A Night for Remembrance
WORDS BY SANDRA BUOL
Joy and sorrow often come hand in hand, and last night’s chapter of Queerstories in Redfern made that abundantly clear. It was an evening for the 78ers – a group of activists who marched and danced in the first Mardi Gras and subsequently got rounded up by the police, thrown in jail, bashed, and outed and publicly shamed by the newspapers. However, the stories the five activists brought to the stage were not about this infamous night 40 years ago. All of them lifelong activists for LGBTIQ rights – and they have seen it all. What they have to tell is often heartbreakingly sad – but it comes with a pinch of humour. How else could be endured what they had to endure?
Amongst the tale tellers was Sister Mary Sit on my Face of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Back in the days she was a bit of a wild one, joining the parade on the back of a motorcycle, clinging to a leather clad biker. But a nun’s habit and the wheels of a motorbike are not always compatible – something that the young sister had to learn the hard way and the cause of many laughs from the audience. To be fair, it wasn’t just the sister’s tale that made the people laugh, it was also the extraordinary Auslan interpretation by Neil Phipps. One could almost understand the story without knowing sign language – that’s how expressive the man is. All Queerstories events are Auslan interpreted and they are popular with the queer deaf community.
And then there were the other stories. Gay men who got married to lesbian women to provide social security for each other before the law recognised same-sex couples. People who tried to pass for straight. People who were thrown out by their families. “I walked, talked and thought gay,” Toby Zoates chanted to the sound of a slide guitar. His grandfather didn’t like it. “‘My grandson’s grown into a bloody poofter! Look at his disgusting get up! Get out of my house ya little fairy!’ He yelled for me to never come back again and slammed the door on my crestfallen face. I never did see the old grump again and I inherited exactly nothing from him, I was disowned and disaffected.”
And then the stories of those who are no longer here. In times of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and undetectable viral loads, we, the young gays of today, run the risk of forgetting what it meant to be HIV positive in those days. People died. At its peak in the 1990s a 1000 Australians perished every year. The community, often the only family LGBTIQ folk had, suffered immensely. It’s these stories that, in times of marriage equality and the glitz of Mardi Gras, cannot be forgotten.
Queerstories is a monthly storytelling night at the Giant Dwarf, presented by writer, producer and theatremaker Maeve Marsden. More information and tickets can be found here.