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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY This inagural edition of 1978 was edited, compiled, and published on the occupied lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded, and that the occupation is violent and ongoing. We give our deep respect and solidarity to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to their Elders, past, present and emerging. This land always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
First published 2020 by The University of Sydney Funded by the University of Sydney Union and the University of Sydney Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences © Individual Contributors 2020 Introduction © Kate Scott and Jenna Lorge Foreword © First Mardi Gras inc. Graphic design © Amelia Mertha Layout © Kate Scott, Jenna Lorge, and Amelia Mertha © The University of Sydney 2020 Images and some short quotations have been used in this book. Every effort has been made to identify and attribute credit appropriately. The editors thank contributors for permission to reproduce their work. ISBN: 978-1-74210-474-4 1978 Reproduction and Communication for other purposes Except as permitted under the Act, no part of this edition may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or communicated in any form or by any means without prior written permission. All requests for reproduction or communication should be made to Sydney University Press at the address below. Fisher Library F03 University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: sydney.edu.au/sup Cover Design by Ellie Wilson
Dedicated to all the people made to feel less than because of who they are. You are seen. You are heard. You are loved.
Editors-in-Chief Kate Scott Jenna Lorge Creative Director Amelia Mertha Managing Editors Ange Hall Claire Ollivain Editors Sally Chik Shania Oâ€™Brien Arca Jalee Angela Xu Keesha Field Subeditors Kate Woodbury Grace Hu Thomas Israel Sean Young Juliette Marchant Janet Cao Alison Hwang Bonnie Huang Sophia Calvo y Perez
CONTENTS Kate Scott & Jenna Lorge First Mardi Gras inc. Talia Szekely Felix Faber Jocelin Chan Amy Wang Bonnie Huang Bonnie Huang Sally Chik Jess Zheng jc. Ava Lansley Thomas Israel Lucy Thurston Jocelin Chan Jacob Parker Anne Leven-Marcon Nevie Peters Amy Wang Victoria Cooper Elsiena ten Kate Jenna Lorge AmazingCookie Gabrielle Cadenhead
7 9 11 12 15 16 17 20 24 25 26 27 30 33 34 35 42 43 45 46 47 49 52 53
Introduction Foreword Mardi Gras Pink Bans, Pits, and Perverts Idiot butch at Mecca Maxima & my boyfriend says What Do You Do When No One’s Watching? TRANScedence Sầu riêng Bloom notes on dying Glitch “No, He’s Totally a Bottom!” The After Party Fit Toxic Bodies Collecting Self Unspeakable Things Obsession After Almost Four Years Untitled Femininity and its Perception of Passivity in Sex Lock Apologetics
Mother. On the pain of a friend.
Orbit of Mind
Coming Home: Sapphic Yearning in Ancient China
[ her ]
Around the Yumcha table
Pink Yolk in Blue
The old that is strong does not wither
Introduction By Kate Scott and Jenna Lorge Editors-in-Chief It is with great pride that we introduce our readers to the inaugural edition of 1978, a celebration of diverse sexualities and genders on the Sydney University campus. This journal was created for those who are LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, female identifying, and every other individual made to feel less than because of their gender or who they love (or donâ€™t). This literary magazine has been lovingly written, illustrated, edited and curated entirely by members of this community within USYD. Named after the first (illegal) mardi gras that occurred in 1978, this literary magazine remains a testament of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. 1978 seeks to articulate our celebrations, our pain, our triumphs, our heartbreaks: our stories that have allowed us to be our wholeheartedly bona fide selves. The poetry, essays, prose, and artwork in the following pages oscillate between deeply personal experiences, and reflections on our community as a whole. Yet we recognize there are gaps, and we hope with the coming years, generations of writers, poets, artists, and editors will join our community as we grow and give voice to many more experiences and identities. We understand that some themes in 1978 are confrontational and sensitive, and may elicit a strong response from our readers. Please find below a few services that you can contact should you feel distressed or affected by any of the following content. USYD Counselling and Psychological Services: 8627 8433 ACON: (02) 9206 2000 or acon.org.au QLife: 1800 184 527 or qlife.org.au Twenty10 1800 184 527 or twenty10.org.au Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Foreword By Diane Minnis and Ken Davis On behalf of First Mardi Gras Inc. a community association for 78ers.
*Content Warning: Mentions of Explicit Homophobia and Violence* How did the first Mardi Gras happen and Leaflets were handed out on Oxford why is it still important to fight for LGBTIQ Street and a lesbian poster squad spread the rights? word. On the poster, our night—time street party was called a Festival, starting at 10pm Origins of Mardi Gras in Taylor Square. But Marg McMann dubbed it a Mardi Gras and that is the name that In early 1978, San Francisco activists immediately stuck. wrote to Ken Davis and Annie Talve seeking That first Mardi Gras attracted a more solidarity activities in June to support their diverse group of women and men than the campaign against the Briggs Initiative – a day—time marches. It was a fun event, referendum to remove all supporters of gay less serious, but no less political. In the rights from a jobs in the California school early 70s, we adopted lesbian and gay as system. inclusive, politically constructed identities The date was to coincide with the – not meaning exclusively homosexual and anniversary of the Stonewall riots which including all other forms of identities within started on June 28, 1969 in New York. the LGBTQIA+ community. Following a police raid, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, other lesbian and gay bars The first Mardi Gras and the Drop the and neighbourhood street people fought Charges Campaign that followed back when the police became violent. This catalysed a new militant era of gay But events that night did not go as liberation, during a decade of global youth planned. We were hurried down Oxford rebellion and revolutionary change which Street by police and they grabbed the keys started in 1968. of the sound truck at College St. Police tried To prepare for international solidarity to arrest the driver, Lance Gowland, but a actions, Ken and others called a meeting group of lesbians pulled him back into the with a coalition of lesbian and gay groups. crowd. Someone shouted ‘To the Cross!’. The The late Marg McMann, former Co— atmosphere was electric and we marched President of CAMP Inc., moved that we take up William Street with arms linked and the name ‘Gay Solidarity Group’. chanting ‘Stop Police Attacks on Gays, We planned a morning march from Women and Blacks’. Town Hall to Martin Place and a forum at As we reached the El Alamein Fountain Paddington Town Hall on the international in Kings Cross, we started to disperse. But by gay and lesbian movement. Two weeks then, hundreds of police had surrounded us, before 24 June, people from CAMP Inc. blocking off every exit and side street. Now suggested we add a night—time, fun event numbering 2,000 people, marchers and for our community. Kings Cross locals fought back against the 8
vicious police attack. Some protesters were seriously bashed, many were thrown bodily into police wagons and 53 were arrested and taken to Darlinghurst Police Station. The rest of the marchers gathered outside and started organising bail money and medical assistance. We sang the US Civil Rights anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’ and arrestees in the cells could hear us. While police had previously arrested marchers at LGBTIQ demos since the early 1970s, the scale and violence of their actions that night was a watershed for our community. Many groups and individuals and the Gay Solidarity Group coalition came together for a massive political and legal effort – the Drop the Charges campaign. But the police continued to arrest us: 26 June – 300 protested outside the closed court in Liverpool St with 7 arrested 15 July – 2,000 take part in largest ever gay rights march with 14 arrests 27 August – 300 march down Oxford St from the 4th National Homosexual Conference with 104 arrests The total arrested in the June, July and August period was 178.
Mardi Gras: Today, Tomorrow, and Forever The first Mardi Gras led to an upsurge of activism. Gay rights became a broader political issue. We were campaigning for our democratic right to protest. And we were campaigning against police powers – a big issue in NSW. In these early Mardi Gras, we were publically asserting our human rights and our democratic rights. From the start we were doing this with satire, with costumes and fabulousness, with camp humour and comment on social and political issues. All which have become hallmarks of the Sydney
Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, particularly the Parade, is a public signal of solidarity with LGBTIQ people feeling the impact of homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia in their families, in their communities, schools, and workplaces. We continue to fight for the rights of all LGBTIQ people and people of diverse sexualities and genders. At a time of world—wide climate, economic and health crises, we are ruled by monsters – Trump, Xi Jinping, Modi, Netanyahu, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orban, BoJo and ScoMo. They are united around sexism, homophobia, jingoism, racism, ecocide, profits, and eliminating democratic rights. In the world of 2020, just as in 1978, our fate as queers depends on our ability to fight alongside others – in Sydney, in Australia, globally – for health, peace, freedom and equality.
Who are the 78ers? It wasn’t until 1997 that a small group of people from the 1978 events came together to plan our commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Mardi Gras parade in 1998. This group became known as the 78ers and since 2005 has led each year’s Mardi Gras Parade behind the First Nations float. The 78ers are the participants in the events that took place in 1978 that include: The first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade on June 24th, 1978 Protest at Darlinghurst and Central Police Stations, 25th June 1978 Protest at Central Court Sydney, 26th June 1978 March from Martin Place to Darlinghurst Police Station, 15th July 1978 March to Taylor Square and Hyde Park, 27th August 1978. 9
Along the rainbow road We march
Mardi Gras Talia Szekely
The city halts Colour waves from every window And the air quivers with liberation Tonight Is a night When a painted face Can be oneâ€™s most honest face A night full of love And other drugs We reach the square And dance in the streets
Illustration by Anne Leven-Marcon
The next morning The town is still covered in paint. 11
Illustration by Shania Oâ€™Brien
Pink Bans, Pits, and Perverts
In August of 2016, the Australian Council of Trade Unions formally voted to endorse marriage equality. The decision followed years of campaigning within the Australian union movement by queer activists and rank-and-file union members. That such campaigning was needed was itself an indictment on the ACTU and the overly influential role that the conservative Shop, Distributive, and Allied Employees Union played in the internal politics of the union movement. It is an unfortunate truth that for some time, the union movement in
Australia was not an ally of the movement for marriage equality. But this was not always the case of the union movementâ€™s relation to struggles for queer rights. Particularly in Australia, the queer liberation movement often had a reliable ally in more radical strains of the union movement, those not dominated by the conservative Catholic hangover of anti-Communism. This solidarity comes quite naturally. Many queer people are, in fact, workers, and the work of unions is to protect the rights
of workers – whether in the workplace, in the streets, or in the sheets. But even more fundamentally, the solidarity extended to queer people is merely an extension of one of the core tenets of the union movement: that equality should be extended to all people, and that equality is union business. Such solidarity has been of exceptional strategic importance to the queer liberation movement since its conception. The union movement, with its political and industrial clout, has been able to create powerful wins for the queer liberation movement when it has thrown its shoulder behind the wheel. One such example is that of the pink bans at Macquarie University. In 1973, Jeremy Fisher was a young, gay man living at Robert Menzies College, an Anglican residence at Macquarie, when the Dean of the college discovered he was gay. The Dean insisted that Jeremy either attend conversion therapy, or face expulsion from the college. Coming from rural New South Wales, Jeremy didn’t have anywhere else to go; either he stayed at college, or he was out on the street. Students protested the decision, arousing the interest of the Builders Labourers Federation. Led by Communist Party member Jack Mundey, the BLF was one of the most militant unions in Australian history. Throughout the 1970s, the BLF led several ‘green bans,’ refusing to work on developments that would harm Sydney’s built environment. By refusing to work on developments they deemed socially irresponsible, the BLF were able to preserve dozens of culturally and environmentally significant sites in Sydney, including public parks and housing. At Macquarie, they led the world’s first pink ban — industrial
action in defence of queer rights. With much of Macquarie still under development – Robert Menzies College residents had to use a separate building’s dining hall as theirs was under construction – the pink ban was crippling to the University. Jeremy was allowed to stay. Similar actions also occurred in unions less radical than the BLF. In 1976, Terry Stokes, a gay PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, was found by a police officer kissing his boyfriend in the street, and charged with loitering with homosexual intent. Terry was expelled from the University’s graduate house, prompting outrage from activists in the community. Among the actions taken — ‘kiss-ins’ and statements from the student union – was a stop-work meeting by workers in the University cafeteria. The workers’ union, the Liquor and Allied Trades Union, called for Terry to be reinstated. Once again, Terry was allowed to stay. These actions were not borne out of a particularly radical understanding of sexuality. It’s unlikely that the builders labourers downing tools on Robert Menzies College were doing so out of any passionate opposition to homophobia. Jack Mundey himself conceded that many of his union’s members weren’t ‘supporters of the rights of gays’1 – and yet they were willing to exercise their industrial power to rescue young gay men like Jeremy from homelessness. Part of this was due to a simple distinction between right and wrong; Jeremy, in one interview2, said of the workers in the BLF, ‘All they cared about was people getting a 1 2
Trades Hall Sydney 2017. Dalton 2017. 13
fair go, and they didn’t see my situation as getting a fair go.’ Another contributing factor was that a coalition based on shared struggles had already been built. Student activists at Macquarie – led by Jeff Hayler, a friend of Jeremy’s and a fellow member of the Gay Liberation Club – had long had a relationship with unionists due to their shared opposition to Apartheid and the Vietnam War. This relationship of trust and solidarity meant that, even without much stake in Jeremy’s circumstances beyond a recognition that it was unjust, workers came together to save him from eviction. This history of solidarity between unions and queer liberation groups is best exemplified by the work of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM). During the 1983-84 Miners Strikes in Britain, the National Union of Mineworkers became trapped in a protracted conflict with the Conservative Thatcher government over Thatcher’s attempts to close coal pits across Britain. Due to the length of the strike, many mining communities were destitute, and depended on support from the community to stay afloat. LGSM formed to fundraise for the mining communities, beginning a longstanding relationship of mutual support. LGSM fundraised extensively for the miners,
culminating in a 1984 fundraising concert called ‘Pits and Perverts.’ Once again, the solidarity queer activists displayed for workers was returned; the National Union of Mineworkers became staunch advocates for queer rights. Queer people and workers share the same struggle for a just society. All too often, they share the same enemies – it’s quite possible that the same police officers that arrested 78’ers at the first Mardi Gras would have arrested Jack Mundey during the green bans. When queer activists and unionists are packed into the back of the same paddywagon, it becomes a lot clearer that solidarity between the queer liberation movement and the union movement is not just desirable, but necessary. While the queer community have made immense strides, we still lack much of the power needed to fundamentally change society – similar to how the union movement, weakened by consistent assaults by right-wing governments, needs all the help it can get. There is, put simply, no workers liberation without queer liberation, and vice versa. All it takes is for us as queer activists and as workers, to muster solidarity and resistance — in our workplaces, in the streets, and in the sheets.
