Archer Magazine #10 - the HISTORY issue (June 2018)

Page 1

a magazine about sex, gender and identity




ISSN: 2204-7352

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Editor’s note



Q&A with William Yang



Trans erasure in archives



Media representation



Shot in the Dark



Indigenous queer elders



Trans exclusion in gay spaces



Butch lineage



Story of Ink & Skin



Dominatrix history



Penetration trauma



Sex work and society 76


Isolation in the Reservation



Intersectional family



Queer Muslim Futurism



Queer comics 102 RONNIE SCOTT Q&A with Miss Blanks 110 ROJ AMEDI


COVER IMAGE: Sam Stoich (self-portrait) Visit us online: For advertising and other enquiries, email

HUGE THANKS TO Kat Muscat, Chloe Brien, Broede Carmody, Elwyn Murray, Cathy Tran, Eloi Aranjuez, Jessica Alice, Alan Weedon, Susie Anderson, James Little, Jess Desaulniers-Lea, Bill Boševski, Georgia Verkuylen, Gaye Murray, Alissa Relf, Fury, Lucy Le Masurier, Bahar Sayed, Niamh Vlahakis, Nigel Quirk, Vicki Likoudis, Nic Holas. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. Printed in Australia by Printgraphics Pty Ltd.

© 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission from the publisher. Views expressed in Archer Magazine are those of the respective contributors and not necessarily shared by Archer Magazine.

EDITOR’S NOTE History goes beyond the sounds and sights memorialised in media and archives. In fact, it’s just as much, if not more, about what we don’t see or hear or read about. Again and again, this point is driven home in the stellar contributions to the HISTORY issue of Archer Magazine. Absence, erasure, exclusion, silencing, sanitising, scandalising … instead of truthful accounts of LGBTQIA+ lives, it’s these that have taken their place. The issue proper begins with pieces on these very topics: the lack of archival material on trans individuals (p12) and the damaging effect the media can have when representation is negative or non-existent (p16). We proceed to explorations of one of the biggest chapters in our collective history – the HIV/AIDS crisis – through the lenses of those who lived through it (Indigenous queer elders, p34) and the generation who have inherited its stigma (HIV today, p20). The theme also manifests itself in the disconnect between present and past (trans in gay spaces, p40; butch lineage, p44), the way certain communities are forced underground by mainstream condemnation (­tattoos, p48; dominatrix history, p66), and the continuing interference of conservative powers-that-be (sex work, p76; LGBTQ Navajo, p80). But history is living: it is made every day that our communities persevere against hardship. This issue, we’re proud to showcase two contemporary expressions of forward momentum – Queer Muslim Futurism (p96) and queer comics (102) – reminding us that our fight has always been about challenging expectations and championing change. For me, Archer’s HISTORY edition is particularly mo­ mentous because it’s my first solo foray at the helm. This past year has been a big’un, actually, encompassing several other achievements: choreographing and starring in a queer dance film for ABC TV (pictured), writing for one of Australia’s most renowned publications on one

of the standout queer films in recent years, and getting accepted into an arts development program run by Midsumma Festival. Growing up – thanks to my religious upbringing and traditional parents – I’d always worried that my ‘weirdness’ (read: queerness) would hold me back. But, if these 12 months have taught me anything, it’s that em­­ bracing my queerness amplifies my confidence and abilities a thousandfold. This journey to acceptance had been slow-going, and it wasn’t helped by how few LGBTQIA+ role models and historical records I had access to. Imagine how unstoppable I’d have been had this shame not weighed me down! I talk about my experiences because our little contributions to the grander narrative are crucial. Ultimately, what is history if not a complex constellation of personal memories? This interweaving of self and society is likewise seen in this issue’s poignant pieces on penetration trauma (p72) and intersectional families (p92). There’s hope in our concerted efforts to stick it to the man and make our mark – and with hope comes strength. History is an ongoing dialogue. And so, unlike earlier issues, Archer #10 is bookended by two Q&As: one with someone who’s made history (William Yang, p8) and the other with someone paving the way for the rest of us (Miss Blanks, p110). This is also why endeavours like Archer are significant: they ponder the growth and journey of our communities, putting our stories centre stage where other chronicles of the past have pushed us to the sidelines. It is my hope that, between these pages, you’ll find something that resonates – a place among the larger tapestry of history – to know how far we’ve come, where we might be heading, and why we need to keep on keeping on. Adolfo Aranjuez Editor-in-chief

Note: While the word queer isn’t always warmly received within our communities because of its contentious, painful origins, language does evolve – and is a tool for empowerment and reclamation. In light of that, I’ve let contributors decide for themselves whether they wish to use the term. I encourage us all, in the spirit of history and storytelling, to embrace their word choices as expressions of creativity and identification.







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NOW ON ARCHERMAGAZINE.COM.AU We publish new stories on our website every week. Subscribe to our e-news for exclusive fortnightly updates from the Archer Mag team. Anorexia and sexuality Learning pleasure, relinquishing control A transgender man in the barbershop Passing, masculinity and aftershave Raising a rainbow family Slowly becoming visible Ghosts of friendships past On divesting from privilege Asexuality and the politics of abuse, memory and consent Mixed race and bi Carving the self into liminal space




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Q&A with



Born in 1943 in Queensland, William Yang’s iconic photographs explore cultural

and sexual identity in late-

20th-­century Australia. His

first solo exhibition, 1977’s

Sydneyphiles, unflinchingly depicted the gay and par-

ty scenes of Sydney. In the

years since, he has exhibited work at the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian

Centre for Photography, the

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the

San Diego Museum of Art. Beyond his photography, Yang has expanded his

creative practice into per-

formance theatre, including the full-length monologues Shadows and Blood Links.


Your 1977 exhibition Sydneyphiles documented the Sydney gay scene in all its infinite variety. Did you guess the kind of effect it would have? No, I had no idea. Emboldened by the positive attitudes of my friends, I thought that I’d show the photographs. And they caused a sensation. Recently, people have told me that, when they were students at the time, their teachers told them to stay away from the exhibition – that I was a “bad influence”. I think that that could only be homophobia. When men see a photograph of another man naked, it unleashes a kind of competition in them – this is my theory – and they feel threatened by it. It’s a subconscious threat: that someone’s got a bigger dick than them, that they’re more attractive. They then assign a different meaning as to why they don’t like the photograph: We shouldn’t show these decadent photos. They’re a threat to society.

these days, but it certainly exists to a lesser extent. In this context, did you ever think marriage equality would be possible in Australia? Well, no, not really. Not back then. I remember a TV program [titled Monday Conference] – [activist] Lex Watson was being interviewed, but it was a big set-up. They took him to Mount Isa to come out publicly as a homosexual. He was jeered. There was great aggro thrown at him during this interview. But he was like an all-style activist; he refuted them intellectually. And then someone threw a bag of urine at him. If you think of something like that, and then to suddenly win the ‘gay

suppressed than it was – or is – to identify one’s identity as being suppressed. It’s a much more subtle thing. People called me “born-again Chinese” [in the ’80s]. That’s not a bad description, because there was a certain zealousness to the process. And I did make a thing of it: I do see it as like coming out as gay, in a way. There are similar points of development, where you kind of embrace something that hitherto had been denied and unacknowledged. You’ve previously noted that your camera helped to “preserve” you during the HIV/AIDS crisis because it allowed you to act as a voyeur – to keep you from participating. Most photographers are voyeurs, looking at something, photographing it. It helps you because, to be a photographer, you have to be out of the situation and looking at it, rather than in the situation and doing it or experiencing it. It’s just a different point of view: you’re a step removed.

“If you watch the Mardi Gras today … it’s more fun. Whereas, before, it was more provocative, because that was what people felt they had to do: to confront the rest of society”

In the 2013 documentary My Generation, you mentioned that your ex-boyfriend Alan didn’t have to struggle in the same way as your generation. This was in the days of gay liberation. All of the people before that, everybody of my generation, we had absorbed society’s loathing of the homosexual to a greater or lesser extent, even though these ideas were directed against ourselves. We’d internalised them; we carried within us some self-loathing. Some people were quite damaged by it, whereas others weren’t – but we were all touched by it … When [Alan] came out in the ’70s, he was 15; he just didn’t know that same self-loathing. And people nowadays probably don’t have it. It’d be too rosy a picture to say that homophobia doesn’t exist

marriage’ debate, that’s a huge shift in public opinion. But it took 50 years. Social change is slow – it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been gradual. There are very few photographs of Asian people in your early work, compared to your overt explorations of Chinese culture and family today. And you’ve mentioned that, instead of coming out, you were “swept out of the closet”. Was it easier to be a gay man than it was to be an Asian man in the ’70s? For me, I came out as a gay person first, and then I ‘came out’ as an Asian 12 years later. And there were reasons for that: it was easier to identify one’s sexuality as being


What kind of camera do you use? I started off using a Pentax, with interchangeable lens, then I changed to Nikon; I’ve stuck with Nikon ever since. I changed over to a digital camera in the early 2000s. Once I picked up a digital camera, I never took another photograph on an analog camera. Digital suits me because it’s spontaneous. I was never that technical. I took medium-format photos for a while – about ten years – but I kind of gave that up. A lot of my photographs are taken on the run, I don’t have a studio, I don’t set them up. I’m out there, photographing, documentary-style. You need to be fast for that – so the 35mm format suited me, and the digital camera suits me, too.


In My Generation, you mention that you took two rolls of pictures at the opening of On the ’Bool and, during that night, your style “just emerged”. Did it really? I’m so curious! It did! It just emerged … I don’t really take candid photographs. I like to have people see other people’s faces, and I haven’t really changed my style since then. Sometimes, I’ll take a photograph when people are not looking at the camera. But, for the most part, I like that formal relationship with the camera. They’re relating to me or the camera, so it’s not really a candid photograph. It’s like a performative photograph – they’re presenting themselves. You often take pictures and write onto them. I find this approach quite interesting in terms of temporality and embodying a historical process – re-i­nscribing your stories onto images, bringing them back to the present. How did you start making these photos? It was a process. I started taking photographs in the ’70s and then, in the late ’80s, I started doing performance pieces – talking with images and performing in the theatre. When I did the performance pieces, I realised that certain photographs have stories to them; that’s when I started writing on them. Finally, in the ’90s, I revisited photographs I’d taken in the ’70s and began to write stories on them. I realised that my handwriting was a point of recognition or ownership of the photograph. People see my handwriting and identify the photograph as mine. That’s very important in photography because it’s a mechanical process; often, one photograph looks much like another’s photograph. Photographers work quite hard to find a style so that their photograph will be identified with their particular style.

I guess my style is the handwriting. Not all of [my photographs] have handwriting, but I give preference to stories with handwriting because of that point of recognition. You’ve said that Sydneyphiles wasn’t pretty, but also that this didn’t matter – it was about recognition, acceptance and a desire for the stories of the community to be told. Do you feel we still need to be working towards this type of visibility? We certainly don’t need the visibility we needed in the ’70s –

in some ways, that battle’s been fought and won. The images from that period are kind of in your face, but there’s not a need to be like that anymore. If you watch the Mardi Gras today, as I did this year, it’s more fun. Whereas, before, it was more provocative, because that was what people felt they had to do: to confront the rest of society. It was really very confrontational. One of my favourite examples of this is the ‘Big Gay’ hat – a person wore this hat that had, in huge letters,


G-A-Y on it. Nobody nowadays would wear a hat like that for Mardi Gras because there’s no need to proclaim yourself as gay in that way. You’ve seen everything from gay liberation to ‘gay marriage’ – do you think we still need to keep fighting? There’s still a huge amount of homophobia out there. I’m in the country now doing a tour, and I’ve worked with a schoolgirl who is bisexual. She’s been bullied. [Her peers have] done awful things to her; in fact, there was a

photograph that she’d shown me where they’d written FAG, FAGGOT, FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG — CUNT. On her locker. That’s just horrible. What it would do to a person who’s 16 is horrible. So, yes, it’s still out there, still festering away. Leah Jing is a writer and photographer from Melbourne. She founded and edits Liminal magazine, a space for the interrogation, exploration and celebration of the Asian-Australian experience.





A sense of self is formed and furthered by records of the past – archival records, news reports, films – but some accounts are far from constructive.

HOW DO YOU MAKE a picture of something you can’t see? I’ve been commissioned to create an artwork about hidden queer histories, using the collections of local archives. At the State Library of Victoria, the search term transgender brings up zero results in the multimedia, images and scripts collections. The article and book results are mostly theoretical texts, accessible to people with tertiary educations (and, let’s be honest, supernatural attention spans). The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives offer localised newsletters, books and television episodes, with the most recent additions from 2011. I’m struck by the quantity of sensationalising trash-talk episodes on file: ‘My ­Husband-to-Be Is a Transsexual and Mum’s Upset’, ‘The Most Gorgeous Transsexual Ever’, ‘Transvestite Hookers’, ‘Transsexual Family: Leather Biker Turns Lacy Mum’, the list goes on. At first, I find it funny that cis people seem consistently preoccupied with transgender sex lives. But the humour quickly wears off once it sinks in that genuine accounts of the lifestyles, needs, interests and desires of transgender people over time are mostly invisible to society at large. Scrolling through the search results, I wonder what options I’m left with to make my artwork. Should I excavate these public collections for some skerrick of gender non-conformity and present this as a tenuous genealogy? Or should I let myself succumb to the attractive urge to symbolically erase cisgender history from the archives? The latter does little more than re­­ verse a violent action and perpetuates


the binarised logic of cis versus trans, which I don’t have much interest in. The former feels like casting a disingenuously optimistic gaze on a history of oppression. I soon realise that this commission is both fascinating and painful: being asked to find yourself within a categorising structure that has systematically erased you is fertile ground for both critique and re-traumatisation. THE ABILITY TO SEE YOURSELF in the past is essential to forming a sense of belonging in the world. Predecessors confirm that you are not alone in history. They also give meaning to contemporary activism, reminding you that your life and concerns are precursors to other people’s rights. Cisgender people need not search for their lineage because their experiences and bodies form the status quo in advertising, media and art history. All the while, trans individuals remain absent from recorded accounts. This absence is due to three significant factors. Firstly, defying gender norms in Western colonial societies has largely been illegal (Tasmanian laws against cross-dressing were only repealed in 2001, while physical gender transitions remain illegal in many small nations), so our existence has required ‘passing’ and trying to ‘fit in’. This means that the search for historical evidence of gender non-conformity is literally the task of trying to find people who (most of the time) did not want to be seen. Secondly, transgender experience has been thought of as a medical problem – even today, ‘gender dysphoria’ (formerly


‘gender identity disorder’) is classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Due to this stigma, we have been documented primarily as medical subjects: not recognised for our perspectives or contributions to society, but rather as patients requiring a cure. A notable case in point is Edward De Lacy Evans, a father, miner and blacksmith who became the Australian colony’s first documented (and forcibly outed) gender-non-conforming person. Evans was committed to various ‘lunatic wards’ and ‘mental asylums’ in 1879, where he underwent forced physical assessments. Lastly, transgender identity is tied up with language in a way that other marginalised designations are not. The English words woman and man have held consistent meaning for centuries, while the words for people who shift and challenge gender have changed more quickly than generations die out: transvestite in 1922, transsexual in 1957, transgender from 1988, enby (a portmanteau for the initials of the term non-binary) since about 2013. In 1880, the best they could think up was man-woman or impersonator. In light of this, a lineage of gender non-conformity is buried in terms that are now derogatory, archaic or overly abstract, making it difficult to locate both practically and emotionally. DOES THIS LACK of representation boil down to financial profit? If you’re part of the majority population, your gaze is worth more money, so products and services will be advertised to you. Transgender people are a minority, so our eyes are worth diddly squat. The flow-on effect of this is an inability to see yourself everywhere you look. During the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival, I watched The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson with a non-binary transgender friend. As the end credits rolled and the cinema’s lights faded up, hordes of mostly straight-, cisgender- and white-­

presenting people walked by our seats, chatting about the film’s plot, pacing and scriptwriting. How has the unresolved murder of a pre-eminent black trans woman activist become a consumable artefact that is open to critique? More to the point, as I hopped off the tram and walked to my house later that night, two men threatened to follow me home in their car.

