TW: homophobia, slurs, violence, injury, hate crimes
A child fetches the mail. “VOTE NO TO FAGS” is painted across the pamphlet, in bright red, in bold. Their neighbour’s rainbow flag has been shredded. There’s swastikas carved into the bus stops.
A thirteen year old watches the news, on his laptop screen, and the footage of sobbing lovers, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers. The whispers of the children who can’t quite understand. His classmates snigger “faggot” when he enters. His locker cannot be seen through the slurs.
A fourteen year old covers their bruises and pulls on every colour of the rainbow with pride. Their eyes are still swollen from crying, and one of them is darkened by the knuckle-marks, but they swipe the glitter on anyway, and smile. They will not be defeated today.
A fifteen year old hears her teachers murmuring about how they are destroying society, how their marriage would be sacrilege. And she buries the part of her that just wants to love and lets her soul become harder and colder. She forgets that ice is more brittle than fire.
A sixteen year old watches helplessly as xir mother votes no. Xir father. Xir brother. A sixteen year old watches helplessly as xir world falls around xem, because xie’s two years too young to shape the future xie will bear.
A seventeen year old couple are too terrified to hold hands in the school halls that day. No one knows what will happen to them. They don’t use their lockers anymore, and their bags are sagging heavy from the weight of their books and their world. When they kiss, it is soft, it is desperate. When they laugh, when they smile, they wonder if this might be the last time. Their hands brush in the corridor and they snatch them away. They never thought they’d have to do that today.
An eighteen year old scrambles to get her voting registration in. She and her girlfriend sign up the same day, in different cities. Their future rests on this. Their present rests on this. The day she votes, someone shows up on her doorstep, flashing the Vote No app. She closes the door and cries. She and her girlfriend both have red eyes when they video call that night.
A nineteen year old hopes his eyes aren’t too red as he makes his way to his lecture, still trying to tear the slurs hurled across the street from his mind.
A twenty year old proudly paints her nails rainbow and drags out a sign, marching, screaming, yelling. She knows she can make a difference.
Around the nation “this is not what we need” is hissed between families and behind closed doors.
Around the nation “this is bringing nothing but hatred and fear” is screamed, from streets, from rooftops, from souls.
Around the nation “we are vulnerable” “we deserve better” “this will not break us, no matter how they try” is shouted, through the simple act of living, of loving. Through the turning in of votes, through breathing, through working, through existing.
Around the nation “you did this to us. We did not ask for your pain” is snarled, as we prepare to fight another day.
I paint my cheeks rainbow, I paint my lips red. I arm myself with leather and words – poetic and prose. I am here. I am queer. And I will fight. And I will love.
But the swastikas flood in. Melbourne has sunk. Sydney is next to disappear in the gunk.And Darwin. And Hobart. Adelaide and Perth. Brisbane and Canberra and, of course, Bourke. Even Kosciusko can’t see for the muck. Faggot leaps, a dolphin. Queer scum, a great marlin. And sacrilege looms, unseen, like a shark.
The train stations have darkened, the streets no longer safe. Both sides have lost any sense of respect. Even our own homes don’t let us escape. Our flags are burnt. Our people bashed. Our existence displayed for debate. Are we worthy? Not of what we are offered, the mere symbolic right, but of existence, of loving, of seeing the light.
The debate soon lost sight of marriage, because that was never the issue, it never even mattered. All that they wanted us to know was that we weren’t welcome. That no matter what we did, and how well we speak, and how much we study, and how hard we work, we are different, we are unnatural. We are what is causing society to swirl into a “cesspool of its own making”.
So the postal vote came to an end, an entire nation held their breath. Some wondered whether their hate would triumph. Others wondered whether they’d even be able to walk the streets. We gathered, we hoped, we breathed what could have been our last breath.
And relief came, and flooded, and filled our chests.
But no matter then ending, no matter the start. The journey has showed us our country’s heart. This mediocre message came at the cost of safety, security, of lives, of thought.
Our support networks crumbled, as our own minds failed us, but the good news is: the government saved a few bucks! Slurs I’d never heard used in my life came trudging back from the depths of time.
And now we are told we should stop complaining. We got what we want, why aren’t we parading? But we are still killed everyday, we still cry everyday, we still know 50 of us could get shot any day. We still watched our nation devolve into brandishing Nazi symbols and salutes, we still heard people scream “faggot”, we still felt the blows, we still watched friends and family vote no.
What more can we want, we’ve got the right to marry!
But our entire existence has been up for debate, and no matter the result, those fights, those slurs, those scars will always be burnt into our minds.
Look to the present with the future in mind, and to the future with the past in mind.