To: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, Member for Wentworth
In 2016, just days after you announced the plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the Australia Council for the Arts gave me a grant to complete my latest novel. It is based on the life of Iris Webber, petty criminal of early twentieth-century Sydney, who did not hide her relationships with women, ensuring lifelong persecution.
$50,000 would keep a merchant banker in Grange for a week or two, but a writer like me can eke it out over two years and I am so grateful for this award, when the Council is starved of funds, and homophobia is, as it was in Iris’s time, government policy.
I shelved this letter when your morally putrid plebiscite was defeated. Now you’ve launched your next-best-thing, your desperation to dehumanise GLBTIQ people is so flagrant it demands a response. When you gutted Safe Schools – far more important than marriage equality – you showed your true colours.
A $122M non-binding postal vote to decide whether we can marry or not in the nation that forged one of the most progressive queer scenes in the world; whose culture of song, dance and public art completely transformed our society, let alone made the state millions – you must have noticed that, eh Malcolm, being such a good businessman; whose sexual liberation has been everybody’s liberation; whose AIDS policies were so successful they went on to be adopted worldwide and save millions of lives.
$122 million that could give refugees asylum, build facilities in remote communities, support victims of domestic violence, fund education and health. In OUR name. WOW.
Oh, Malcolm, is your memory that short?
Don’t you remember A, Maltese Catholic, suiciding when diagnosed with HIV because he was so afraid of the terrible death so many of our friends suffered back then, and so devastated when his mother rejected him on discovering he was gay?
And B, whip-smart young lawyer, committing suicide? How her Catholic upper-middle-class Celtic parents never accepted her lesbianism?
Remember C, lesbian, arriving at the party with her face bruised from a bashing on Oxford Street? And D and E, gay, trans, bashed on the train, in the family home? And F bashed and raped behind Oxford Street, by men targeting lesbians?
Don’t you remember G, Jewish, dying of AIDS and not being allowed to be buried in the consecrated ground of his orthodox family’s plot at Rookwood due to his sexuality (but it was the twentieth century so they let him in, but he wasn’t allowed a headstone).
H, working-class Greek, kicked out of home for being a lesbian. Remember?
Remember I, another Maltese Catholic, dying of cancer, her girlfriend of ten years not recognised by the family, us friends not allowed to go to the requiem mass?
Do you remember your father’s rant against ‘homosexuals and all that’ and your teenage blood running cold, even though you didn’t think you were queer, because god knows there was nothing worse in the school playground than a bloody lesbian, nice little convent that it was, but your blood ran cold anyway because you felt so keenly this particular hatred; one of those moments, Malcolm, when you knew before you knew.
Remember how many of your generation took years to come to queerness for this reason, and the relief of your father dying before he found out? How the thought of it even today fills you with fear.
Remember your mother turning to the sink to cry. Remember her face pinched with disappointment? It’s just a shame you’ll never have children. Lucky I didn’t want to, Malcolm, because IVF wasn’t legally available to queer women then, so my options were limited. Oh Malcolm, the memories of her disgust, how painful they are. The looks some of her friends gave me.
Remember how many times you bit your tongue because you didn’t want to dishonour your mother’s memory, deny her qualities because you loved her, you knew she was just typical of her generation, in fact pretty good considering she was a Catholic. You didn’t and don’t want to shame her. But your own shame, so debilitating, so all-pervasive, until you became ashamed of the shame, and thought maybe they were right, that you were just being hysterical, PC, a victim, and the problem wasn’t what happened, but how you reacted.
Remember how isolating it was to look across your massive family and see not a single out queer?
Remember all those looks askance, Malcolm, outside the gay ghetto? That marketing manager who could barely contain his disgust at the sight of you, while he shook your hand, so it wasn’t a surprise your book got pulped, extolling as it did the glorious untrammelled hedonism of queer Sydney. Remember getting kicked out of your girlfriend’s (working-class Polish Catholic) family when that book got published? How astonished you were because you were in your late 30s by then, your peers mending relationships with their families because, remember Malcolm, the majority of you had been ostracised from your families for being queer.
Remember all those times FUCKING DYKE was screamed out the window at you?
How you and your girlfriend were followed at night by men hissing, Who’s got the cock, who’s got the cock? How you didn’t know if it was worse to be jeered at or ogled?
How you couldn’t kiss your lovers in public without the hair on the back of your neck standing on end. Or even hold their hand, or book a room in a country hotel.
