Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07

an archive

We’re here, we’re queer, we’re still in high school

Young Daniel Swain is rather impressive in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Things must have improved in Wollongong, even if there is a way yet for our society (and the world) to go…

The F-bomb was dropped on me only once. I was at a bus shelter with my then boyfriend when we heard the “call of the wild”: “Go back to Mardi Gras you f—ing faggots!”. I responded as calmly as I could: “I may be a faggot, sir, but you are a fool. My people get parades, what do your people get?”

The gay teenager is a modern invention. No longer must we wait for the liberal oasis of university to express our sexuality identity. After several years enduring those polite euphemisms of “flamboyance” and “sensitivity” I tiptoed out of the closet. Fifteen, out and proud.

My story is not unique. For the more liberal members of our generation the closet has become an antique…

Thankfully, my own high school is, largely, the tolerant, accepting society in microcosm. It is Wollongong’s only academically selective school which means that the student body is intelligent enough to know that sex only matters when you’re involved. To the Sydney readers, I hope that shatters some of your stereotypes of Wollongong: we aren’t all steel-brained Neanderthals.

But other students are not so lucky. According to a LaTrobe University study into the lives of same-sex-attracted youth, 44 per cent experience verbal abuse, while 16 per cent suffer physical abuse. Gay teens can end up homeless, depressed and suicidal. The average high-school corridors are known for their inimicality. Friends of mine have to rush from class to class through hidden paths to avoid the obligatory shout of “faggot”.

This intolerance makes it obvious how the modern gay rights movement has failed gay kids. It is a political movement driven by the concerns of wealthy, white, middle-aged, metropolitan men. Marriage, apparently, is the gay equality issue of our time; the right to give your relationship governmental oversight. It is a noble project but when you compare it to real queer issues of our time it appears a waste of focus, time and resources.

HIV infection rates are on the rise in gay communities, as is the use of crystal meth. The afflictions that school students face remain unaddressed. Internationally our identity is criminalised: there are still nations around the world that enforce the death penalty for being gay. In Russia and Poland, reactionary parties have tried to remove the civil liberties of gay protesters. These groups face the problems that our community dealt with decades ago. I thought history bred compassion.

Growing up gay involves moving slowly forward in the traffic jam of progress. You savour each small advance but you can only see your destination in the distance. Sometimes bigotry, hatred and cruelty bring your journey to a standstill.

Daniel Swain is a year 11 student at Smith’s Hill High School in Wollongong.

I don’t entirely agree with the pasting he gives us oldies, though I am not fussed one way or the other over the word “marriage” personally; I would be happy to have that around as an option, of course, but the real issues are in the area of ongoing social and legal disadvantage affecting people in relationships other than heterosexual ones. He is right, however, to point to the rather more significant issues facing the majority of GLBT people on the world scene, and right too to draw attention to the abuse that still goes on in our own society.

He is also literate. This must be very disappointing to the curmudgeons, male and female, who have been wringing their hands with monotonous regularity for at least the past forty years about the decline in literacy… (I do not exaggerate; I well recall that position getting considerable publicity even in the early 1960s.)

NOTE: It was the suicide in 1989 of a gay friend and ex-student from Wollongong (not to mention my own experience) that led to the thoughts you still see on my GLBT page. The story of the friend is told here, slightly fictionalised.

MORE on Daniel Swain

I see he won the state final of the Sydney Morning Herald Plain English Speaking Award in July with Oppression is sexy. I suspect The Red Dragon may know him, or his family…

I was raised by communists. In some parts saying that is tantamount to declaring that you were raised by wolves. And my experience has shown me that in many ways communists are like wolves: they hunt in packs, bare their fangs, and are unable to use the accoutrements of modern life such as iPods or deodorant.

My home life was difficult. Other children went to playgroup, I went to Trotskyite plebiscites. Whereas they clutched teddy bears, I slept next to a copy of Das Kapital. In short: I was a melancholic East Berliner toiling behind my self-imposed Berlin Wall.

But being raised red means I have a number of innate abilities: I can invade Eastern European nations with relative ease; there’s no process that I can’t make more bureaucratic; but most importantly, it has given me an understanding of oppression…

The Red Dragon uses deodorant; I’m sure of it. 😉 After all we shared a house and a flat at various stages… I know what was in her bathroom… Mind you, if they were Trots The Dragon may not have spoken to them.

smhspeak.gifBut the Plain English Award is interesting. A couple of students I have taught or known have won it. (You will find the past 20 years of winners by clicking the thumbnail.) One of them, Jeremy Heimans, is one of the founders of GetUp, and has rated a couple of mentions on my blog: here and on The Big Archive. Jeremy now with David Madden leads Purpose Campaigns, “a small team of international media and strategy professionals working to advance progressive causes.”

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Written by Neil

August 15, 2007 at 9:09 am

5 Responses

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  1. I agree with you about the swipe at the oldies. The gay “movement” has had a lot to say about the plight of gay adolescents and third-world gay people. After all, most gay people have been through at least the former: the centrality of “coming out” stories to gay self-construction is closely associated with that. Most gay people have memories of mistreatment in the school system (even if they themselves avoided it) and it is an issue close to their heart. Equality of treatment for gay people, and the capacity for this to be discussed and dealt with in schools, are closely associated.

    It’s not a question of either one thing (gay marriage) etc or the others (treatment of gay young people; gay people in the third world). It’s not that every gay person wants to get married, but social recognition and acknowledgement (and yes, equality) is a question of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. At the risk of repeating myself, this is pretty closely related to the position of gay teenagers and, indeed, in the long run, the predicament of gay people in other countries (and also less in the long run in the case of interdependence and refugee immigration applications).


    August 15, 2007 at 3:09 pm

  2. Yes, there are links at that page of mine to organisations like ILGA which might cause Daniel to moderate some of his views, but he still strikes me as quite an impressive young man. I suppose one could say that he can only do what he has done because of the “oldies” in past years…


    August 15, 2007 at 5:08 pm

  3. Soon, I’ll be so moderate that I won’t have any views. Then I suppose I’ll be criticized for that! Cheers.


    August 16, 2007 at 9:56 am

  4. I suspect Daniel is actually replying to this exchange between myself and Gumnut, rather than to this post. The context of his thought is probably his post Why are you visiting this blog? Seems some of Daniel’s commenters have been giving him grief over his views on Israel/Palestine, a subject I have to admit I get into as little as possible, though I have sometimes done so.

    CORRECTION. The “Daniel” referred to in this post (Daniel Swain) is not the “Daniel” referred to in this comment (“Seeking Utopia”)! Now I see what happened… Oh well. Just shows we all need to read more carefully, doesn’t it?


    August 16, 2007 at 10:04 am

  5. There are far too many Daniels for my liking!


    August 16, 2007 at 10:43 am

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