The physical will to erase transgender people that existed in the 1970s, which forms the basis for the film, is still a real experience for some people – yet it’s mere entertainment for others. Other related, recent mainstream films such as The Danish Girl and Stonewall are, at first glance, evidence


of an interest in honouring the historical struggles of queer and transgender activists. But this mirage dissipates when you discover that these films were, in large part, directed and produced by, and promoted to, cisgender people. While these films may seek to raise awareness about transgender histories, they often present fetishised versions of the past. The Danish Girl has been dismissed by transgender critics as a shallow account of Lili Elbe’s gender transition in 1930, depicting her as materialistic, hysterically inconsolable and selfish, thus presenting the reclamation of her identity through the worst stereotypes of women. Stonewall received an overwhelmingly negative response from the LGBT community for whitewashing history: it sidelined black and Latina trans women activists by positioning a young, white gay man who is not based on any historical figure as its protagonist. Moreover, the practice of curating and disseminating transgender history, mostly for a cisgender audience, does not necessarily result in equitable or useful outcomes for the community it supposedly supports. The first (and only) study to examine the qualitative responses of transgender people to media representation of gender non-conformity – undertaken by Chani Wellborn in 2015 – found that, for five of its participants, their first exposure to transgender identities was in negative media portrayals, which formed a psychological roadblock to fully accepting themselves. THIS FORM OF SYMBOLIC violence is propagated in politics, too. In the US, the now-famously-titled ‘bathroom bills’ attempted to legally require transgender people to use the restroom corresponding to the gender


they were assigned at birth. These pieces of legislation promote fear-based exclusionary thinking, resulting in the slogan “No men in women’s bathrooms” – an inflammatory linguistic attempt to erase transgender women. Conversely, the slogan “The future is female”, used by feminists during the Women’s March opposing the inauguration of now-president Donald Trump, was intended to invoke egalitarianism. But this empowering phrase – and its loaded history – nonetheless excludes trans people by reducing gender to rudimentary biological ideas about genitals or chromosomes. This mentality exists here in Australia, too. During the International Women’s Day rally in Melbourne earlier this year,

out the stories and opinions written by transgender people themselves. I remember, when I was 16, I somehow found the blog of a non-binary trans person. They were an academic, writer and musician, and they posted their thoughts on transgender access to public space, everyday stories about their partner and pets, and quirky a cappella arrangements they had composed. Stumbling upon this content suddenly turned the internet into a mirror that bent time: I could see my future self, reflected back at me. It seems I’ve now naturally fallen into a role that many queer and gender-­ diverse people fall into: that of informal researcher. We silently horde content – URLs, zines, ads, pamphlets, stickers,

“The practice of curating and disseminating transgender history – mostly for a cisgender audience – does not necessarily result in equitable or useful outcomes for the community it supposedly supports” a group of radical feminists carrying signage that read, “Transwomen are men and transmen are women”, insulted a young transgender woman who was protesting their presence. The group questioned her chromosomal make-up, addressing her with masculine pronouns and mocking her voice. As the incident was filmed, the incendiary signage was hidden so that the young woman’s retaliations appeared unprovoked. This footage went viral on YouTube and Twitter, quickly accruing pages of transphobic commentary. In this way, both right-wing and some feminist circles actively imagine a world where transgender people do not exist, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. WHILE THE MEDIA DOESN’T always present accurate information – and can even promote harmful and divisive rhetoric – it makes sense to seek

mp3s, books, posters – to build a personalised buffer, a kind of archive armour, between the self and the ­cis-hetero world. Our ability to construct this type of armour is improving, as a number of new initiatives in archiving transgender histories emerge. The Digital Transgender Archive is the first accessible, global collection of documents relating to trans identities. The Canada-based international conference Moving Trans History Forward invites transgender and gender-non-conforming academics, writers, activists and archivists to discuss the cross-cultural preservation of gender-non-conforming histories. The Melbourne-based film festival tilde and the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival curate new and diverse filmic productions, while the work of contemporary artists such as Spence Messih, Jes Fan, Jesse Darling and Jonah Groeneboer as well as filmmakers like


Ester Martin Bergsmark and Wu Tsang offer nuanced and varied presentations of gender-non-normative subjectivities. In Hollywood, Laverne Cox and the Wachowski sisters are staking space for transgender voices. BACK AT THE LIBRARY (that state archive I see as sick with erasure), I decide that because the process of searching yields limited results, I should move the archive – as a way to regain agency. I create a print run of bookmarks featuring Evans’ eyes, from the mugshots taken while he was held at the Kew mental asylum. I slip these into books held at the library, a gesture that brings a lesser-known history quietly to the attention of a public readership. Each bookmark has a URL printed on it, leading readers to a letter addressed to Evans. In it, I tell him about how language has changed over time, how even the name of his home town has changed, and how people now use the word they (a gender-neutral alternative to he or she) so widely that it was elected ‘Word of the Year’ in 2015 by a panel of 200 American linguists. I acknowledge Evans’ documented silence – written accounts explain that he refused to speak in interviews, and that, when he did speak, he was cordial and concise. This information about his personality links us over time: both ordinary individuals, quiet and straightforward. I think about a time when transgender people do not need symbolic artwork to assert our status as people with desires, behaviours and interests. I think of when we can be present in media as people with personalities, in the same ways that normatively gendered folks are. Archie Barry is an artist and writer living on stolen Wurundjeri land. They work primarily in video and performance.



TOP: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (image courtesy of Netflix) BOTTOM: The Family Law (image courtesy of SBS)


Whether in the age of ­antenna television or on-demand streaming, the way ­audiences see LGBTQ ­communities has immense ­power to normalise or negate.

GROWING UP IN Northern Minnesota in the 1980s, I always knew that I was somehow different. But I had no language to describe what that meant. No-one talked about sexual orientation or gender identity; the assumption was that everyone was heterosexual and cisgender. In my small rural town, there were no openly queer role models for me to emulate. And my peers freely threw around the word fag as an insult. My goal was to have it directed somewhere other than at me. Television wasn’t any help, either. The characters who were gay were one-off guest stars, never given much d ­ evelopment. Instead, they were depicted as ‘sissies’ and buffoons or as menacing killers. This was true even on shows I enjoyed. A common recurring trope, played for laughs, was the reaction against being thought of as gay. In an episode of Night Court – a childhood favourite of mine – prosecutor and serial womaniser Dan Fielding reacts with revulsion and violence when complimented by a gay man. Dan proceeds to rip his briefcase in half and yell at the man as he leaves the courtroom. Later in the episode, Dan ends up being stuck in an elevator with the same gay man and displays more ‘comedic’ animosity. The entire premise of Three’s ­Company, which similarly entertained me as a child, was that main character Jack couldn’t be roommates with two women. Because of that, he had to pretend to be gay – often making him the object of suspicion in his landlords’ eyes. Not every LGBTQ character was the butt of jokes. I loved Quantum Leap, but the first LGBTQ character to appear on this show that portrayed 1950s–1980s life was a jealous, murderous ex-girlfriend. The lesbian killer hit her former lover in the head with a high-heeled shoe, and the dead woman was outed posthumously.


Audiences didn’t know much about the LGBTQ community, but they did know that we were to be either laughed at or feared (or both). Yet, seeing those characters, as stereotypical as they were, I knew they somehow spoke to my ­reality. IN THE MID-1980S, the dominant narrative around sexual orientation pointed to a new disease afflicting gay men in large cities. Thousands of miles away from me, New York City was the centre of the AIDS crisis that was ­sweeping the country. Scarcely 20 years before, the city endured the Stonewall riots, when a police raid resulted in a multi-day protest led by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, who were fed up with being constantly harassed. They fought back, provoking the New York Daily News headline ‘Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad’. I knew nothing of the Stonewall riots, but I did see news reports blasting out fear, confusion and victim-blaming while chroncling the AIDS crisis. The media brought the scorn to a new level. Cov­ erage of HIV and AIDS framed the latter as the ‘gay disease’, and my small town fell into the clutches of this hysteria. MAINSTREAM MEDIA remains the gatekeeper of what is ‘normal’. There is a reciprocal relationship between media and culture: how characters are portrayed and how the news is reported both reflect society back to itself and reinforce ideological positions. For a long time, that reflection has been distorted. Films and television programs that only featured white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied characters told our society that those who didn’t possess those qualities weren’t worthy of inclusion. At its worst, media depicted


those who were ‘Other’ as something to be feared. One of the worst offenders was the New York Post, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, which displayed headlines like ‘Triggered “Gay Cancer” Epidemic in U.S.: THE MAN WHO GAVE US AIDS’. In response to these headlines, an estimated 700 activists carried signs reading “Headlines spread hatred”, “Don’t advertise in the Post” and “Close the Post, Not the Baths”. These protests birthed, not just an LGBTQ media-advocacy organisation, but a movement to ensure that stories about the LGBTQ community were fair, accurate and inclusive. GLAAD formed in 1985 because the prevailing representation of gay and lesbian people during that time centered on ridicule, suspicion or outright terror. As Vito Russo, one of GLAAD’s founders, argued in his lecture The Celluloid Closet

only 10 series regulars – or 2 per cent of all lead and supporting characters that consistently appear on television programs – who were identified as LGBTQ. All but three were white, and all but two were gay men. Over time, that percentage has slowly inched up, now landing at 6.4 per cent on broadcast scripted primetime programming, but still overwhelmingly white, gay and cisgender. EVEN BEFORE I CAME OUT, my parents were nervous about me. They loved and supported me, but my love of the theatre made them worry about the men who might want to ‘take advantage’ of a young boy like me – and that might lead to me dying of AIDS. As a teen, I recall watching an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer is concerned that Bart might be gay. I was transfixed. I hadn’t yet come out, but

“The common cultural wisdom at the time – perpetuated by media – was that being gay led to AIDS, poverty and death. In turn, I myself began to believe that being gay was bad and dangerous” – later developed into a book and then a film of the same name – stereotypical depictions and reportage of LGBTQ people keep wider society from understanding our lives in a real way. In order to combat those negative stereotypes, GLAAD had to work reactively and proactively. At the same time that it was teaching media outlets how to avoid doing the wrong thing, it was also pointing them towards best practices. In one case, the organisation protes­ ted the biphobia depicted in the film ­Midnight Caller, forcing modifications and a letter from NBC network executives that said: “Although the villain is identified as a bi-sexual, his irresponsible actions are presented as being driven by a personal character failure and his insensitivity to the consequences of his activities. His behavior is not motivated by or attributed to his sexual orientation.” When GLAAD debuted the Where We Are on TV report in 2005, it found

I recognised that I was seeing something akin to my life. Homer takes Bart to a steel mill to show him how ‘real men’ are supposed to behave. The joke was that it was a gay steel mill, complete with buff men lisping to one another as they performed manly tasks and ending with an afterhours dance party. In the show, Homer came to a level of understanding; my mother, however, used it as an opportunity to remind me that being gay is difficult and dangerous. She sincerely believed that she was protecting me by saying this, but it also sent the message that it wasn’t a good time to come out. And I didn’t for several more years. Why did she think this? Because she didn’t have any more accurate information. The common cultural wisdom at the time – perpetuated by media – was that being gay led to AIDS, poverty and death. In turn, I myself began to believe that being gay was bad and dangerous.


Compared to many, my eventual coming out was easy. I didn’t face rejection, though I did experience confusion and misunderstanding. I spent a lot of time dispelling myths and correcting misconceptions. At the same time that I was figuring out who I was, I was talking to people extensively about my life, my experiences and my feelings. This helped my friends and family better understand what being gay meant because I was able to demonstrate for them that the damaging images they saw on their televisions didn’t accurately represent the experiences of someone they know and love. But, while coming out is a much more individual, relational process, it’s much harder to change the hearts and minds of the masses. You can’t tell your story to everyone, one person at a time. THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE today has expanded and diversified ­exponentially. Instead of waiting until 6pm for a half-hour news reading, we now have breaking news released, analysed and politicised 24 hours a day on cable news networks and social media. Headlines are pushed to us on our phones and watches, giving us a constant stream of ‘news’ we ‘need’ to know. The internet has brought us new platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. All of these have turned everyday individuals into content creators who document their lives, share practical tips and pontificate about the state of the world. We now have streaming services like Netflix and Amazon that allow creators to take more risks and devise more inclusive shows, such as the former’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. Where We Are on TV reveals that these platforms are far more inclusive of LGBTQ characters than cable or network television. The disparity is even more pronounced when compared to film. What hasn’t changed is the need for authentic stories about the joys and challenges experienced by LGBTQ people. Over time, depictions have become more nuanced and truer to life – and the


wider public’s perceptions have changed along with them. Former US vice president Joe Biden credited Will & Grace with helping to increase support for LGBTQ people. Ellen DeGeneres is a daily presence in millions of homes, even reaching conservatives with her talk show. This is important on a global scale. At GLAAD, we are aware that the biggest American cultural export is the media: films and television series created in the US are consumed all around the world. You are likely to have heard of all the shows I’ve referenced so far in this article. But the US can’t be the only source of LGBTQ-inclusive media. In order to im­­ pact a specific culture, media products need to represent that culture. This

Accelerating Acceptance report has shown that tolerance is slipping and discomfort is growing. Just three short years after marriage equality became a reality in the US, we are now in the midst of ongoing attacks from our president, Donald Trump, whose divisive comments are reiterated by mainstream publications. We are facing the prospect of two anti-LGBTQ bills: a ‘religious exemption’ law allowing businesses to refuse services to anyone who might cause ‘moral objection’, and a series of laws restricting transgender people from using restrooms that align with their gender identity. All the negative messages, hashed out over the 24-hour news cycle, on-demand streaming platforms and social media, have taken their toll on how A ­ mericans

The Celluloid Closet

is why titles like Please Like Me and The Family Law are important: they tell ­Australian stories of acceptance. Please Like Me, especially, was popular and relatable enough to be imported to the US. The show’s particular portrayals of friendship, love and acceptance offered Americans something we hadn’t seen before. I’m hoping an American platform will also bring The Family Law to a US audience, since we can all relate to and learn from the show’s themes of family dynamics, coming out and living as a minority community within a dominant culture. MEDIA CAN TAKE PEOPLE in the opposite direction as well, though. After measuring three years of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, GLAAD’s

view their LGBTQ family, friends and neighbours. This doesn’t only impact the American LGBTQ community, but also those in other countries, leading to draconian rollbacks – the repeal of same-sex marriage in Bermuda; anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Indonesia, China and Russia; and even the hateful messages that were propagated during Australia’s postal survey for marriage equality. WE IN THE LGBTQ communities get gaslit into believing that what we see and hear and feel isn’t normal, and that therefore we aren’t normal. Not seeing myself – or seeing only a caricature of me – made me believe that my reality didn’t really exist. I was fortunate to have seen myself start to be represented, through DeGeneres on


her show and Will and Jack from Will & Grace, and others. Of course, I – like those characters – possess a great amount of privilege, and my family was quick to accept me after I came out. I face the occasional instance of homophobia, but I don’t have to also overcome racism, sexism, transphobia or ableism. I enjoy relative safety as a gay white man, but people of colour and bisexual, transgender and gender-non-conforming people continue to be vulnerable. We need to continue the journey that activists like Russo and others started in 1985 with the founding of GLAAD, following the lead of Rivera and Johnson at Stonewall in 1969. In Australia, The Equality Project is equipping LGBTQ individuals and allies with tools to share their stories in proactive ways. The Australian LGBTI Media Centre is monitoring the media and suggesting tangible ways that coverage can be done better. But it’s not just up to these organisations. As consumers of media, we must examine who is represented and who is getting to tell their story. Instead of believing that there isn’t a market for diverse stories, let’s invest in those stories. We can make an impact through what television shows we watch, where we get our news and which filmmakers we support. We all need to be vigilant and share the stories and messages that build em­pathy, understanding and acceptance, not just among our friends and family, but also for the younger members of our communities who still need to see their lives reflected. Our work involves advancing our culture from ambiguity about LGBTQ people, and towards acceptance and allyship. It’s up to all of us. Ross Murray is senior director of the GLAAD Media Institute, and the founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based LGBTQ youth ministry in the United States. He is a consecrated deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ross was named one of the ‘Ten LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter’ by Mashable.



This series by 20-year-old HIVpositive American photographer Sam Stoich confronts a subject that has long been misunderstood, and remains burdened with ­stigma even today.

Shot in the Dark has a sense of continuum; is this series on­­ going? If so, how has it evolved so far and in what direction do you see it heading? This body of work has taken years to develop, and I have seen myself grow tremendously. I don’t want to put a due date on this project; I want to see where it goes organically. A few years ago, I was stuck trying to create an alternate reality – an escape from some very unfortunate circumstances in my life – and, in that time, my portfolio has transformed into something that allows me to honour the beauty, strength and uniqueness of my actual reality. Tell us about the use of the colour red in your work. I saw this film called Greed by Erich von Stroheim from the 1920s. It’s a black-and-white si­­ lent movie about a man who succumbs to greed, and it even­tually destroys him. Von Stroheim used the technique of hand-tinting to strategically place a gold/yellow colour on certain objects throughout the film. The colour acts as a visual metaphor for the man’s obsession with wealth. By the end, the entire film is tinted yellow, creating a very vivid visual depiction of his emotional state. I am doing something similar with the colour red – only, for me, it represents the presence of HIV in my life. It seeps into my frames like blood, and sometimes can make


them seem absolutely flooded. It is something that is always there in the background. Your use of iconography such as roses as well as the images in Blood Brothers feels deliberate. What inspired these? I am very inspired by the Symbolism movement, whereby everything you see in the image has some kind of alternative meaning. The roses are supposed to represent the frightening statistic put out by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that one in eight people are HIV-positive and do not know it. I wanted to use roses because of their phallic form. I also wanted to emphasise that the one rose that was not protected is still a beautifully intact rose. Blood Brothers is about the connection I had with the first guy I was seeing, who was also HIV-positive. We are bonded by this thing in our blood, so to cut each other open, hold hands and kiss is a statement of solidarity between us. In the ’80s, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe were some of the first photographers to create visual narratives of LGBTQ communities and relationships. Why do you feel it’s imperative we continue to explore narratives about HIV/AIDS today? All art is vital to social struggle; when you are expressing such raw emotions, you can really connect on a deep level with others in similar circumstances. (continued on p28 …)

(… from p22) The best part of ­sharing this work has been hearing stories from people who are dealing with HIV-related issues, whether they are HIV-positive themselves or have lost family and loved ones to the disease. If I can make people feel less alone and inspire those in despair, that would be a huge success for me. In your experience, what stigmas still exist now, and what’s the biggest misconception about HIV/AIDS? There’s endless research that proves that undetectable equals untransmittable; I even had to explain this to a doctor. So many people look at those with HIV like we are infectious monsters. Fear is not going to prevent you from contracting a disease. There is a culture of ignorance about HIV, and few are aware of current medical information that exists. On Grindr, people state on their bios that they are looking for “drug- and disease-free” or “­disease-free only”. This kind of culture perpetuates the idea that HIV is synonymous with drug abuse. You cannot contract HIV from a poz/undetectable person – whereas you are actually at risk being with someone who assumes they are HIV-negative but hasn’t gotten tested for months. I was talking to someone who told me they couldn’t be with me because, if they were to get HIV, it “would ruin [their] career”. Just the fact that people see a disease as something so negative – that it could be a career-destroyer – says a lot about how people view HIV. I have had many negative experiences with people reacting poorly when I disclose my status to them. I have even had a couple professors at art school tell me I should stay discreet about my status for “professional reasons”. Yikes!

