Sexuality has come a long way, but why is being gay, lesbian, queer or transgender or why are certain sexual behaviors still categorized and stigmatised?
The panelists at the SCU tent opened up this controversial topic on Saturday morning with lighthearted wit, yet the debate still had serious undertones.
Author of Gasia: Adventures in the Queer East and self-confessed gay, Benjamin Law talked about the challenges of growing up in a conservative Queensland community as both Asian and gay.
“People would tell me that they didn’t consider me to be Asian, which was meant as a compliment,” Law said.
“When you’re a teenager, you want to fit in, so you defer to your friends.”
Another proud gay man, gold Olympic medalist and author of Twists and Turns, Matthew Mitcham, also faced challenges growing up gay.
“I knew I was gay from an early age but I tried to be straight,” he explained.
“Kids pick-up on hetero society and see it as ‘normal’. They just want to become invisibilised.”
The other panelists, Mary-Lou Stephens and Tom Doig, don’t identify as gay, but both feel there are unhealthy sexuality stigmas still prevalent in society.
Stephens believes her strict Anglican homophobic upbringing propelled her to explore her sexuality.
“My mother wouldn’t accept anyone who was gay,” she said. “She thought they were terrible sinners.
“I wanted to burst open those doors as much as I could. So, I tried very hard to be gay and at one stage I did fall in love with a woman. But I soon realised I was straight.”
In Stephen’s memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, her eye-opening ten-day silent retreat helped her discover why her relationships failed and gave her an enlightened view on sexuality.
“I thought my relationships were better than my promiscuous friends, but I began to re-think all of my prejudices,” she said
Tom Doig also littered the pages of his first novel with sexual insights.
Moron to Moron: Two men, two bikes, one Mongolian adventure unravels Doig’s overseas odyssey with his uber-masculine friend Tama, who ironically grew up with three gay fathers.
“Tama’s hetero sexuality was over the top. It was something he had to act out, after coming from three gay fathers,” he said.
Doig’s novel unabashedly reveals sexual behaviour, in what he describes as the longest wanking scene in literary history.
“It’s the climax of the book,” Doig quips.
Sexual taboos need to be broken down: that was the consensus amongst the four panelists, who believe the older generations hold them the strongest.
Mitcham and Law were terrified to tell their grandparents they were gay, yet their parents accept their sexuality, which is possibly a sign that sexual prejudice is becoming outdated generationally.
However, even though there is more acceptance, having an alternative sexuality is still foregrounded by society.
“You’re not considered an author, you’re a ‘gay’ author,” Law said.
Micham said that he’s sick of being put in a clichéd category.
“I’m gay, but I don’t consider it the most interesting thing about me,” he said.
Indeed, there’s a long way to go before alternative sexuality becomes normalised and accepted. However, there is a new assertiveness by those unwilling to be relegated to the clichéd and prejudiced position that dominant society has historically placed them.
As chairperson Jane Caro emphasised, this is the end of the age of deference.
Madeleine Brown is a Creative Writing student at Southern Cross University.