriginal flag on the biggest piece of cardboard we could find, for a land rights march the next day). All those banners.
The night before that, I am at a ‘What happens after Yes?’ panel at The Wheeler Centre. Carolyn Evans, David Marr, Brenda Appleton, and Rodney Croome speak. While I am waiting for the panel to begin, I chat to two friends. Someone comes up behind us and says,
“Hello ladies, who’d like a sticker?”
“I’m not a lady but I’ll take a sticker,” I say. The others look up at him, bemused.
“Ok then, I’ll sexually assault you,” he says, slapping a marriage equality sticker onto my chest and walking away. I leak tears. Again. Wonder what it will take to feel safe in queer spaces. Again.
Carolyn talks about the Marriage Act as it stands, what the changes might be if the vote is Yes, and then says that, at this moment,
"Nothing has actually changed.” And I think: nothing has changed and everything has changed. We’re about to be given a number. A number that will sew itself into our skins. A number that will not let us go.
Before we get to Brenda Appleton, do I hear LGBTIQ? Rarely. I hear lesbians and gays, LGB, GLBT. David Marr gets to GLBTI. There is the occasional ‘transsexual’. I think about language, about how little it takes to exclude thousands of people. I think about Sara Ahmed and her research blog feminist killjoys, introduced to me by an honours student writing about trauma and queer bodies. I think I’m a killjoy. I think about Ahmed’s work on the value of complaint:
You have to persist with it: a complaint requires dealing with the consequences of complaint…
Complaint as diversity work: what we have to do to dismantle the structures that do not accommodate us.
We are with you; we hear you….
Who knows what else will spill out when we do not keep a lid on it.
I love her for not posing her last line as a question. What else will spill. I realise I am desperate for her words, for these words: “We are with you; we hear you.”
Then Brenda Appleton starts to speak.
“Change does not happen by itself,” she says, and I can breathe. She tells us about recent findings from the Trans Pathways research project. That out of 859 trans and gender diverse young people aged 14-24, nearly 1 in 2 had attempted suicide, 4 in 5 had self-harmed, and 3 in 4 had been diagnosed with depression.
I remember the feeling of taking sharp things to my own arms. Bloodied bath water. Those five years before the doctors found my thyroid disease. Those numbers hold blood, bone, hair follicles, knees, tongues. Those numbers hold a story about what it’s like to go up against parents, friends, lovers, teachers, doctors, and come out worse off.
Brenda keeps speaking. She reminds us that this fight has left many behind; that the work is not done. I think of one of the poems I love most in the world: Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck. This stanza:
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
I want us to be “the one who find our way,” to make a place for what spills out. The work is not done.
What happens after Yes? I am at the State Library, drowning in rainbows. The number is announced. A friend bursts into tears and says,
“40% of this country hate us,” and a woman with grey hair and violet eyes puts a hand on her shoulder and tells her she is loved. I hold her. I have nothing. There is confetti everywhere. People are cheering.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
I am a killjoy. A friend sends me a message saying everyone at work thinks she’s Eeyore because she can’t find a smile when they congratulate her.
On Manus there isn’t enough water, food, or medicine. Two hours after the Yes vote is announced The Guardian reports 6 dead, 420 still in the camp, an overflowing hospital, and those who have transferred to the West Lorengau “transit accommodation” living in filth.
As soon as the vote is announced we hear news that the religious right has turned its attention to stitching more religious exemptions into the Smith bill. I read somewhere that they are pushing not just for religious exemptions, but for any conscientious exemptions.
A friend holding up a ‘no pride in detention’ banner while Shorten is yelling “celebrate, then legislate” is pushed and told that,
“There’s no room for political messages today, today is for us,” and I think about the words no room and the way these words are put to work to keep some of us out and others of us in.
I have a fight with my ex-partner via text message that doesn’t resolve. The plane trees make us all sneeze. Coloured chalk and confetti stain the grass. I can’t breathe. I call you, from 900 kilometres away. We can barely hear each other. You are at the pub, surrounded by friends. We can barely hear each other.
On the afternoon of the day the postal survey results are announced, Benji and Zach’s dad drop them to me at Northcote Town Hall, where there is a celebration for rainbow families. There are kids everywhere. After school snacks. A silent disco. Zach and Benji find friends and disappear. I discover I can barely speak. I try very hard and there are hugs and small talk but I know I am a killjoy so mostly I stay quiet. An hour in, there are speeches. I notice a print-out of a trans and gender diverse flag on the wall with the words,
WE WILL NOT LEAVE YOU BEHIND
YOU ARE LOVED
YOUR COMMUNITY WANTS YOU
on it and my eyes start to sting. Felicity Marlowe walks onto the stage and starts to speak about all that there is left still to do. I sit on the floor and stare at the flag and the words, my back against a wall, a friend on one side of me and a stranger on the other. When Flis talks about the damage that has been done to trans and gender diverse people during the survey I begin to sob. The flag blurs. I put my hands over my eyes. My dear friend Sarah puts her arm around me. The stranger moves closer, so his right at my side, not touching, but there. Later, a woman with grey hair and her arm in a sling says,
“I noticed how you were touched, and I’d like to hug you if that’s ok,” and I say thank you, and yes, and she does. She wraps one arm around me that is as strong as two. We hold each other. When we come apart, we look into each other’s eyes and I thank her again. She nods. I walk away.
Later that night friends come over and we share food and wine. Later that night Benji cries and says he can’t brush his teeth because his whole body hurts. On the walk from the bathroom to the bedroom he pretends to trip three times, and each time throws himself to the floor with such gusto that he does hurt himself. One of my friends offers to read to him, and he manages to get her to read twenty pages more than I usually do. Zach falls asleep reading. I wonder about their lives, whether they’ll have any memory of this moment in time, when the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ acquired new meanings. I think about the 1 in 2, the 4 in 5, the 3 in 4, the 420. All those bloodied numbers. What keeps happening after yes.
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.