Queer Down Under: A Seattleite in Oz, Episode One

Queer Down Under: A Seattleite in Oz, Episode One

- in Columns, Travel
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Episode 1: What the f*$%! am I doing here?

Photo: Amy Middleton
Photo: Amy Middleton

Spring 2014. Same sex marriage is legal, marijuana is legal, the community is thriving, the arts are doing great. Even if climate change is a major problem around the globe, Seattle is still fairly unaffected except that it is about to have what forecasters expect to be a glorious summer. I’ve been looking forward to pride season and getting ready to renew my Three Dollar Bill cinema membership. The street construction on the hill is finally starting to look like it might be done this century. My friends in Ravenna have taken up biking again and have offered to let me borrow a bike and come with them. The Olympics are calling my name for hikes through the Elwha.

Instead, I’m approaching winter in Australia and I feel like I’m in the sequel to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Due to relatively trifling circumstances, I’ve escaped one of the most progressive places in the U.S., and come to almost the other side of the planet to a country far behind in equal rights, with a political administration that is so conservative it rivals our George Bush in comparison.

No amount of Missy Higgins is going to fix this.

Some things were bigger for me than the strides my home state of Washington hit this last year; bigger than Vivacé coffee, or a Gregory Award winning show by New Century Theatre Company, or trips to San Juans, or Bumbershoot, or lunch at Thrive Café in Roosevelt. It was time for me to have a change. I needed to see something new and foreign, and more up close and personal than the TV5Monde’s screening of Blue is the Warmest Color.  I had just put a permanent end to “THE” relationship and was throwing myself headlong into my neglected artistic career. So when the opportunity to go to work and live in Australia came across my radar, I leapt.

Goodbye newly won rights. Goodbye Mexican food. Goodbye queer family.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone kept telling me how racist and homophobic Australia was, and also how Mardi Gras (Sydney’s version of our Pride Festival) is one of the best GLBTQI events in the world! Australians travel more overseas than from any other country, so I assume they are open-minded. Yet I’ve also heard a lot about their drinking culture and was warned to steel myself against aggressive masculinity. Soon enough, I was off the plane and driven through Sydney by a few dear Aussie friends.

booksOne of my first questions was about the gayborhoods. I knew if I could find the gay people, I could find some community. No matter how superficial it may be, queers have a bond. I was told there was no central neighborhood for gay people…and then I saw the rainbow flags on Oxford Street. Kings Cross. Newtown. These were the trendy neighborhoods. Ahhh…gay is “trendy.”

Everyone uses the term “partner” for any kind of semi-committed relationship. The libraries have rainbow colored stickers on the spines of fiction books that have a GLBT aspect to them so you can pick them out easily. Local public news sources feature advertisements for clinics addressing “social infertility” (the lack of a male). There is a universal health care system in place and anyone can claim an SO, regardless of gender or marital status.

“Hmmmmm…..so how come you guys don’t have gay marriage?”

“Oh, it’s so stupid. We have so many bogans (read: hicks) in this country. Really most of the country doesn’t care at all if gay people get married. Its just the olds (read: older generation).”

I’m gathering that Australia is not a divisive country. It expects and waits for consensus. Unlike the U.S., which changes politically as soon as there’s a 51 percent majority (which is all we ever seem to get on any issue), Australia bides its time and waits for closer to 80 percent.  It speaks to their innocence that most Australians are shocked at their current Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The idea that a politician would lie to their constituents is surprising and appalling to them.

Michelle Lunicke
Michelle Lunicke

Stepping into this world makes me wonder if integration of a sort has already happened without the validation of the government. I expected culture to follow behind legality on a continent originally colonized by criminals. Contrarily, culture seems to be ahead of the law here. This has a ripple effect on queer culture.

Queer identity is so often built up around the struggles of being a minority amongst a disapproving majority. Australian Queer identity is made up in a different environment and therefore has a different tone to its community. Perhaps it’s being from the U.S., or the Pacific Northwest, but I wonder how factors like our relationship to religion and politics make us so alike and so different. I wonder where our national or regional identities invisibly intertwine with our queer ones, and how queer people can come together globally and learn how to make things better for all of us.

I have much to discover on this journey, and am still just scratching the surface on a story about our international rainbow family. For now, this is exactly where I need to be.

Michelle Lunicke is a writer and performance artist from Seattle currently living abroad in Sydney, Australia. You can follow her twitter feed @michellelunicke. She blogs and makes collaborative art at michellelunicke.com.

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