Remember how your butch lovers got aggressed by men? And your femme ones were hit on in front of you – because we put on such a good show and should be so flattered, especially when they want both of you!
Remember all the straight women who told you they didn’t like lesbians (your hair had grown) because they hate men.
Remember your trans friend telling you that even after ten years her mother still called her a he? Hey? Huh? Sorry? S/he her him they it he ha who cares??
Sorry? Did I say sorry? Well sorry about that, Malcolm. I am SO NOT SORRY.
Remember doing the Bondi to Bronte cliff walk with a work colleague, who was telling you excitedly she realised she was a lesbian? How thrilled you were for her, in the bright sunny day, puzzled all the while by bloodstains on the footpath, smeared on the handrails. There was blood everywhere, Malcolm, all the way to Mackenzie’s Bay. It was 1989 and you found out later it was the blood of a gay man who had been beaten to death and thrown off the cliff, and later again you found out he was one of scores, whose deaths have never been properly investigated.
Don’t you remember the blood, Malcolm? It was in your electorate. I lived there too, for fifteen years receiving letters from your wife exhorting me to vote for you. A little angel flew out of the envelope each time to sit on my shoulder and play the violin as I read that bit about you having to rent a flat in Vaucluse. Poor little Malcolm. Such traumatic memories. Lucky you have Lucy to write such nice letters, considering how busy she is driving through Haberfield in a blindfold, shopping for your dicky pink shirt to wear to Mardi Gras. I kept forgetting to superglue up your post office box, less than a metre from mine at Bondi Beach. Sorry not sorry. Actually I am this time. Really. SORRY.
Remember J’s funeral, Malcolm, at Riverview chapel? St Ignatius College, bastion of the Catholic establishment, that also extruded your nemesis slash colleague Tony Abbott, who cooked up this despicable vote in his cauldron of bile. A soaring sandstone edifice where my brothers were also educated. Remember how J, gay and HIV positive, was remembered? The only acknowledgment of his sexuality and illness was a reference to ‘the rainbow family’ and ‘the staff at St Vincent’s’. Poor J, symbiotic, dying alone in his 40s, never accepted for who he was. Not honoured, even in death. A compounded tragedy, for he was the brother of B.
Remember how you felt, in that stained-glass cesspit of lies and deceit, like you were in The Exorcist, such was the sense of evil? There but for the grace of goddess go I, dear Malcolm. Remember how you realised this was why Catholics invented Hell, because only hatred as strong as this could burn forever. How you felt it right inside you, running through your veins, because blood is eighty per cent of the human body, Malcolm. Mea Culpa. Us inverts always joked we’d rather go to Hell anyway cos the DJs were better there, knowing Archbishop Pell would swan through the Pearly Gates, to be fed dates by his altar boys. Oh, Malcolm, exorcise me. Take away this fear.
Remember how disgusted you felt with the stock you were born into, that has risen to rule this country in cahoots with every other Christian denomination, a paranoid megalomaniacal cabal who overcame its petty sectarianism not for love but only more hate, because hatred is a glutton and needs constant feeding. And you have the gall, even as your crimes are written on every wall, to point your soft white finger at Muslims. Confession won’t save you, Malcolm, remember that.
Remember in Parliament the other day, Penny Wong’s voice cracking with grief, at daddy Shelton calling the children of queers The stolen generation? …
… … officially … …
… speech …
… less … …
But of course you don’t remember! You weren’t even there! Almost all the front bench, dog-whistled by lying Lyle, had scuttled off tails-between-legs to help the Australian Christian Lobby sharpen their fangs. Oh, the contempt. Actually, there is one brave thing you’ve done: which is get into a room with these guys. I don’t know how you do it. They’re the creepiest nutjobs since Nosferatu. Don’t think, Malcolm, as you stand to the side polishing your fingernails, that you don’t have blood on your hands. It’s like that Goya drawing, you know, that monster eating children, what is it again? Can you ask Fatima to get it down from the art section when she’s finished dusting the bookshelves in the library? Suffer the little children, Malcolm. By Christ we did. Still do. Six times more likely to commit suicide. Even those not queer, by virtue of being our progeny, must suffer.
Remember how you felt when the family priest wrote that chapter against gay marriage? Humiliated and objectified, Malcolm, yet again.
Remember ten years ago travelling in Poland – the most Catholic country in the world – and every day for months opening the paper to find diatribes against homosexuals? They say it’s even worse there now.
As it is here, Malcolm, with you on the throne.