Your work is extremely intimate and vulnerable. What’s your process behind the scenes? It starts with clear communication and consent with those I photograph. From there, we can both navigate where the shoot goes. I will give people an idea of what I see in my mind, but oftentimes I will let the subject take the lead. I want to create a safe space that is inclusive and sex-positive. I want people to feel confident in their bodies and proud of their sexuality. A good deal of my photos are with people I am in deeply personal relationships with, so that trust is already there. I think a lot of people come to me having seen my work, and they want to express themselves in a similar way. I also think it helps that I photograph myself so intimately, and not just other people. You explore themes such as sexuality, beauty and the body; what inspired you to evoke them in self-portraits? I believe vulnerability and power are synonymous. Photographing myself has been essential to my growth as an artist. It has allowed me to confront the things that make me and others uncomfortable. Avoiding aspects of my identity has only ever brought trouble in my life, but, when I embrace what makes me different and what sets me apart, I thrive. Some of the self-portraits to date are of me post-operation, which was an extremely vulnerable time for me. I have had over a dozen major operations throughout my adolescence to help repair the cleft lip and palate I was born with. Though I work hard to embrace my sense of self-worth, being born with a facial birth defect has always been a point of contention in my relationship with myself. It is my Achilles heel. When I come out of an operation or procedure having to do with my cleft, I am most vulnerable


to self-hatred – and taking a self-­ portrait during these times is ex­ tremely cathartic. It has allowed me to combat the negative thoughts I had, see my perceived flaws differently and own them. Your portraits are reminiscent of the classic reclining nudes of canonical Western painters, yet they depict people we rarely see in Eurocentric, cisheteronormative art-history books. Did you seek to subvert these (often-subconscious) aesthetic ideals by representing other forms of beauty, identity and sexuality? I like to look outside of photo­ graphy to inspire my work. I look at painting and filmmaking a lot. Understanding these other forms of visual storytelling can help me tell my own story better. I definitely study painting especially because it was around before photography. I love going to art museums to look at classical paintings. I am so attracted to the technique and aesthetic style of these kinds of works, but never could relate to what was being depicted. I definitely have set out to give the poor, the marginalised and the all-round disenfranchised the royal treatment – take their photo the way a painter would make a portrait of a wealthy patron. What advice do you have for HIV-positive young folks who face day-to-day stigma in their personal and professional lives? I’m really trying to figure it out myself. I would say to those recently diagnosed: don’t freak out, you will be just fine. Tell your mama or anyone you love and trust, as it’s important for you to establish a support system. Also, to anyone dealing with stigma around being positive: call me. I would love to talk to ­others in my position about what we can do together. Q&A with Jess Desaulniers-Lea





Now in his 50s, Peter Waples-Crowe is a powerhouse community figure in the Aboriginal LGBT ­community, managing a career in public health alongside a ­significant body of visual art that reflects his unique intersections. After catching up over cigarettes outside the State Library of Victoria, and reflecting on the sombre irony of smoking tobacco products and working in the community-health sector, he sat down with Archer Magazine co-editor Bobuq Sayed to chat about the history of queerness in Australia, Indigeneity, mental health, drug use and party culture. I LOVE THE TERM ‘emerging’ when it comes to my eldership – it gets used a lot in visual arts and I am an emerging queer elder. I’m always asking myself to do better and looking around and asking community to see what that means. A few years ago, I started getting called ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’, and you just have to take that on because it’s a mar­ ker of respect. I really like it because it queers eldership up. It plays with the gender binary and I like to let that be, even though I’m cisgender. You never think you’re going to make it to the position of elder, but that’s the thing, isn’t it. That role of elder is really important, and there’s a lot of wisdom that comes with it because it’s someone who has earned respect and worked for community. The elder’s seen as a strong figure among my Ngarigo mob and in the Koori community more widely, and in First Nations communities worldwide. A lot of other people use the term nowadays, but I think they don’t realise

it has such a specific cultural significance for Aboriginal people. I GREW UP IN a non-Indigenous family so, in my childhood, I first had to tackle self-identification. Because I was adopted out, it didn’t come out till later that I was Indigenous. It was strange, though, because I had always done Indigenous artworks and I was always very attracted to Indigenous cultures as a young person. At that time, you weren’t allowed to access much from your records. I was told I was adopted, but kept in the dark about everything else. The first thing was that I was queer, which was a big obstacle. I didn’t have any queer or Aboriginal role models around me back then. It wasn’t until much later that I realised I needed role models, and they were hard to find. All my life I’ve struggled with role models. I grew up in a poor white community in housing commissions, in a pretty


tough part of Wollongong, New South Wales. The only labels you ever heard were ‘poofter’, ‘dyke’ and ‘tranny’ – that was all you heard, and they were all negatives. From an early age, you internalised who you were to be a bad thing. As a sensitive soul who thinks a lot, I took a lot of that on and I didn’t know how to process it. The first signs of AIDS started to appear when I first left school at 18. Into the ’80s and ’90s, people were worried about you coming out, because they were genuinely afraid you were gonna get AIDS and die. That was the backdrop of what coming out was like: there’s this new disease killing a lot of gay men, and there was a lot of poofter bashing, too, where groups of people went out and bashed gay people for sport. It was really tough, actually. I had a queer friend early on, and we learnt to adapt in order to survive. I hid a lot of my stuff, though; I wasn’t free to express it. You learn to repress a lot of


that shit. It wasn’t until much later that I was even able to start unpacking some of it. The world I want as an emerging queer elder is one of safety. WHEN I GOT TO my 20s, I couldn’t take the weight of it all and I took off. I sold my belongings, started backpacking and barely knew where I was going, which is a luxury a lot of Aboriginal people don’t have. I disappeared and went overseas. When I came back, I wasn’t the same person anymore. My whole coming-out experience happened really late and, when I returned, something had changed and I began my work with community. I started working at the AIDS Council in Wollongong as a beat outreach worker – working with men who had sex with men in parks, toilets, car parks, beaches, stuff like that. I was trying to do HIV prevention and talk about the issues that weren’t getting any attention in the media. At the time, we didn’t have any other places to hang, so these beats were where people met and got to know one another. They had a different role back then and they fed into stereotypes of gay men as sexual deviants, but that’s not what they were about. We were forced into the margins by the homophobic culture of the time and we found belonging there. Back then, we clung together as a group for safety. What we fought for then is what’s happening now, where people are moving away from strictly gay and queer venues and you can hang with a diverse crowd of people. But I think we live in a bubble in Melbourne. The other week, I went down to Gippsland and there’s still a lot of homophobia in the Aboriginal community, and in the general public as well. The marriage-equality vote may have helped in some ways, but the homophobia is still around. For people of my age, living through the AIDS era, it’s hard not to be a bit scarred by internalised homophobia and

the narrative that we deserved to die and that promiscuity was gonna kill us. I can’t even begin to describe what the fear of contracting AIDS did to my whole generation. People used to think they’d have to move to find acceptance – that there’s the ghetto of Oxford Street in Sydney, or the ghetto of Commercial Road in Melbourne – but I really respect people who stay in their country towns and try to educate people from there. And here I am, back working for the AIDS Council (but in Melbourne) – there’s so much more optimism now. I WAS ANGRY with the world for many reasons. My Aboriginality only properly emerged in my mid-20s, when I met my mum for the first time and she told me we’re strong because of our blackfulla blood. I’ve been Indigenous all along; I was just disconnected temporarily. But I wanted to know who I was and I was angry that they wouldn’t give me access to my adoption records. I wasn’t a happy teenager at all. All those experiences built up my vulnerability to the night-life, and I took to drug use like a duck takes to water, which I think I’m finally ready to talk about. I was introduced to injecting drugs, amphetamines. For someone who was a bit sad and down by nature (which has since been diagnosed as type-II bipolar), I really loved what the amphetamines made me feel. I was confident and happy in myself, and using became a huge part of my life. I worked with injecting drug users in Redfern, doing needle exchanges, but I was also one of them – a peer as well as working, which were roles I navigated. Heroin wasn’t for me, but its instant escapism had great appeal for people, including a lot of Aboriginal and queer people. It was the favourite drug of my partner at the time, Michael. I did a lot of drugs back then and, in Sydney especially, I did a lot of partying. It just became a part of me.





“Intergenerational talk is so important, to remind people that where we’re at now is not where we’ve always been” It really peaked in the ’90s, with the high quality of ecstasy and the venues coming alive and anticipating the millennium. Everyone was loved up to the max on all sorts of drugs. We didn’t have phones, so we were always out. We met up at people’s houses and we took care of each other in a way that I don’t see so much anymore. Unfortunately, later that decade, Michael died of AIDS. While I lost him, I did inherit a beautiful Canadian ­family. I’m finished with the drugs and partying now, but I don’t want to make that seem like a ‘hero moment’ because that’s not what it’s like. I don’t judge people on the substances they use – but, for me and for my mental health, I had to move on. IT’S TAKEN ME A WHILE to become comfortable with it all. My current partner has been a real rock for me while getting through some tough personal times. All these experiences I’ve had and the challenges I’ve overcome are part of my ­eldership now. That was 20 big years of my life I spent using, and I partied all through those years. I was running away from myself; in some ways, I’m a classic case. Being altered gave me a break from myself and the world. I really struggled with coming to terms with being queer and being Aboriginal. In Sydney in the ’90s, I hung out with a group of gay and lesbian friends and I could hardly find a space to go out in. The separatist politics were full-on.

Gays hated lesbians, lesbians hated gays, men-only, women-only. There are parts of that that are still around today, plus a lot of misogyny, transmisogyny and homonormativity that the community still needs to address. Especially for remote Aboriginal people, we’re seeing high rates of suicide, and we don’t know how much of that can be attributed to being LGBT. Intergenerational talk is so important, to remind people that where we’re at now is not where we’ve always been. One of the hard parts about being a gay Aboriginal person is gaining trust. I moved around a lot – I lived in Newcastle and Sydney, and worked in the Northern Rivers. Each time, you had to build up relationships with that community, and not being straight made it harder because the cultures can be pretty macho. Working in the Aboriginal community requires time and a lot of trust. If the Aboriginal health services aren’t working for us Aboriginal LGBT people, then we need queer spaces to be servicing us better. When a lot of the organisations trying to help Aboriginal people and queer mob have a history of failing these communities, it’s hard to rebuild that trust. We’ve got a bit of a way to go, and it’s my role as an emerging queer elder to talk and try to bring our communities together. I’VE ALWAYS BEEN CURIOUS. I’d ask people where gay Aboriginals fit in before colonisation. I got told we were raised as girls, or that we were


respected, and I’m not sure where the truth of it is. I think we were erased, and it’s hard to find reference to us because it was all written by colonisers and framed using that lens. We weren’t writing it for ourselves. You can imagine how different variations of sexualities and genders wouldn’t have been looked at kindly by the coloniser. We know more about First Nations genders elsewhere in the world, but things are only starting to emerge from here and I think that will help us combat the Anthony Mundines of our world who spread vile homophobia about us not belonging in the culture. Another school of thought is that gayness came with colonisation – that it’s only a white phenomenon and that it never existed here naturally. We know that’s not true; we know we’ve been here since the beginning of time. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal queer mob (that’s a phrase that I’m gonna use in an upcoming artwork!). Tracing the history of queer mob is a job that needs to be done, but I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. We didn’t have art in the same way we have it now. Culture and cultural belongings were art. Morals and stories were told through dance and rock art, and it’s harder to scratch out, but we know we were there. The sistergirls have been on the Tiwi Islands for generations, for example, and now there’s a Facebook group for brotherboys and sistergirls that’s reaching lots of people. It’s great to see technology being used in ways that connect Aboriginal people instead of divide us.


I’VE STRUGGLED WITH LABELS because the art world and the world in general can try to compress you into a monoculture and homogenise your diversity. I’m minoritised in the white art world and minoritised in the queer community, and you just end up as the minority in the minority. Sometimes we do it to ourselves, and some of that is about not bringing more shame onto your people – for Aboriginal ­people especially. Art’s nice because you can hide away in it. I’ve got a collaboration coming up with Maree Clarke, a possum skin maker, and we’re working together to try to queer the possum cloak up – to reimagine what a queer elder would look like. It’s hard for Aboriginal people to do it all alone. Collaborations are important, especially for mob; that’s just the way we work. In my art, I’ve always tried to push the boundaries of what an Aboriginal artist does. I use the symbol of the dingo, or the outsider, a lot. I love native dogs, and it feels like the dingo has become my personal totem because it’s hunted and baited and misunderstood and seen with such menace. It’s only protected in certain parts of the country because it gets in the way of farming, which is ongoing colonisation. We’ve got so much working against us: self-proclaimed representatives of community like Mundine, whiteness, ongoing colonisation. Being Aboriginal is political. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that it’s my duty to speak up. My voice needs to be heard.





A microcosm that reflects greater ­changes in society and our communities, the gay sauna is both exclusive and sometimes ­exclusionary.

BREAKING IN CAN BE an empowering feeling. You are the invader, walking through someone else’s secrets. These days, I look and sound male enough to enter male spaces without question. It hasn’t been this way for very long. The other day, I was at a conference sitting at a table full of men and just one woman. When she stood up and left, one of the men said, “Now there’s no women here anymore…” and I felt the exhilaration of Now what happens? I did not transition so I could enter male spaces, though being refused from them was always painful. Where ­women’s spaces were safe and welcoming, men’s spaces felt exclusive and rough. The closed faces that turned me away from barber shops and looked across at me in clothing stores are the same ones that today call me “mate”. They welcome me inside and they are gentler than I had imagined. I flirt with stealth on occasions when it serves me, and I learn that that, too, comes with its own angst. “What did they call you at school?” I am asked. And as the doctor who doesn’t know brings his stethoscope across my chest, I feel my pulse race. It used to be my voice that gave me away; now, I’m not sure. I’m not sure, either, if the feeling of trespassing will ever quite leave me. Every bit of my masculinity feels earned and carved out from flesh and cells. It wasn’t until Australia’s ­marriage-equality postal survey that I wanted to use it as a weapon. It was then that the lines of queerness were drawn, and I noticed exactly who was and wasn’t like me, and exactly where I was and wasn’t permitted to go.


WHEN I VISITED FLORENCE in the middle of winter, I woke up to a city blanketed with snow and the quietness that snow lays on everything. The tourists were thin and the Uffizi was welcoming, with Michelangelo’s David standing above me – the ancestor of all the Davids replicated around the world. It was here, during Michelangelo’s time, that some of the early records describe gay saunas – the raids, the denunciations, the imprisoning of men who had sex with men. Many strands of Western queer history were threaded here: David, the saunas, the persecution. That our history is recorded by those who wish to suppress it is an experience common to the oppressed. Transgender lives in communities around the world, since lost to colonisation and genocide, have been documented by those who judged them to be debased. In many cases, those are the only records we have: our histories are handed to us by those who have trampled us. In the case of gay saunas, as spaces of community and escape, the records of legal suppression continue through the centuries – from Florence’s Office of the Night in antiquity, to the UK’s vice squads and the NSW Police Force in Kings Cross in more recent times. Existing today, legal and regulated, they are places of discretion, anonymity and freedom. And sex. They’re places where men have sex with men. In my trans-masc Facebook group, there have been conversations about which venues let us in and which don’t. Some only allow us post–top surgery, some not at all; some have had transmasc expo nights and have worked hard for us to feel welcome.