References: Trades Hall Sydney (2017). Unions and gay liberation 1970s: the pink bans. Trades Hall Sydney, 22 August. https://tradeshallsydney.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/unions-and-gayliberation-1970s-the-pink-bans/ Dalton, Angus (2017). The man behind the pink ban, Grapeshot, 15 November. https:// grapeshotmq.com.au/2017/11/man-behind-pink-ban/
a im x a M a c c e M t a h tc u Idiot B Jocelin Chan
Just an idiot butch seeking makeup for girls loitering in the shelves feeling like a fake girl. Raking through plastic packs of shit with sleazy names: calling an eyeshadow palette Naked, like the girls in corporate male fantasies who cake it on. YouTube says you can get your face baked. A shop girl’s explaining how to wear eyeshadow for my sake. She knows I know nothing, I’m such an opaque girl, sweaty and headachey under the hot shop lights. Polite smile on, but I just wanna shake this girl. Quaking cos two tiny trifles cost fifty bucks; fuck it, here’s my fuckin’ money, just take it, girl.
& my boyfriend says Amy Wang & my boyfriend says i might leave him for a girl & / i think / just for a second / maybe heâ€™s right maybe he always has been / right down there / in the stomach of the sea / see it? your virgin smile & an apple that still drips underwater / can you taste it on your chin / ? all the boys i have kissed laugh / in the same moment & i swallow my cry / & a heaped teaspoon of white carnations / to help the medicine go down / chew them / all teeth / until they look like bile & feel like / me / wrapped in a body / i never wanted to be in / isnâ€™t it funny how i run through hallways chasing the idea of it / still / duct tape myself to dissociating daydreams / ask myself why / i let it happen / hide all the mirrors / still feel like maybe people can touch me / too easily / still feel like maybe a body is too / real / maybe i should bathe in berberine & pumpkin seeds & wormwood / stop eating pity / stop complaining there are too many / not-me / things that have been inside this body / stop being / so fucking parasitic because is this the kind of life / i want to be drowning / in? a rhododendron / spits / when it sees me & i think maybe i should just
go / home.
Illustration by Annie Zhang 16
“What Do You Do When No One’s Watching?” Bonnie Huang @localbonbon @queenoasalad
TRANScendence through heeled footwear
Illustration by Amelia Mertha
Drag is the most elevated and transgressive form of fashion that intertwines with performance art. Clothing, footwear, and makeup are surface-level signifiers that are underpinned by socially accepted understandings of gender, culture and class. In a media-saturated society, where we often donâ€™t believe something until we see it, the inherent performativity and visual nature of fashion can become a conduit to reaffirm our identities to others in a tangible way. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler uses drag as an extreme example of gender performativity, illustrating how â€œtrue gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodiesâ€?.1
exaggerated performance that radically disrupts social norms. As a non-binary person, my initial participation in drag allowed me to fully immerse myself in gender performativity, subsequently rediscovering my femininity and displaying a feminine appearance more comfortably under a pretence of performance. Through my journey with drag, and my immersion in its radical defiance through fashion and visual culture, I have gained a deeper awareness of my own gender identity and expression.
The power of self-expression through outward appearance prompts a sense of Drag adopts and contorts socially transcendence as it allows for an immediate understood gender signifiers into an 1 20
Butler 1990, 186.
transference of what is experienced within to the exterior. In drag, the conscious decision to wear something is revealed as an inherently performative act for the audience of our surroundings as well to satiate our inherent desire to be understood by ourselves and others. My experience with fashion and physical appearance is heavily entangled with being non-binary, and thus it causes both euphoria and dysphoria. How I present myself to others can alter their perception of me and provide more visual cues. That being said, non-binary people don’t owe onlookers performances of androgyny. Though liberating, clothing can easily become constricting in a heteronormative world dominated by heterosexual and cis-gender ways of being. In presenting yourself as a visual spectacle, particularly in an exaggerated way that draws upon an act of imagination, you gain deeper access to self-identity, whilst allowing onlookers a better understanding of who you are. This manifests particularly in my own journey with drag.
popular culture and media that are rooted in a binary understanding of gender. This is reflected in the mainstream reality show and drag competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is often people’s entry-point into the drag world. The show persistently reinforces binary ideology and violent transphobia through false inclusivity that is only limited to cis-gendered men and trans people who haven’t started transitioning as contestants. This becomes an apparatus that, whether inadvertently or not, enacts violence and reinforces colonialism, misogyny and transphobia.
As someone who was assigned female at birth (AFAB), performing drag has been much more palatable to my conservative Asian family. To them, it doesn’t seem like sacrilegious defiance of the normative binary structures of gender. To them, it’s just my ‘weird art.’ To them, my sudden delve into makeup, dresses and high heels, is merely an acceptance of womanhood – where I’m finally learning how to dress up and look ‘presentable,’ after having worn bland and androgynous clothing during puberty. That was until I started exploring Drag is often understood through more masculine imagery, which caused binary categories of the ‘drag queen,’ ‘drag confusion and negative reactions. king’ and ‘bio queen,’ which is continually reinforced by mainstream portrayals of Growing up, my Chinese mother drag in the media. There is a well-worn would enforce gendered beauty ideals on preconceived notion that drag is merely me, guided by what society thought was female impersonation by the cis-gendered desirable in women. I was told to shave, male, but, historically, drag has never been to get rid of my light moustache, to wear limited to this or to impersonating ‘the dresses, to have long hair, to have glassopposite gender’ with conviction. Trans like skin and to laser off my prominent people have always performed drag and mole. Through drag, I have been able to make up a large part of the community. accentuate these seemingly undesirable The one-dimensional image of drag has features – emphasising my mole, drawing been perpetuated by power structures in more moustache hair and pairing hairy 21
armpits with flowy dresses. Personally, the visual curation of my appearance and my participation in extreme gender performances is a continued rejection of the binary. The art form allows me to manifest along the spectrum of my gender identity and its varying ultimate forms, prompting a feeling of transcendence from societal expectations. Though there are many elements to the art form of drag, I would like to discuss heels, a universal commodity that is now a cultural symbol. The heeled shoe was initially a utilitarian and masculine object, tracing back further than the 16th century in Persia2, where soldiers wore them to secure their feet in horse stirrups. Adopted by the European aristocrats to signify their status, the elegance and changing beauty conventions of the 18th century3 further modified it into a feminine fashion object. There is significant irony in how a shoe originally created for practical-use and for men to assert dominance, is now perceived as a feminine item of clothing. Wearing heels is now understood as the epitome of being a ‘woman’ – whatever that implies in a largely cishet world. The heel is a cultural symbol of femininity, confidence, sexuality, and power.
that declares the presence of the wearer. There is untamed excitement in subjecting oneself to discomfort and deliberately defying the ironic gender stereotypes attributed to clothing – particularly resonant to 2019’s Met Gala theme: ‘Notes on Camp.’ The choice to put on a pair of heels is ultimately a declaration of confidence no matter who is wearing them. It can be an assertion of femininity or a deliberate act to defy the gender stereotypes that have been attributed to clothing in the contemporary age. Additionally, the cultural ties to eroticism in the restrictive footwear perpetuate the expression of confidence and sexuality, with heels being essential to the attire of strippers, fetish models, and dominatrices. By wearing heels, one is able to transcend – staggering over your surroundings and looking at everyone from above, the height gives way to power.
When I started drag, I could not deny the feeling of untamed excitement and liberation that ebbed within me, finally able to wear things that’d normally made me feel dysphoric or uncomfortable being seen in. Growing, and moving forward in my journey with drag, I have begun to play with gender stereotypes and portray an entirely different The implications of wearing heels persona with, both, hyper-feminine and transcend beyond just being a symbol of hyper-masculine gender expressions. femininity. Due to its cultural implications, wearing heels has become an embodiment Outside of drag, my footwear generally of self-confidence. Any clothing item is an consists of sandals, platforms and boots. expression and declaration of self. However, Putting on a pair of heels is the final touch heels add an auditory element to its visual in my drag look that allows transcendence attributes – creating a visceral experience to occur. The sensation is so disparate and 2 3 22
Kremer, 2013. Bossan & Brimacombe, 2012.
removed from my daily life that it ultimately embodies an expression of fantasy. Through putting on heels, a microcosm of the process of drag, I am able to comfortably declare my presence and experience the confidence that I used to be less inclined to feel in real life due to being embroiled with self-doubt and fears surrounding my non-binary identity being invalidated. Since, I have become more comfortable with asserting my presence and being seen in clothing that could be deemed ‘too feminine’ for someone non-binary. Through an exacerbated selfexpression of both femininity and masculinity, I am able to comfortably appreciate the spectrum of gender identity as a non-binary person. In my wigs and heels, I am not me. Or perhaps I am the most exaggerated version of myself, and yet, I feel an undeniable sense of authenticity.
through the process of putting on heels and the rest of my drag look that I can transform into various exaggerated caricatures and connect with others who are engaged in the art form. There is nothing like bonding over the extreme pain we are all in, as we walk in outrageously tall shoes and five pairs of stockings with glitter thrown all over. It provides a safe and fun environment that is so far removed from the binary world, allowing our community to transgress it’s ridiculous and pressing structures whilst unapologetically engaging in visual excess.
Doing drag has been instrumental to my growing acceptance of myself. The heel is only a small part of it, but is emblematic of the consuming and painful process that bears incredibly life-affirming results. Through drag, I’ve been able to find people on the same wavelength as me, express my identity and emotions in ways I’d never have The discomfort that comes with imagined, extend my artistic ability, allow reinventing my existence and recreating myself the space to exist loudly and find my gender expression paves way for support with my gender identity. transcendence and affirmation. It is
References Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble : Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Taylor and Francis. Kremer, William (2013). Why did men stop wearing high heels? BBC News, 25 January. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21151350. Bossan, Marie-Josèphe, & Brimacombe, Rebecca. (2012). The art of the shoe. Parkstone International.
