It’s the mid to late 1990s, in a suburban side street in Australia. An overconfident kid around six or seven years old sits on her bed, surrounded by a sea of Beanie Kids. The view from her bedroom window—a trampoline and picket fence—reflects her white, middle-class existence. This kid is well versed in family camping trips to coastal towns, too many Christmas presents, and the art of wrapping others around her little finger. She gets whatever she wants, and life is exciting and fun.
And yet, she’s sobbing rather theatrically about a potential predicament, of the utmost concern to her: “I don’t want to be a lesbian!” she wails. “Then I can never get married or have two babies!”
Interestingly, despite decades zooming by, part of her two-pronged dilemma is still the case in modern-day Australia. Her mother probably laughs in response to such a ridiculous display of fear, she doesn’t remember. But that farcical episode of tears is burned into the child’s memory. Perhaps the mind has a way of knowing which memories will turn out to be ironic as hell one day?
Fast-forward a decade to the mid-late 2000s. The same girl is now a young teen, bright eyed and immersed in the dog-eat-dog world of MySpace, performing arts, and the prospect of flirting with boys in line for a hot dog at the school canteen. She’s a typically ignorant but otherwise not terrible teenager, and has never challenged the status quo on account of being too eager to fit in.
Then she grew up, and lots changed.
It’s now the present day, where it’s more socially accepted by the straight masses to land anywhere on the spectrum of sexuality (certainly more than it was in the days of John Howard). She’s acutely aware of how lucky she is, swanning around her hometown on the daily; safe and confident in her assertion that she’s free to date and love whoever without total fear of harassment or violence. She thanks the privilege that comes with identifying as a cis white woman for that, and for the luck of being born into a social class that largely frowns upon discrimination against queers.
But still, there’s the undeniable and deeply intrinsic homophobia that exists everywhere, every hour. It’s so subtle that sometimes it’s barely legible: in all of the nuances of conversation in schools, at work, and in public.
It exists in the look of surprise, intrigue, scepticism, and amusement she’s received in response to her sexuality. It’s in the embarrassing heteronormative responses: “When did you decide you were into women?” and, “So is it a phase?” and, "You don't really look like a lesbian", and “Everyone is gay now”. As if she woke up one day and thought: ‘Monday morning, I’m feeling like I'm gonna be gay today’.
It exists when she’s making out with another woman in the corner of a bar, and two men waddle over, laughing, to interrupt with, “G’Day ladies, cool if we sit here? So, are you guys lesbians or what?” It exists in the experience of her friends, who were recently labelled “faggots” by their abusive taxi driver. It's not normal, this gay agenda.
It exists in the throwaway comments such as “that's so gay", bandied about with a protest of innocence: “It was just a joke, chill! I didn’t mean it like that”. It exists when a straight male colleague recounts being mildly hit on by a gay man, and rather than dismiss it as flattery, concludes his story with “It was so fucked up, lol.”
It exists when the Prime Minister of Australia issues his initial statement—since amended due to uproar—on the recent Orlando shootings, but fails to mention they were an attack on LGBTQI people in an LGBTQI space. It’s implied in the hypocrisy of the statement that the attack was “an assault on every one of us”, when it wasn’t, and in fact not “every one of us” has the same human rights. (Say for example, marrying whoever we choose.) And in this devastating case of hate crime, not "every one of us" can freely be who they are, without being sprayed with bullets by an abhorrent extremist.
It exists when the entire world fetishises, trivialises, and takes advantage of queer sexual relationships for their own pornographic entertainment needs. Especially when cis straight males are the directors pocketing millions from these myriad productions, that are available to impressionable 12 year olds at the click of a button. And meanwhile, real life queers literally fear for their lives in countries where state-sanctioned torture is the norm for holding hands in public.
It exists in the government’s reluctance to implement the Safe Schools Program to protect the wellbeing of young LGBTQI students in Australian schools. I could go on, but perhaps if there was simply more compassion, understanding and education surrounding the issue, we wouldn’t have six year olds worried about the long-term consequences of loving someone with the same chromosomes as them (albeit momentarily, so it now appears, the fear was the real phase).
My trepidation in writing this piece was that I’d be engaging in a literary act of self-righteousness to ennoble my younger ego. However, if I could, I’d like to speak to my former self: the high-achieving confident teenager who fully encompassed, and frankly, fully embraced, the feminine ideals eschewed upon her.
I’d tell her that words are more powerful than she knows. I’d tell her to be kinder, less judgemental, and to think before she speaks. I’d tell her that she’s more privileged than she’ll ever know and that she must understand this and continue to learn and question and grow. I’d tell her life is extremely weird, terrifying, and unpredictable. And then I'd tell her that being gay is amazing, and that to be brave is to be transparent, empathetic, and honest. That to live openly means talking about your vulnerabilities, mistakes, and experiences. I’d tell her we must continue to generate these imperative conversations. Because there’s still so much work to do.
Steph Wade is a Berlin-based freelance writer and editor originally from Melbourne, Australia.
Kitty Chrystal is a Melbourne based artist, illustrator, poet, intersectional feminist and Sagittarius witch. Their art is inspired by a mix of anime, comics, early 2000s pop music, 90s sci-fi novels and dreams their friends have had. Kitty is the art editor of The Suburban Review, and a co-creator of the poetry collective and zine Cooked Poets Society.