The Innocent Victim

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.

This photo was scanned by Remba Imaging. 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?

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Confessional Seal

The recent Royal Commission of child sexual abuse has recommended that cases of abuse confessed within the confines of the sacrament be revealed to the police. This action has been vigorously resisted by the Catholic status quo within Australia. One person’s rationale was to say that he thought few such cases would ever be confessed.

A decade ago half a dozen primary school mates and I began an action against Leonard O’Rourke (now deceased) who was a young priest in Marian, central Qld in the early 1960’s. The case was unsuccessfully processed in Bundaberg Local Court by a magistrate who openly regarded my fellow complainants as bucolic, clowns for his enjoyment. The reason the case was being held in Bundaberg was that when O’Rourke’s abuse came to the attention of our parents they threatened him with police action; he was quickly transferred to Bundaberg, a southern town still in the diocese of Rockhampton, where he continued to abuse other young altar boys.

At the conciliation meeting that followed the trial, we met with Bishop Heenan, now retired; we were represented by a lawyer, Simon Harrison. Interestingly, the Bishop’s staff attempted to remove our lawyer from the proceedings; his presence, as an officer of the law, would have meant that any self-incriminating admission by the Bishop or others would result in prosecution.

I talked at length with my lawyer, who told me about a previous case where a Catholic priest had been successfully prosecuted and was in prison. Harrison visited him in his cell on numerous occasions, attempting to gain his confidence, which he did. The priest told him that there was a group of pedophile priests active in Qld; it was their habit to drive as far as 200 miles to have their confession heard by a fellow abuser.

This raises a number of interesting considerations. Before the Vatican Conference the sacrament of confession had been the bane of our lives, especially as altar boys, where, being within the inner sanctuary, our not receiving communion clearly showed that we had sinned but had not been able to go to confession. It was a Saturday afternoon thing, as regular as the movies. If your sex drive got the better of you Saturday overnight you were in trouble.

Nor could the contents of a confession be broken; not for nothing was it called the seal of the confession. Alfred Hitchcock made a movie based on its dynamics called I Confess, where the priest is prepared to go to  prison rather than break the confessional seal when the murderer has just confessed his crime. I watched it at a Catholic boarding school I attended; it was practically a religious experience, no less for the lead role being erotically played by Montgomery Clift. However, since the Vatican Conference, a sincere act of contrition would successfully remove sin from the soul, until the penitent could go to confession with a priest.

Yet, in either case absolution could not be given if there was not a completely sincere expression of contrition. When a group of pedophile priests are forced to seek absolution from their fellow practitioners is it that the Catholic church successfully instils in its followers an unshakeable sense of guilt?

Conversely, for such a group to feel they need to behave so self-protectively one can draw two conclusions. Has the instilling of guilt been successful? Or might confessing acts of child sexual abuse to another priest, not similarly inclined, result in legal or bureaucratic consequences? In my case, when O’Rourke’s superior, Father Fraher, a gruff, Irish, no nonsense priest, questioned me after mass, where I had been his altar boy: he cringe-makingly asked me whether O’Rourke had put his penis inside my anus. As I became more aware of being gay I began to identify the exotic practice of anal sex as the main part of my emerging identity.

One might presume that if a sinner confesses while holding in a corner of his consciousness the thought that he will return to his sins, for example, the alcoholic, absolution cannot be given and the ritual means nothing. Even the most stalwart church bureaucrat admits this. How would the priest deal with this situation ? Yet, the confessional ritual is stereotypical, the verbal exchange minimal. Perhaps what is required is a more strenuous cross-examination of the would-be penitent.

man underwater

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At the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney currently, is an exhibition of men’s clothes called, wouldn’t you know, Reigning Men. It is comprised mostly of a US collection, added to by garments from the local vaults. I have yet to see the show but there are some intriguing objects to look forward to seeing: the news clipping found in a French Revolution outfit. A special event on June 21, a party: nibbles, drinks, tour, lectures will just enough occupy the attention of local fashionistas. My live in friend is one of the daily tour guides, and I have been commanded to attend the event. It will be one of those situations, rare in our particularly macho society, when the objective is to FLAUNT IT, not wear camouflage. My outfit is to be an 80’s inspired look: a black shirt with white flowers and a dazzling waistcoat of blue, red, yellow, the whole spectrum; all this atop tight jeans and mid calf, lace up ballet shoes of soft leather. I thought of adding mascara, an homage to the Cure, but at $45 I decided the item was a bit precious for a one off.

Masculinity is such a variegated, wobbly thing for an Australian boy. I think I was an artist from birth: I certainly drew, read books; given my working class, ethnic background I had little hope of fitting in, thin-skinned I was constantly in trouble. The tension this generated showed in my neck muscles and I was constantly asking my friends whether my voice was masculine. One guy’s soothing advice was that, when you were tense the voice was either squeaky and high, or artificially low, that my natural voice was pleasant when relaxed.The alternative would have been to have become a transvestite?

