ABC Mental As Week

This week, the Australian National Broadcaster is airing mental issues for a week. I have recently interviewed a psychiatrist for anxiety issues and attempted to commission a report that asserted their importance as triggers for epileptic episodes. I would have thought the essential quality cultivated by a shrink was listening skill. Never mind.

Recently I was chatting with an Eastern European individual at Centrelink, my retirement allowance provider; I joked about the importance of Sigmund Freud & his insistence that every male baby is born gay but some develop heterosexuality. The significance of that theory is that it asserts that every straight boy was born gay; it may be only a theory but it demands that people come to terms with the ability of men to develop homosexual so-called “tendencies”, under extreme circumstances, in prison, in the army, in sporting situations. My social benefits interviewer opined that Freud had single-handedly derailed the development of western psychiatry.

In the 1980’s I met a bisexual guy who had been sectioned in a mental hospital at age 15, because he persisted with the delusion that he was an extra-terrestrial. David Bowie after all made the fantasy part of his successful career: “You’re not alone. Give me your hand, ’cause you’re wonderful”.

Even in the 1970’s, mental hospitals were horror shows; they were closed soon after; clearly they did not improve the lot of incarcerated patients. I got to know a psychiatric nurse who took me to his workplace at Callan Park, Rozelle. He had a favourite patient who also believed he was a starman; we were introduced. Unfortunately, I was profoundly shocked by the experience, when I should have reassured the guy. The nurse led me to the side of a large hall, where about fifty noisy young men were housed. There was very little restraint imposed: the floor was covered in pools of urine and mounds of shit. Individuals expressed various bodily functions as they saw fit; they penetrated themselves anally; they interacted at will with others.

Here and there, individuals were oppressed by their problems and by the squalid situation & they were reduced to tears. My nurse friend’s patient was embarrassed & unable to project his antennae, as his nurse was encouraging him. I left the place soon after; I had experienced the situation totally unprepared for the chaos & squalor. The fact that a parent would despair of raising their child & were prepared to confine them in this disgusting prison was beyond my understanding. The lowest common denominator was of the young men behaving homosexually together, whether or not that was their inclination otherwise.

The underlying social imperative was clearly to segregate & punish any overt gay behaviour in young men. By forcing a gay man to conceal his honest sexual attraction towards other young men, he was made to feel furtive & ashamed. The overt sexual behaviour encouraged by Callan Park was spontaneous but certainly not experienced as normal. That was the fiendish choice offered by society to gay men: furtive or abberant. Those who interacted with other gay men in anonymous situations such as railway toilets or parks exposed them to a type of hunting behaviour by psychotic packs of hoodlums or police, happy to punish & victimise such gay men.

On today’s media, a man decided to return to his country town, where during his upbringing he had been bullied by his mates. Recently, I found out that the man who played alongside me in our primary school, who grew up to reject the abuse of a pedophile priest, who raised a gay son, was found dead in an anonymous setting where gay sex takes place out of town, after dark. How much does our society need to change to accommodate all its citizens?

Later in the evening, the ABC Q&A show discussed mental health issues; when a gay comedian tried to get a right wing country politician to address gay issues, the course of conversation became once again predictable. The pollie insisted he would not address gay issues; he described them as not worth his attention, & he described the comedian as “having a lot of fun” at a point when evasion was no longer possible. We are seen as clowns, our issues are not serious; in the 1950’s when being caught committing gay acts earned you electro-convulsive therapy we were seen as pathologically frivolous & incapable of forming stable relationships. Now that a younger generation has the laudable courage to demand equality, to re-write social norms, the self-styled keepers of the law are making ever shriller noises about traditional definitions of marriage. I say: let’s look at how Abraham & Sara arranged their lives; polygamy & surrogacy are just the start.


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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