“People talk of losing saunas to history and the online hook-up world we are creating, but the appeal of blind skin on skin has kept many open”

MY FIRST SHOOT with photographer Patrick Boland was about a disallowed being in a disallowed space. It was also a welcoming by men. It took place at a barber shop while I was getting a shave. There were violent ideas of blood and toplessness and severed breasts, but in the end the shoot was tender. After the barber shoot, we decided to stage photos exploring expressions of masculinity, driven by place. This time, the site of the shoot would be an abandoned gay sauna. Patrick had been there before, in the spirit of exploring this city of ours and the places we leave behind. It was another place that he had found, after a psychiatric ward and an amusement park, of history both hidden and exposed.

I found a gay man on the internet who had loved the sauna we were breaking into. He spoke of inclusivity and community and a freedom to be themselves – all queer values and ­aspirations. I asked about a trans policy and he said, “No transgender, transvestite or lesbians were permitted.” I took that to include me until I was chatting to some other men, who remembered: “That place? Oh, I’ve fucked trans guys there.” I kept asking around until I was sitting cross-legged on the grass of a sunny Sydney park with a trans guy who had cruised at the sauna when it was open. He spoke of the place with affection. He disregarded the policy. “They probably


meant women,” he said. He disregards all policies. “You just have to feel hot in your body,” he added, giving me advice. “I’ve fucked guys who didn’t know I was trans.” Later, in a message, he told me that, if you haven’t had top surgery, you can go anywhere ‘dry’ – to places you can cruise with your clothes on. I went back to the man who spoke of ‘not permitted’ and asked specifically about trans men. My messages hung there, read and unanswered. “They’re terrified difference is a threat to their boner,” says someone else at the park. As I carry those words around, they start to feel applicable to almost everything.


IT IS PART OF MY PSYCHE to assume exclusion. Those neural pathways have been built and reinforced all on their own. The audacity of entitlement comes hard-earned, and is often faked. It’s sometimes a trans thing, sometimes a ‘me’ thing. To claim space is to be strong enough and loud enough when strength and volume are not gifted to you. We are excluded in both hard and soft ways. There may be no invitation or they may not even see us. When I spoke to the lifesavers at Mardi Gras Fair Day, I said I was a bit hesitant to join pre–top surgery and they looked at me, confused, not knowing what I was talking about. A little more work from me and it may have been okay; a little more work from

them and I might not have walked away. There’s only so many spaces where I have that little more work to give. There is a pain that comes from criticising within our communities; it is not fun drawing attention to the pecking order of privilege within our acronym. For me to turn to a generation that survived the AIDS epidemic and being pushed off cliffs in numbers we still don’t know and say What about me? is a ­privilege all on its own. It is to make those who are just finding comfort uncomfortable again. And, as I see them, others see my whiteness, my able-bodiedness, my ease of voice. While this shoot started off as a fuck you, it soon softened into an I am here. At the site, the air was stale and the building was easy to get lost in. When the torches were off, it was black, black, black. But, with our lights, there were colours on the walls and dentist chairs and pools in rooms. Patrick had been there before and he walked with c­ onfidence. One dusty floor was made of glass and, standing on it, you realised you were above another room, above the empty pool. Images of this place when it was alive showed a time when that pool had been full of men. Signs still up were there to reassure you it was kept clean. Spread throughout the building, amid the broken mirrors reflecting our lights, is graffiti. But I don’t like the dentist Daddy. Some other examples, preserving spellings: Only the veneral Survive C’mon Son, have a beer with your old MAN I’m not here TO PLAY GAMES Either you feel it or you don’t Hello darkness my old friend Where’s the glory? Am I pretty enough? By the pool, the scrawl on the walls – Lick my clit / Suck me off – had a convenient duality to it. I remembered it later as saying Suck my dick.


A SHOOT BY THE GLORY HOLE was one of the setups we came up with; I wanted the look of being caught out. There’s something heavy about how hidden this place is – while we were shooting in one of the baths, we could hear people chatting outside, on the street. In the tradition of history through the records of condemnation, much of the accessible documentation of this place was of powerful men being outed and exposed. People talk of losing saunas to history and the online hook-up world we are creating, but the appeal of blind skin on skin has kept many open. People also talk of losing queer culture to acceptance, but the experience of being Othered is a daily one for most of us. As my body changes and alters the lens through which I am seen, more and different doors become open to me. As I walk into a male space with right and with trespass, it is up to me to remember what it felt like the first time. As a person living this queer experience, it is a responsibility to keep the door open for others who may not look like what I expect to see. My body is political whether I want it to be or not. It is my post-testosterone sexuality that could enjoy a glory hole. It is also a post-trans world that would accept or expect me at one. It is a world I find hard to imagine, where an anonymous mouth would meet my anonymous shapes and see a dick they were looking for. The walls of the booth have webs of mould growing from the hole outwards. The space is confined, and there are other holes to hold onto. Kaya Wilson is a writer and scientist based in Sydney. He writes non-­ fiction with a focus on queer identity, and has been published in ­Overland, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Huffington Post. Kaya is currently working on a book-length series of essays and can be found at



Chronicling the trajectory of a subculture is tricky when its language consists of evolving artefacts and non-verbal signifiers. NOT UNLIKE THE SLEEVES of a T-shirt repurposed into a muscle singlet, butch lineage is often seen as dispensable. A cog in a much larger LGBTQIA+ wheel, it is seldom tracked. It sits calmly in the corner of a quiet pub, a schooner in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It swaps stories using a carefully calibrated syntax that is so uniquely butch, in a manner that slides within the folds of forgotten handkerchiefs and crinkled love letters. Butch history fumbles: it is a timeline of mismatched folklore, punctuated by significant moments in time only to slip back into and become part of a wider queer undercurrent. In Boys Like Her: Transfictions, author Ivan Coyote writes, “We are ­carrying contraband words with us, memorized, tucked away in tattered journals.” While we butch folk might have our own means of communicating between ourselves and with the wider queer community, we’ve been unable to outwardly manipulate that dialogue to write a history that is ours.


Type butch quotes or butch history into any search engine and your results will be peppered with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid content and narrow definitions of what it means to present as ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ that neatly follow heteronormative patterns of existence. BUTCH IS DIVERSE, transgressive and, sometimes, transgender. We’ve learned this by looking to the pillars of the butch community, most notably activist and author Leslie Feinberg. Her Stone Butch Blues is the equivalent of a holy text for many a butch-­ identifying person because it paints a multifaceted image of butch existence. It delves into the complexities of butch in plain, accessible language. It explores gender ambiguity, presentation and representation in ways that allow for discourse to flow in between and outside the lines. Like Feinberg, queer poet Eileen Myles speaks to the intersection of butch and trans, articulating the ways in which both identities collide and marble. Their work challenges what we, as butches,


“To ‘track butch’ is to record our nuances: aspects of ourselves and our community that have long been shelved as unimportant or not worthy of documentation” know about butchness, as well as what butch looks likes when transcribed into trans modes of being. They write, “I’m happy complicating what being a woman, a dyke, is. I’m the gender of Eileen.” Myles reminds us that complication isn’t a design flaw, nor is it an identity placed upon them, but rather one that’s been created through trial and error – through butch expression that’s moved into uncharted spaces. And these spaces are vast: poems and lovers, how Myles paved their own path through the backstreets of Manhattan and navigated their way through upstate New York. Their identity consists of a clusterfuck of beginnings and endings and alternative modes of thinking. They have arrived at this identity by re-evaluating and redefining, again and again, what it means to be a dyke – and, ultimately, what it means to be butch. The terms dyke and butch have a long and varied history. For many, particularly those outside the community, they are synonymous and hold negative connotations. However, for those of us who identify as such, butch is a badge of honour – a title that is earned and worn with pride, often after a period of struggle navigating the world as a ­masculine-presenting female. That is just one trope of butch: a common one, but not necessarily applicable to every butch-identifying person. Dyke is sometimes considered an ‘insider word’, used freely in safe spaces by the community. However, when it is spat by someone who doesn’t identify – perhaps on the street, out of a car window, in a beer garden – it drills you to the core.

A RECENT I-D ARTICLE entitled ‘eileen myles on their love for shitty t-shirts’ looks at how clothes, like the words we use to describe ourselves, act as identifiers. Speaking to Emily Spivack, Myles characterises a beat-up old T-shirt from Banana Republic as signifying comfort both physically and metaphorically: “I wear it and I feel like the world is in place.” It is not uncommon for butch and masculine-of-centre people to cling to clothing that makes them feel most like themselves. While butch history has a disjointed timeline – particularly when it comes to fashion – there are certain elements of the quintessential butch wardrobe that never go out of style (a black bandana in a back pocket; a pair of Birkenstocks; a leather cuff worn around the wrist, fastened with push buttons; a deliciously fitting binder). How does clothing relate to our history? Clothing is significant because what we elect to put on our bodies as we move through the world is deliberate – and, through this deliberateness, we weave a language. These signifiers allow us to communicate and create points of reference in our communal history, whether that be inside bars that cater for the wider LGBTQIA+ community or, now less commonly, on the street. Activist Kate Bornstein has affectionately referred to these garments as “dykewear” – two decades ago, that black bandana acted as a cue, a suggestion, that the wearer was queer and into S&M. In our contemporary context, however, meanings have shifted due to increased


visibility. Just as bondage paraphernalia has moved into the public consciousness, we no longer rely on these articles of clothing as a form of secret code. A carabineer housing a dozen keys that jingle with every Doc Marten–clad step, fastened through the belt loop of a pair of skinny-fit, faded Wrangler jeans, could be a subtle indicator of one’s sexual preferences. But, today, such clothes function largely as tokenistic expressions of our queerness, many of which overlap with signifiers adopted by the wider LGBTQIA+ community. MAINSTREAM MEDIA LEADS us to believe that butch looks like comedian Lea Delaria (said with love and affection) or fictional character Shane McCutcheon (said with love and affection). It would also be naive of me to suggest that, across time, butch and androgynous fashion haven’t mimicked one another – or perhaps even that, in many instances, they aren’t one and the same.


However, to reconstruct our visual history, we must include the diversity of butch. Butch that’s brown. Butch that’s chequered with stretch marks and varicose veins. Butch that’s young, or old, or with disability. Butch that’s femme and femme that’s butch, and butch that is entirely masculine – complete with top surgery and a perfectly proportionate packer tucked into a pair of RodeoHs. Australian publication Butch Is Not a Dirty Word (BINADW) is systematically archiving our stories, one cover butch at a time. The magazine is currently published biannually and, within its pages, looks at butch from every angle. Perhaps most importantly, BINADW documents butch people of colour. For the most part, the butch history that we have access to is written in white pen, by individuals with a plethora of tertiary qualifications that definitely hold merit, but who don’t necessarily accurately convey the experiences of the less privileged in our community. BINADW reconfigures that dominant narrative, allowing text and image to offer a comprehensive look at butch. The images within BINADW are also reminiscent of the photographs of ­Catherine Opie, who documents our people as part of a visual history that doesn’t focus solely on the performative. In 1994, Opie came to prominence through a series of portraits exploring the Los Angeles leather dyke community, butch identity and the self. When she revisited these themes 10 years later, she captured a different facet of butch. The 2004 series revealed a softness – allowing glimpses into a butch vulnerability, and reminding the community that softness and butchness are not mutually exclusive. Over a decade later, parenthood and butchness are still scarcely seen within the same frame. Yet Opie continues to reconfigure our conception of butch. Her photograph Self-Portrait/Nursing, for instance, showcases masculine maternalism, depicting a croppedhaired, tattooed Opie chest-feeding a hungry child. Both Opie and BINADW challenge the notion that butchness equates to


hardness, and highlight a commitment to showcasing butch people in ways that challenge common stereotypes. TO ‘TRACK BUTCH’ is to record our nuances: aspects of ourselves and our community that have long been shelved as unimportant or not worthy of documentation. Our minimal attention to detail is what has led to a lack of inclusive, tangible history – a history that we can pick up, put down again, shake, rattle, question and challenge. At present, there’s no framework for redefinition and reclamation beyond what we have, because it’s other people who have documented it for us – those same individuals with myriad qualifications perched on their ivory towers. Perhaps this lack of tangible history is a result of our queer elders not feeling as though the language of their context was applicable to them. This has meant that the syntax of butch that we can roll between our thumbs and forefingers is made up of non-verbal signifiers, an oral history that is shared but not penned. Our patchwork is a poorly tattooed symbol of Venus on a forearm, a home-job buzz cut on a middle-aged dyke, torn posters of t.A.T.u., wardrobes full of ­colour-coordinated plaid and dog-chewed Calvin Klein underwear. But, beyond the obvious, it’s also genderless, breastfeeding, transgender and transcending. To live butch is to sit beyond the margins; it cannot be concealed, nor should it be. All I ask is that we start writing things down so that those who come after us have points of reference – so that they don’t have to fumble in the same ways we did. Kait Fenwick is a trans-butch person living in Newcastle, Australia. In 2017, they completed their Honours thesis titled ‘Digital Queeries’, a body of poetry that explored the relationship between millennial queers and the internet. Their work has been published in the Contemporary ­Australian Feminist Poetry anthology, Butch Is Not a Dirty Word magazine and Cordite Poetry Review.





The practice of tattooing has been a core component of many cultures across the world. Dating back to Neolithic times, tattoos have been used as rites of passage, as markers of tribal roles or accolades, or – especially in recent times – as a way to commemorate aspects of identity and memory. But tattoos have a darker past as well: they have been associated with criminality, ‘savagery’ and warfare. Eschewing the almost-clichéd trend of using tattoos to invoke toughness, this issue’s fashion editorial emphasises lightness and an earthy aesthetic. The

spotlight is put firmly on the intimate: each of the models has a profound, deeply personal connection to their tattoos. All the independent designers and brands that helped make this shoot happen are based in Australia and support local, sustainable production, the slow fashion movement, or vegan or vintage recycled wares. Each hopes to combat the wasteful big-company and fastfashion mentalities prevalent today.

One of my favourites is my back tattoo, by Wendy Pham. It’s my dearly departed Mitt Mitt, my spotty moo cow, my baby chubster and childhood pet. I got this one while he was still alive. He was the first pet I was given sole responsibility for, and is very dear to me. I miss his need to sleep on my neck every day. When he passed away, I got a companion piece on my arm, where I could see him. With my Medusa tattoo, I like the idea of her being unable to see her own beauty, hence the cracked stone reflection in the hand mirror. – KITTY



The tattoo on my arm is the first one I ever got. I went to a tattoo parlour in New York City, where I’m from, and decided to get one that represented both my relationship and my background. The tattoo is a Native American symbol representing love united as one, with my first love’s initial in it – ‘T’ at the top and ‘S’ on the bottom – to always serve as a reminder of what love is and should be. – SKYLER





The armour of flowers represents people who I care deeply for – people who give me the strength to be strong. This tattoo was designed to cover up scars that I gave myself when life got hard and I hadn’t the strength or emotional tools to deal with it. The tattoo on my back represents my siblings. They help me push through life the way a whale’s tail pushes a whale through the great ocean. I feel a very deep connection to the ocean and the stars. – ERIN














My favourite tatt is an adaptation of the cover of one of my favourite books, The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury. It’s a collection of sci-fi short stories, and its preface references a poem by WB Yeats, ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’. As a teen, I loved the sci-fi stories in this book, but I also loved that poem because reading it helped me realise I was queer – I wanted so badly to kiss the lips of the goddess of the poem. – CHLOE





When I was younger, I met a French backpacker who didn’t have a place to stay, so I let him crash on my couch. He wanted to repay me somehow. He was a tattooist and all he had with him were his clothes, a sketchbook and a tattoo machine, so he offered to tattoo me. As I flicked through his sketchbook, I found a picture of this beautiful woman. He told me he’d drawn her as a representation of the woman of his dreams, who he would meet one day. She had a sugar skull face tattoo that represented her celebration of life, wings tattooed across her chest, and tattoos of a rose and a gun. I pointed out to him that I also had these kinds of tattoos. With a look of shock on his face, he pointed to me and said, “It’s you… It’s you… You’re the caring one with the tattoos. I just got the gender wrong. You saved me from staying on the streets and gave me a place to stay. You must wear her as a reminder that you are a good person.” – VINCE

When I was 29, I was cast into a show called The Living Museum of Erotic Women. It was life-changing. It awoke the sleeping witch. Despite my passionate belief in modern science, I felt a shift as my spiritual self finally stepped in time with my rational self. Every day, I woke up early and joined these women to create art; I felt more connected to myself, and more connected to a boundless resource of love and support. We created a piece called ‘The Witches’. Fleur, one of the beautiful theatre-makers, brought runes in to a costuming day. The runes told me some hard truths and I decided that, for my 30th birthday, I would gift myself a tattoo. It would be a reminder of those truths and a symbol of protection. It would evolve as I did. – BELLA






The modern­day ­Dominatrix descends from traditions and deities dating back several millennia.