Sầu riêng / 榴蓮 / Durian Sally Chik
It was a warm Sunday afternoon. We went to the fruit markets in Cabra to buy durian for my mother. I didn’t plan it but I was going as a queer Australian-Chinese woman. I was born overseas but Australia is the place that I love as my home. I went to the shops as a person in love with an Australian-born Chinese-Vietnamese woman, a real Aussie they would say. Or maybe I was going to the market as someone pretending not to be queer. I’m not sure whether it matters where we were from as long as we looked like we fit in. It had been a long time since my mother had durian fresh instead of frozen from a little plastic container from the back of the fridge of an Asian grocery shop. I held my girlfriend’s hand tightly as we slipped through the crowds. There were people yelling in Vietnamese. Old ladies shoved me aside to grope the sweet mangoes. I held on even as the people flowed around us disapprovingly, counting on passing as friends or sisters. We decided on a durian, a medium-sized one that smelled sweet from metres away. ‘I give you a special price, thirteen dollars a kilo,’ the man said, ‘I just want to go home.’ I took it because the discount of two dollars per kilo was too good to resist. My girlfriend laughs, teasing me because frugality is a reminder of our shared Asian heritage. Where I live, she complains that it’s so clean that it barely counts as a ghetto. At the counter, my girlfriend translated Vietnamese into Cantonese. I reply in quiet Cantonese before thanking her in English. I know my Cantonese has a foreigner’s accent. ‘Speak Chinese more often!’ the man interjects, jokingly, in the way people do to disguise opinions they really mean. ‘Thanks for the durian, it was the best one I’ve had in a long time,’ my mother tells me in Cantonese, smiling.
Illustration by Jess Friedman @jessfriedman_art 24
“Bloom” Jess Zheng
notes on dying jc. all these dreams start the same way. unlit roads, sexless bodies, our organs long replaced by flowers. your lips shaped like prayers to a god you no longer believe in, your mouth full of lies you have told and have yet to tell, lies you have stopped choking down. burning eyes, stars melding into the night sky. the moon, full and round with swallowed light, bloats and expands, blurring its edges, blurring you. i am pressed against your hands when you say you want to pry the ribcage of your love apart, to snap those bird-like bones, to devour them whole, to use their flesh and blood to fill in the hollowness of your own. sex as a cannibalistic act. the pier is full of water, our headlights look like fireflies. i read you poems, wondering if this is love, if this is it. i detach and reattach my hands until they do not tremble. i wish i knew how to write poetry when you ask me how much love it takes to drown a person, i wish my lungs werenâ€™t waterlogged with the fluid of my motherâ€™s womb. (i think i have been in love with every single friend i have ever had.) our corpses have been witnessing their own bloom for quite a while now. there is a moth where your mouth used to be. and perhaps when i say i think i wanted this to be a tragedy, i already knew this was not that kind of story.
The Glitch: A reflective piece on growing up bisexual & female Ava Lansley Frogs. Spiders. Uncomfortable laughter. Dark lipsticks and obscure haircuts. Somehow loud, booming – but awkwardly takes up space with hands lying protectively across stomachs. A sudden reflex of domineer – robust, hands on hips. Then, progressively turning inward to folded arms. A strong, sharp, masculine outburst. In my adulthood, I have developed a more acute sense to sniff out my own kind in a crowded room. No more than 30cm long. Bangs if they are confident. Wide legged step; strong stride. Who is talking so loudly? Bows, glitter, black boots, dye, thick eyeliner. Wearing such extremities of femininity, it looks more like a costume than an outfit. Aliens dressing like they have only learnt about womanhood in a classroom without ever seeing a canonistic female in real life. Ha-Ha. Ha! Me too. I enjoy the males. The straight ones scare me though. Yes, I also learnt about the sexual sensuality and vulnerability of men through leather, Bear-on-Otter gay fiction Reddit threads. You smell nice, fellow girl with beautiful skin. Can we live together in a cottage somewhere in the French Alps? That’s one of ‘em. The outcome of a Google Bot collecting and analysing every Raphaelite portrait, Wiccan beginner’s kit, Wollstonecraft essay, Tumblr soft porn GIF, Foucault piece, Freud meme, Sylvia Plath poem and then, throwing together a conceptual collage on Microsoft Paint. Yep. Bi girl. Yep. There’s the glitch. Whether written unapologetically all over her body or exposed ever so slightly in her tone, her laugh or the way she looks a little too deeply into my eyes. She is definitely a little gay, a little queer, a little broken. I never noticed how obvious my sexuality was until my boyfriend described me as “closest to a man without having a penis”. But I wear dresses! Albeit, extreme awkwardly 27
coloured, floral Amishesque frocks. But I engage in feminine activities! That being, knitting scarfs for my cat and crocheting handkerchiefs like an 18th century widow. Wait, I like men, though! Yes, I do. But… I like them tied up. Frilly pink panties adorned in leather strap buckles with gaping mouths. But I have heterosexual, normal woman friends! Yes, I do. But. We get drunk. They want to do what straight, fun, bouncy girls do. ‘Let’s kiss!’ they exclaim. ‘Do you want to see my new dress on?’ ‘Let’s go dance with those guys,’ they giggle. ‘How big is his dick?’ ‘Let’s play naked poker!’ There is always some sort of disconnect. An error. Some sort of glitch which exposes me. My Echt rose-pink gym tights, Chris Hemsworth obsession and Tommy Hilfiger bralette slips away, and my rawness is seen. I like to watch my friends unravel, open up – showing me their mischief. Showing me their crude femininity, their skin, their power. Animalism. We have fun and for a moment they forget my glitch, my error. But, this will not last. It never does. My phone reads 4:57AM. Their eyes refocus. The outlines of my oddly shaped mask reform sharper, clearer under the faint blues and foggy violets of the early morning light. I feel perverse, deviant, voyeuristic, ashamed. Because I know that they are whole, and I have that glitch. And when all the champagne, sour piss, pills and corner-streetstumbling fades away, they will remember that I am merely a performer. An imposter who loosely tapes her normality on and holds it up nervously – fidgeting. A glass half full. A glass half empty. The subjectivity of perception. Of the pessimist and of the optimist. Half this. Half that. Am I half straight? My mother would scoff nervously and relay back to her memories of me, 6 years old, infatuated with the race car girls’ large breasts and beautiful skin. Each time she caught me with my cousin’s XXX posters she would relay back “oh, she is just an obsessive girl, that’s all!” Society’s voice calls clearly and loudly on the warning signs of gayness in sons, but what of the ever-so-slight queerness in daughters? Am I half gay? My ex boyfriends would shrug indifferently, holding up a portrait of me endlessly pestering them for more sex. If I am bisexual, why do I only watch homosexual BDSM porn? Am I a gay dom-top C&B torturing, latex pig who was simply born into a pale-skinned freckled introvert with reading glasses? I chuckle, throw the finger bang signs to myself in the mirror because selfdeprecating humour is the only method to ease such confusion. 28
Am I confused? No, I am not confused about my sexuality. I am confused by society’s perception of it. Its unsureness makes me unsure. Its distrust makes me doubtful. Its rejection makes me sceptical. Its sourness, cynical. The piercing white torchlight it holds into my quaking eyes: ‘How much do you like pussy?’ ‘Do you watch women’s soccer?’ ‘How many lesbian-feminist writer conferences have you visited?’ ‘Do you have your coffee black?’ I just wish I could exit this fucking room already and go piss, officer. Disassociation. Contempt. There is a stronger sense of resentment and despair that comes with bisexuality when both teams on the field distrust your authenticity. ‘Oh, that’s just what girls say to stay interesting to boys at parties.’ ‘Okay, girl. Sure. Keep convincing yourself you’re bi to seem different.’ ‘You’ll marry a man anyway.’ ‘Don’t lead gay women on like that.’ Which flag do I wave when both countries deem me foreign, oh countryman? Bisexuality is the ‘unread’ junk file. Rejected. Made illegitimate to exist amongst men and thought of as an unserious attempt to be alluring amongst women. Spam. I think from my own experiences, I have struggled a lot with validating my sexuality as real, particularly as a bisexual woman. Whilst gays have a pressure to mask, bisexuals have a pressure to perform. Come on, lion. Dance. Jump through the fire. Kiss her to prove it. Not anymore, Ringmaster. I am packing up my furs, my coat and my gloves and retreating back to the wilderness. To the unknown, the dark large ferns that hide covert sexual sensualities. To the endless foliage-dense jungles of curiosity, exploration and cheekiness. To the wet, warm and steaming crevices amidst the forest floors. Irregular, ambiguous, indefinable, shadowed. That is where I belong. So, that is where I will go. With such reflection, I have articulated the many irritating ailments of confusion and doubt that plague the lives of bisexuals. However, despite such annoyances, it still remains an honour to be not only bisexual, but to be a proud, bisexual woman. I am no less a woman than my femme friends, no less worthy of the flag than my gay warriors, and no less heteronormative than my straight counterparts. I am simply the Allan’s party mix. And so, I conclude my reflective piece with simple advice for any bisexuals (particularly, bisexual women) reading this: you are as equally valid as any other colour in the flag, you are normal and your internal experiences are legitimate enough as proof to yourself of who you are. You may have the glitch, but bitch, you are not broken.
“No, he’s totally the bottom!”: the Erasure of Gay Sex’s Fluidity in Modern Social Media Thomas Israel In our world, homosexual relationships are assimilated into the parameters of heteronormative relationships for the purpose of humour. I speak from the perspective of a gay, 21-year-old man. I am fronting this claim with specific reference to top/bottom discourse within popular social media platforms TikTok and Twitter, themselves centred around meme-culture and humour. On these platforms, I have borne witness to gay male sex, and the roles within it, lose all sense of potential fluidity in favour of mimicking the dominant-man/ subordinate-woman binary associated with heterosexual sex. In a media-focused world where queerness is much more widely accepted, we face a new threat. The liberatory possibilities of queerness are dwindling under the shadow of ‘progressive’ – yet simultaneously heteronormative – humour perpetuated by both us queers and a younger heterosexual audience. First to be tackled is the male/female binary within heterosexual sex, from which this essay’s concerns stem. Throughout heterosexist Western history – from ancient art to mythology, and modern pornography to Netflix shows – there have existed key trends depicted in heterosexual sex. The male is stereotypically a masculine, dominant force partaking in the penetration of a feminine 30
woman, submissive under the man’s control. American academic Cvetkovich reinforces the existence of this stereotypical image, stressing penetrative sex – and thus heterosexual sex – commonly viewed as involving a masculine/active penetrator and feminine/passive penetrated. Turning to the realm of homosexual male sex, we breach into top/bottom discourse. In mainstream understanding, gay men — despite the fluidity of sexual practice and multi-faceted sexual identifications within the homosexual sphere — are dichotomised into being ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms.’ To simplify greatly, ‘tops’ refer to the penetrator, commonly assumed dominant, whilst ‘bottoms’ are the assumed submissive penetrated. By comparing these dichotomies — dominant straight male/ submissive straight female and dominant gay male/submissive gay male — we can see the parallels between them. Many readers would be recoiling at the stereotypes outlined above — cries of “Gay sex isn’t always like that!” and “Straight sex isn’t either!” and most importantly, “The two are not so similar!” can be heard — and this is correct. Gay and straight sex contain so much more nuance than the images presented of them thus far. They cannot be so simply paralleled. Yet, this is where the problem lies. Our modern social media, particularly those focused on meme-culture created and performed by our youth, fails to recognise this. In this media, gay sex and relationships have been, and will continue to be, equated with stereotypical heterosexual sex. Gay men have been dichotomised into tops and bottoms, the penetrator and the penetrated, dominant and submissive; nothing different and never one without the other. Why, you ask? Because the dominant,
most normative form of sex – heterosexual sex — stereotypically follows this binary structure. Gay sex has become an activity viewed through a looking-glass of the heterosexual matrix. Examples lie within ‘Gay Twitter,’ a sub-culture within Twitter itself. Jokes in this sphere consistently revolve around ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’; i.e. ‘you know he’s a top when he…’. It is within this discourse that homosexual men identifying as tops are behaviourally equated to the typical, often humorous image held of heterosexual men. That is: emotionally blunt and unavailable, oblivious, and often unhygienic. To elaborate, I have witnessed online gay and women communities poke fun at heterosexual men; jokes about their questionable clothing choices (knee-length cargo shorts, come on…), communication troubles, their hands perpetually down their pants. Yet, these days, it’s jokes like these that I’ve also seen directed at homosexual male tops. Gay male tops now share the butt of the joke as bad texters, bad dressers, oblivious to emotion — the whole works. It is as though homosexual tops are unable to be anything but the typical, humorously degradative image that we prescribed to heterosexual men. Nowadays, gay men identifying as ‘tops’ are, in the perspectives fronted in social media, almost parallel to heterosexual men. The two stereotypically penetrative, dominant parties are equated, and in this process – loosely speaking – we are removing the perceived ‘queerness’ of homosexual male tops.
have stared you in the face. Just this morning I watched a TikTok about a ‘bottom’ going home from the club with another ‘bottom’ without realising, only to find their Lana Del Rey vinyls and realise the ‘mistake’ he has made – that he, a bottom, has unknowingly gone home to have sex with another bottom. Queue the ‘Oh no! Whatever are we going to do!?’ moment. This seems like harmless humour, and to an extent it is, but if we look further we see the way heterosexual norms have seeped in. Removed is any recognition of the fluidity of gay sex; sex, in the context of this video, is apparently only possible with a dominant penetrator and submissive, penetrated party. Two bottoms can have sex — if you’re a gay man and practice intercourse, you already know this. However, to the wider audience of the world, gay male sex is yet again fronted as following the typical trend of heterosexual sex that has reigned supreme, and will continue on the same path. It’s as though there needs to be a dominant penetrator and subordinate penetrated – just like the normative image of heterosexual sex — and there’s no other way.
