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Long March for Gay Shame

A year or two ago, rheumatologist I interviewed the artist Richard Bell. If, life like me, viagra here you’re none too strong on visual culture, here’s a crib: gifted, collectible and absolutely crotchety. He’s also an Indigenous Australian.

A little hint of his heritage is offered in title-fight work Bell’s Theorem. Across the canvas you’ll read the words, “Aboriginal Art – It’s A White Thing”. Upon accepting a national art prize for the piece, his t-shirt said, “White Girls Can’t Hump”.

He debuted in New York last year with an exhibition called, “I’m Not Sorry”.

I told you he was crotchety.

I think I was having a bad day when I first met Richard Bell. I hope so, as I needed an excuse for the question that I asked. You know the sort: cut from a bolt of bogus compassion; ripped by Margaret Mead from the Book of Common Prayer.

I might not have asked, “So tell me, Richard. What’s it like to be a dear-little brown-coloured artist?” but it was certainly along these lines as I was jolted to sense by his answer, “I get fucking sick of thinking what it’s like to be Aboriginal.”

Aboriginal art. Aboriginal identity. We should remember: oftentimes, it’s a white thing.

Bell’s efforts to move away from Aboriginal identity as white Australia has it defined are, if you ask me, fucking heroic.

I’m about to mention queer people. And, before you get all Helen-You-Can’t-Possibly-Compare-The-Plight-Of-Indigenous-Australians-To-That-Of-Middle-Class-Queens-Who-Inhabit-Impeccably-Decorated-Houses-And-Own-French-Bulldogs: I know. I’m not comparing. I’m analogising.

Here in Australia in recent days, there has been much talk about sexual identity. For précis of the stories that started this civic fuckfest go here and here.

In short, one prominent Australian suggested that staying in the “closet” was a good idea. Another prominent Australian had the hinges prised from his closet door by vile journalists. As a result, a chorale of “progressives” is now singing a battle-hymn of Outing.

Apparently, the detonation of the closet will solve everything.

You’ve heard it all before. In a turn that makes Oprah’s advice to Live Your Best Life sound like Sartre, commentators are banging on and on about the importance of being True To Yourself.

Better be True to Yourself. Those of us who do not routinely enjoy normal sex, whatever that might be, need to ‘fess up. So. If you enjoy BDSM, girl on girl action, sodomy, bukkake, threeways or cross dressing, write your dirty laundry list. A public inventory of the types of bodies most likely to bring you to orgasm IS THE ONLY THING THAT WILL STOP TEEN SUICIDE.

I am not in the habit of quoting myself as, generally, I produce little that merits repeating. But, it’s very late and I haven’t done any work and I believe I have adequately explained my objections to the very idea of homosexuality in this paragraph.

We tend to forget that “Homosexuality” has only been codified for about as long as the Australian Football League. In the late 19th century, it was recognised then criminalised then medicalised. When we say “I’m gay” we are uttering a history of modern felony and disease. When we say, “It’s really none of your business” we are certainly not changing the world. But nor are we duplicating the Victorian edicts that led sexuality from a vague spectrum into clear-cut club colours.

In the same piece, which you can find with a quick Google, I say,

“It is broadly assumed that open declaration of homosexuality by public figures is terribly important. We badger queers to emerge from their burrows in the belief that a sexual life lived on the surface will end all harm.

The holes in this logic have always driven me potty. Let me try to explain its internal collapse: in order to improve a world that defines people in the terms of their sexual orientation, we really need more people to define their sexual orientation.

Homosexual identity. We should remember: oftentimes, it’s a straight thing.

To paraphrase Bell – with whom I do not compare myself, I’m just analogising, remember? – sometimes I get sick of thinking what it’s like to be homosexual. I don’t want to spend my days being “gay” anymore than Bell cares to be “Aboriginal”. Each of us is uncomfortable with the history that inheres in those terms constructed by a culture that has no real use for us other than as specimens.

Simply, the terms don’t fit. They smother. I don’t want to fucking think about being gay. So, wherever possible, I elect not to think about it at all.

Perhaps I will make my gallery debut in New York next year. Expect a show called I’m Not Proud.

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14 Responses to “Long March for Gay Shame”

  1. Jas says:

    I agree!!! I don’t feel the terrible pressure to come out as a heterosexual. I’m quite possibly not even a very “nice” hetero and certainly not a role model… Why should others be forced to represent and be represented by their sexuality if I am not?

    Who cares where you stick your pink bits?

  2. BPobjie says:

    OK, I really and honestly and truly like this.

  3. Helen Razer says:

    Oh. You’re only saying that because I’m a Homosexual.
    Give us a Tweet, then, puss, now that I’ve given up the habit.

  4. BPobjie says:

    Even if I disagreed with the other.

  5. Helen Razer says:

    OH JESUS BEN. Haven’t I given you enough marginal gloss on the other? I really think that was one of the better things I’ve written all month.
    In other news: welcome, Jas. You’re a terrible role model and, as such, very welcome here.