IN 2008, I WAS MANAGING a design showroom in suburban Melbourne’s leafy backstreets. Located opposite my workplace’s carpark was a dungeon from which a dozen Dominatrices operated. My colleagues would watch the in­­ triguing women make their way along the footpath in high stiletto boots, carrying large leather duffel bags stuffed to the brim. They would enter the gate of the discreet terrace house and disappear from view, hidden by its tall garden wall and canopy awning. Men would arrive via taxi or tram further up the road, walk down, buzz the security gate and be swallowed up into this secret realm. Often, three hours or more would pass before they would reappear again, I was told. I MET THE DOMINATRICES of Fitzroy at a birthday party that a friend invited me to. I was curious about what they did and the history of their profession. I had some familiarity with BDSM from my personal life, but to my knowledge, while the women worked in the sex industry, they didn’t typically offer sex (in the conventional definition of vaginal intercourse). So what on Earth would they be doing that would take up all those hours in their secretive dungeon, I wondered. The women were as interesting in person as they’d been to watch striding down footpaths. One, an apprentice Mistress, was studying permaculture and desert irrigation. Another was a police and court translator who spoke seven languages. There was a Chinese-­medicine practitioner and


a prison guard, and the woman who ran the establishment was a former kindergar­ten teacher. They were of different ethnicities, physical builds and ages, r­ anging from around 23 to into their 50s. They told me about their practices – from shibari (a form of Japanese ropes bondage), role-play and corporal punishment, to domination, sensory deprivation with hoods and body bags, and cock-and-ball torture (“CBT”, they called it). There was also needle-play, wax-play, Wartenberg wheels, humiliation, pegging and anal play, bisexual play, French-maid servitude, suspension and various fetishes. They described to me how they trained for a year or more under a senior Mistress, as part of a formal apprenticeship. Very intriguing, I thought. How long had the Dominatrix been around? I wanted to learn more, but there were no books on what they did, they advised. There were texts on BDSM more broadly, but nothing on the Dominatrix: a clandestine profession within the erotic arts. They were unsure about its history and how far it dated back. One of them believed it was a 20th-century women’s-liberation thing; another said it dated back to the Victorian era. I couldn’t believe there was no book – there must be, or at least some academic articles. Perhaps the Mistresses just didn’t know about them. Tapping into my background in art history, I ran library and archive searches – even trying Amazon – but came back with nothing. I found books and articles on geisha and courtesans, but virtually nothing on the Dominatrix.


“She catered for the niche psychosexual needs sought by her clients: flagellation, female authority, prison punishment, simulated torture, humiliation and so on” DOMINATRICES WORK discreetly, and between the cracks. They work on the fringes of society, and of the law in many places. No signage ever marks their dungeon doors. Operating under pseudonyms – Domina, Mistress, Goddess, Empress, Maîtresse, Herrin – they set up shop then shut it when they retire, with no clear way to trace them. I took up the challenge of documenting the history of the Dominatrix. I began by asking the Fitzroy Dominatrices if I could interview them, but they said I’d need to actually train among them to understand their art. I applied for an apprenticeship and spent the next year going from day job to dungeon two nights a week plus Saturday days. I had to work three six-hour shifts a week, unpaid. It wasn’t easy, but the Mistresses made me feel accepted. On arrival, I would get into high heels and suspender stockings. A senior ­Mistress would pull my corset tight while I was bent over, holding onto the kitchen bar, until I was a bout de soufflé – breathless. I bleached floors, cleaned and disinfected toys, and restocked rubber gloves. I also ran errands for the Mistresses, ordering takeaway Thai green curries or heading up the road to the needle exchange with plastic containers of used sharps. I wasn’t merely taught how to flog, but was expected to learn by receiving. I was tied up and learned how to tie. I was caned, just as I learned to cane submissive men, and so on. I would be tied up in shibari jute, hemp or cotton ropes from the ceiling. Joining sessions, I would be spanked and whipped in duo with the client, at the Mistress and ­client’s mutual request. Over time, I learned individual clients’ fetishes and darkest desires. I helped fill up a room with balloons for a rubber fetishist. I supervised the watering of

plants by subs in pink lace panties, spraying them with water and flogging them for the amusement of the Mistresses supervising me. At a fetish event, I was caned – properly and hard, as a kind of ‘graduation hazing’ – close to a hundred times. I MOVED TO EUROPE to undertake more research at museums, libraries and collection vaults, and among the underground fetish scene. I visited France, the historic home of libertine authors such as the Marquis de Sade, and then England, where I enrolled in a Master’s degree in Comparative Art and Archaeology at University College ­London. My life alternated between university, the British Museum and the British Library, and London’s dungeons, located on the lower-ground level of buildings with private entrances leading downstairs from the street. I spent those years in subterranean spaces, away from the sunshine and light of normal existence. I didn’t expect to stumble upon Dominatrix texts in my archaeology classes, but I soon discovered that the figure of the Dominatrix could be traced back to the ancient sex Goddess Inanna (in Sumerian) or Ishtar (in Akkadian). A hymn to the Goddess dating back more than three millennia – preserved in cuneiform and translated by Oxford University – describes a crossdressing ritual (misleadingly referred to as the “head-overturning ritual”) and ceremony involving gender transformation, punishment, pain, ecstasy and laments. While these were ancient religious rituals, I found their framework resembled modern-day Dominatrix practices. The Goddess’ cult personnel included individuals identified as being of the ‘third’ or ambiguous gender, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, as well


as sexual submissives, crossdressers, ‘manly women’ and ‘womanly men’. I saw in the stance of Inanna/­Ishtar the popular image of Dominatrices in magazines and films. In cylinder seals and clay plaques from Mesopotamia, she stands as a kind of warrioress, a slit in her skirt and her foot on a lion – and she even holds the animal on a leash. Her body language is strong and dominating, outward-facing, with direct eye contact: a power pose. This was not the reclining Venus/Aphrodite of later art tradition portraying a sex Goddess lying down on a divan or modestly covering her pubic region with one hand. When Inanna/Ishtar is portrayed naked, she faces front, a prominent pubic triangle visible and breasts emphasised by her cupped hands. An armed Goddess is seen in lead votives at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta. This site saw the whipping of young men, a ritual that had its origins in fertility rites but was transformed into a component of military training. There is also a fresco of a whipstress – topless and winged, bringing down a whip on a female initiate of some kind – in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. EVIDENCE OF THE secularisation of the Dominatrix can be found from the 1590s. By then a craft profession or subset of sex work, it became even more visible from the 17th century onwards, with what I regard as a kind of golden age in the 19th century. I believe the profession existed earlier than the texts, but very little survives from the Dark Ages and earlier. In historical records of that time, the Dominatrix was not known by that name, but rather as Governess or School Mistress (said with a wink), or else as Whipstress or Lady Justice. She catered


for the niche psychosexual needs sought by her clients: flagellation, female authority, prison punishment, simulated torture, humiliation and so on. I found references to “Her” mostly in underground publications collated within the British Museum’s ‘Private Case’, which held the institution’s erotica collection. Women and members of the lower classes were once banned from seeing it, lest they be ‘corrupted’ – it was only accessible to members of the British upper class. Those books came mainly from one source: Henry Spencer Ashbee. To the outside world, he appeared to be the consummate Victorian gentleman, but he harboured a secret love of erotica. His collection was so vast that he took out separate rooms to keep them away from his family. When he died, his will stipulated that his collection would go the British Museum if and only if they took all of it.

As his collection included rare manuscripts by Miguel de Cervantes, which the museum dearly wanted, it was forced to archive all of his erotica in order to secure the books it had its eyes on. I was able to access not only Ashbee’s books on flagellation but also the original manuscript of his Index Librorum Prohibitorum – the ‘Index of Forbidden Books’. It featured a remarkable description of the profession of the Governess, along with a letter by his friend Frederic Hankey that described all the women who worked in London. The most famous was Governess ­Theresa Berkley, who had designed an apparatus for flogging: the Berkley Horse. She also used birches – birch branches tied up and used to whip the posterior of her clients – and a double-height pulley-and-chain system to lift submissives off the ground, just like many Dominatrices do today. She even took women on as apprentices: they would


work as submissives and run errands for her, much like I did for senior Mistresses during my own apprenticeship. In the British Museum’s collections were also prints showing men being whipped. One print from the UK somehow even made its way into the Library of Congress in Washington. In the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and hanging on the walls of castles and houses of Lords, I was able to locate many paintings of women offering Governess services. THE MODERN CATSUIT-CLAD Dominatrix intrigued me. This, it turned out, was the result of clients commissioning photography of women posing in fetish attire. In turn, this filtered into magazines, and women specialising in the craft of domination began wearing such attire. A notable fetish-magazine owner who also made said attire was John Sutcliffe of AtomAge fame; he fashioned


motorcycle leathers and catsuits in London. Over in the US, John Willie created images of dominant women in fetish attire for the magazine Bizarre, and is most remembered for his ‘Sweet Gwendoline’ images with secret agent U69 in a Dominatrix role. Leonard ‘Lenny’ Burtman was behind the magazine Exotique, and he had Tana Louise and Bettie Page modelling fetish attire and in bondage. Artwork was submitted by fetish artists Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew, who used the psuedonym ‘ENEG’. All of these individuals left a considerable legacy on the fetish scene. An American fetish magazine editor, David Jackson, kindly supplied me with scans of dog-eared black-and-white photographs and polaroids from slaves and from his own collection, and recounted stories he’d heard from Sutcliffe. With additional information from public sources, I was able to reconstruct the stories of some 20th-century Dominatrices. One, Monique Von Cleef, was raided by police detectives and the postal agency as part of ‘obscenity ­operations’ a few days before Christmas 1965, making front pages across the US. The title Dominatrix itself came about through the 1967 pulp paperback The Bizarre Lovemakers’ description of a woman providing punishment-for-pay. The term was then taken up roughly a decade later by the American film Dominatrix Without Mercy and the French film Maîtresse, facilitating its entry into the popular discourse. I WROTE MY BOOK IN HANOI, wanting somewhere cheap and warm to pore over my four years’ worth of research without distraction. When I finished it three months later, the book made the shortlists of a number of publishers; however, publication didn’t proceed due to the book’s frank and explicit language as well as image-­ licensing challenges. In the style of the ‘forbidden book’, I decided to self-publish it: limited edition,

under the pseudonym Anne O Nomis, playing on the word anonymous. When the book came out, I worried about what Dominatrices would think of it. To my relief, it’s been well reviewed, purchased by academic libraries, read by students, circulated around the fetish scene and taken up by Dominatrices themselves. It’s even being used as training material at many Dominatrix institutes around the world. The reason there’s so little information on the Dominatrix, I’ve come to realise, is that she is a taboo of a taboo (of a taboo): she embodies female sexual power. These three words go against how major patriarchal religions and societies believe women should be: obedient and submissive to their fathers and husbands – pleasing and appeasing. Dominatrices cater for hidden and subversive sexual preferences – interests and fetishes that society deems ‘bizarre’ – as well as practices in which men defy gender expectations, taking on submissive roles and seeking pain or humiliation. But I’m pleased to have brought to light the long history of the Dominatrix’s secretive profession – carefully referenced and illustrated with rare artwork, so that those who seek it out can undertake their own research. I hope to give back to the world the chapters of its past that celebrate the woman’s active role in pleasure and sexual power, which have been hidden away underground and in museum vaults. Anne O Nomis works as an archaeologist and ancient art historian, teacher and consultant, and leads Goddess archaeology tours to Cyprus and Crete. Her book The History & Arts of the Dominatrix is regarded as the pioneering work on the Dominatrix, and her forthcoming Flight of the Goddess investigates ancient Goddesses of sexuality over 3000 years and the sacred quršu ‘fucking’ ritual. Anne lives between Melbourne and London.






There is an aggression to the penetrative act that can lead vaginal sex to become thoroughly damaging. SEX HURTS. Well, sometimes. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything. Sometimes it feels great – but, if penetrative, rarely at the beginning. It has always been difficult for me. I think I assumed that, at a certain point, things would just fall into place and vaginal penetration would become unequi­vocally pleasurable. On one hand, my ongoing difficulties don’t make sense. I’ve been sexually active for almost 20 years. I have never suffered major sexual trauma, and I have no physical impairments. I am sexually open, (mostly) shamefree and reasonably informed. I have a loving boyfriend, with whom I share deep intimacy. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense. Though I have never really thought of my sexual history as negative, I am almost certain that it has led to a Pavlovian association that I am yet to overcome: penetration equals pain. MY INTRODUCTION TO SEX at 16 involved no foreplay; he didn’t even kiss me. Entry was painful, and the condom broke due to dryness. He turned


me around, but my discomfort was too great, so we went back to missionary and he continued for a couple of minutes before pulling out and ejaculating onto my stomach. I showered, and he chastised me for taking too long. He then insisted that I sleep in a separate room so he could privately reflect on losing his virginity. The next time I had sex, it was with my first boyfriend. I was 18, and the relationship would last more than five years. Sex with him consisted of brief foreplay (hands, not mouths) before I touched myself in order to endure the initial penetration. I would continue throughout until we timed our orgasms to coincide. I preferred using condoms because they provided a little lubrication. Until I was 24, these two partners defined my understanding of sex. It was – variously – painful, uncomfortable, kind of nice, a bit boring. Utilitarian. Over when he comes. These early sexual experiences occurred before the internet was commonplace, and certainly before much medical information or sex ad­­vice existed online. Uncomfortable sex was my r­ eality and I had no reason to question it.


“Because I’ve never been unable to have penetrative sex, there has been no acknowledgement of a serious problem – from my doctors or from myself” The second half of my 20s brought adventure. I was having sex as a single adult for the first time, and learning to overcome my natural shyness and approach men. I felt powerful and ­attractive in my success. While the pursuit was thrilling, the sex wasn’t. The unfamiliarity inherent in casual sex, combined with ­sensation-numbing alcohol, did nothing to discourage my brain from associating sex with discomfort. It occasionally went beyond discomfort. One Christmas Eve, I went home with a tall, tattooed redhead in my home town. The sex was excruciating, but I stayed quiet because I didn’t want to halt his pleasure. There was a lot of blood. I THINK ABOUT THE THEORY of body memory – that the body stores physical memories – and I can’t help but think that it must be especially real for the vagina. Being penetrated is an inherently ­violent act. The barrier between inside and outside disappears, and a foreign object comes into direct contact with delicate internal tissue. Traditional ideas about heterosexual sex see the man control the speed, depth and intensity of penetration, with little regard for, or knowledge of, his partner’s readiness to receive. Though a focus on this specific sex act excludes the infinite diversity that ‘sex’ encompasses, the long history of political discourse surrounding it reinforces its relevance. The idea of vaginal penetration as violence was provocatively posited by Andrea Dworkin in her 1987 book Intercourse, in which she asserts, “Violation is a

synonym for intercourse.” It also bears more weight than any other sex act in my own history; the act, or expectation, of having my vagina penetrated by a penis comprises the vast majority of my sexual experiences. De-armouring is a practice based on the belief that the cervix stores emotion and trauma, and experiences pain or numbness as a result, blocking its pleasure potential. Apparently, to de-armour is to gradually release the trauma and unlock increased pleasure and even cervical orgasm. When I reflect on how, two years ago, a routine pap smear elicited inexplicable crying, or how my only attempt to insert a menstrual cup prompted a similar response, I feel sure that this must also be valid. I think about the countless instan­ ces of penetration that have occurred before I have been sufficiently aroused. The time I woke up to find a veritable stranger I had slept with a few hours earlier inside me again. The morning after a one-night stand that culminated in me saying “no” and him saying “yes” and me closing my eyes and conjuring a rape fantasy to get through it with as little pain as possible. These instances didn’t feel traumatic at the time, and I don’t feel traumatised by them now. But I am sure that, for my body – my internal sexual organs – the trauma was not insignificant. SOME INTRUSIONS ARE non-­ sexual. The surgery I had to remove pre-cancer cells from my cervix at 21, which led to bleeding for years later every time sex disturbed that part of my cervix. The gynaecologist’s attempt


to cease the bleeding by cauterising the affected area, which felt exactly like what it was: being burned from the inside. And then there are the numerous pap smears, which involve my vagina being stretched wide with unfriendly tools, and my cervix being scraped for samples. Even three decades of tampon use has meant the insertion of hundreds of unpleasant objects. I’ve had many urinary tract infections (UTIs) and occurrences of bacterial vaginosis (BV) as a result of sex, often leading to antibiotic use that can, in turn, lead to thrush. In one battle against BV, I lay on the bathroom floor and inserted a syringe filled with natural yoghurt in an (unsuccessful) attempt to re-balance my vaginal flora without resorting to the harsh medication. It’s little wonder that, when I recently attempted to begin a process of at-home de-armouring – which involved gently caressing the area around my genitals until my body relaxed enough to ‘grant’ the entry of a cervical wand (or a finger) – the welcome never came. None of the above experiences were harrowing in isolation, but in sum they constitute long-term, low-level physical trauma that has created a dissonance between mind and body. I look at my boyfriend and I cognitively desire him, but my body rarely responds to his touch with sexual arousal. I watch on-screen sex scenes and imagine a feeling of bliss when ­passionate, spontaneous entry occurs, but my reality involves halting proceedings so I can stimulate my clitoris and ‘trick’ my body into opening up just enough.