One of the first gay clubs I visited in Sydney was Bondi Junction’s Chez Ivy. The Smiths song How Soon is Now? might have been written for me, although a trannie asked me to be her boyf, “but”, she said, “you’ll have to be very butch”. Not really understanding the implications of this I never progressed the situation. Chez Ivy had a peculiar dynamic whereby there were two trannies competing onstage, while their blokes rubbished each other offstage but quite audible to the audience.

From the 1980’s to the mid 1990’s I worked in possibly the most macho bureaucratic job in Sydney, the trains. There, I was out as a gay man but my education spared me the macho derision of the ill-intentioned. I was able to generate sarcasm to ward off most barbs. By contrast, a younger driver from an outlying depot, without much confidence, bumbling, chubby, decided that his gender was wrong. The following is in no way a refutation of transgender folk, but there are cases whereby guys have gone M/F to comply with their boyf’s needs and afterwards regretted the move. The train driver I described above turned up for work one day, made up with mascara, face powder, lippy and cheek blusher. But he completely lacked the confidence to survive the first few reactions of his colleagues. He stood cowering, not able to look anyone in the face.  “Where do you go from here?”

a swingI am proud (GAY PRIDE) that each generation progresses our lot incrementally. The story of younger LGBTIQ folk is not mine to write. They define new objectives.

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Religions and celibacy

Last night, on the ABC TV Australian Story was the narrative of a Melbourne Orthodox Jewish young woman who had been sexually molested and raped by her school mistress. The victim was reduced to depression, worthlessness, self-harm. Finally, she was persuaded to accuse her perpetrator in court, who had meanwhile fled to Israel.

The story was one of conflicting emotions, accompanying the frustrations and delays of such a situation. Immediately, I was struck by the duplicity of the board members of the Orthodox school where the crimes had occurred. They promptly paid for a plane ticket to fly the perp out of the country.

Such an action the Catholic church would not have contemplated, because it would have resulted in administrative clergy being charged, like the retirement of ex-bishop Heenan after his evidence before the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. I imagine an Orthodox Jewish school would perhaps not have the extensive funds and infrastructure of the Catholic church, which, after all, has always been a substantial part of Australian society. The schoolmistress was finally located and then re-located after she moved to a secluded Orthodox community, Emmanu’el. She was finally brought to court for extradition proceedings. What amused me was when a Rabbi stepped forward and offered to hold the perpetrator in house arrest. He angrily retorted to reporters, “she is in prison”. I wonder if his eagerness to protect her, apart from the obvious motive of shielding the reputation of Orthodox Jews, might have been the fantasy of a lesbian rapist.

It is high time that we honestly research the phenomenon of clerical chastity. The sitcom Young Pope openly describes the prevalence of (active?) gays among Vatican clergy. It has been described extensively elsewhere. Perhaps such a hypocritical dissonance between public persona and personal behaviour is preferable to predators of innocent children.

Elsewhere, during the priest-training years, it was accepted that seminarians, being deprived of a sexual outlet would wake with the bedsheets stained with nocturnal emissions. The sin involved was when the young man enjoyed his literally wet dream. In other orders, sin was generally punished by the aspirant applying a whip to his naked back, surely another source of pleasure. A friend spent his early adulthood under such conditions, a situation from which he never recovered.

I am intrigued by the ubiquity of sexual expression. As William Blake once wrote, “Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to the endless night, or the lineaments of satisfied desire”. The most publicly nonsexual sect would have to be the Hari Krishnas. Forget that in his country of origin flute playing, which characterises the beautiful blue god, with the face blue as an approaching storm, is street slang for fellatio. However, in the USA, a young man, whose task was child minding, blindfolded his young children and, persuading them that they were about to lick a banana, encouraged them to perform unknown and illicit sexual acts.

We have to accept the primacy of sexual expression. It is laughable of US evangelicals to describe gays as sodomites, when couples in any number of cultures practise sodomy, where birth control methods are unavailable. It has also been remarked that in cultures where priests are allowed to marry child sexual abuse is absent. As someone whose prepubertal cock was handled by a priest I simply do not understand the attraction he felt for such behaviour. Perhaps it was in the illicit nature of the act; the fact that he could behave aberrantly and not be punished, in itself a childish mindset.

We need urgently to change such a culture. It is simply antediluvian for old cardinals to attempt to maintain the status quo. It has changed regularly during the last two millennia, occasionally with rational reversals. Pope Francis has shown that he is capable of such action. One can only hope that he prevails.

thumbnail_pw high res


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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.

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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.

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