During the Aids epidemic, the Australian mass media showed a Grim Reaper ad, based on the line “this disease used to affect homosexuals and drug addicts, now we are all in danger”. At the same time, an eminent surgeon (people will know who I mean) stood in front of media mikes and cameras and said that he had no sympathy for Aids sufferers, his only concern was for the “innocent victim”.
As well as being massively demoralising for both Aids victims and their carers, in hindsight we now know that gangs of bashers were inspired by these two events to patrol the cliffs of the Sydney coastline and bash, rob and murder gay men doing the beat at night. We know this as members of a murderous Bondi gang of bashers were recorded in jail saying just that, also one of them had a tattoo of the Grim reaper, a gothic touch.
This eminent surgeon has since died and his memory is perpetuated in a Foundation doing his work, for which it solicits donations from the public. One of its spruikers made the mistake of ringing me at home and got the above lecture.
I also wrote to the Foundation and insisted that the LGBTIQ community was owed an apology for the damage this man had done to us. The media officer wrote back, admitting that the surgeon had had problems accepting homosexuality, especially when two of his younger relatives turned out to be gay. When they were dying of Aids he turned his back on them.
The only explanation the media person could offer was that perhaps the surgeon was of a generation which uniformly had a problem with gay persons. Being a humanitarian abroad but a terror in his family reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s wonderful line in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The general, your father, was essentially a man of peace except in his domestic matters”.
I continue to believe that we are owed an apology by the Foundation. I think the media person intimated that the surgeon was embarrassed by what he saw as an unclean disease, certainly he, like the medical community of the time, felt helpless to do anything. Perhaps the surgeon’s doing charity work in third world countries a way of making amends.
Meanwhile, where is that apology?
From the stats of this blog, it goes largely unread by the universe and so acts as my personal diary.
A lot is being rewritten about the 1978 Mardi Gras demo as this year is its 40th anniversary. A film has been written called Riot, centred on a strong personality of the time: Lance Gowland. He like all the rest of us in Sydney Gay Lib were against the patriarchy and therefore against monogamy, its obvious format.
Yet many of us drifted into patterns where we would set up house as couples, and more or less consciously learn the dynamic and limitations of relationships. As gay men we had no role models to follow. My parents were dysfunctional, they had hardly survived the traumas of their own upbringing and expulsion from WW2 Europe; as a couple they were mismatched. When people were made aware that my friend and I were living together they would speculate as to which of us “played?” the “wife”; a very wry speculation, certainly unappreciated.
Even when the relationship retained its intensity circumstances would intrude and we might find ourselves parted. From time to time, however, either of us made the effort to make contact. I became aware of a particular, unique language we spoke together, like a separate country, population 2. It was like that John Donne poem, where he describes his lover thus: “Oh my America, my new-found land”.
Others might have seen the situation as two people staying together from a lack of initiative or ability to try something new? A young executive neighbour lately, who is the same age my friend and I were at the start of our relationship, put it to me that he soon tired of people and found himself moving on; words to that effect.
Conversely, I have spent nights in saunas and seen a couple who have just fucked intensely; courted, consummated and been in love all their lives. Who knows, it might well have become a lifelong passion. Someone did say once, that a good step to finding out if a couple were compatible was if they fucked successfully. The sexual act after all is an important type of communication in a relationship: spiritual, emotional, verbal, as well as physical. I also practise my singing voice none too musically in those moments.
Far be it for me to deny the wealth of enthusiasm and passion we saw when the SSM bill was passed in the House of Reps; when Tim Wilson proposed to his loved one. I dissolve in tears just remembering. Clearly, a contemporary generation sees the situation as losses restored and sorrows ended. However, even with things as they stand, the forces of bigoted evangelical conservatism immediately jumped to the challenge to redress things: a bill protecting religious freedoms.
For SS couples so many challenges lie ahead: school events where parents and students have to attend; okay for liberated areas. What about more conservative ones? What about young LGBTIQ, especially young trans students; the possibility of bullying? Staff shortages are acute and a bullied student tends to withdraw inwards unquestioningly rather than refer things to an authority and risk further conflict.
Relationships are built up slowly, over years, a mutual language learned, a dynamic of boundaries set up. I wish newly wed couples all the best on this 40th Mardi Gras anniversary weekend.
ABC TV The Drum has just repeated an episode that explored male violence against women and children and other men, based on power and a sense of “what they could get away with”. The consensus of the four panelists, all professional in this area of hopefully social change was that the attitude of little boys needed to be explored, and changed where necessary.
What concerns and puzzles me is a perception I came across in the 1970’s (?) about the developing of male/female gender stereotypes in young children. Does it amount to an observation of socialisation that has been discredited, and thus abandoned?
In this dynamic scientists studied the toys that boys and girls played with. Yes, it was stereotypical as little boys played with guns and soldiers in uniforms and little girls liked dolls and tea sets. The colours of the toys reinforced their forming gender roles; toy soldiers were in camo or battle browns and black. Girls’ dolls and tea sets were pinks and pastel colours and floral patterned.
The scientists tried to reverse these stereotypes. But boys and girls would not comply. Boys wanted their army guns; girls their pink Barbie dolls. (Okay, in the sitcom Ross when he was a child dressed in his mother’s jewellery and dresses and made cups of tea. He even had a song: “I am Bea, I drink tea; won’t you come and dance with me?”) But these boys and their female counterpart are the exception, rather than the rule.
So the researchers devised an alternative stratagem. For girls, they made army guns coloured pink with floral patterns all over. Boys were given tea sets of dark, army colours, in jagged shapes. Both boys and girls took to the reversal without an argument.
Methinks, for any change to happen in our machismo, militaristic society, we need to understand how children learn this gender coding so early in life. What the researchers found even more alarming than this genetic coding was that for boys it was accompanied by a generous acceptance of aggressive, anti-social behaviour. “Oh, you have to expect that from our boy; he’s a boy, after all.” We at all levels of society, from parents outwards, were reinforcing this anti-social, mutually exclusive gender coding.
Recently, I had dinner in a casual club where two mothers sat at an adjoining table; one had a boy aged about six and a younger daughter; the other had a slightly taller, older son. The children started playing raucous games. The boy constantly avoided his little sister, in spite of her obvious need to be included. But what I found more alarming was a game the younger boy started where he tried to strangle his friend; perhaps he was too (innocently) enthusiastic but the older boy kept moving out of reach. The mothers sat, chatting, seemingly impervious to the games their children played.
For the #METOO movement to succeed we have to begin in early childhood. Some months ago, my neurologist showed me photos of his four month old boy. I asked if he was developing intelligence/ articulation skills. My prof said: “I don’t care if he’s intelligent; I just want him to fit in”. So, perhaps the movement has already begun.
Just wanna play football for the coach.