AMONG THE MANY possible causes of vaginismus listed online are several that align with my experiences: UTIs, past trauma, insufficient foreplay, vaginal dryness and fear of pain. This last one is especially relevant. describes the ‘Cycle of Pain’, whereby the body first anticipates pain then responds accordingly (tightening), which increases pain when penetration is attempted. This then intensifies the reflex response and reinforces the association of sex with pain, which can lead to avoidance – worsening the initial anticipation. And on it goes. Symptoms are broad and vague, and even medical diagnosis can be difficult (not least because some doctors are unfamiliar with vaginismus). The condition, generally understood as referring to vaginal tightness that causes anything from discomfort to ‘a complete inability to have intercourse’, is commonly associated with chronic pain during sex. I relate to this immensely, but I don’t know if I have vaginismus; sometimes I have pain-free sex. I usually get at least a little pleasure from sex. With the right clitoral stimulation, I regularly orgasm while being penetrated. What if I just need more foreplay? What if arousal is just harder for me? What if I just don’t have much natural lubrication? What if it’s something else entirely? What if this is normal? That I’m asking these questions at the age of 34 is symptomatic of the social and institutional ignorance that continues to surround vaginal sexual pleasure. And because I’ve never been unable to have penetrative sex, there has been no acknowledgement of a

serious problem – from my doctors or from myself. Even if I do have vaginismus, the road ahead is long. Though treatment is often successful, it involves a lot of labour from the sufferer. Even seeking information requires labour, as does gaining a diagnosis and ascertaining treatment options. Western medicine is largely outcome-­ driven, and it is a fundamentally patriarchal institution. This combination means that issues to do with pleasure are frequently overlooked, particularly if they don’t impede procreation or male pleasure. And, while alternative options can be appealing, they can also be difficult to identify. WHEN ATTEMPTING to remedy female sexual dysfunction, work isn’t uncommon. The de-armouring course I looked into involves three weeks of nightly study and practice. Like anything that isn’t covered by Medicare, sex therapy and sexological bodywork – a hands-on therapy that usually involves genital massage – can be prohibitively expensive, not to mention intimidating and potentially distressing. These barriers contribute to the general burden that I often feel with regard to sex; the distance between sex and pleasure grows larger still. It seems like a great injustice that there is no Viagra equivalent for people with vaginas – that vaginal pleasure is vastly more complex than penile pleasure. I imagine sexual pleasure to be so straightforward, so easy, for most people with penises. I have never encountered a cis-male partner who has expressed anything other than


unadulterated pleasure when it comes to penetrative sex. This observation, while certainly not representative of every cis man, has led to phallic fantasies; I dream of experiencing penetration that is characterised wholly by pleasure, and the only way I can conceive of this is to imagine my­ self in the place of the penetrator. It may also explain my tendency to watch maleon-male rather than straight porn – with the absence of the vagina, my mind perceives only pleasure. Despite this, I suspect that the vagina is capable of pleasure as deep as it is complex. I’ve had glimpses of this on occasion, when I have devoted extended time to self-exploration, and I have felt tidal waves of pleasure radiate through my body, leaving me incapacitated. I like to think that, some time in the near future, our collective expectations of sex will expand to explore, embrace and encompass this immense pleasure potential. That medicine and society alike will understand more about vaginal pleasure, and that related dysfunction will be easily treated, if not avoided. That sex will be as much about giving pleasure as about receiving, for everyone. Until this sexual utopia manifests, I will endeavour to enact some of these things in my own world. I feel certain that, with the right work, I can break the frustrating association my mind has formed between penetration and suffering, and find a way forward – towards new pleasures and away from old pains. Greta Parry is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She sub-edits Archer Magazine.

Perspectives from a Platform Bed WORDS KAY STAVROU PHOTOS MARC McANDREWS


To this day, sex workers still contend with policy and initiatives by outside forces that attempt to subdue them as a step towards ‘protection’.

THROUGHOUT MY TIME as a sex worker, I have been met with un­­ solicited opinions from government bodies and other members of society. Questions would be asked with a glint in the eyes, brows furrowed with faux or real concern. Assuring lips would say I’m “better than that”, that I “don’t need to go back there”. Ears would prick up for salacious stories, but would be met with disappointment upon realising the work I do isn’t particularly glamorous. At the same time, sex workers have historically come from more marginalised communities that tend to be economically gatekept; the potential for class mobility enabled by sex work thus threatens that power dynamic. How dare First Nations peoples, trans folk, queers, women, people of colour, the poor gain the ability to rise above their ‘place’ in life? There exists a skewed narrative that says all sex workers are ‘fallen people’ who require saving, or deviants who are sexually Othered – despite neither being the case. GOVERNMENT POLICY, even from the more progressive sectors of politics – such as the 2015 New South Wales (NSW) Legislative Assembly inquiry into brothel regulation and the subsequent decision to maintain decriminalisation – still adheres to this way of thinking. In particular,


language is coded with whorephobia. The inquiry reports: There is a diversity of circumstances in which sex workers operate: • Some sex workers are highly indepen­ dent and able to make a rational choice of their own free will about partici­ pating in the sex services industry; • Other sex workers are vulnerable because of poverty, drug addiction, mental health issues, language barriers and sexual servitude which may adversely impact, to varying degrees, on their ability to exercise free choice about their participation in the sex services industry. The conflation of sex servitude with an apparent inability to consent to sex work has long served as a dog whistle to justify damaging policies around the world. In the US, we have seen the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA); in Amsterdam, there’s Project 1012, which has impeded sex work under the guise of gentrification. Furthermore, this view diminishes or negates the plight of those who are actually trafficked or living in sexual s­ ervitude. In those cases, what is involved is not an exchange of labour, but rather kidnapping, slavery and repeated sexual assault. The NSW inquiry also seemingly puts forward the notion that sex workers who have made an independent


“rational choice” are not experiencing poverty, mental-health struggles, substance reliance or language barriers. I think back to my early days as a sex worker. I was facing dire financial straits, an unstable housing situation and an overwhelming university workload, coupled with ADHD and anxiety. In the NSW inquiry’s framework, I would fall under the second category – even though I had made a “rational choice”, of my own free will, to become an erotic provider. Nowadays, I have stable housing and am studying a double degree. I also have access to medical support, and am working to save up for top surgery. But, under the perception of others, I would still be considered a ‘Category 2 sex worker’ – leading the nuances of my ­circumstances, and those of others like me, to be erased. All of this feeds into a self-­perception that I am one of “those bad sex w ­ orkers”. I’m reminded of the idea of the panopticon, which social theorist Michel Foucault has described in terms of state-sanctioned systems of domination and surveillance. However, do those employed in other fields get scrutinised for their socio-­economic status or mental health? Are similar inquests being made into a hospitality worker who gets paid $17 an hour while studying, or a lawyer who is reliant on substances? The double standard only arises once sexual la­bour is added to the equation. THE ‘RESCUE’ NARRATIVE – of the sex worker who is ‘damned’ and needs ‘saving’ – has been constructed by voyeurs. On the outside looking in, passing judgement but never interacting, they have little awareness of, and perhaps even little genuine care for, the ramifications it has on our lives. The internal panopticon is encouraged most strongly by supporters of the controversial ‘Swedish model’, which is built on a pretence that criminalises paying for sex but not the act of

offering it for pay. Speaking to me over the phone about government regulation, Jane Green of sex-work advocacy group the Vixen Collective explains that the model “has serious impacts on safe sex as well as on human rights”. The Swedish model is against human freedoms … Personally, my workplace would no longer be legally allowed to exist, and [parlour/brothel] workers would no longer be legally allowed to work. Private workers would not be able to legally ­advertise. Not only would sex workers face difficulties finding new clients, but the looming risk of prosecution for the client would lead them to demand services for less money, in potentially more dangerous areas. An ordeal I experienced involving an entitled, terrifying client from Sydney, which shakes me up to this day, would not be prevented by the Swedish model. In fact, client criminalisation signi­ ficantly endangers sex workers, as it forces the industry to operate in riskier

and adult children … An adult son was charged for pimping because he lived with his mother, who is a sex worker, because they were not paying rent. Anyone providing any accommodation of any kind can throw out a sex worker – not because they are working, but because they are a sex worker … something already happening in Queensland. THE SEX-WORKER community has, time and time again, offered me advice and comfort. Starting out fresh at the age of 18, I was taken under the wing by older workers in a brothel. Without them, I would not have known how to set firm boundaries, screen clients or request sexual-health checks. The role of community within our field is paramount. “As a sex worker, most often, we rely on community because we cannot rely on the state to protect our lives,” explains Green. It is incredibly difficult to access assistance from the police or other services. A good example is crisis, where there is

“The ‘rescue’ narrative – of the sex worker who is ‘damned’ and needs ‘saving’ – has been constructed by voyeurs. On the outside looking in, passing judgement but never interacting” contexts and creates a culture where sex work is associated with law-breaking. According to the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, Ireland has seen a 61 per cent increase in attacks after the country implemented the model in 2017. One gang targeted several trans sex workers “believing they would be less likely to make a criminal complaint”. In France, where the model was adopted in 2016, the rate of violence has doubled. The Swedish model has “massive is­sues and social-life ramifications”, says Green, who elaborates: Workers can be charged for helping each other as well as friends, family


a lot of discrimination. We cannot access many things that most people are able to. Green also says that the Vixen Col­ lective seeks “not just advocacy for the work, but also policy advocacy”. She recounts how, in 2016, the organisation successfully lobbied to change the ­Victorian Sentencing Manual’ssection on ‘hardy victims’, which potentially allowed offenders who targeted sex workers to receive reduced sentences due to the fact that their victim was a sex worker. But this success doesn’t just benefit those in the sex industry; it has rectified a whorephobic precedent across the judicial system. The change prevents


the ‘hardy victims’ definition – “certain victims may be less vulnerable than the standard, and thus suffer less harm from the same conduct” – from being levelled as a form of victim blaming or sexual shaming against ‘hardy’ sex workers and non–sex workers alike. THE ROLLOUT OF LEGISLATION such as SESTA and FOSTA has sparked a historic first across the globe: corporations and social media enacting govern-

ment policy despite the legal status of sex work in the countries in which they are operating. Again, such moves have little regard for the safety of sex workers and further propagate intrinsically oppressive structures. I meet with my friend Harry – a fellow sex worker, operating primarily in Sydney – to talk about these issues. They point out that, in policy conversations about sex work, male-on-male or male-presenting sex work is often not accounted for. Most anti–sex work rhetoric erases the different circumstances that arise from the varied genders and sexualities of sex workers. This is especially pronounced when aligned with the Swedish model, whereby regulations on sex work are framed alongside laws against domestic violence for cisgender women escaping their partners. “Non-binary or AMAB [assigned male at birth] workers will be moving towards platforms like Grindr, with the removal of [advertising platform] ­Backpage,” Harry tells me. But the whole interface of Grindr limits proximity and access, limiting the number of people who see the services you might offer or [who are] able to interpret the language you have to use to offer those services (codes like “work horse”). As well, when you are using an app that has been designed for non-paid sex, then you bring sexual labour to that app, people can immediately see around you a bunch of people who are ready to have sex for free, which will lead to massive drops in prices. Harry also cites a decrease in the number of people seeing ads as well as “less-safe spaces for you to be having sex in”: “someone in a more dangerous location can be exposed to a more dangerous set of circumstances and more dangerous clientele”. For safety reasons, this would restrict sex workers to localised, region-specific work. “Most of my money is made in hotels and set in forums in the CBD, which would basically be impossible without pre-existing clients.”


I KNOW FIRSTHAND what Harry means. My work Twitter feed is frantic. Google Doc lists of international companies that marginalise sex workers are being shared, as well as lists of possible platforms to replace Backpage. Some providers tweet support, en­­ couragement and solidarity for fellow workers. Others have begun to organise web-based skill shares to help with the crackdowns on online advertising – ways to overcome the sudden lurch of financial insecurity. There is an eruption of a multitude of voices sharing their stories about how sex work – and advertising on Backpage – has helped them leave terrible situations, or better their current ones. Writing this article has been far more confronting than I initially thought it would be. How could I encompass my myriad emotions around my personal history in sex work? Unpacking these ideas sparked a feeling I did not expect: shame. Never in my nine years as a sex worker had I felt shame for what I do. But my brain fired pistons, each thought catastrophised: Everyone will know now how long you’ve been doing it. Everyone will see you differently. Everyone will know your struggles throughout the years. The shame is reinforced by the realisation that no policy or initiative created by a non–sex worker in Australia – such as those by Project Respect or the Salvation Army – has granted me, and others like me, the knowledge necessary to survive in an industry that is so stigmatised. If anything, these policies and initiatives have encouraged that stigma. But the shame dissipates when Green’s words ring through my head: “we rely on community because we cannot rely on the state to protect our lives”. In my eyes, voyeurs do not validate our lives. Kay Stavrou is a non-binary writer based out of Melbourne. Their work primarily focuses on urbanism, specifically within the queer, trans and sex-worker intersects.



LADY SHUG poses in front of Shiprock, a sacred Navajo Nation landmark

DURING MY UNIVERSITY studies, I spent several months doing research on the Navajo Nation. This remote sovereign settlement borders the south-western American states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and covers over 70,000 square kilometers of dry desert and mountain. It is home to approximately 174,000 people. While there, I became friends with a Navajo gay man, Moroni Benally. One of the nation’s leading academics and activists, Moroni introduced me to the issues facing the Navajo LGBTQ community. Some time later, he invited me back to create a photo story highlighting these very issues. I then collaborated with Diné College, where Moroni led a policy think tank, to document the stories of numerous Navajo LGBTQ individuals. AN ARRAY OF SEXUAL orientations and gender identities exist in traditional Navajo culture, including a third gender known as nádleeh. This non-binary concept of gender existed in many indigenous cultures across the United States. Those traditional beliefs began disappearing after Christianity and colonisation forced their binary un­­ derstanding of sexuality and gender onto Navajo culture. Despite the US Supreme Court ruling that has legalised it across the country, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the Navajo Nation due to the Diné Marriage Act. For Lola De La Hoya, whose Christian family kicked her out of their home when she began her transition, the Navajo Nation can be an unwelcome place for LGBTQ individuals. “My parents took down all of their pictures of me when I came

out, and they try to not be seen with me in public,” she tells me. Lola’s case isn’t uncommon: according to research by the Diné Policy Institute (using figures from the 2015 U.S. Census), 26 per cent of Navajo LGBTQ youth aged 12 to 18 were forced to leave their homes due to conflicts with their parents about their sexual orientation. Moreover, 40.1 per cent have been physically harassed for their identity, and Navajo LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. THE SENSE OF ISOLATION is a compounding factor; it characterises life for many Navajos and is felt even more intensely among its LGBTQ population. For Joe – who came out as lesbian a few years ago and whose family rejects her lifestyle – it’s a 115-kilometre trip across desolate desert roads to see her girlfriend, who is also Navajo. Neither has a car or other means of transportation, so Joe regularly resorts to hitchhiking. Moroni himself admitted to me that, at times, the isolation he felt as a gay man on the reservation was unbearable. Many Navajos even live hours away from the nearest grocery store, school, and other private and public facilities. In Lola’s case, the lack of transportation and access to hospitals makes it difficult for her to maintain her daily regimen of testosterone blockers and estrogen pills. THANKFULLY, MANY ELDERS from the Navajo Nation who still recognise the traditional gender


system have been allies to the younger LGBTQ generation. Travis ‘Buffalo Barbie’ Goldtooth’s grandmother is one of them. After Buffalo Barbie’s coming out was met with severe community backlash, her grandmother gave her the confidence to continue life as a transgender individual: “Don’t let anyone else tell you how to be!” Buffalo Barbie’s experiences are mirrored by those of Michelle Sherman. “When I came out to my family, they kicked me out,” she tells me, “but my grandma told them that this was a normal part of ­Navajo culture.” Certainly, the younger Navajo generation tends to be more understanding of LGTBQ realities, with popular culture playing a large role in this. In the case of gay high school student Kalvin Benally, the occasional bullying is tempered by his being a popular, high-achieving student and accomplished track-and-field athlete. But, although his mother accepts his lifestyle, she still worries about what people in the nation think about her gay son. “WE ARE A RARE community,” says Lady Shug, a transgender drag queen, 2016 winner of Miss New Mexico Pride and one of the Navajo Nation’s most well-known LGBTQ advocates, adding that what LGBTQ Navajos need most is respect. Today, the Navajo LGBTQ community is working within its nation and with other Native American groups across the country. They hope to increase awareness about Native LGBTQ issues and to reclaim the traditional gender systems they have lost due to colonisation.

TRAVIS ‘BUFFALO BARBIE’ GOLDTOOTH poses in front of her family’s home in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona

BUFFALO BARBIE switches gender depending on the context. She has typically identified as male when working in construction jobs and as female in her life outside of work.

SHARNELL was recently invited to walk in one of Christian Siriano’s fashion shows as the first transgender Native American model

SHARNELL at her home in Dennehotso, Arizona

KALVIN BENALLY, a gay Navajo high school student

JOE, whose family rejected her after she came out as lesbian. They refuse to see or meet her girlfriend.

BUFFALO BARBIE poses in front of Shiprock

Images supplied by author




World events and ­identity milestones shape individuals in significant ways – even more so when their lives are tinged with marginalisation.