  6. Dingo says:

    Razer, even though I know the inevitable engineshunting that comes from mentioning Greer after a magisterial blogpost does ultimatefighting like that one – you gotta read whitefella jump up. A little shoehorning here a little analogising there and you got yourself ‘fags jump up’. Just do the math. Or the maths if you’re not American. Which you’re not. It really shits me how Americans say math, as if there’s only one. What I’m trying to say is I liked your post and PS I am drunk and angry and online.

  7. YB says:

    Another great piece! Also – Is one of the blonde long haired/ people in that photo a skinny guy in a wig? Good mix-up if it is :)

    I find the issues of identity really curious, because I have never really been touched by it enough to be upset – I do get ‘identites’ but I’ve always just blasted over people who use them to pigeon hole, or as intelligence filters to avoid the dim.

  8. HannahMary says:

    Oh Lord. Helen Razer will you be my mentor?

  9. Tiger_Crane says:

    Not proud, nor dull or stupid. Great post.

  10. Vicki Cochran says:

    Really interesting read! Honestly..

  11. CB-P says:

    For a very long time, longer than I care to remember, I avoided other lesbian/gay women. I put this down to, (apart from shyness), internalised homophobia. Gradually I began to locate this feeling/thinking to a social emphasis on Gay=Sex.
    It became an obsession of mine, when confronted with another gay person, to conjure all sorts of activities involving my genitals and hers. I realised after awhile as this being the main problem: the locus of my identity grounded in what really is no one else’s business – unless I make it so.
    I wonder though, whether celebrities outing themselves helps to normalise this. I think it does somehow. I think if I’d been a kid and the definitions of ‘queer’ were as (moderately) accepted as they are today I’d be a happy camper. (so to speak).
    Sorry for the long and rambling speech.

    • Helen Razer says:

      Goodness. Never be sorry for long and rambling text. If I was ever sorry for that crime, I’d never write another word again.
      I tend not to seek out “gay” people myself. This is because I find the idea of gayness very dull.
      To answer your embedded query, though. I wonder if the pressure we exert on people to “come out” is in any way fair. Why should we expect queer people to cop a truckload of the inevitable metaphoric shit? And why should we go about underscoring definitions that just don’t fit many of us?

  12. CB-P says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that pressure exerted on anyone to come out is unfair. And no group should be expected to represent the weight of symbolic hope to those seeking it.

    I don’t know. It’s as if by making identities visible they can somehow become ‘invisible’ or insignificant and we can get on with the business of being ourselves (whatever that is).

    I’m with you though, the idea of gayness is very dull indeed. I’ll jump off the subject me thinks.

    Thanks for responding Helen.

    Cheers,
    Connie

  13. Tim says:

    Dear Helen,
    I thought this was a terrific post. It gave me a slight feeling of deja vu.
    I am 54. When I was a lad, women had made only modest progress in the quest for social justice. Change was in the air though.
    By the early 70’s things were on the move, I remember the bookshop in Brisbane sporting The Female Eunuch wall to wall, and some of those at the bleeding edge were coming dangerously close to saying “women are the same as men”. (I am a biologist. I have strong evidence that this is not so.) In the heat of the action it seemed that a useful purpose was served by making an extreme statement and forcing the argument to come back at the problem from the other direction.
    The pursuit of justice is an endless battle and women still have a way to go to achieve parity, but my own memory tells me that a wonderful distance has now been covered. In many situations now it is properly taken for granted that equality should be assumed and inequality has to be justified. It is self-evident that women are not the same as men but that is beside the point when trying to determine what is just and the difference can now be admitted without it being taken as acceptance of a lower status.
    An indication that a battle has been successfully fought is that the object of the battle is so taken for granted as to lose significance. I hope that soon it is considered odd to discuss a person’s sexuality, sex or aboriginality when discussing their work – unless they wish it.
    Oh, and forcing people out of the closet is a cruel, and potentially dangerous, infringement of their liberty. Hopefully, in a few years, young folk will say “What is this closet of which you speak?” but those who wish to stay in the closet should have the right to stay there unmolested, err unless they wish to be.
    I am not sure whether such social battles can be fought and won though without the brave pioneers who make a public show of who they are and declare that justice is not being done. But there comes a time when the Cause is more effectively delivered by declaring victory, looking the remnants of the foe in the eye and quietly suggesting that there are more important things to worry about now. Perpetual victimhood perpetuates the struggle.

    Side thought: the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence kicks off with that famous line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Everyone knows instinctively that that is a complete load of crap. It is, however, an invaluable fallacy or construct and any decent society has to have it as their foundation.

    CB-P apologised above for a long rambling speech. Oh dear. Well, I’ll post it and you can just knife it if it made your eyes glaze over.
    Love your stuff,
    Tim

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