Orlando & Otherness

1. One of my best childhood friends announced to me one day he was going to get his ear pierced. “Left, or right side?” I asked. “Right,” he said, lip curling up in disgust. “I don’t want people thinking I’m a faggot.”

2. I was quite a hefty child, weighing 104 kilograms at my heaviest. A favourite name for me around school – aside from “fattie”, which, well, yes – was “faggot.” Both were apt, and both were said with an amount of hatred I’ve not seen again, except in the words of the ACL and their collection of random internet homophobes.

3. A name I was repeatedly called by my father: “nancy boy”. Or, rather: “nanthy boi,” with the lisp included. I can only assume I was given this name because I lived with my head constantly in a book, had neither the inclination or coordination for sports, and wasn’t traditionally masculine. This name was later parroted - though not towards or about me - by my brother.

4. On a family trip to Broome one year, we took a family outing to see “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which was playing at the local drive-in cinema. I wasn’t invited: the movie was deemed too ‘adult’ for my tastes. Instead, me and my mother went to the swimming pool, and 10 year old me stared at half naked men in budgie smugglers, transfixed by their masculinity. This, somehow, was better.

5. My parents fought over me a fair bit: I wasn’t the easiest child and consequently my father took sick pleasure in tormenting me. Mum would take my side, and as she did, my father would insist: “you’re turning him into a poofta.” Indeed, he was pretty happy to use that word a lot: at me, at others and just as a generally derogatory term: you bloody poofta.

I guess he was right - not that I was ever 'turned' into a 'poofta', just that I always was one. I’d say “sorry dad,” but, surprise! I’m not sorry.

6. Four boys from my high school followed me around relentlessly beating me at numerous times throughout the years of 2005 and 2006 - randomly punching and screaming at me as they passed me in the hallway, and occasionally subjecting me to full-on group attacks. They said it was because I was fat, sometimes as they spat on my cowering body. “If it was really because I was fat,” I wondered, “why did they continue screaming ‘faggot’ at me?”

7. I’m not the most straight-passing of gentlemen, and that’s okay. I’ve come to terms with it. Even now, though, I hate my voice, which comes down to the fact it sounds more feminine than I've been taught it “should”.

I work in a call centre and nothing breaks the tedium like the horror of hearing my voice echoing back towards me through my headset: a slight lisp, higher, weaker than I imagine it to be. In these moments I am stuck outside myself, if only for a second: caught in learned fear and loathing toward my voice, the only one I have.

Similarly, I recently was a guest on a podcast, Contact Mic, by Fleur Kilpatrick and Sarah Walker. I haven’t listened to it, and doubt that I will – although the subject matter is conceptually hard to listen to, it’s not that. It’s that I can’t stand having to listen to my own ‘faggoty’ voice for forty minutes.

8. There’s a strange dissonance when I walk down the street past a loitering gang of nearby teenagers. I realise, once I've reached the comfort of safety afterwards, that I’m a 27 year old man, that I go to the gym 5 times a week and could almost certainly outrun or outpunch them, but in the moment I see them I am scared and naked and exposed and 18 again. And fat. Can’t forget fat.

9. In 2008 I bumped into the four boys at a café in Hampton called “The Brown Cow.” I spent a coffee date with a friend in heady shame as they coughed, and eventually just straight-up yelled at me: “faggot. Faggot! HEY, FAGGOT!!”

Possessed by god knows what, I proceeded to have a loud conversation with my friend about how good it was being a ‘faggot’ and how good anal sex was. A month later, I bumped into these boys on the street and they glared at me, cracking their knuckles like cartoon bullies, and I was scared. Really, really scared. In that moment I regretted ever, ever standing up for myself.

10. When I came out to my mother, she asked me, like a cliché: “are you sure you're gay?” After she’d moved past this, she confided in me: “We suspected you might be gay, anyway. You were always flapping your wrists about as a child, and you liked Drama in school.”

Months later, after I’d properly come out to the world at large, a straight male friend: “well, I mean, you’re not like one of those gays, thankfully.”

“What d’you mean?”

“You know – one of those gays. Trying to have sex with me and stuff.”

11. I read a report on June 14th that had Omar Mateen’s father blaming his son’s violence partly on the fact he'd recently seen two men kissing. I hated him and his father, in that moment – for spreading the fear and making me second guess myself - for making me, for a few days, ensure I’d wholly taken in my surroundings before I expressed any affection.