To top it all off, I want to highlight a popular TikTok I have noticed. Two girls, playing Guess Who, having a heated discussion about who is the top and bottom in Drarry (Harry Potter x Draco Malfoy). My answer to the girls’ debate is this; what does it matter? Why are you, all in all, so focused on who is the penetrator and the penetrated? Why does discourse around such arbitrary power dynamics in gay sex hold such a strong grip here? It must be said that this top/ Moving further, we have TikTok. Again, bottom debate is microcosmic, reflective of if you have ventured into the realm of ‘Gay a much larger trend that echoes throughout TikTok,’ the top/bottom discourse would the internet and modern social media. Two 31
male celebrities, characters, or icons are romantically paired together, and whoever is top/bottom is debated and discussed. Examples include famous drag queens Trixie Mattel x Katya Zamolodchikova, comic book superheroes Batman x Robin, Youtubers Daniel Howell x Phil Lester, and any duo formed out of the One Direction members amidst that period of fanfiction. Gay men are having such binary, heterocentric identities forced onto them as fans — often young heterosexual women — hotly partake in the top/bottom debate. Lacking is the thought that Harry and Draco could both be dominant, could both be submissive, or could both be a mix of either and still not even partake in penetrative sex. Queer sex can be like that. Huh, who knew? Jokes, videos, and memes like these are everywhere once you begin to take notice of them and realise their damaging potential. Through these jokes – and their exposure to both queer and non-queer audiences – we perpetuate typified heterosexual sex as the norm from which queer sex is based off. I want to stress that the top/bottom discourse is not damaging in its totality, and does not need to be erased. Gay male sex commonly does include a top and a bottom, a penetrator and penetrated. This is normal, this is great. However, as gay male sex is represented as nothing but a top + bottom scenario featuring dominant penetration unto a submissive, penetrated party, queer sex’s fluidity is erased from the public eye. Gay sex assumes an image parallel to the stereotype of
heterosexual sex. This is a problem, for gay male sex is not just an experience of top/ bottom, nor is it a replication of typified heterosexual sexual roles. Gay male sex is its own realm of experience, activity, trials, tribulations, and good times. As gay sex has been unearthed from the hidden underground and blasted into the view of our modern world, I fear we are participating in suppressing – and allowing heteronormative communities to suppress — the image of gay sex broadcasted. Heteronormative audiences, in viewing commentary on our sex online, are seeing the typical, generalised image of their own sex replicated. Heteronormative audiences, particularly young audiences, then actively partake in perpetuating gay sex as needing to follow the heterosexual stereotype of a dominant penetrator and the submissive penetrated. To heterosexual audiences, seeing a penetrating top and a penetrated bottom is more easily understood, for it parallels their own hegemonic understanding of sex. However, gay sex can be — and commonly is — so different from that. It needn’t be so strict, and it is something much more fluid. This fluidity — this difference — is becoming lost to the knowledge of audiences. That is what is so fantastic about being queer; to be something different, and celebrating that. So, while we laugh at all the memes, let’s take care to not let our heteronormative world get the wrong idea of queer sex. We’re different from them, and we love that.
References: Cvetkovich, Ann. “Recasting Receptivity: Femme Sexualities”, in Lesbian Erotics (New York: New York University Press, 1995) 32
“The After Party” Lucy Thurston
i washed my bedsheets today the ones i changed right before you came over last time. i was whingeing to you about it, my mum nagging me to change them and i couldnâ€™t find fitted sheets
Fit Jocelin Chan
that were the right size for my bed. i had to macgyver a blanket cover: red tartan flannel. i had no blankets on my bed when you came over because they were out in the sun. you lay against the makeshift sheets your face open and mouth agape. for weeks after i could retrace your shape occupying my bed press my nose into my pillow knowing you left strands of hair but i washed those sheets today and maybe iâ€™ll find the correct fitted sheets in the linen cabinet.
Toxic Bodies Jacob Parker Ryan waited outside my apartment, fingers resting gently on his hips. The afternoon’s showers had ceased, leaving the air thick and the pavement wet. I wore my dressing gown, the plaid one with the holes around the edges and frayed sleeves and crusted stains from spilled food. The one I held onto, not because I particularly liked it or had any fond sentimental association, but because I had never bothered to buy another. As I let him in I tried to wear it with as much dignity as I could. He surveyed me with a critic’s eye as he would an artwork. How are you going? He scrutinised, unable or unwilling to hide the sympathy beneath the words and like that, the dignity that I had spent the afternoon summoning disappeared. “Sorry for the mess,” I ignored him. I turned away from him, gambling that the disrepair of the apartment would distract him from my own shabby mien. Pizza boxes and Thai takeaway containers and socks and a pair of underwear pushed into the corner of the studio; an unused laundry basket glared angrily at me. In truth I didn’t think it was too bad. Messier than usual, messier than when he had last been there. But I knew the standards Ryan had. My apology then was nothing more than a counterattack, a caveat to nullify his inevitable disdain. He ignored the mess. His eyes went to the wall instead, now painted a shade of yellow that at the time in the bright optimism of morning had screamed youthful happiness and now months later bared a closer resemblance to the hospital room of a dying child. Daily I would level to myself it worked, that it was kitsch. Camp. An ugly so ugly that it could be attractive and anything but the toxic spew that it was. And the painting. He would have noticed the painting the second he entered. 35
You’ve changed décor, Ryan noted. He ended his sentence with a faint click of the tongue and with a deliberate ambiguity to his thoughts. He worked professionally as a critic now, though if you had asked him he would say that was still a side business for his paintings. It would remain an unspoken secret between us that he was better critiquing art than making it, as I was better buying it than assessing it. That is to say, I had a keen eye for art in the sense that I was keen. “I did,” I replied simply. I turned the kettle on, pulling two mugs from the cabinet. He didn’t reply, relishing the art instead. He was keen to find out who had made it, where I had found it, who had recommended it to me, how much it cost. Keen to find out where the old paintings had gone, the ones that he had decided on to fit with the once teal wall. But when I looked away from the art, he was looking at me once more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in anything but a suit, he finally declared. Or at least a dress shirt. Or a polo. “Don’t think I’m fashionable?” I tried to laugh, twirling like a flamenco dancer in my dressing gown. The plaid is very Vivienne Westwood couture obviously, he replied coolly. The kettle whistled. He, of course, was dressed stylishly. “You’re looking as good as ever,” I confessed. Ripped jeans, a corduroy jacket. He had changed the way he styled his hair, the part shifted. He smiled and I couldn’t tell if it was happy or sardonic or any of the possible things. He had a gift in the way he could make a smile mean. The years are catching up to you, he breathed out. There was a punch in his voice. A jab. Testing the waters for what he could say, what would be acceptable. This is how we used to speak. Old man, he added cheekily. Once that would have been playful. Back when he was eighteen and I was twenty-nine. Back when the age gap was a tongue in cheek taboo for each of us. When I was the oldest friend he had, yet impossibly young in everything I did and he was irritatingly mature. Back when he would smoke my weed because he didn’t have a dealer of his own and steal my condoms because he didn’t want to buy his own in case his parents found them hidden in his room. We had agreed that nothing would happen, and he ensured nothing did, because he was mature in a way that I wasn’t. And it was better that way. But now ‘old man’ was real. A term of endearment cemented by the bags under my eyes and the looseness of my skin and the aches that my back made. It had been with great 36
reluctance that I had gone to a chiropractor for the first time and greater reluctance that I had admitted no real knowledge of the cause of my pain. “They are,” I admitted. It flashed across his eyes, the realisation. This was not going to be a back and forth, the humour had gone out. He had called me daddy once. Daddy. A mocking joke. I had just turned thirty and the descent into being not just older but old was one that I thought I would have the next decade to grow into. We had been laughing, or he had been laughing at me, or one or the other. I was part of that new rare precipice. The new old generation. The first generation of gay men to grow old. We didn’t get to grow old and yet in the morning the wrinkles cursed me. What’s happening? He asked with feigned casualty but he knew what was happening, otherwise I doubted he would have shown up. “I wanted to get your opinion on some art,” I finally relinquished. We both gave a moment to acknowledge and pay respects to the flagrant lie and then accepted it, moving over to the ugly wall. I bought this one a few months ago, I said as I presented a piece I thought he would like. The red lines stretching out like veins and hollow eyes staring back at me from a white glaze. The oils were thick and textured, gooped onto the canvas and traced like yarn. Each line connected to each other, stretching out in tentacles and forming connections, centring themselves in the most intense red circles that were dotted around. The veins formed the circles and the circles birthed the veins. He considered it in detail. Leaning in, blinking, letting it breathe. Potent, he decided on. In a few brief seconds he had come up with the word I had been struggling to find for months. We stayed looking at that painting, frozen in our own glorious tableaux waiting for some wandering artist to immortalise us in this brief moment. “What have you been doing?” I robbed him of the privilege of breaking the silence. I didn’t provide a time frame in my question, I didn’t want to limit him anyway. Just let him speak and I would listen, and I won’t stop listening. Work’s been alright. He remained fixated on the painting and I copied him, sneaking side glances out and seeking some approval that I was admiring the artwork correctly. He spoke about his work for sometime and I listened and when he finally paused I knew what was coming. I’m seeing someone new. I had known that of course, making the connection when the same man kept on appearing on his social media. Nice smile. His age, maybe a bit younger. Worked as a nurse. That part had surprised me, I’d always expected Ryan to end up with someone bigger than him – a bigger personality, someone famous or on the fringe. Humble had never been his 37
style back then. And… he continued. And he proposed. That I hadn’t known. But sure enough, there was a band on his finger. “Ah.” That’s all I said. All I really could say. He still didn’t look at me, still looking at the painting and those red crisscrossing lines which cut over each other like lashes on flesh. They didn’t just dominate the canvas, they domineered it. Of course there was some part of me that expected this. The part that knew the precocious boy I had known had outgrown the mould I had fitted for him. He’d outgrown it all. The tacky furniture, last night’s takeaway strung on the floor. Once he would come to this apartment to spend the night because he didn’t want to go home. Now he had a home of his own. One that was cleaner than this. We’d both grown yet it seemed bitterly unfair that he had grown up while I could only grow old. I wondered how he answered when people asked about me. About what happened between him and the old man he used to hang around. It had been unusual at first, but we had ended up close. He’d needed a figure, somebody to show him around, welcome him into this new world which he was so much a tourist of. Someone to reassure him that it was okay, to mentor him through it all and convince him that this wasn’t as bad as he thought it was. It wasn’t a death sentence; it wasn’t a punishment. He’d needed me. I’d needed him as well. The first time we’d slept together he was twenty. He didn’t speak to me for a week after. He had wanted it and then we were finished, he left wordlessly. And then he had shown up a week later and wordlessly we repeated the cycle. It took a bit for us to start talking again, longer to start acknowledging what was happening. Slowly we would go out together. To exhibitions. To movies. To birthday dinners and drinks and Christmas parties. We never spoke of what it was. He got room in my closet and chose new paintings for the wall. I went to his graduation. And then he left but this time didn’t return. He would later say that I had used him. That he was too young. That what we had was toxic and that we would never grow or change together. That he loved me but that wasn’t enough and how could he trust in love that had started the way this had, an argument I had no rebuttal to. “Does he know you’re here tonight?” I probed, unable to stop myself. He still looked straight ahead but his eyes faltered. 38
