After my marriage fell apart, I fell into the company of those on Oxford Street. In no small way, that community saved me. I was no longer weird, I was somebody.
Back in my day, there were these things called jokes. And one of them went like this:
Why did God invent gay men?
Because someone had to take fat girls to nightclubs.
And, thank God for gay men.
Because I was one, back in my day. A fag hag. One of those girls who run around with gay boys and giggle a lot, at whom people raise their eyebrows and wonder why they refuse to get a real boyfriend.
The answer is this. I had a brief marriage before I moved near Oxford Street in 1991 which devastated me. But at 20 years old, having come from a South African Jewish born again Christian home, I was already weird. That’s what everyone at school had said anyway.
But like some kind of pilgrimage I knew I had to make, I moved to Paddington, and there, I found the freedom to be me.
One day when they can test for these things, they will explain why certain people love gossip and vicious jokes and dance music, and why they can remember the lyrics to all of the songs better than their own families. It’s just the way it is. However it works, I found companionship and acceptance in a culture full of people who had been discarded, misunderstood, abused, rejected and told they were worthless because of who they loved.
Around a third of people who leave the church do so for reasons including the treatment of LGBT people by the religion. I didn’t know that then, but by the end of the 80s, I was overwhelmed by the mistreatment of gay men who were dying of a disease, not from hurting anyone, but from loving someone. Maybe too many people at once. Did it really matter?
Somewhere on a podium at the DCM, we found a little hope. Commonality. Community. Finally, all the odd ones out were now only as odd as they wanted to be.
AIDS was a wicked death. It was brutal, and savage, often full of all kinds of new illnesses that medicine could only just combat before death came swiftly cutting down healthy young men in their prime. And you could see, even then through the limited coverage, these were, overall, the gentle boys. Maybe not with each other, but these weren’t the ones out robbing banks. They were their mother’s favourites, and for good reason. They were loyal and thoughtful and kind and loving. And then they got sick. And often they died alone.
What did the church say? It said AIDS was from God. That it was punishment for their evil ways and for being an abomination. The church said don’t touch. It took Princess Diana to make people with HIV “people” in the eyes of the world. And for that the church deserves to burn eternally.
Yet amongst the drag queens, the lesbians, the trannies, the queers, the gay boys, other misfits and the rest, no one called me weird. They didn’t think I talked too much or thought too much or had too much passion. They laughed at my weirdness with their own weirdness, and together somewhere on a podium at the DCM, we morphed our weird backgrounds and all the slurs and confusion and rejection and dead ends and despair and we found a little hope. We found commonality. We found some community. Finally, all the odd ones out were now only as odd as they wanted to be. And it was amazing.
Gay boys were kind to me. They talked to me and helped me with things like eyebrow shaping and apartment shopping. They had endless time to talk about boys and endless tips, and an endless love for dance music lyrics instead of conversation. I never understood why women would go to anything heterosexual with boozed up straight men, when a few blocks away they could dance and laugh and do what they wanted without men wanting anything to do with you. ‘Cause then you can really dance.
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That’s not to say gay men won’t judge you. Their standards are the finest, and that gave me high standards, but you have to have some thick skin. You can’t be a big girl around gay boys. We kept each other in check. We invented our own rules.
This is why the gay and lesbian and everybody else community is so important, because they saved a wretch like me. They took me in and taught me the words to I Am What I Am and I Will Survive, gospels that will get you way further than turn the other cheek.
We laughed, we shopped, we fought of course, and we danced. There was a lot of dancing. And a lot of recovery parties. And lots and lots of drama.
The older, wiser lesbians taught me patience and what being seriously removed from a patriarchal existence might look like. There’s no columnist crying about mansplaining ever going to fill that space. And the baby dykes, as they called anyone under 25, were as cool as it got. Sydney was actually pretty cool when people could afford a house to go back to.
I met people who’d suffered real persecution, light years away from the imaginary kind the north shore Christians lay claim to. Kids were still turning up having been thrown out of home, because of who they loved. We helped each other out. We marvelled at each other’s strange families, and sturdied each other through Christmases, when those strange people became real or had vanished.
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- Marriage equality debate highlighting our inability to debate
- What would Jesus do…about same-sex marriage?
I think people mistake the outrageousness of Mardi Gras for a celebration of promiscuity…which it is, but that’s only just a small part. It’s a whole lot of people who have had enough of shame, of being rejected for who they are, and want the whole world to know they’re just gonna be themselves.
The gay community doesn’t just liberate gay people. That’s why there are so many letters; now, it’s GLBTIQPA at least. Everybody wants to be a part of it, and who can blame them?
My heart will always be with those times and this community. It screams freedom to people way outside of mere issues of sexuality. Behind the politics and the Dior, there’s a bunch of people who gave me a home because we all knew there was so much more important things in this life than who you were attracted to. It bewilders me that we’re still having these conversations 25 years later.
Thank you to the community for helping me be me. For refuge and shelter away from those who were supposed to provide it. I hope on November 15 there will be dancing in the street, no matter what the state says, because We are Family.