Around 2000 people turned out for Brisbane’s Gay Pride march on Saturday, 17 September 2016. Among them was my daughter Lady Severine Sinful, who took to the stage as MC in the main tent at the end of the day’s proceedings in New Farm Park and, no doubt, told a few stories about me.
I believe she does that, which is one of the reasons I tend not to attend. That, and her filthy songs. I like a bit of salt with my entertainment, don’t get me wrong, but it can get uncomfortable when the dish is your daughter. It’s a mum thing.
So I was watching from afar as the Lady and friends beamed pictures and commentary back to me throughout the day of the march and the fair which followed. All the shiny happy people celebrating their love and their support for each other.
Now, there’s a story she likes to tell her audiences, about the time she came out to her mum. I thought I’d share it from my perspective, as a small contribution to the many words which have already been written about marriage equality and why our LGBTQI citizens should just have it already.
She had a date, she told me – quite shyly, for someone who is not known for shyness – a date with a girl. And she waited. I have never felt under quite so much scrutiny as I formulated my response.
My primary concern was to appear unconcerned. She was a teenager, with all the anxieties and confusions that go along with that, regardless of sexual orientation, and I was determined not to add to any of it.
I don’t remember the entirety of the conversation but I do remember wishing her a lovely time. And I said something like, “Don’t think the normal rules about relationships don’t apply. Gay relationships are just as complex, if not more so, than heterosexual ones.”
It wasn’t the first time I had given that speech. The first person to hear it had been my sister Alin when she announced – at about the same age – that she had a girlfriend.
I was right both times – there were cheatings and jealousies and late night dumpings for Alin and, years later, for her niece. In the case of my sister, there was also a large pile of vinyl albums belonging to me which were loaned to some girl – no doubt to impress her – and never returned. But I digress.
So that was the thing that, thinking on the fly, seemed to me the most important advice – that there’s no escaping the trauma of teenage relationships for any of us, regardless of our sexual orientation.
That wasn’t the end of it for either of us – heck, she’s still talking about it. I didn’t speak of it until a few months later, when I met up with one of my dearest friends Fergus Anderson – in Hollywood, of all places – in one of the strangest journeys I’ve made, but that’s for another day.
Fergus was an Australian boy who lived in our block in Macdonnell Road, Hong Kong and who came out in February 1987. I remember it well because it was at a party at our place to celebrate 20 years of living there.
Fergus was like an enthusiastic puppy at the best of times. That night, he was more so, bounding up to everyone in his big, warm-hearted way and sticking out his hand to say, “I’m Fergus and I’m gay!”
And then, on seeing the confusion and hesitation in the faces of strangers, he would laugh and say, “I didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha but now I know I’m Martha and isn’t it wonderful?”
I watched him conquer the room that night with that line, heard him say it over and over, and I remember most of all the fear I felt for him, because I knew instinctively there was a danger in being Martha quite so openly out there in the world.
Shortly afterwards I went to England and Fergus went back to Australia, ending up in Japan – which I think was his spiritual home – until our paths crossed again at an Island School reunion in 2000.
“There’s someone here you need to see, and he doesn’t know you’re here,” I was told as I was steered, through the crowd towards an unsuspecting Fergus – so much had happened to each of us and all of it seemed ok in that big, long hug.
The biggest thing, for me, had been the death of my sister Alin in a car crash in 1997 and we were talking about her when my daughter, who had been looking for her vanished mum, found us. As she approached, Fergus stood and held out that big, warm hand of his and said, “I’m Fergus – I’m sorry I know you but I don’t remember your name.”
Later he told me he was sure it was some trace of my sister he had recognised in her and I like to think he was right.
Fergus was on his way to Los Angeles, which is where I met up with him again in 2002, a few months after I gave my daughter ‘that’ talk. It had been on my mind and who better to share my concerns?
“The thing is,” I told him, “… it must have been a huge thing for her – to come out to me like that. She had probably been agonising for days, if not longer, on how to do it and what to say…. Was I too casual? Should I have made a bigger deal about it? Should I have talked to her about the actual dangers – of being bullied and bashed, vilified and reviled?”
Fergus was clear that night that no gay child is ever in any doubt about the dangers of simply being who they are, which confirmed what I instinctively knew, even as the most vanilla flavoured, heteronormative, cisgendered female you could hope to meet.
It’s why we need a Safe Schools program, because LGBTQI kids are actually in danger. It’s why we don’t need a plebiscite, because it will legitimise the bullying and the bashing, the vilification and the revulsion that is already directed in some measure to young people who are already vulnerable.
And it’s why we need bold, fearless people like my daughter, her Aunty Alin and her honorary uncle Fergus, who died in 2011, aged 47. Like me, they would be very proud of her.
To live it large, to live it loud, live it out and live it proud – those are bold choices which not everyone has the courage to make. But the choice to marry the one you love? We don’t need a plebiscite. We need our parliamentarians to do their job.
Marriage equality. Now.
© Sally Baxter 2016