Gay, as in Happy

Winner of the People’s Choice award in the Non-Fiction section of the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2022

Living a life that is queer is an inherently audacious thing. I don’t think I need to explain myself here; elucidate the threats against our very mortality at the personal and the political. Being alive and being queer is an audacity immediately felt.

So often when we talk about queer survival, we turn to the most corporeal, the most obvious definition of it; one that recalls images of violence, death, hate crimes, the mass-politicisation of our very right to live. Survival is a scraping by, a desperation for an equilibrium, of staying just alive enough that we may continue to make peace with our world but not necessarily peace with ourselves.

Queerness, in this framing, is a death sentence; and queer life merely a prolonging of that timeframe leading up to it. And I am not arguing that tragedy is not thrust to the front of our minds when we are confronted every day with attempts of violence, nor am I attributing personal culpability to those who do fear, calling upon them to gaslight themselves into cruel optimism. I am simply asking if this is the only shape our survival must take.

Because frankly, I refuse to simply just get by, to just survive. 

No- I want to be audaciously queer. I want my queerness to be just so huge and so radical that it consumes all in its path. I want my queerness to be parasitic. I want to rub the gay off on you

I make my queerness visible. Because if I don’t, and if others don’t, then where does our queerness belong? Does it have a shape? A sentience?

Joy is a politicised thing, and a privilege. Take the ongoing attempts to ban trans participation in sports; a masquerade of pleas to reify fairness, outlawing the apparently pressing occurrences of athletes undergoing incredibly expensive and life-altering transitioning to then apparently possess an overwhelming physical edge over their competitors.

The stakes are high, the officials high-up, but the impacts are felt at the most everyday, rudimentary level. It is not merely an attack upon a distant, elite sporting space, but an attack upon the spaces of, and the space taken up by, queer children and adults; their right to play at even a most amateur level, to go about their days without having to look upon themselves as the demonised token of media fearmongering, their livelihood perpetually up for debate. Fundamentally, it is not just a regulation of sporting rules, but a regulation upon who has the right to access joy.

What this shows is that the cis-heteronormative world is not safe for us. Sure, in Australia a court won’t sentence me to death simply for being queer. But policies such as this continue to chip away at our right to be joyful, active, included members of society. The classification of queer children and adults as predators, cheaters, flaws, inhibits any opportunity we possess to experience happiness, and the importance of happiness to survival cannot be devalued. 

It follows then that the presence of joy against all these odds, still surviving, is inherently audacious.

Survival is not merely the compulsion to remain alive corporeally, but in keeping queerness as a modality alive, making it tangible and sensory, giving it a shape that I can identify and identify myself into. Queer joy derives pleasure from the present state of being, materialising queer feelings repressed in pockets of the past, and inserts meaning into this present state rather than forever looking for a future, unsubstantiated queer utopia that this pleasure will assemble into. It’s a radical form of survival; it survives my past self, closeted, and the very many multiplicitous selves that I will continue to become. 

Being queer in a straight space means being riddled with the discomforts of not fitting. It is not just about others making you feel unwelcome, but from that stickiness of knowing that you’re still alive, that you have survived, but that you may not continue to survive that life visibly as the queer that you are. Heteronormativity pertains to more than just the gender of whom one orients their attachments to; it is a way of life that privileges and normalises that which is conversely abnormal and awkward to me. 

But we cannot step outside of cis-heteronormativity, and while its dismantling is a radical end goal, we too must prioritise joy in the temporary present. I seek queer spaces, autonomous ones, subcultural ones, where I can envision an experience where we may exist beyond the politicised body. In queer spaces, while we share that common thread of being queer, the moment that this designation into a minority instead posits us in the majority, it is no longer a signifier of otherness. Of course, we cannot simplify a queer space without intersectionality; for spaces where I feel comfortable, it is at the expense of others not inflected with the privileges my whiteness and able-bodiedness affords me. If anything, this speaks to the need for more queer spaces, autonomous and intersectional, where one sees themselves reflected back in others, not merely as the minority of a minority.

For this is the goal; embodiment not in that hyper-awareness of the body being perceived by others, but in the realisation and emergence of all of the queer feelings, fantasies, and curiosities, otherwise repressed for a lifetime. Queer spaces provide more than just safety from threat; they reframe survival as not simply freedom from the binds of queerphobia, but the freedom to live out a reality of our own making. They offer encounters filled with sensations where I can touch and observe my queerness, as a body among other bodies, where our queernesses are alive and sensuous. We’re feeling queerness not as a slur projected onto our bodies but in a reclamation of the identity of queer that is liberatingly unstable. 

Queer joy attains its greatest power when at last given a physical form, embodied through the audacity of visibility; but once empowered within that space, that queer joy can be re-manifested perpetually. Community becomes internal, in stepping outside of cis-heteronormative society and turning inwards, at last recognising the presence of queerness surviving inside of us, and the joy of that queerness, and that joy as survival.

When we frame our survival as a positive, an attachment to joy, rather than as the negative of staying alive against threat, then we tap into a not-yet-defined territory of our own imagining. Queer spaces are so much more than just a physical place or situation, but are defined by intimacies that resonate and stick in memory, consciousness, identity. 

And I recreate these feelings as I write this, cry over this, ooze myself into this, now. For I am so completely, ineffably, exuberantly in love with my queerness. I love my queer body, my queer friendships, my queer desires, words, possibilities, imaginaries. I am in love with the queerness that I audaciously take up, and the audacity of it belonging in space in itself. 

If only a much younger me had known what I know now; had known that this love could survive, and that it could be beautiful. I love myself, now, for them.

This piece was an entry in the 2022 Honi Soit Writing Competition.