Writing by Lucy Hotchin // Photograph by Sara Lorusso
June is Pride Month, a time for all LGBTQIA identifying people to celebrate and feel proud of who they are. However, with the current cultural climate in Australia and the rest of the world, it can be difficult to reconcile feeling proud of who you are with the historic oppression and mistreatment of LGBTQIA people. Progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.
I use “queer” as an umbrella term here for everyone on the LGBTQIA spectrum, although not everyone in this acronym is equal. There is a difference between being a gay white male, a femme lesbian of colour, a trans person, and a non-binary person, and all come with very different degrees of privilege. I’m a cis female, I’m white, and I’m queer— or pansexual, if you will. I have a place of privilege because I am white and cis gender, but I have less privilege as someone who is queer and has mental illness. Debating privilege is a quagmire of difficulty and necessity which you could write several critical analysis books about, but I just want to touch on the ways privilege allows me to write about what I know and have experienced. I grew up in a white middle class Australian family; I went to a private school for a few years and then switched to public. Because of my Australian citizen status I could afford to go to university with a commonwealth supported place; I did not have to pay my fees up front. I went to university and I have a Bachelor’s degree which allows me a higher paying level of job market. My “queerness” is not written on my skin; I don’t prescribe to being femme or butch, I guess I pass as straight. So these privileges have led me to be able to write this article and have a voice, which not everyone has.
The difficulties I’ve faced in my queer experience arise from being a female both in the mainstream queer world, and the mainstream hetero world. These two worlds represent very different levels of acceptance but carry with them a huge amount of discrimination too. For example, I’m pansexual: this carries the difficult commentary of, “Oh, but it’s just a phase”, and, “But you’re with a guy now so you’re straight.” (This one also includes being with a woman and therefore being a lesbian). This commentary is something I’ve experienced within the queer community as well is the straight community. The issues I’ve had around my sexuality have been due to sexism, misogyny, and chauvinism. I am not in a relationship and haven’t been for around 6 years, so my sexuality has faded into the background over time both within my self identity and my connection to others.
SO, for the last few years I’ve been wandering through life pretty obliviously; I am somewhat of a hermit, I haven’t been cat-called in years as I don’t really go out, I’ve only recently started working again and the course I am studying is mostly made up of women. I get the odd look when eating out as I am overweight and most of my difficulties lie in the psychiatric world with a diagnosis that is highly stigmatised.
Recently, however, I stepped out of my room, where I’d spent so many hours avoiding the wider world, and directed a laugh-out-loud play for the Midsumma Festival in Melbourne called “The Ultimate Lesbian Double Feature”. It’s a play about lesbians, designed to make the audience laugh and just have a good time. I had met the writer, a lesbian herself, at a show at La Mama theatre where we discussed her show and I said I’d loved to be involved. A few months later the show opened at La Mama Theatre and we sold out– even after adding two more shows than originally scheduled. It was a pretty successful run and we were really happy.
Two weeks later the show was to be performed at Sydney’s Mardi Gras festival. I was incredibly unwell by this point and couldn’t attend, so the cast flew to Sydney without me, with the wonderful writer/producer and light/sound operator for a two week run. What followed was a slap in the face to any “progress” I thought was being made– the cast were met with an uncooperative male-run theatre who made ridiculous demands. They had a lack of interest in advertising and selling the show even though it would mean they would lose money. There was an unrelated incident of an unknown man from the hostel at which the cast were staying watching one of the female cast members showering. The Mardi Gras festival featured only two lesbian-focused plays that ran for more than one night out of twenty-two shows.
After our sell out Melbourne season our Sydney run was poorly attended and left our cast with low spirits. What was going on? Mardi Gras seemed not to be what we thought it would be; in terms of theatre, the focus was on gay males. There didn’t seem to be much acceptance of a lesbian focused show, and while the Mardi Gras parade seemed to be pretty fun for everyone, I heard many times that it was ultimately a “sausage fest”. As I wasn’t there, I can’t comment on everything, but I watched a cast go from happy and excited to completely dejected. There wasn’t much pride being felt, and this was THE pride festival to attend in Australia, the famous Mardi Gras! On returning to Melbourne we held one last show, which sold out and the feedback was incredibly positive. What I learned from this experience is that acceptance and rejection comes in many forms, and that rejection can come from within the very community that I’m a part of; the queer community.
While I love being queer, it is difficult to be proud when so many queer people are not treated as equals; when so many do not have the same privileges that I do, or the privileges of a gay white male. It is not simple, it is not black and white, and there is still a lot of work to do. That being said, this doesn’t mean we have nothing to celebrate– This Pride month I’ll be celebrating the amazing friends I have, the wonderful conversations I’ve had, and how my knowledge and understanding have broadened, thanks to so many incredible queer people who I have met, read articles by, or heard speak. I will be celebrating the queer writers who stand up and share their stories and who have helped me accept who I am as a pansexual. I will celebrate the artists and film and theatre makers who are pushing the boundaries of traditional queer art, who are pushing against a male-dominated industry. This Pride month, I hope to help educate people in regards to pansexuality and bisexuality; it isn’t a phase, it is part of our identity, so please don’t dismiss it. I will celebrate the allies that support myself and my peers when discrimination happens, allies who accept me for everything that I am. This Pride month I want to thank those who have come before us and paved the way for progression and acceptance; it can be a slow uphill battle at times, but we are still glorious beings.[share]