I told him I was visiting a sick friend. He said. He was correct, in the most technical sense. We never blocked each other; we never had a big blow-up. We simply moved from whatever we had been back to acquaintances. I would like his posts and he would like mine back. When I had posted about the cancer online my messages had been flooded with concern and personal anecdotes. Platitudes and prayers. He hadn’t messaged but he had liked the post, which was reassuring, because I’d only posted it for him to see. Everyone else I cared about I had messaged. And I’d held off on messaging him until this morning, when I invited him over for the first time in over two years. “I start the process tomorrow,” I began to explain. Chemo. “Apparently, I can’t see anyone during that time, only essential people. Weakened immune system and all.” That’ll be rough, he replied. “The good part is they caught it early. Like super early. Stage one is rare for bowel cancer, I just got lucky.” Bet you feel lucky, he chuckled and I laughed deeply like I hadn’t done since he left. “Thanks for coming,” I let out a small sigh and a smile and he smiled sadly with me. “I’m going to be broken down and rebuilt back up again. And I know I’ll be alright but it’s still a lot.” Of course. I moved away from the canvas to the kitchen, taking two teabags and placing them in the mugs, pouring the hot water on top of them. You know, Ryan spoke behind me. I could tell he was looking at me now. When he, my uh, fiance proposed to me… I, um... hesitated. Like I couldn’t say yes immediately. I had this great guy; this perfect guy and it didn’t matter. I didn’t deserve it, or I didn’t want it or. He faltered. Or just I never expected it. And even after I said yes, I expected something to go wrong, for him to retract his proposal. Or to change his mind. Or for me to do something to fuck it up. “I know what you mean.” Once more I was the artwork and he was scanning me for any hidden meanings and depths and he knew that I was being honest. He must have known that I was talking about 39
him but he said nothing, taking the tea gratefully. So what do you think of your painting? What do you see in it? He nodded towards the stretching landscape of abstract circles. “I’m not the critic.” I want to know what you think it is. I looked at the painting. I tried to look at it the way he would, the way he could look at and through paintings and people and see them with a skilful artistry. “I see spores. Toxic spores, reaching out and corrupting and subsuming.” I allowed myself the melodrama even if it was just for the moment, revelling in the way he listened to me. “I see it corroding and eating away at it.” Interesting. He stood next to me, sipping his tea and considering it. See... I see flesh? You know, the gaps of white in between the red. And it’s melding back together. Healing. Regrowing and rebuilding. The red lines? They’re reaching out and connecting, sewing sinew together and covering up the wound. He didn’t wait for my validation as I had eagerly sought his, though I could sense the insecurity in his voice. His hand brushed against mine gingerly, his body pressed against my back. You know, he spoke in a low voice, a whispering murmur. I can stay here. Keep you company if you want. He spoke like he didn’t know that there was nothing else I wanted more. He had known my intention when I had invited him here and he had come anyway. And now... “I think you should go home before it gets too cold,” I whispered with a nod, feeling his gaze falling on me as I stared solely at the painting. “But thank you,” I added, conscious not to seem ungrateful. A pause. That’s probably for the best isn’t it. He finished his tea with a gulp, placing the mug on the countertop as he looked around the studio. It feels weird being back here, he admitted. It feels similar but different. You know? I looked at him. 40
“Yeah, no. I know.” Except for this wall, he remarked and I couldn’t help but laugh. I like it, it’s kitsch. A nice change. And the painting, the painting’s a good addition. “Thank you,” I didn’t allow myself to say anymore. Repairing flesh. I could sort of see it. He was already moving towards the door and I knew that if I allowed myself to speak I’d invite him to stay for the rest of the night. And I didn’t know if he’d say no. I hope you get better soon, he turned at the door, drinking the room in for one last time. Keep in touch okay? He spoke not knowing that this would be the last time we did. Or rather knowing it but refusing to acknowledge it. Letting it hang heavy between us. “I hope the wedding goes well,” I said, standing on the opposite side of the room. I didn’t invite myself and he didn’t invite me. After that night we would talk for a bit, messaging back and forth as I recovered. And then slowly we’d stop. Until one day I’d wake up and see that we weren’t friends online anymore and that final bond had been broken. We were severed, two random people floating in the world. It hurt for a moment, the moment I had waited for, for years finally catching up to me. All that I could see was his profile picture, the face of a man as old as I had been when we first met. Smiling. Happy. If his name hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have recognised it. I will, he gave an avuncular smirk as he stood by the door, seeing himself out as he had so many times before. It’s all going to be okay; you’ll get better soon enough. You just need to look after yourself okay? Promise me that. I smiled back at him. “Promise.”
“Collecting Self” Anne Leven-Marcon
In 1972, when I was just a young woman rolling hay bales in the countryside far away from here, Ralph Lauren attached the first pony and rider to his signature polo shirt. I think about this as Sandy McElbra struts down the college corridor, shoulders back, Ralph’s little horse bouncing up and down with the jiggle of her breasts. There is something about that little dancing pony: an assertive display of affluence coupled with the illusion of sex and mystery; all so look but you can’t touch. It’s a façade, though, because of course you can touch. As long as Sandy’s had enough red wine and you’ve just won intercollegiate rugby with a big bruise on your face to show for it. Bruises make for nice ice-breakers, and once you have escaped from the music outside, you will not feel suddenly aware of the confining silence, your impending sobriety, and the one single bed (which works well for you anyway, doesn’t it, you self-serving schmuck), but then she keeps running into that bruise on your face with her forehead and all you can do is laugh through the pleasure and the power and the pain. The next morning will see you down at the oval, a freshly mown spring morning, each chapter of your conquest punctuated by another meaty slap of the ball. Like the footy in your hands, you will throw the truth around, kick it, watch it cruise through the air, blocking out the sun, until it is caught by someone else. Now it is their turn. You boys are very good at this. * I am sitting in the garden, watching Mum clip at the flowers. You’re sixteen, she says, aggressively snipping at a rose bush. Really, just read a book. I am sitting on top of an upturned bucket, toes turned inwards, my feet warm on the bricks. It’s a summer afternoon and the shadows are beginning to lengthen over my mother’s hunched body. Her skirt is billowing gently in the breeze. From down the street I can smell sausages wafting in my direction, delicious and warm. The Rowses are having their usual Sunday barbeque. I like the Rowses and I would like to go. You like Tom Rowse. Mum, you’re wrong! Still hunched, she looks at me. Mum’s eyes are downturned and bloodshot as usual. 43
Her crow’s feet stretch down the sides of her cheeks and her mouth is small and dry and withered. The snipping starts again. I return to my room, flyscreen banging shut. I wonder how much Mum knows about me and Tom Rowse, and what happened in his barn. Because there is something, something that comes back to me when I hear one of his horses whinny in the morning, or when I see him on his bike pedalling into town from my bedroom window, or when I hear his father’s sausages sizzling and crackling with fat on the barbeque down the street. I slide open my window so that the smell might seep in for a bit longer. I want discontinuity, rupture; but where we live, silence is the rule. Maybe I am just excited by the novelty of it all. When I smell those sausages, I am taken back to that hot, sticky night and I try to conjure up some memory of joyful haphazardness but sometimes all I can think of are the mosquito bites and mild hay fever, itching. I want to yell unspeakable things out the window, I want to admit what I have done, but I know I won’t. I am bound like the rest of us are bound — to silence. Maybe Mum is right about some things. I pick up my book. * I would like to think that I have grown up since I was sixteen, but the horrible truth is that I am still as powerless as that girl who committed acts beyond description in the strawstrewn depths of Tom Rowses’s barn. I can’t fight those Neanderthal rugby boys and I can’t slap any good sense into Sandy because I am not her mother. The morning after, Sandy McElbra has woken up in her own bed. Unlike me, she is a real fortress, protected by fancy clothes and straight, silky hair and overt aggression. I wonder what she is trying to do. History will show that sex rarely functions well as a weapon. It can only further repress. Or expose. Sandy does not risk her dignity in some unfruitful protest against the patriarchy, rather, she tries to find value where there is only short-lived pleasure, and it’s not even for her, but for them. She picks up intimacy and throws it around like a tennis ball, then pretends not to wince every time the Neanderthals throw it back, more frayed and bruised than it was before. I am sitting with a book in my hand, and she is walking away with her boobs and her wealth, and something about that equation is unbalanced and fundamentally unfair. So, while I watch that little horse canter down the hallway on her chest and she catches me and gives me a dirty look, I might, just for today, fight the urge to shoot her one back. It’s not me she’s giving the dirty look to, after all. It’s me and this bloody book. 44
Obsession Amy Wang tea leaves wrung dry. never used again. the girl in the mirror & a basilisk glare. when did this become a hunting ground? my body is a sickle-sided tapeworm. i am taken out from deep inside of him. i am trough-beaten moth-eaten a girl thing. i exist in nice menâ€™s stares. life is a wading & the sea is always surging. i am malleable figurine born from clay. my body is a button-up shirt & dress pants. my body is a blazer & tie slouched on a makeshift rack. my body is a choking hazard unaware (or just afraid). i am worn & celebrated & dust mite home. Illustration by Amelia Mertha 45
After almost four years, I grip the familiar stickiness of her kitchen bench It annoys me anew I count dents in the laminate and days I spent with my hands gummed to this bench, talking and waiting for dinners Unhinged by sameness Dusty fake flowers, angled frames, rings from cups without coasters, unused diet plans tacked to the pantry door her calm — her eyes on the floor, then unflinchingly on mine, then on the floor, feet swinging from a high stool, even breaths her body — every curl in her hair, each line, the way her shirts drape and cling, the skin around her nails, her knuckles, her palms arguing and how she says she hates it, thumbing through dirt, the ardour, the faith, and yelling to win and the push and pull But, after almost four years, it was still. Winter’s stale breath tucked away with ours and I scramble in the ache of feeling at home here.
After Almost Four Years Victoria Cooper
Untitled Elsiena Ten Kate @Elsienatenkate
Femininity and its Perception of Passivity in Sexual Intercourse Jenna Lorge Femininity and passivity are inherently linked within our society due to its patriarchal culture which produces misogynistic attitudes. This is most prevalent through the vocabulary we use around, and the meanings we place on, sexual acts we associate with women. Although it is deeply embedded within our narratives, engaging with ideas of receptivity and active vulnerability allow new perspectives to arise that overshadow femininity’s implicit link with passivity. I have experienced this association throughout my life. The prevailing idea in the media, which is mirrored within casual discussions between people, is simple: the woman’s role in sexual intercourse is to have her clothes taken off, lie back, and be fucked. No part of this describes women as actively involved. They are merely the other body necessary for the interaction to proceed. A primary aspect of the feminine experience is wherein a woman’s ‘place’ and the roles she fills within society are defined by the men she is associated with. The historical need for women to marry young as a means to acquire wealth and property is an easily observable example. This dependence is evident in the practice of a woman’s title changing according to her marital status (e.g. the use of Ms. for an unmarried woman and Mrs. once they are
wed). Our world is designed for men, from the sizes of spacesuits and mobile phones to the temperature offices are set at, women are rarely placed at the forefront. Binaries, the distinctive categories created by society that place two things as relating to but distinct from each other (male/female, weak/strong), map the bodies of partners into a dichotomy of giver/receiver and active/passive. Within discourses around sexual intercourse, positions that are perceived to be feminine are seen as passive — and thus so are the women who engage in them. These differences in positions are often emphasised to be the result of biological sex, the key characteristics being genitalia and hormones. This system of gendering is adhered to in western cultures in order to place meaning on bodies and fit them into socially acceptable categories. But this ‘natural’ binary of male/female is easily dismantled, as not all individuals fit neatly into these boxes such as those who are non-binary, intersex or going through hormonal shifts such as menopausal women. Additionally, traits that are negatively associated with women within Western culture (such as wearing makeup and liking the colour pink) were once seen as signs of masculinity within early Christian European culture. The flipping of characteristics between feminine and masculine highlights the arbitrary nature of these gender classifications. their use in the creation of sexual hierarchies is thus evidently flawed. Despite the ability to be dismantled, these binaries have the powerful ability to dictate how one is perceived and the roles placed on them within society, and sex!