Remember how well-loved all your Indigenous queer friends seem to be by their communities? Perhaps because they know better than anyone what it feels like to be dehumanised, dismissed, denied and far worse. Yet again this community, that you treat even more abominably than ours, day in day out, is the one we should be turning to for lessons in love resilience wisdom diplomacy togetherness.
Remember how ‘cohabiting with Aboriginals’ was a crime until only a few decades ago? You’d know the date better than me, no time to google, gotta sew my cat’s wedding dress. What does that say about the Australian Fair Go, eh Malcolm? And your Holy fifth Sacrament, never yours to withhold in the first place?
Remember, Malcolm? Or have you nodded off in front of your Emily Kngwarreye?
Yoo-hoo Malcolm! Man of vapours, empty vessel, fuzzy outline. Oh I know you’re too busy to read this. Catching the bus like a regular guy. Going to mass to pray to your blue-eyed patriarch, floating a fifty into the collection plate cos the Pope’s the third biggest landowner in the world and ya gotta keep the wolves from his door. O Lord, help me through the next meeting with teeny tiny Tony, failed priest, Prime Minister and parliamentarian; failed person. Shut up, Malcolm. I know that every letter I’ve written to you doesn’t get past your Young Liberal Stooge. Adani, refugees, Westconnex andonandonandonandON. Thank you for your message to the prime minister. This is an automatically generated email rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.
Remember what walls have meant in history? You’ve put one up between us and the heterosexuals. Whom we didn’t even think were them, unless they thought we were those. Us them you me use abuse I’m so confused! You, plural, since John Howard, that miserable mean-spirited mendacious little man, Methodist tool, his soul matched in crazed ugliness only by his eyebrows, excised us from the Marriage Act in 2004. It is so heartening to hear our heterosexual friends jackhammering the wall down from their side. Because the best of them are as furious as we are. They are writing to their local members, mocking you on television, explaining to prejudiced relatives and workmates why this postal vote is such an abomination. They are teaching their kids not to hate, telling their LGBTIQ friends and family they are loved and valued.
And us queers are going at it even harder. Because we are sick of being spoken about as though we’re at the bottom of the paddock chewing our cud. Sick of being demeaned and traumatised. Because this isn’t even about gay marriage, it’s about using a marginalised community as a football in your party room, just like you’ve used the refugees. Did you think we didn’t notice another died? That $122 million would cover plane fares for you and your monstrous mates to The Hague. Uh-uh, don’t try to slime the upgrade to First Class. You can get the boat, actually.
There is so much reliance on us turning the other cheek. Like the eternal forgiveness of women, the eternal generosity of Indigenous people, the eternal good humour of people of colour asked where they come from. Off we skip down Oxford Street in our spangly shorts, and lesbians are so angry anyway stomping around in our boilersuits and buzzcuts, oh sweetie darling just put on some Kylie will you and drown it all out?
So we’ll take this crumb you’re tossing at us, because we remember how Howard duped the nation with his referendum on the republic, a model so shitty a Yes vote felt like a loss of integrity. We’ll vote Yes with a vomit bag, to your puerile little survey, and walk right over the top of you into a future where we will love as freely, queerly, diversely, kinkily and creatively, wedded or not, monogamous or not, with or without kids, prettily polily pluckily as we please. To help the kids in country towns alone and frightened, to bring our foreign lovers home, because my friends are already and should be recognised, because my housemates want to and they’re cute, because we’re bustin for a party in this shut-down locked-out town. Because WE SHOULD ALL BE ALLOWED TO CHOOSE WHETHER AND WHO WE MARRY, WE SHOULD ALL BE EQUAL IN THE EYES OF THE LAW.
And once we get past this petty protracted opinion poll that will tell the right-wing that most people don’t agree with them – which they know already, but they’re so livid at losing hatred they want the entire country to pay – well, then we’ll get down to the real business of looking after our country, eh?
Remember what that is Malcolm? Know how to do it? Reckon you’ll last long enough? Faust, Malcolm.
Lest we forget.
Fiona McGregor August 2017
PS. This just posted by a friend: ‘My daughter has just called me, on her 18th birthday, in tears of anger and sadness that the 50,000 strong HSC study group of which she is a member, hosted a massive pile-on about marriage equality in its online discussion group, driven by this fucking plebiscite, including reams of comments such as gays should be lynched, and we can’t allow children to be raised by gay people, and all the toxic bilge we are accustomed to from the parents of these teen trolls. So it all kicks off … I know the boycott argument, I get it, but I say vote.’
Image: Mardi Gras / Jason