12. When my mother called me on June 16th, she asked: “oh, how was Hobart? You didn’t tell me!” My reply: “Oh, it was great, and then it was really horrible.” Her reply to this: “Why, are you and Jeremy fighting?”.

And then, after I spelled it out: “well, people die all the time and you don’t care. This is because they’re gay people, isn’t it?”

On June 12th of this year, a man named Omar Mateen entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun. He took the lives of 49 people that night, injured 53 more and took several hostage. He had previously expressed hostility towards LGBT people and in the following days it was hotly debated – to the point that it seemed, in parts, to take over the coverage of the atrocities – whether or not Mateen himself was gay. He’d been seen at several nightclubs previously, had been a regular at Pulse and reportedly shared photographs of his genitalia with other men on hook-up apps and sites like Grindr and Adam4Adam. We all know at least some variation of what happened – it’s in our collective consciousness. After all, it took over the news world, for a few days, at least.

It was June 13th when the full details of what had happened trickled through. I’ll be honest: when I heard the details of what happened, before I’d seen the photographs or read the names of those who’d been slaughtered, I was incredibly affected. I was in Hobart at the time, attending Dark Mofo with my partner Jeremy. I spent the day being shipped around through an art exhibition, paying little to no attention, finally sitting myself down in the corner, gluing myself to Twitter in the desperate hope I’d stumble upon some news telling me it wasn’t true, it was all a mistake, a dumb joke. As day turned to night, news spread across my social networks of candlelight vigils, and groups going out to gay clubs together in memorandum. I desperately searched through the corners of the Internet but to no avail – I could find nothing of the like in Hobart, save for a couple of understated gay clubs with dubious names like “The Pink Flamingo.” As the night wore on and friends posted photos on Instagram of gay gatherings they’d attended and support networks they'd called upon, I… did nothing. I didn’t even have gay sex. I just went to sleep, too shell-shocked to even cry.

I’ve been thinking, since then, as to why I’ve had such an intense reaction. Even as I was having the reaction, part of me very clearly thought: Really? Reaaaaally?

I didn’t know the victims – I’ve never even been to America. There’s been a thousand think-pieces on this, already: on what a violation it was, on how gay clubs are – or were supposed to be – our “safe spaces”, the one place in all the world we could go and exist with gusto, with pride. Even the fact I felt compelled to write about this is questionable. I’m not going to invent the sociological wheel of grief, and I don’t really want to. But: To my mother, and to anyone else, I say: yes. Yes, it is because they’re gay people. But it’s also because I’m gay people.

As a third of my Facebook feed filled up with these aforementioned think pieces and articles lamenting the way that Australia’s government had, while still denying GLBT+ people basic human rights, used it as a red flag, a way to paint Muslims as cartoonishly evil while neglecting to mention that it happened in a gay club, the other two thirds of Facebook simply carried on with their lives. People read about it, said “oh, that’s sad,” closed the article and went on with their day. They had the benefit, the complete ease of being able to just forget about. But I, and others, couldn’t. For a while, my Facebook feed looked like this:

Don’t tell anyone, but I think ‘bros’ fist bumping is endearing.
Cats will eat your body after you die, and I respect that.

With the silence that continued on after – from people I love and respect, people who’d been so outspoken about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris or whatever else Facebook-filtered grief free-for-all was being spotlighted this week – that old fear began to set in. Fear and difference, side by side. Nothing like 49 dead victims and the collective silence of most of your friends to remind you of your difference, your Otherness, right?

It makes me sick and angry – fucking angry – and for my well-meaning but silent straight friends, it’s an excuse to talk about gun laws, if anything. And maybe they think it better to exist in silence than to speak out and risk saying something wrong, but I respectfully disagree. Fucking risk it. There’s only one thing that we can’t afford to risk, and that’s not speaking up about the next tragedy that hits us, whenever and wherever that may be. We need a fundamental shift in the way that Otherness is seen and treated in our lives, and we need it yesterday. (As an aside - none of you were or are French, yet y'all changed your profile pictures in memory of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so.)

I was afraid, and I am afraid, but I don’t have to live in fear. None of us do. I wish I had some pithy moral to top this all off with, but I don’t. I didn’t know what else to do, but I couldn’t keep this inside of me.