IT’S 2AM. I’m awoken by the sound of my phone dinging wildly; it’s probably my parents joking around on Messenger again. They’re divorced but still friends, and it’s not unusual for them to start rapid-fire, silly online conversations in the family groupchat. Mum has probably just got home from dancing in the city, and Dad’s probably up writing or watching a late-night movie at her home in rural Victoria. My sister might be on a break at work in Dublin, and online at the same time as my sister-in-law, up feeding her baby. This is how our 10-person family – Mum and Dad, four adult siblings plus their partners – stay in touch between Skype calls and physical catch-ups. My family love to talk, and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember. DINNERTIME AT THE FAMILY table is up there on my list of happiest childhood memories. Meals at our house were never really about the food; it was about people coming together. The discussions were always lively and interesting – books, films, music, religion and philosophy, politics and news, what everyone had done that day – and there was room to disagree, to talk things out, to change your mind. This space for discussion had very real consequences. There were three stickers on our front door for most of my teenage years: Dad’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) sticker, my Australian Democrats sticker, and


my older brother’s Greens sticker. At some point, most of the family stopped going to church and Insiders became a new ­Sunday-morning ­tradition. Later, over dinner, we’d talk about what a bastard then-premier Jeff Kennett was, and tuck into a bowl of Mum’s delicious broccoli pasta. Dad would get out the apples she’d stewed earlier and serve it up with homemade custard while we tore into the ALP’s position on ­asylum seekers. We always had guests at our table, too. When we were little, Dad would pick up a small crowd of children from kinder and school, entertaining us with jokes and songs and obstacle courses she’d build in the garden. The kids’ families would eventually arrive, and we’d have a big pot of soup, casserole or pasta ready to be shared. If it was a Friday, we’d tuck into fish and chips together. WHEN I WAS DIAGNOSED with cancer in 1994, our family dinners changed. My parents tell me that, while I was sick, the family rarely ate together because I was at the Royal Children’s Hospital so often. We had just moved in with my dad’s parents while our family home was being renovated. Mum took some time off work to be with me in the hospital, but it was still a stressful time for my parents. They muddled through somehow, with help from family; Grandma would often make meals for my siblings if I was in hospital and our parents weren’t home.


The nights I was home for dinner at Grandma’s were exciting, especially if she was making our favourite lamb shank and vegetable soup. Grandma had a vegetable garden and fruit trees, so I learned how to grow plants from cuttings, when to pick different vegetables and how to make plum jam. It was a happy place to spend time between hospital visits. Meanwhile, chemotherapy took away my appetite; I often ate cereal in hospital because it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick. My parents would bring me home-cooked dishes and Mum started ordering me meals from a famous vegetarian restaurant nearby.

I was the closeted school captain of an all-girls Catholic school, desperately waiting to graduate so I could come out. At graduation, I got really drunk, walked into a glass wall, burst into tears and told my friends that I was bisexual. I had told my family earlier, one by one, when the moment felt right. Later, I wished I had just gathered them at the table and told them all at once, like ripping off a bandaid. They were all accepting, which is what I’d expected, but it was still a nerve-racking experience each time. I look forward to a future where no-one assumes a child’s sexuality or gender identity, and both heteronorma-

by the fact that, while homophobia, biphobia and heteronormativity still exist in the world, we had made a lot of progress – I could imagine a safe, happy life for myself as an out queer woman in Australia. But our nation and community still had a long way to go when it came to making trans people feel the same way.

These foods would motivate me to work through the nausea. I have a lot of trauma I’m still working through from that time in my life, but my parents made sure I felt loved and cared for while I was in hospital. I still feel that love, and remember that time, when I eat certain foods. I lost a lot of time – and my left leg – to cancer, but eventually my treatment finished, and we moved back to our home in Northcote. Our big, gnarly wooden table was the centre of my world again. The comfort of familiar foods, routines and conversations was important to my recovery, and I loved family dinners even more fiercely after that.

tivity and cisnormativity are shot into the sun. A decade after my coming out, Dad came out as trans. We’d just moved into a new house, but the family gathered around the same old table we’d always eaten at. Tina talked about growing up trans and what it had been like holding it in for so long. I was shocked that, while I’d been finding my place among the LGBTQIA+ community, Dad had been alone with this. She had worried that saying it aloud might mean losing us – and maybe everyone. When Dad talked to us about trans people who had lost their entire families, as well as friends and jobs and housing, I began to understand the weight of that fear. I compared that to the sense of security I enjoyed during my coming out and felt so sad at the differences in our journeys. That sense of safety didn’t just come from the knowledge that my family was progressive and close. I was consoled

I’d like to tell you Dad didn’t lose anyone when she transitioned, but it’s not true. There were people who, when she needed them most, either rejected her or just fell away. These losses hit her hard, but she also gained many new friends and a lot of support from the trans and broader LGBTQIA+ community. Dad’s elderly mum, who was living with dementia, even responded to her coming out with acceptance and love: “Well, what do you know, I’ve got a beautiful new daughter.” While Mum was supportive of Dad’s transition, their relationship changed and they eventually decided to separate. The pain they felt during their separation rippled through the family. What would we be like going forward? Where would we gather, and who would be at the table? We shouldn’t have worried; time passed, and our parents became very good friends. Mum’s place then became the new home base for family gatherings, and we all started to feel settled again.

IN 2001, I WAS IN YEAR 12 and had finally worked out what was going on with my sexuality. It wasn’t that I didn’t like boys; I had serious crushes on plenty of them. It’s just that I liked people who weren’t boys even more.


TINA NEEDN’T HAVE W ­ ORRIED about losing us. Over the next 12 months, we joined our dad on her transition journey, getting used to a new name and pronouns, and watching her finally expressing her gender in a way that made her happy.


MY WIFE, CHARLIE, and I met in the queer room at RMIT. It had taken me almost a year to work up the courage to push aside the black curtain over the door and walk inside. Within a few weeks, I was skipping classes to spend more time with the tall, serious, quiet woman in jeans and baggy Star Wars T-shirts. At the time, I was a short, round ball of talkative energy with pink hair and an endless collection of loud, colourful flares. At a karaoke night run by the Monash University queer club, Charlie listened to me belt out an Ella Fitzgerald song, then asked me to dance. We had nothing in common except our love of

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but we hit it off, anyway. Eight years later, when Charlie came home from her interstate pipeline job to our apartment in Thornbury, she proposed. We knew we couldn’t legally marry, so we organised a giant wedding in Australia followed by a ‘honeymoon’ in Canada, where we would get hitched officially. We wanted the feeling of being recognised as equal somewhere in the world, and Banff during winter seemed like the place to do it. A bit later, with help from my younger brother, Charlie fell pregnant with our first child. Our kid was so awesome that we went back and had another one. Being a queer parent in Australia in the 2010s mostly felt like being any kind of parent in Australia – teething toddlers, stinky nappies. Occasionally, we faced bigotry, like when a former friend moralised about Safe Schools and marriage equality on the evening we found out about the Pulse nightclub

shooting. Heteronormativity would also rear its ugly head, like in the birth classes where all of the resources excluded me as a non-birth mother. The marriage-equality postal survey worsened things a little. The media trumpeted the views of hateful people and, during a marriage-equality parade in Pakenham, we had homophobic abuse hurled at us by an aggressive passer-by. Charlie and I found ourselves withdrawing online and in real life, huddling together until the storm had passed. Even when marriage equality had become a reality, we felt exhausted and bruised by the campaign. We were also very aware of the postal vote’s effect on the trans community. Some ‘yes’ campaigners and organisations seemed to emphasise white, able-bodied, cis gay and lesbian couples, with trans and other marginalised LGBTQIA+ people much less visible. We certainly didn’t hear about forced divorce during the campaign: Dad had told us about cruel laws that forced married trans people to get a divorce before changing their gender on their birth certificate. Few people know that, in Australia today, forced divorce is still a reality everywhere except South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. While the other states and territories must change these laws by 9 December this year, we can’t really say we have marriage equality in Australia until forced divorce is gone. HAVING A LOVING, accepting family to turn to during the postal vote was important to Tina, Charlie and me. We checked in on one another throughout, batted for each other in conversations and on social media, and attended rallies and events together. It was love in action, and gave us strength when we needed it most. When I look around the table now, I see people who are truly committed to being themselves and supporting others to do the same. Dad recently bought a house in the small country town where her dad grew up, and she hopes her back garden will


one day be as plentiful as her mother’s. She’s now an author and public speaker, and provides peer support to others in the trans community. And watching Mum become a motorbike-riding, soul-dancing, cool-as-fuck prison chaplain has been one of the greatest joys of my adult life. My kids will see two grandparents who had a long and happy marriage, raised four children, then took a leap into the unknown to work out who they were and what they wanted from life. My older brother and his partner have had kids, too, so our family meals are more chaotic and fun these days. Mum prepares amazing feasts, and the conversations are as varied and stimulating as when I was a child. Thanks to modern technology, my sister and her partner often ‘join’ us from Ireland – the phone is passed around so they can be part of dinner as well. After dinner, the adults sit around the table and keep the conversation going. The sound of laughter is everywhere as the kids run up and down Nanna’s stairs or jump joyfully on her bed, knowing their parents can’t stop them because Nanna said it was fine. Spanish is mingled with English as my younger brother and his girlfriend talk about her family back home in Colombia, or teach the kids to greet each other and count to 10. If I’m having a bad pain day, I’ll end up stretched out on one of Mum’s couches, having a deep-and-meaningful with someone. Our dinner table has grown big enough to span oceans and flexible enough to defy time zones. It’s not furniture, and it never was. It’s a feeling, an experience, a conversation. It’s a ­commitment, made joyfully. Jessica Walton is a picture-book author, teacher, parent and proud queer disabled woman. She wrote Introducing Teddy: A Story About Being Yourself to help explain gender identity in a simple, positive way to her young children. Jessica lives in Pakenham, Victoria, with her wife, kids and cat.



Creatures from the Earth – The Spoils of War by SABA TAJ


A group of Muslim artists is challenging erasure and marginalisation by envisioning alternative worlds using a queer lens.

A REVOLUTIONARY leader, labelled a terrorist by those who des­ pise her, but a hero by those who love her. She is the head of an elite band of bearded warriors who know the plains along the Indus River just as well as they do the sand dunes of the Sahara. She is known for her shaven head, long lashes, green eye shadow, killer contour, diamanté heels and the fact that she never seems 100 per cent human. Faluda Islam is a Muslim bearded drag queen turned revolutionary from the middle of the 21st century, most likely from this world but perhaps even another. Although she is a drag queen, her body is neither male nor female, not fully human and, one could say, more extra than terrestrial. FALUDA IS ME. She was born, or perhaps resurrected, out of a creative need to express what I could not, at a time when it was important for an artist of colour – who so happened to identify as queer and Muslim in the United States – to find new ways to interrogate an ever more hostile racist and Islamophobic society. My practice is spread between multiple disciplines, from textile and video to performance – which is where Faluda comes in. My work in each of these media deals with the possibilities of a future uprising of queer and trans guerrilla fighters. Deemed terrorists,

these glamorous figures are both subversive and deeply misunderstood. Faluda and I are part of a growing creative movement of artists from Muslim and Muslim-adjacent backgrounds who envision future landscapes through a queer lens. These artists include Hushidar Mortezaie, Saba Taj, Jassem Hindi and Laylatul Qadr, whose work I will be talking about in this article. As with many artists who look to the future, Queer Muslim Futurists do so with awareness that it can be an unknown space of potentially great fear, but also tremendous generosity. Like the Afrofuturists from whom the name of our movement is derived, we look to our multiple histories, cultures and legacies, which we cut up, carve, copy, corrupt and then cast into a future of our own imagining. HOW MIGHT ISLAM FIT into all of this? Why use organised religion as a conduit through which to reimagine a radically different world where queer and trans bodies claim space? Islam is not merely what many people believe it to be: stories in the Qur’an, the Hadith and many other holy texts are full of visions of the future and other dimensions, monsters, and life on other planets. Descriptions of the Day of Judgement feel like something straight out of an Arab-inflected Alien vs. Predator remake.


In fact, Islam has always looked to the future. Springing from the deserts of Arabia, it ignited a revolution that overthrew the economic stranglehold of the ruling Quraysh tribe. It codified protection for widows and orphans, enshrined humanitarian rules around the treatment of animals and attempted to pave an end to slavery. At its core, Islam intends to topple oppressive social orders; Shia Muslims even believe that those on the right side of justice must always be in a state of resistance and resilience. As with any organised religion, however, there are many problems with how the faith is practised. Muslim societies have put in place their own pecking orders and patriarchal rules. Islam also became an imperial religion: like their counterparts from other empires, those who carried its flag as they marched through the world were not innocent. Such is the complexity of our histories, and it is precisely these histories that Queer Muslim Futurism seeks to make complicated. MORTEZAIE, AN IRANIAN artist based in the Bay Area, explores the nuances of being queer, Iranian and Muslim through back-and-forth glances between the future and the past. His installation Occupy Me: Topping from the Bottom focuses on three figures. The first two are Mahmoud Asgari and


FALUDA ISLAM (photo by KaliMa Amilak)

Ayaz Marhoni, who – aged 16 and 18 – were publicly executed in the Iranian city of Mashhad in July 2005. To this day, there are debates as to whether they were hanged for engaging in consensual homosexual acts, but the pair nonetheless stand as a symbol of the injustices of the system that tried them. Mortezaie’s third figure is ­Fereydoun Farrokhzad, a gay Iranian singer who was murdered – many suspect – due to his political writing infused with de­­ mands for acceptance. Mortezaie does not allow these figures to disappear; in fact, he does not even allow them to die. Asgari and Marhoni are brought back to life by an unnamed power. In this cocoon stage between life and death, they transform into Muslim gay beloveds Malik Ayaz and Mahmud Ghazni, each one a soldier and poet who marched from the Middle East to South Asia in the 10th century.

Farrokhzad is reborn, phoenix-like, as the pre-Islamic androgynous deity Mithra of both Iranian Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism – proof that these two cultures have always collided. There’s a fierceness to Mortezaie’s figures: they are masked yet confrontational, and bear the marks of the worlds and lives they once inhabited – a hanging noose in the case of Asgari and Marhoni, for instance. But Mortezaie does not want to satisfy the Western liberal’s need to believe that their world is perfect. Behind these figures, we see symbols of Western capitalism, the destructive powers of the Ku Klux Klan and the injustices of Zionism on the Palestinian people. This imagery suggests that things are not always as they seem, and that the oppressive systems around gender and sexuality present in the Muslim world are not always homegrown.


WHEREAS MORTEZAIE brings to light specific individuals in acts of resurrection, Taj, a North Carolina–based multimedia artist, uses the Qur’an and the Hadith as sources of inspiration for a radical future of powerful femme monsters. In her series Creatures from the Earth, Taj uses collage and painting to make real a new world order in which not only have patriarchy, white supremacy and imperialism been toppled, but so has humanity as a whole. Instead, femme creatures reign supreme, springing forth from the ashes of a world now long gone. As Taj describes them to me, “These reincarnations emerge and proliferate as warriors and survivors in a violently shifting futurist landscape, marking the end of the world and the birth of another.” Both the Qur’an and the Hadith make reference to the Dabbat al-Ard (‘Beast of


the Earth’), whose appearance will signal the arrival of the Day of Judgement. The name of Taj’s series is a nod to this mythological figure, and the creature itself points to something far more present in our day-to-day imaginary: the dehumanisation of Muslims and other communities of colour. Taj takes these negative stereotypes and flips them around, instead conceiving of what kinds of Muslim creatures would survive a catastrophe induced by human greed. Qadr, Taj’s partner and a member of the newly formed punk rock band The

Creatures from the Earth – The Banishment by SABA TAJ

Jihadageddon by The Muslims, of which LAYLATUL QADR is a member

Muslims, takes things in a slightly different direction. She uses her songwriting and the band’s presence on social media to exploit a great deal of the fear that American society already has of the Muslim ‘Other’. The band’s latest album, ­Jihadageddon, touches on issues of anti-blackness, colourism and issues within and outside of Muslim communities. The very word ‘Jihadageddon’ implies that the world will, in fact, come to an end through a global jihad (which itself translates to ‘struggle’ or ‘revolution’) – a queer, Muslim, brownand black-induced Judgement Day. HINDI, A PERFORMANCE artist based in Berlin but originally from Syria,

describes his practice as “Arab future-­ fiction”. He takes the idea of the apocalypse and propels it into a world where Arabness is not only a global phenomenon but an intergalactic one. In future friend/ships – performed in collaboration with Bay Area–based artist Keith Hennessy – the state of the Arab world is examined via the ‘post-utopian’ society of a future realm. Layered on top of his own words, Hindi cites Arab Apocalypse by Lebanese poet Etel Adnan as well as the song ‘Marikh’ by Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, whose tackling of sexual and queer themes has been on the forefront of politics in the Middle East. In Hindi’s retelling, destruction has wreaked havoc on the Arab world; during the performance, he asks, “What is left for us to offer? Our storytelling capacities.” Lighting, sound manipulation and

victimisation. What it does h ­ ighlight are uncomfortable truths about the role of the West in the conflicts and unresolved tensions created by colonialism and capitalism. In Hindi’s performance, identity is intentionally distorted: A ­ rabness is presented not as a static state of being, but as shared and crossed with many others. ISLAM IS THE PRODUCT of many faiths and many cultures; it has never, and will never, stand in isolation – and that is precisely why the work of artists like us is important. Queer Muslim Futurism is a reclaiming of our stories. It points out problems and names our oppressors while, at the same time, creating spaces for healing. It is not idealistic; every world we have created may be born of bloodshed, but it’s what we do with those histories

“Queer Muslim Futurism is a reclaiming of our stories. It points out problems and names our oppressors while, at the same time, creating spaces for healing” costume reveal an eerie futuristic landscape: Is it postwar Syria, Iraq, Yemen, levelled to the ground by constant warfare until all that remains is the desert? Is it another planet, where Hindi and Hennessy have escaped to? The answer is left ambiguous. Alongside poetry, lineage plays a large role in the performance. Its opening scene is a parade of portraits of the an­­ cestors of Arab Futurism (the ambiguous uncle of Queer Muslim Futurism), each of whom is a renowned figure within academia, writing or art. Edward Said, Donna Haraway and Larissa Sansour are immortalised using camp futurist aesthetics, and they are spoken about as though deceased relatives. But Hindi distinguishes his practice by stipulating that his central question is “How do we write fiction in the future?” and not “How do we imagine the future?” In this vein, future friend/ships does not play into any existing narrative of


of bloodshed that provides the arc of each story. Our outlooks on Islam and how it has affected us differ tremendously. For some of us, it is the very essence of our work; for others, it is one weave in a very thick tapestry of identity, history and culture. Taj, Hindi, Qadr, Mortezaie and I are also from wildly different backgrounds – Pakistani diaspora, Arab, Iranian and African-American – and these affect deeply the stories that we author. But, in this revolution, we have risen together. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto / Faluda Islam is an artist, performer, zombie drag queen, and curator of mixed Pakistani, Iranian and Lebanese descent. His work explores complex identity politics and the intersections of Islam and queerness. Zulfikar is based in the Bay Area, where he works as a teaching artist, community arts facilitator and part-time unicorn.


future friend/ships by JASSEM HINDI (photo by Robbie Sweeny)

Occupy Me: Topping from the Bottom by HUSHIDAR MORTEZAIE






Young Australian comics artists may be on the frontline of a queer renaissance of the artform.