Penetration and Feminisation A way in which this association is highlighted is through the feminisation of being ‘fucked.’ There is an inherent assumption that in order to be receiving, the subject must either ‘be passive or be rendered passive when penetrated’1. The act of penetration has a historically powerful connection to passivity, with the subject labelled as feminine and placed in a binary with the masculine dominator. This is easily observable in the emasculation of anal penetration; homophobic constructions of homosexual relationships characterise the ‘bottom’ as ‘feminine’ and therefore less dominant2. The connotations attached to this sexual act and femininity is evidence of misogynistic hierarchies of power. These hierarchies present masculine participants as being in control, forming a link between being penetrated and a negative sense of passivity and lack of control. The different experiences of touching and being touched are considered unequal in power and action. This neglects to acknowledge the differing wants and desires of partners in regards to pleasure. It assumes that one partner within this exchange is receiving pleasure while the other is a medium for it. Within heterosexual relationship discourse ‘the experience of “getting fucked” ... has often been construed from the “tops” point of view as one of being 1 2
Cvetkovich 1995, 130. Cvetkovich 1995.
violated, emasculated, or dominated’3. As such, being passive is equated to being controlled and used for another’s pleasure. The Active Role of Femme Receptivity and Vulnerability It is interesting to look into the sexuality of femme ‘bottoms’ within femme/butch relationships, studied during the 1990s by American academic Cvetkovich, and how they contradict this idea. Femme lesbians are described, ‘to welcome touch and the pleasures of allowing themselves to be fucked or to receive sexual attention’4. The rigid binary of pleasure/ no pleasure that is created by perceptions of heterosexual intercourse is thus replaced by an idea of mutual pleasure, allowing both parties satisfaction even if it does not appear in the stereotypical form. Receptivity and the vulnerability attached to it within the femme experience offers further explorations into the manners in which ‘feminine’ roles are identified. A key aspect of receptivity is the ability to be vulnerable to one’s partners and the world. Vulnerability is a ‘bodily relation to the world that is tied to a notion of openness’, commonly equivocated to a sense of weakness, shame, softness and permeability5. In a world where our heteronormative society forces women to put up a front and avoid vulnerability in their day—to—day lives, the act of being vulnerable within sexual interaction is an undeniably powerful one. It directly goes against what society dictates for them, with vulnerability being primarily represented as ‘negative, shameful and, above all, something to be avoided and protected against’6. This vulnerability is achieved by removing a layer of toughness which Austrian neurologist Sigmund 3 4 5 6
Cvetkovich, 1995, 135. Cvetkovich, 1995, 126. Dahl 2017, 37. Dahl 2017, 41.
Freud calls the ‘cortical shield.’ This shield is used by femmes in public spaces as protection from heteronormative expectations, and thus by removing it they are making an active choice to risk their interiority for the purpose of an exchange of pleasure7. The significance of receptivity and the ability to engage actively within intercourse without being the stereotypical one ‘fucking’ indicates that ‘allowing oneself to be touched can be an action just as much as doing the touching’8. Thus, both the femmes and their partner are equal participants within the sexual act despite the differences in the way they participate. Vulnerability had always been something I feared. In a society whose misogynistic ideals cause the display of emotions to be a fault that serves as proof of your inferiority, it is difficult to understand how embracing openness could hold any power. Receptivity highlights femmes’ daring vulnerability to break down perceptions of passivity, placing women as not just the other body needed for the interaction but the one whose active choice is what drives it. Where vulnerability has previously been viewed negatively due to its creation of susceptivity to emotional and physical penetration, femme discourse challenges this. Receptivity allows it to take on a positive connotation as a state that is difficult to achieve but opens up the individual to experience a wider range of touch and pleasure. Femmebodiment is a ‘queerly feminine corporeality or embodiment’ whereby vulnerability is reimagined ‘as giving over to one another, as commodities among ourselves, not freed from patriarchal constructions but also not only bound by them’9. 7 8 9
Dahl 2017, 40. Cvetkovich 1995, 132. Dahl 2017, 49.
A Final Word Despite the concept of receptivity being understood in relation to femmes and their sexual interactions, its uniquely feminine qualities create the opportunity for it to be used to analyse the role of women within heterosexual sex. By viewing women as actively engaging through bold vulnerability it is possible to dismantle the misogynistic idea of feminine passivity within penetrative heterosexual intercourse. This allows for the belief that women simply lie back and are fucked to be replaced with an idea of mutual power and pleasure for both individuals involved. Power within sexual interactions can manifest and be portrayed in forms that do not coincide with traditional patriarchal discourses. By engaging with this we are able to see that the ways in which women engage within intercourse are anything but passive.
References Cvetkovich, Ann (1995). Recasting receptivity: femme sexualities. In Karla Jay, eds. Lesbian Erotics, 125-147. New York: New York University Press. Dahl, Ulrika. (2017). Femmebodiment: notes on queer feminine shapes of vulnerability, Feminist Theory, 18(1): 35-53.
Illustrations by Stella Martino 51
“Lock” Amazing cookie
Apologetics Gabrielle Cadenhead In defence of the female body Your body is not confined to proselytised prosody, requires no taming by ancient purity rites, does not complement but stands strong alone. Your body is Genesis-rib-bone creature-of-God flesh, Eucharist-broken and resurrection-new, Sabbath-sacred and permitted to rest.
Illustration by Amelia Mertha 53
Mother Madeleine Rowell I had a photograph of you and I. You were holding me with sweat dripping down your face, you had just brought me into the world. I kept it in a drawer for years and rarely looked at it, it did not matter to me then. I took the photograph out of the drawer one day and accidentally left it on the veranda. It was summer. The sun is cruel. I cannot quite make out the image anymore, I do not own any others. I carry it around with me everywhere now It is far more special now that you have left and I cannot simply look at your face. You have both faded. I look for you on her skin In the shape of her eyes or the colour of her hair Her swollen lips and red cheeks when she cries I touch her face and then you are clear again. When I walk home each day a dangerous and hopeful thought plagues my mind Perhaps you will be there waiting? Am I dreaming? This idea crawls into my mind and is only broken once I step into the reality of your absence and see these new faces worn by my family. There is a strain on their expressions A perpetual sourness provides the answer And I am pulled away from my thoughts. I wish I did not have to be with them. They remind me that I cannot hold you completely They each own some part of you that is inaccessible to me Can they hear your voice in their minds? Yours is a crooked voice inside my mind, is it really yours anymore? My own voice has melted into the echo of yours. I cannot hear you, will you cry louder please? Will you scream that you are here? Scratch me, scream at me, let me know where you are. It is as if you are perched on the peak of a mountain and I cannot reach you. You are the speck shrouding a fragment of sunlight. How do I reach you? My arms cannot stretch that high My eyes cannot see that far. 54
She lets herself sink into my skin I do not need to tear myself to reach her. I alone hold her. There is no sour reminder marked on her body I hear her speak Her voice is clearer than yours now. I lay in your womb for 7 months Not long enough. Perhaps this is why I cannot remember you clearly, I wasnâ€™t tied to you long enough. We should have repaired the threads. Did you fight like I did? Now you are the one who left too soon. I cannot remember your heartbeat I cannot remember being with you. Our lives together were full of such instances, We were strangers bumping into each other, the other walking away too quickly to see a face. But I was close to you. I was you for a time. They were not you, all those sobbing faces. They look at me as if they know me, as if they knew you. They touch me and speak to me, do they think I want this? A too-low hand on my back Hair stroking Hand holding He worked with you I think A distant relative? Politely detach. He didnâ€™t really know you. He had seen you, he had spoken to you But you do not belong within his body. Who else has you? I wish I could drink all their memories of you, you must not be very happy living in them.
I can write about you On the lines of her face Of her body I can hide secrets in the relief of her clavicle I can paint you onto her hands. I bring you inside I can hold you again. I can remember the time you made me so angry that I shook quietly in my bed all night I had screamed that I hated you. What had you said? Say it to me again so that I can bury my face in my pillow and tremble with anger I want the luxury of hating you again. I would like you to upset me one more time. Life is quieter now. You were the noise, the constant chatter in my ear and the echo throughout the house. I have never experienced silence like this I have no reason to talk. The only chatter comes from her now She is like you. Loud. A temper. She loses control of herself sometimes. Other times she is quiet, like me. She reminds me of both of us.
I remember a time when she sprawled across my chest and spoke. “What was the first thing you ever noticed about me? Do you remember?” She looked hopeful. “Your hair. You were sitting in the sun. The gold looked nice.” She played with her hair. I was trying to remember yours, it had gold too. I picture your hair the way I picture hers. In the sun. You and I went to a river once, it was beautiful. Your hair was beautiful. Rows and rows of reeking mangroves. The water was inviting. I almost drowned, I can remember that. I shook my limbs about until I was too tired. You pulled me up. The terror on your face. You said I looked like a hooked fish. I don’t think you remembered how beautiful the river was. She cut her hair. And she took her scissors to my heart And she took her scissors to your memory. That sound of Golden lifelines torn apart That violent sharpness. I wept and clawed at the strands of you she let fall to the ground. I held them to my face and breathed. Her eyes are darker Her mouth is smaller and speaks of memories that are not your own She sheds you Constantly. She is no chameleon. Our photograph has faded, I hope my memory does not. You are a shadow circling my brain. You have hidden yourself in me. Are you frightened of leaving? Do you curl up in me like I did in you? Stay for a while, we don’t need to hurry anymore.
I hold myself close sometimes. This keeps you safe. I donâ€™t talk about you often. This keeps your name in my body and prevents it from slipping out of my mouth and losing itself in the ears of someone else. This might be the only way that I can protect you. You did the same for me. You kept me safe while I grew. I will hold you while you rest.
Illustration by Madeleine Rowell 58
Orbit of Mind
An Offering Eleanor Curran I rolled an orange across the floor for you to find, to unpeel and place its dripping parts to your tongue where zest festers into love. I loved the gleam of your eye, the squeezing closed of your mouth as you thumbed a whole so delicately to pieces. sublime. the only clementine able to build as it breaks apart, to glue me and my pulse to the vision of you as you suck on a segment of fruit. the only fruit. you rolled to me on the floor, your body bursting
Illustration by Claire Ollivain
hair long and dripping down me. and filled my mouth with words almost too sweet to swallow.
Coming Home: a Rediscovery of Sapphic Yearning in Ancient China Vivienne Guo Growing up as a first-generation Chinese-Australian, one of the ways that I connected with my elderly Chinesespeaking grandparents was through stories. My grandfather, who was gruff and said very little, would often sit me on his knee and put Journey to the West on the dusty, old box-TV, which followed the adventures of the mischievous monkey king Sun Wukong and his companions. At bedtime, my grandmother, a warm woman with golden laughter and eyes that crinkled with mirth, would regale me with Chinese children’s stories filled with little rabbits, monkeys and turtles. Every Mid-Autumn Festival, she would hold me and tell me to look at the moon. ‘Look,’ she would say. ‘Do you see the rabbit in the moon?’ It was through these stories, that I began to dream about the world.
centuries of colonialism serving to reinforce an atmosphere of queerphobia; be that through the imposition of gender binaries or attempts to maintain ‘ethical’ standards of regulating sexual behaviour, queer people persevere, just as we have for millennia. In my late teenage years, I realised that I wasn’t straight. From my first growing pains of curiosity and questioning, stories have laid themselves down as stepping stones on my journey towards self-acceptance of my queer identity. I have found refuge in many fictions — I empathised with Nico Di Angelo’s unrequited crush on Percy Jackson, cried with The Perks of Being A Wallflower’s Patrick and rewatched Call Me By Your Name religiously. Their love and struggles have whispered to me, telling me that I’m not alone. But in a recent rude awakening, I’ve realised that many of the stories that I’ve loved have been very white; a direct result of European imperialism, in which only whiteness (and that which whiteness desires) is considered valuable. As a queer Chinese woman, I face unique dimensions of patriarchy and queerphobia that are coloured by race and a different set of social values.
