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.
But 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.”