FOR ALL THE GOOD that comes from communities on the margins, it’s easy to forget that these communities, too, have walls. In the West, comics – the most outsidery of outsider artforms – has not been a particularly welcoming medium for queers. It’s especially thorny because, for much of the 20th century, the mainstream positioned comics as being a bit like other mediums but worse: like art, but not ‘real’ art; like literature, but for kids. Like many ‘lesser’ forms – amplified by their attractiveness to young people (another demerit) – comics felt the strict hand of the state come down hard. In postwar America, this took the form of the prominent Comics Code, which kept queer themes and other seditious stories out of mainstream comics. Among other curios, the code era led to the invention of Batwoman to allay suspicions that Batman and Robin enacted a homosexual lifestyle ideal. DESPITE STATE CENSORSHIP, artists keep on making art – in some cases, making it all the more furiously. But when comics inevitably emerged from the underground in the 1960s, many of their marginalised characters stuck to the concerns of a specific kind of 20th-century man, with a specific set of social problems. The most prominent artists had a lot to say and a lot of style to say it with,


but little of it had to do with queers, people of colour or, frequently, women. It was a case of art, and the culture around it, welcoming some ways of being ‘alternative’ and not others. Of course, there are beloved and beautiful exceptions. One that’s lasted is Howard Cruse’s 1995 graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, a story of sexual awakening and a shift to activism. Before her popular 2006 graphic

­ emoir Fun Home, there was also m ­A lison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, a revolutionary serial published from 1983 to 2008. And Cruse himself edited an anthology series of ‘gay comix’ in the 1980s that was strongly supported by a vanguard of straight alternative cartoonists. I think about the conditions re­­ quired for a healthy alternative cul­­ture because the transition from comics’ mid-­century oppression to its late-century emergence into the




rarefied worlds of literature and fine art was not particularly queer. While queerness has a place in many of today’s prominent comics, in some ways it’s skipped the underground and gone straight to the mainstream. It’s historically satisfying that the current Batwoman is a gay woman, but even this is refracted through cultural funhouse mirrors: she’s a completely different character who goes by the same name. OF ALL THE COMICS subcultures of today – whether they’re linked to literary culture, meme communities, the visual-arts world, poetic circles or superhero fandoms – the queerest scene might be the group of young and other-than-mainstream artists coming out of Australia. It’s the closest thing to an alternative community substantial enough

“Tommi’s a rare friendship,” Lee explains, “in which very honest, brutal and encouraging feedback … can be shared really openly without much ego getting in the way.” Most comics artists are, at some stage, zinesters. The form could’ve died off with the popularisation of Tumblr, but instead dug its heels in and gained strength as an artisan style. It may be from zine culture – which, in turn, emerged from the punk and hardcore scenes, whose ideologies extended beyond art-making and towards political activism, community-building and self-care – that modern comics gets its unique tang as a social and collabo­ rative artform. For Sam Wallman, another Melbourne artist, it’s about communicability. “Before the internet made it possible for marginal voices to be heard, comics were a way for people

“Of the myriad ways for art to be queer, it may be the communal spirit and focus on friendship that makes current Australian underground comics queerest” to sustain itself, cross into and out of the dominant culture, and produce its own artists and quality products. Tommi Parrish is in Chicago, in the middle of a book tour for The Lie and How We Told It. This is their first full-length comic, published by ­Fantagraphics, a Seattle-based publisher whose reputation and influence makes it a standard-bearer for alternative comics. They grew up in Melbourne’s beachside southern suburbs and – like many comics artists – committed to the form because they were spiritually unable to do anything else. “Nothing stuck,” Tommi tells me. “At 19, I decided it was always going to be this way, so I might as well just really, really try my best.” They moved to Montreal because they wanted to be near another comic artist, Lee Lai; the two now live 15 minutes away from one another. Since meeting in the early 2000s, they’ve been invaluable to each other’s working lives.

locked out of the media to get their ideas to other people,” he says. This is especially because, nowadays, “people are sick of the same few archetypal stories being repeated over and over again”. Comics tap into people’s innate empathy – “and also their creepy nosiness”. OF THE MYRIAD WAYS for art to be queer – be it in terms of portraying queerness, being methodologically queer, or the product of queer identity – it may be the communal spirit and focus on friendship that makes current Australian underground comics queerest. Behind notions of behaviour or sexuality is a utopian spirit that positions art within activism, individuals within groups and politics within daily experience. “I have a whole lot of good-­comicskarma to repay when it comes to Tommi Parrish,” says Alice Chipkin. In 2017,


Chipkin and her collaborator, Jessica Tavassoli, published the comic Eyes Too Dry, about friendship, depression and caregiving. “As a totally new comic baby on the scene,” Alice says, “they took me under their wing as a fledgling friend and observer. In Montreal, alongside Lee Lai, they let me sit, eat rice, watch, try pens and ask a billion questions. Even giving me proximity to their ­excellent-ness was a gift.” Alice also emphasises “the breakdown of amateur and pro” and describes the comics-makers she’s encountered as “not capitalistic”. “Queers manage to magnetise,” adds Lee. “It’s actually uncanny how we can find and gravitate towards each other in physical spaces like studios or conventions or workshops.” Lee finds the support is often unfixed and porous, indirect and perhaps not intentional. Sometimes it’s just gossip or mutual critique. “I didn’t expect having a queer artist community was something I needed as much as I do, but I think Tommi and I have just found ourselves building that web and that nest automatically.” While a tiny group of Australian artists working together in Montreal seems like the ideal realisation of the potential for artists to advance each other – more so given the near-total lack of formal training models in comics – it’s obviously a special case. Queer artists exhibit together in Melbourne and elsewhere, publish together online and in print journals, and occasionally cluster in the same corners of festivals and zine fairs. Yet, true to Alice’s memory of Tommi letting her test out different pens, it’s ultimately a community of practice – a community that creates work and lives on the page. WHICH MAY BE WHY the work’s so good. The Lie and How We Told It is, like all of Tommi’s stories, an unusual comic about the intensity and strangeness of interpersonal ­relationships. (­continued on p108 …)






“Whereas once it mattered what was represented, what now seems to matter is the how. Comics can tell stories while ‘fucking with’ figuration and flirting with abstraction and metaphor” (… from p105) The people all look ­whiplashed just from walking down the street. (“Tommi understands the weight and depth of banality,” says Sam. “They once said to me, ‘I love feelings.’”) Tommi’s stories often explore age, gender or power relations, but they aren’t in a hurry about it. You can spend pages with two characters without really knowing who they are. In this book specifically, the characters are two people who knew each other in high school and haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s enough time for some real change to have taken place in their sexualities and lives, but little enough that their lives and even word choices can still have an outsize impact – the kind that’s specific to people you’ve known since you were young. Yet the most pronounced queer as­­ pect of Tommi’s comics is not necessarily these depictions of relationships, but rather how they push our expectations about character and form. Some of their characters feel like geometric humanoids, some feel like people, some feel like blobs. “It’s fun to see how much you can fuck with a figure and have it still somehow look like a body,” Tommi says. “We’re so trained to make everything human. You can take almost any shape and people are going to read humanity into it, which is a super fun thing to mess around with. It’s the same with faces: pare it down, make it as simple

as possible, and still attempt to communicate expression, even if there’s just three lines.” MAYBE THE POSSIBILITIES afforded by comics make them particularly suited to a queer present that is increasingly about finding new ways to represent personhood beyond the binary. They accommodate pushing queerness beyond the romantic or the sexual, and looking at the connections between domains that have historically belonged to different struggles. We may be witnessing a renaissance of the artform because, whereas once it mattered what was represented, what now seems to matter is the how. Comics can tell stories while ‘fucking with’ figuration and flirting with abstraction and metaphor. The impact may lie in comics’ ability to move beyond this exact moment – taking queer politics into the principles of making art more broadly. In any story, “You want multiple perspectives,” Tommi explains. “Multiple actions and reactions. Multiple experiences, basically – like humans.” Ronnie Scott is a writer and researcher in Melbourne whose current interests include contemporary fiction, queer narratives and Australian comics since 1980. In 2007, he founded The Lifted Brow, a literary magazine and now a manyarmed publishing organisation.




Q&A with




Hip-hop ­artist Miss Blanks chats to Archer Magazine about her strong sense of justice, insatiable creative appetite and desire to pave the way for ­other trans women of colour.

After releasing early tracks ‘Clap Clap’ and ‘Freq U’ in 2017, Miss Blanks went on to perform at Dark Mofo and Transgenre, ending the year with the release of her debut EP, Diary of a Thotaholic. She then kicked off 2018 by headlining Midsumma Carnival, touring with St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, performing at Gaytimes and Secret Garden, and doing one-off shows around Australia and New Zealand. Miss Blanks’ thumping beats leave her audiences drenched in one another’s sweat. Each one of her tracks demands that people match her high-energy stage presence, and her lyrics explore things that other artists would shy away from. When did you realise that music was what you wanted to do? I came out as Miss Blanks and was like Yo, what’s up? back in September 2016. That was my first ever public I do music. Funnily enough, my first public introduction also happened to be my first show. I’ve always been fascinated by and enjoyed old-school R&B, rap and hip-hop music since I was a child. My mum would bump Trina, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown when I was five years old. I’m pretty sure the first nursery rhyme I learnt was ‘My Neck, My Back’ by Khia. You frequently talk about wanting to be authentic and powerful, and to create a space for your work, yourself and your communities. Do you leave a space for vulnerability, too? Well, the fact that I’m a highly visible trans woman of colour, trying to operate within mainstream Australian music, it’s incredibly vulnerable as it is. And especially my musical content – that’s very vulnerable. I don’t really see vulnerability and strength as being two different things. I see a lot of strength in being vulnerable, and


a lot of vulnerability in being strong and powerful. If anyone knows me on a personal level and in my music, it’s the same person. It’s just that what is out there is probably only 5 per cent of everything I embody and exude and give. Don’t get me wrong: I love a cute little cry on the river. I love me a little sad moment on a rainy day with a glass of wine, looking out the window listening to Erykah Badu. Do people in the mainstream misunderstand your work? People think I am a representation of all trans folk. Further to that, people think I’m a representation of all trans folk because I’m currently one of the only highly visible trans women of colour in Australian ­hip-hop. But I’ve also found that people think I’m only and always this sexual being. Because I’m so free with my body and my sexuality, I guess people think they can only react and engage with me in a very specific and narrow way – which is really prohibitive of me being able to also show more. And the fetishisation that comes from being a woman of colour as well as being trans – how do you navigate that? People know I’m pretty vocal about this stuff. When it comes to music listeners, or people who are coming to my shows or have stumbled upon my shows, I like to think I set a very clear tone for an acceptable way to engage with that ­particular space and setting. The hardest thing for me is that there’s so much I want to do and so much I want to say, but I am scared every single fucking day that I’m reinforcing certain stereotypes. I can’t be that angry black woman. I can’t be that very sexually charged trans girl. I need to be this perfect little package that is consumable.


You just want to be able to One thing that I have always of space for those that it was origiembody that multiplicity and noticed is your work ethic. Where nally intended for to participate in. not be a one-dimensional chardo you get that drive? I think that’s the biggest thing: in acter fulfilling people’s preconHands down, my mum. I know Australia, white people want to claim ceived ideas! that’s super clichéd, but I come and take ownership over hip-hop. Exactly! The biggest thing for me from a one-parent household: two The fact of the matter is that it was is the most vulnerable. I can still be kids, Mum having me at 20 while created by and for people of colour this beautiful trans woman without doing three jobs, growing up in a – hip-hop has never been a white needing to wear my make-up, withlow-­socio-economic area. There was space. However, in Australia, there out doing my hair, without having me and my brother, the only people seems to be a lot of ‘white noise’ to live up to this expectation of of colour in the neighbourhood, and that’s been taking up the space what Miss Blanks should be, what then on top of that, being trans and (I’m coining that term in 2018!). she should look like, what women working through that. Regardless, me making music, should look like, what trans women I applaud my mum until my final my pure existence, is hip-hop. My should need to succeed when it breath. I also think, even as a mum, own lived experience and strugcomes to even ‘passing’. she was able to put food in our gles is hip-hop. For those who try I now have people online who stomachs. There was always a roof and dismiss that: go fuck yourare like, “Well, you’re not a woman,” over our heads. There were always self, because you’re wrong. or, “You don’t look like a woman,” clothes on our backs. We always or all of these terrible, mean had a bed to sleep in. While there How do you discern who things that I can’t even begin to were a lot of tough moments, she you’re talking to, and how are go through. But, you know, that’s taught me and my brother that life you managing your rise? Is that the fucked thing: I want to feel is hard and you need to work hard something that you’re actively supported, protected, elevated to get where you want to be and to thinking about? and encouraged to be this beaudo what you want. From the beginning, I said to my­ tiful woman without having to Because I don’t have certain privself I was not going to follow the look a certain way, present typical format of how musia certain way and act a cercians in Australia operate. “I see a lot of strength in being tain way. That may work for them, At the same time, when vulnerable, and a lot of vulnerability but I can tell you right now, I do that, I’m not given the there’s not an artist that in being strong and powerful” respect and validation to – sounds like me in Australia. I guess, in a way – be treated If there is, they haven’t gotand seen as a woman. It’s very ileges or entitlements that others ten anywhere because the industry harrowing. have, I just need to do what I need hasn’t been set up to support them to do to get ahead. And the thing and their music. The Australian music How do you engage your audiis – I’m not going to lie – if it wasn’t landscape and industry don’t know ences when you are onstage? for the experiences that I’ve had, and how to work with that kind of music I’m a strong believer that my job if it wasn’t for the struggles that I’ve or that kind of sound. as a performer is to take people’s been through and continue to go For me, it was just like I’m going energy and really raise it. Every artist through, I wouldn’t appreciate the to play it by my rules. I’m going to is different. Obviously, I’m a hip-hop accomplishments and the success manifest big projects, big dreams, artist and most of my music is quite nearly enough. big money. And that’s just how it’s high-energy and strong, and there’s going to be. this aggressive cadence to it. So Hip-hop in Australia has been I think you already know what the overrun by white, cisgender male Roj Amedi is a writer and editor atmosphere is from the beginning – gatekeepers. How do you reclaim based in Naarm/Melbourne. She and hopefully, by the end, you’re on an artform that was developed by was the guest editor of issue 38 of that same kind of vibe. black people for black people? Acclaim and, formerly, the editor I like to see myself as a storyteller. I’m not saying you can’t engage of culture and design magazine There are important messages in in hip-hop because you are white Neue Luxury. Roj has written for my music, and there’s some key or because you are this, that or the The Saturday Paper, SBS, Assemble moments where I get the audience other. But you need to understand Papers, Vault and Swampland. She to stop and reflect or to share a bit the space you take up, and underis currently a senior human rights or take away a bit. stand that you may be creating a lack campaigner at GetUp!.




VOL.152 1/2018 AUD $16.50



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