Like many other Chinese-Australians, I find myself in my adult years to be estranged from my cultural heritage. In an attempt to remedy this, I have recently taken an interest in Chinese mythology. I have always been fascinated by the way that humanity makes sense of a nonsensical world through stories, and these ancient Chinese stories have become an enchanting lens through which I have come to In an attempt to remedy the understand queerness as something that has internalised Western exceptionalism that always existed; something that is intrinsic has saturated every atom of my existence, to our world as the air we breathe. Despite I have sought out Chinese mythology and 62
Illustration by Ellie Zheng
old stories; lush, incandescent islands of which homophobia was enshrined in law, possibility in a sea of quiet despair. with homosexuality being banned in China until 19972. Up until 2001, homosexuality was In contemporary China, patriarchy, also considered an official mental illness3. queerphobia, and Western imperialism etch Though the iron fist of institutional themselves onto queer bodies in new and homophobia has been loosened to an extent, painful ways. But despite its prevalence, the stigmas around queerness remain in intolerance towards queerness does not have contemporary Chinese social values. But roots in ancient Chinese traditions. Rather, much to the horror of conservatives today, homophobia arrived with the Christian male homosexuality was widely practiced values of colonising missionaries from the by the nobility and normalised in Ancient West. To paint a brief history: academics China; a fact that is well documented in such as Bret Hinsch find that homophobia ancient stories, folklore and mythology. became established in China during the Before Timothee Chalamet, there was the late Qing dynasty and the early Republic of Zhou dynasty-era story of the Bitten Peach; China as a result of Westernisation efforts; a romance between Duke Ling of Wey and shaping contemporary Chinese attitudes a beautiful man named Mizi Xia4. In the and social values that are intolerant toward Chinese pantheon of deities, the rabbit god queerness1. Thus emerged a 20th century in 2 Ibid. 1
Tu Er Shen oversaw the romantic and sexual how they don’t feel that the very air has been relationships between men, and the celestial sucked out of their lungs. Xian were known to choose young men as lovers5. Riven by time and oceans, my experiences as a queer Chinese woman But China, from ancient dynasties are worlds apart from these women whose to today, has always been patriarchal. The yearnings are immortalised in folklore. consequence of it manifests in a clear Unlike Cui Jianyun and her lover, many of absence of sapphic tales and stories of the complications I face are the legacy of women loving women. This is not to say Western imperialism, especially when it that there are no recounts of lesbianism comes to coming out. A legacy present in and sapphic love in Ancient China and its my Chinese family, where the ‘tradition’ of mythology. One afternoon, I stumbled homophobia has been a constant in their lives across a legend that tells of a mystical island for decades; a precious heirloom that they known as Women’s Kingdom inhabited only have guarded fiercely and proudly. Though by women. This island cannot be reached by coming out is often viewed as a singularly ship, but travellers have occasionally found important moment of self-liberation, for themselves whisked away by whirlwinds queer people of colour, coming out to your and stranded on this island. This wondrous family isn’t always an option. account of a microcosm in which women are free to pursue their sapphic dreams Entering university, away from the and yearnings, has lingered wistfully in my prying eyes of old school mates who had mind. known me since I was eleven years old, was my first step towards self-liberation. In my The stories of sapphic relationships second year, I’d decided to take a Gender in Ancient China seem to sing like swan and Cultural Studies class as an elective. songs; in The Fragrant Companion, the In one lecture, the lecturer talked about lovers Cui Jianyun and Cao Yuhua are queerness in modern Asia, addressing the forced to marry the same man, or else be legal recognition of same-sex relationships forced apart6. In assurance to her lover, Cui in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Of Jianyun utters a despairing wish: ‘Let you the three, only Taiwan had legalised gay and I be husband and wife in the next life.’ marriage, but the binding act of marriage In Chinese folklore, heterosexual polygamy was not so important as what it represented; emerges as a common theme; women who a commitment of kinship7. are kept apart by patriarchal society have no choice but to marry men. Rarely have The overarching conclusion of that sapphic lovers been allowed to exist outside week was that marriage wasn’t necessarily of the shadow of a man. Yet, their romances the final destination of queer liberation. have often been described as being deeper Weddings, like an act of coming out, are than the connection between husband and symbolic performances and public rituals for wife. A love that burns so brightly, I wonder family and friends8. The lecturer called this 5 6
Ibid Shi 2013.
Tang, Khor and Chen 2020. Ibid.
performance, in front of family and friends, That memory lingers years later, when ‘coming home’ as opposed to coming out. I am openly queer to my friends and to most people that know me. On sleepless nights, I When I talk about coming out, a sometimes lament what my life might have memory of my dad driving me home from been if homophobia had never arrived on a protest for gay marriage always pops Chinese shores, if my family didn’t clutch into my head. The conversation, like many their homophobia so tightly. Dad is so proud of our conversations of late, grows tense of the millennia-long history of the Middle and frustrating; my Cantonese is limited Kingdom – it would shock him to learn just and queerness is not an easy topic for my how queer that history is. conservative Dad to talk about. On those nights, my thoughts often ‘Women should marry men, and men drift to Cui Jianyun’s desperate wish: ‘Let you should marry women. But I don’t care about and I be husband and wife in the next life.’ what all those people do, as long as it’s not But I don’t want to wait until my next life to my children.’ be able to love. I want to be able to love in this one. In many ways, I am estranged from my In the heat of the moment, I almost family, as both a queer person and someone come out to him. I almost blurt out: ‘But I who has grown up with little interest in like women. So how far are you willing to my Chinese heritage. But rediscovering stand by your words?’ mythologies and stories from Ancient China has been a step towards making peace with I didn’t say it though. Because if I myself in my entirety, and rediscovering did, Dad’s threat would no longer live in something that I hadn’t even realised had the realm of the hypothetical. And despite been stolen from me. And while I’m not out everything, I want to cling to this limbo just to my family yet, I hope that one day I will a little longer. be. I hope that one day, I’ll be able to come home.
References: Reid-Smith, Tris. Dragons, emperors and the Rabbit God: China’s hidden LGBT+ myths. https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/dragons-emperors-and-the-rabbit-godchinas-hidden-lgbt-myths/ Shi, Liang (2013). Mirror Rubbing: A Critical Genealogy of Pre-Modern Chinese Female Same-Sex Eroticism. Journal of Homosexuality 60(5): 750-72. Tang, Denise Tse-Shang, Diana Khor and Yi-Chien Chen (2020). Legal recognition of same-sex partnerships: A comparative study of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. The Sociological Review 68(1): 192-208. 65
[her] Anonymous Your golden hair brushes my cheek When will I be able to look into your eyes? To say what I need to say. You throw your head back To watch the sinking sun. Itâ€™s pretty, you say. I bite my tongue. It is pitiful, compared to you. You kiss him - any him Always on the other side. I glance down and away to this cliff we sit on With the 100-foot drop. I lean forward and spiral Down, and down and down into my thoughts Yet you look at me, still by your side. Are you okay? You ask Lips curved and unknowing I nod and lie and my heart fractures yet again. You will never see how much a human can love, see how it would feel until you look at me looking at you
Illustration by Kate Scott
Around the Yumcha table Iris Yuan
Illustration by Amelia Mertha
Growing up, I had never come into contact with the LGBT+ community; at least not until my best friend came out to me in Year 6. Since then, I’ve grown into my own place as a young queer womxn. However, I’ve also had my fair share of homophobic experiences, many of them coloured by the collectivist, don’t-rock-the-boat values of Chinese culture. Yum cha is a traditional Cantonese early morning or afternoon meal revolving around tea – ‘Yum cha’ means to drink tea in Cantonese. A practice steeped in the history of Southern China, it has developed a unique sort of ritual of wiling away the hours by gossiping about anything and anyone; the occasion often used to catch up with friends and family. These are the occasions which, for me, have defined relationships and forged belonging with the people I call family . The most jarring experience I’ve ever had at one of these meals was when we met up with our family friends a couple of years ago when they visited Hong Kong. The family has two sons the same age as me and my brother; the younger son is a couple of days younger than me. When we were younger, it was a long running joke that we would end up together, and I had been told to address his mother as ‘Lai-lai’ (mother-in-law) before I even knew what it meant. Given that we hadn’t seen each other for the half-decade after my family left Australia, the first half of the meal was loud and raucous, our faces red with laughter. As 67
dishes were brought and removed summarily as we ate, conversation drifted. Our parents were close, but we were the sort of childhood friends that hung around each other because of our parents, so it became awkward when the topic of discussion moved to our love lives. He had a girlfriend that we found out about through Facebook. Each and every person took turns ribbing him lightly. And then — they turned to me. ‘What about you? Any boys catch your eye lately?’ Now, at this point, my mother’s vaguely racist remarks had been irking me for weeks. She’d said before that she didn’t want me to date anyone with dark skin because she’d ‘bump into them in the hallway when the lights are off.’ I asked, ‘What if I end up dating a white guy? Or anyone not Chinese?’ The look on her face will stay with me forever; it morphed from light shock to a strange blankness to a laugh. ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter to me what kind of boy you end up with, as long as it’s a boy.’ These words that echo in my ears every time I consider coming out to my parents. The first time I came out to a friend who wasn’t queer, we were also at yum cha. We’d spent the morning together teaching English at Saturday school and decided we’d give in to our yum cha and dim sum cravings. Heading to our usual spot, which we loved despite its steep prices, (yum cha is not often a two person meal: it’s usually a large group affair) we reminisced about the past school year. Gossiping about mindless high school drama, we traded secrets over towers of bamboo steamers stacked before us. She’d spent much of the meal bemoaning her missed chances at love and I listened with a growing feeling of guilt in my gut. I had been by her side to bear witness to what had been the biggest heartbreak of her 12 year old life, but I had never told her about mine. What kind of friend was I, I thought, if I couldn’t find it in me to share my own heartbreaks? So I figured it was time I came clean to her about my dating life. I told her about the debacle that was my first ‘relationship’ with one of our mutual friends (which had ended in part, because of my fear of being found out). She’d delivered the standard stock phrases of support and thanked me for telling her. We sipped our tepid tea in silence for a while, and then conversation resumed. After that meal, I thought that everything would be fine – we even went on a trip together to visit a friend from Year 6. It was fine, until she started to pull back from the conversation every time we mentioned anything vaguely related to my queerness. The month after we returned from that trip was excruciating. She was in every single one of my classes, and spent every minute deliberately ignoring me. I asked her for an eraser once; she pulled an eraser out and tossed it in my direction without once making eye contact. By the end of that month, I was on the verge of a breakdown. We’d become friends the moment we met, and after almost half of my life, it seemed what it all had amounted to was silence. 68
She couldn’t even say the words herself, and had to get someone else to tell me that she spent a month ignoring me because she was ‘trying to reconcile the fact that her best friend wasn’t straight with her Christianity.’ She asked me to tone down my ‘obsession’ with my sexuality because I had decided to write that year’s major English class projects about LGBT+ issues. Apparently, her devoutly Chinese-Christian parents had been preaching their disgust with homosexuality more often. I always wonder, how did those conversations play out? Did they feel it was a safe meal-time topic, or was it whispered in an undertone when a news item came up on the TV? Was it like my mother, knife to the ribcage with a side of ‘I just want what’s best for you,’ and an extra helping of siu-yuk (roast pork belly)? For so long after, even thinking of yum cha left a staleness in the back of my mouth; one rejection with family, another with a friend. It seemed like a sign to me that my culture would always hurt me just a little, like a splinter in my thumb, not bad enough to incapacitate me, but stinging all the same. I was foolish when I agreed to stifle a part of myself all in some sort of attempt to keep a hold of a friendship that I thought mattered more than myself. That is something that I will regret doing for the rest of my days. These past few years, I have been trying and trying to build myself back up to that level of confidence I had, where I had dared to hold hands with my girlfriend in the hallways of our school when neither of us were truly out to our families and could get called out at any moment by the staff. Because I remember what it felt like to be brave, and I want to have that feeling again. I miss it. Starting university in Sydney has meant making new friends; new people to share joys and pains with, new people to have yum cha with. I’m sharing my happy space with people who know, and accept that I’m not straight. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to have another yum cha with one of my oldest friends without the first thing on my mind being the gut wrenching feeling of fear of rejection. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to bring my girlfriend around to meet my family without worrying that they don’t approve. Maybe one day, I can have my cake and eat it too, or in this case, have my tea and drink it too.
