On August 26th this year I was reading my work at the Queensland Poetry Festival alongside an astonishing line up that included Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ellen van Neerven, Tusiata Avia, Courtney Sina Meredith, and Andy Jackson. On the same day an estimated 20,000 people marched for Marriage Equality in my hometown of Melbourne. I’d been thinking a lot about who mobilises and for what. About numbers of bodies at protest marches—rallies for Ms Dhu, who died in police custody in 2014, don’t have estimates because they’re not big enough to. I wrote this as a way of trying to make sense of the complexities of fighting for social justice.
I can’t stop crying. Not a sob, not a weep, not a howl, this is a leak. You send me a link: 100,000 people registered on the electoral roll last night. For a moment I am elated: 100,000 people saying yes. The warmth of your thigh, my knee pressing in. And then I think: what if that’s 100,000 people registering so they can say no? The moment I write about the warmth of your thigh, my knee, you adjust yourself, fold your arms differently, and now there is a cold patch where you were. The purple pink light sends four shadows onto my page. I think about that slogan ‘love makes a family’. I think about a twenty-seven second video I have of Zach when he was four singing, “Can you feel it, can you feel that lo-ooove?” and feel sounds like fool. Can you fool that love?
I am at the Queensland Poetry Festival and Samoan poet Tusiata Avia asks what collection of molecules am I and I think about queer kinship and how do I trace my ancestors? Where is my lineage? My lineage is books, and dance floors, and documentaries – my lineage is not in my blood. It’s in Kathy Acker and Leslie Feinberg and Derek Jarman. That guy at Fair Day with a ‘MASC 4 MASC’ t-shirt on. It’s in protest signs. It’s in the slurs that we take and turn into love letters (faggot, queer, dyke, trannie, pervert, homo).
A few weeks ago I was walking home with a coffee and a four-wheel drive full of boys was coming fast along the other side of the road. One leant out the window and screamed
while his mate leant out the other side and screamed
Both words at the same time. They stared at each other across the car roof (that’s how far out of the windows their bodies were) and then dropped back inside, looking straight ahead, betrayed by their mouths and their desires.
I laughed. I laughed at being both and drank my coffee in the canopy of sun and cloud made by a Melbourne winter. I will call you later and we will fuck and you will whisper faggot and slut down the phone and I will come all over my own hand and those words will be like balsamic soaked strawberries rolling out of your mouth sweet full sticky bitter salt warm into mine.
Faggotslut. Faggotslut. Faggotslut. Balsamic reduced is a vinegary smear. Berry skin pulling the thick brown in. Seeds softened with acid and sugar. Citrus. Squirt. The feel of me between your squared teeth.
Writing in Brisbane is hot writing. Sweat under my arms, along the insides of my fingers, across my eyelids, in the crease of my belly, between my toes. Writing in Brisbane is writing inside music. Is a scream for what comes next. Is the burnished brightness of what comes later.
Yesterday you all marched for yes. I never thought I’d want to be there as much. Or that I would be so badly hurt by posters and campaigns that tell me my family is not ok, that the way I love should not be tolerated. The drilling down from complexity to one or two images: the darkness, menacing arms, rainbows with crosses through them, children with heads on knees and tear streaked faces.
And while all this is happening and I’m on stages telling people I don’t give a fuck about marriage but that the government needs to get their laws off my body, off who and how I love, and I’m overwhelmed and awed by the responses from people I’ve never met saying yes, yes, I think: queers seeking asylum are still in Manus and Nauru. I think: they are murdering gay men in Chechnya. I think: the intervention continues and people living in remote communities can’t buy an orange for under five dollars but they can get two minute noodles and they are starving on carbohydrates and msg. I think: there is such a thing as corrective rape in Uganda. I think: Aboriginal people in this country are still dying in custody. I think: doctors working in Syria have decided PTSD doesn’t cut it anymore and they’ve coined a new term—Total Human Devastation Syndrome.
So how does all of this stand up against a rally for Marriage Equality? Why do I leak tears every time I see another person campaigning for no? I don’t want to get married. I’ve never wanted to get married.
I leak tears every time I see another person campaigning for no because they’re not campaigning for no to marriage for queer folk. They’re campaigning for no queer folk.
And today I ran into an old colleague whose thirteen-year-old son went to the Equal Love rally on Saturday and came home covered in glitter and spent the night dressing up and dancing through the house. The same kid who attempted suicide two years ago and has seen the inside of more than one adolescent mental health unit. But how does this stand against Don Dale? Thirteen year olds in adult prison conditions being tear gassed and kicked in their small soft bellies on concrete floors. Hiding under blankets on steel cage beds. Stinging mist. Cop boots and the hell that is a white Australian man in uniform’s voice. How does this stand?
In Redfern there are two housing commission towers whose windows are slowly filling with cellophane to make a rainbow. Each night there are more coloured squares, shining into the polluted night. How does this stand? How does this stand against Ms Dhu who was jailed for failing to pay parking fines and spent four days in prison telling officers she was sick. She called and called from the cell and they didn’t come. Makin’ it up, they said. By the morning she was gone, an old broken rib turned sceptic, bled out under her skin. How does this stand? Who mobilises and for what?
Who mobilises and for what? Because suicide rates in the LGBTIQ community are high. Because trans women are killed for flesh where none was expected. Because an eleven-year-old wanted to die. But this mobilisation? This is for law, for marriage, for white people (?) for middle class people (?) for respectability (?) for family (?) for bringing us into the fold (?) for sanitisation (?) for making us known (?)
I can’t stop crying. Last week I tried to gather some friends together to drink red wine and eat and watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race and forget about the no campaign. Four said yes, but only one came. The others (all at the last minute) texted to say they couldn’t make it.
I’m so anxious I can’t leave the house. Going to stay in and go to bed. Love you.
I really want to come but I can’t keep my eyes open. I’m wrecked. Next time babe xx
Hey I’m suddenly feeling pretty bad. Maybe I’m getting sick? Going to stay home :-/
Anxious, tired, sick. And on social media nearly every queer I know is saying they’re feeling wobbly and sad.
That week I had to have a conversation with my kids, who are six and eight, about bullying and homophobia, and to check whether anything is being said to them at school.
I get home from the festival. Somehow Melbourne is colder than when I left, but the plum tree in my back yard has started flowering and that makes me happy. Another piece of no propaganda is doing the rounds on Facebook. I think about Zach singing, and about him telling me confidently that there are no bullies at his school, and that no one is asking him questions. I stay away from social media. I try again to gather friends and watch Ru Paul. This time they come. There are five of us in my lounge room. Ru Paul is wearing a long turquoise blue gown and her hairline is perfect. We share food. We stay warm. We finish Drag Race and watch Season 9’s reigning Queen, Sasha Velour, doing a lip sync of No More I Love You’s by Annie Lennox in front of a light show. At the end a pink triangle is projected onto her and instead of mouthing “no more I love you’s” her lips form the words “I love you” over and over again. I leak tears and grin. We all do. This is how we stand.
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.