Theodore Sturgeon’s short story of the above title is about the loverbirds, two gay birdlike lovers escaped from an intolerant world. It’s an exquisite picture, lyrical and bearing the fruit of truth, as in:
They lay quite still, but love so permeated them that their very poses expressed it. Their lax bodies yearned each to each, and the tall one’s handseemed to stream towards the fingers of his beloved, and then back again, like the riven tatters of a torn fabric straining towards oneness again.
That was the poetry; as for truth: There is nothing like the conservatism of license. Given a culture of sybaritics, with an endless choice of mechanical titillations, and you have a people of unbreakable and hidebound formality, a people with few but massive taboos, a shockable, narrow, prissy people obeying the rules — even the rules of their calculated depravities — and protecting their treasured, specialised pruderies.
The story is a priceless metaphor for 1950’s homophobia, extraordinary in that nobody mentioned gay then, without a sneer on their lips.
I mention this here because renowned Australian activist/author Dennis Altman made a reference to opera in front of a gay conference in Washington DC, and no one understood it. I know the feeling well. Incidentally, I am quoting from a weekend newspaper review by Altman of a book by Mark Halperin. It is extremely unsympathetic, but we will not dwell on the personal shortcomings of either reviewer or reviewed.
The Sydney gay scene is internationally vaunted for holding the annual Mardi Gras. Its cultural side however, perhaps like the host city itself, in arranged in village by village activities, a cluster of mutually exclusive behaviours. I attended a gallery event in East Sydney, at one of the few openly gay-run art galleries; the director was grumbling about the gay mardi gras crowd that had attended opening night the night before: they drank all the champagne then buggered off to the clubs, not a work sold. You look at the cultural festival pre the parade: it’s musicals, cabaret and the obligatory sexy visual event, nothing serious or challenging. The undercurrent is a tide of fringe events that pose as alternative. Gay culture seems to lock into a “heritage” fallback position, curator of establishment values.
Perhaps the picture I outline is of 1990’s Aids-doomed loverbirds, without a thought for tomorrow. Such were my colleagues, that might have stepped out of Holleran’s Dancer From the Dance; switch bitches, telephone operators at the time of telephonic technology when lines of communication were established manually. Chief in the group was a bloke of peerless pretentions, who went off to California to become a shampoo stylist. Having overstayed his visa, apparently he is still there, one of the nameless.