“Pink Yolk in Blue” Sophie Zhou
I grew myself for a week or two, let fingernails catch thighs in the bath, the hair buzzing and itchy — legs
wrapping themselves in sandpapery bliss
around each other’s throats. my arms otherworldly — skin rolls off a god and voices the low drone of a wet dream. on the seventh day I sharpened sin; watched my hair fall down mortal skin.
Learning Swedish Nevie Peters I am watching Inglorious Bastards with Mum on the couch. It’s a Friday night, and I’m kind of pissed off that I’m here and not at my friend Pierre-Baptiste’s house, who cancelled on me because his lacrosse game got moved to tomorrow morning and he needs a good sleep if he wants to get to finals. While Mum and I calmly watch Brad Pitt cut the scalps off some Nazis’ heads, I think about Pierre. Pierre-Baptiste and I are lovers. We met about a year ago at a friend’s house, and automatically had the craziest most amazing sexual chemistry. We passed a few words between us, although because of the loud music I couldn’t really hear what he was saying. So I just said ‘Yada yada yada,’ and then gave him a kiss. At the end of the night, Pierre-Baptiste winked and walked off into the gloomy back streets of North Melbourne. Magical, I know. I’m jolted out of my reverie by a sudden sex scene involving Goebbels that has appeared on the television. It’s very awkward in the room. Mum takes this opportunity to turn around, look at me and say, ‘Paul, I erm thinking that it iss the time for uss to be tawlking aboult sex.’ Although I am shocked at first, I appreciate my mother’s efforts to become closer with me. I plan to discuss with her Pierre-Baptiste, and more, but there is one issue. My mother was born and raised in Sweden. When she talks, she speaks half in Swedish and half in English, causing me to feel frustrated and upset. She has always expected that I learn her language — since her immigration to Australia in the 80s, she has only ever learned the bare minimum of English. Consequently, I have been forced for ten years to attend Swedish school every Saturday, in which I sit rolling my eyes and responding to every question with the phrase ‘Yada yada yada. Whatever.’ As my mother begins to speak, I find myself getting frustrated. ‘Mum,’ I say, ‘I have no fucking idea what you’re saying.’ My mother sighs dramatically. ‘At the age of eyteen,’ she says, ‘I leaft to goh to owlstralia. Here is where I met your farser. Han fick mig gravid, vilken sögde, men jag är glad i det långa loppet eftersom det betyder att jag har dig.’ Despite her accent, I understood the first half of what she was saying. From the second half, the only bits I got were ‘pregnant’ and ‘I have you.’ 72
I dismally ask my mother what her point is. Exasperated, she tries to say, ‘I really care about you and only want you to be safe,’ but it instead comes out as, ‘The circadian theory proposes that the sleep-wake cycle for animals depends on their standing in the food chain. Cows and zebras only sleep for four hours a day.’ I turn into a 2014 Breville Duo Temp Pro espresso machine and begin to make screaming noises. Froth begins spurting out of my tubes and the grinding and whirring escalates to such an intense point that my mother bursts into tears and runs out of the room. The next day at Swedish school, something inside me decides to make an effort. I listen to Mrs Jarger jabber on about sentence structure and the role of the auxiliary verb and take some notes. I also decide to write an extra essay, specially focussing on including at least four subject-verb-object sentences, two of which I put in the past imperfect. Mrs Jarger is very impressed and says that I have a talent beyond my knowledge. I am very pleased with myself. After Swedish school, Pierre-Baptiste invites me to his house. In his kitchen, I transform into a machine similar to last night’s and make us both Athenian freddo cappuccinos, filled to the brim with cool white froth. While drinking them, we both get milk stuck around the sides of our mouths and have to lick it off. Pierre-Baptiste puts on some Frank Ocean and we start making out. At the bit in Thinkin Bout You where Frank sings, ‘I don’t like you I just thought you were cool enough to kick it,’ I notice Pierre-Baptiste’s hands wandering down to the waistband of my jeans. He picks me up and places me on his kitchen bench. Frank sings, ‘No I don’t love you I just thought you were cute and so I kissed you,’ and Pierre-Baptiste begins avidly kissing my neck. Noticing a burning smell, I open my eyes and glance across the room. When I transformed back into a person a few minutes ago, I must have messed up some circuits and crossed some wires in the house’s electrical system behind the walls. Suddenly, there is an explosion and Pierre-Baptiste and I are engulfed in a cloud of raging fire. Ash and rocks are flying everywhere. Despite the mishap, Pierre-Baptiste doesn’t seem to notice. My heart begins to beat faster. I’m not sure if it’s caused by what is happening between Pierre-Baptiste and I or if it’s a response to my general anxiety about the world, my mother, and my life. Maybe it’s both. I take a breath. ‘Are you okay, Paul?’ I hear my lover say. I realise he is staring at me, confused. ‘Yes,’ I reply, jumping down from the bench. Squinting through the dust, I transform into a fire extinguisher and put out the explosion. 73
Illustration by Amelia Mertha Once I’m done and the room has cleared out, I realise that all of my clothes have burned off except for my leather Converse All Star 70’s high tops and the thick, white waistband of my Calvin Klein underwear. ‘By God,’ says Pierre-Baptiste, slobber dripping out of his open mouth. ‘That was so hot. I would make love to you right now if I knew you were comfortable and fully consensual with the idea.’ That last sentence really gets my hormones blazing. Suddenly, all my doubts and worries melt away and I become a slippery, gooey mess steaming with lust for PierreBaptiste and his goddamn respectable attitude. While Frank sings, ‘Lost, lost in the heat of it all,’ Pierre and I make love. It isn’t the most comfortable experience, but it is passionate and sensual nonetheless. When we are finished, Pierre-Baptiste kisses me on the forehead and we spend hours discussing the ethics of genocide and the malevolent artistry behind Hitler’s ascension to power during 1930s Weimar Germany. Outside, we are waiting for an Uber. I tell Pierre-Baptiste that I do not know what a Hyundai Elantra looks like and that I do not, in fact, know anything about cars and view them as hunks of metal and nothing more. He only laughs at me and agrees to take control. A man named Mussami Aleed soon rolls up to the curb and asks me if I am Pierre-Baptiste.
Just as I am about to leave, Pierre leans through the passenger window and rips apart the top part of his to reveal a massive bling golden cross that takes up his entire chest. He takes it off and places it in my lap. I stroke the cross the entire way home and realise that as I touch it, it transforms into a giant pink dildo imprinted with diamantes along each edge. Regardless of how unsettling this is, I find myself looking out the window and smiling. ‘Where were you this afternoon, Paul?’ asks my mother as we sit down and eat mashed potatoes and sausages for dinner. I notice that her accent is less strong and ask her if she has been practising her English, trying to change the subject. ‘I have been,’ she admits. ‘After having decided that I wanted to communicate with you better. All I want is for us to understand each other.’ I reach deep down and pull out ten years’ worth of Swedish school. In my best Swedish, I tell my mother that I was at my friend Pierre-Baptiste’s house. ‘Who is Pierre-Baptiste?’ she asks. ‘Is he a boyfriend?’ ‘Nej, nej,’ I say. ‘Han är bara en friend.’ When Mum asks me what I did at his house, I don’t really know how to say ‘We had mutually respectful and enjoyable sexual intercourse.’ So I instead tell her we made sandwiches and I helped him with his maths homework. Mum accepts that I’m not going to tell her everything, so she nods and smiles, pleased. She says, ‘I really care about you and only want you to be safe.’ She then transforms into a 1980s Samsung DVD VCR Combo Player and I watch in awe as her inside mechanics whirr and churn, just as mine do when I become a coffee machine. It turns out my mother and I were more similar than I had thought. The monitor makes static noises and then goes blank for a second, before coming on with a Swedish ad for a company called Suesman Language Training that goes like this: A Swedish family enters a car and turns on the radio. A funky tune comes on, and everybody in the car begins grooving to it as they drive off a small country lane. Little do they know, the lyrics of the song are in English, a constant repeat of the phrase ‘I want to fuck you in the ass’ over and over again. The screen fades out and two words appear on the screen in bold white font: Learn English?
“The old that is strong does not wither” Angela Bogart
Jessica Friedman I wish I was made of clay, I wish I could squish and mould my face, adjust it I wish I could carve my bones, sand them down, sculpt them pull them back, poke them in, stretch them Up, Down, Forwards, Back. (sometimes I try as if the grit of my clay could be scrubbed from underneath my fingernails, The lumps and bumps, the coarseness of my skin dissolving under water) Pushing the skin around my jaw, I scrape at my neck massaging the bones as if the heat from my hands will somehow warm them up Melting the grit, making it so it’s no longer in its final state, somehow finally mouldable I find strategic ways that allow me to move my double chin, move the extra clay to the side of my neck Hold it under my hand as if I am trying to pose Hide it with my t- shirt, an ode to my mother My white flag goes up as I look in the mirror and claim to love myself, I am defeated when I cannot. My therapist insists that I am not clay, an entity that is not mouldable by force. A body with bones and structure, a body that is solid. A form that despite being filled with water, is unable to be wringed out. A form that despite being just as squishy as clay, is solid. When people hug me, when they wrap their arms around my waist, they won’t believe that I am a solid structure They’ll wonder why, If I am not clay, do I feel the way I do? why I haven’t tried to sculpt a different mould. A new mould. A good mould. I am a mould not yet finished I am an artist and my hands are tools, they touch, they hold, they write, they carve, they mould, they sculpt, they create. My hands are good. They can mould, sculpt and fix, They can bring beauty to the clay but I am not clay I am not mouldable, though Illustration by Jess Friedman sometimes I try. @jessfriedman_art
“Gus” Jess Friedman
Sally Chik I watched the fireworks with my sister and her boyfriend In my head I dreamt of you your violent beauty your stockings at my ankles hands under skirts the bang of desire colours gyrating across our faces like smeared makeup the ephemeral secrets of a masquerade Midnight is a few hours away Rain taps gently on my umbrella I make space for you though You are not here. Atwood was right, screw poetry, it’s you I want The girl next door with the unattainably superordinary girl I hold the metal petal skeleton in my hand turn my face toward the rain and light fresh droplets on my face I’m a minute from infinite Fuck the world Let’s fuck each other until we explode because we are incandescent, bright and dangerous 79
An infinite thank you to everyone who helped 1978 become a reality The University of Sydney
The Faculty of Arts and
The Sydney Arts Students Society
The Sydney University Press
First Mardi Gras inc. Jenna Lorge Kate Scott
Amelia Mertha Ange Hall
Claire Ollivain Sally Chik
Shania Oâ€™Brien Arca Jalee
Kate Woodbury Grace Hu
Juliette Marchant Janet Cao
Sophia Calvo y Perez Diane Minnis Ken Davis
Talia Szekely Felix Faber
Jocelin Chan Amy Wang Jess Zheng jc.
Anne Leven-Marcon Nevie Peters
Elsiena ten Kate AmazingCookie
Gabrielle Cadenhead Madeleine Rowell Charli Pope
Eleanor Curran Vivienne Guo Iris Yuan
Jessica Friedman Angela Bogart Nicole Baxter
Nicholas Rigby Glenn Reidy
Sydney Arts Student's Society's diverse sexuality and genders literary magazine.