Dion, in his own words: “I don’t have a manifesto about being gay, although I have devoted a lot of my adult life to thinking about the meanings of sexuality. I’m a gender and sexuality studies academic, or, at least, I’m trying to become established as one. I wrote a dissertation about HIV/AIDS and gay men, and I guess in many ways that whole project, which is getting published as a book soon, is essentially about what it means to be gay, and about denaturalizing some of those meanings. I write a queer column for an Australian literary journal called The Lifted Brow, and increasingly I get asked to write and speak about queer topics. So considering so much of my career has been given over to reading and writing about the meanings of sexuality, I suppose being queer to me means a lot of questioning and thinking about (and maybe sometimes over thinking!) the meanings of sex and sexuality. Sounds fun doesn’t it?
I prefer ‘queer’ more than ‘gay.’ On the surface I look like a lot of the things that are associated with the label ‘gay’: I’m able-bodied and cis-gendered; I live in a city, in a rich, privileged country in the developed world; I’m overeducated and I spend my spare money on cocktails and haircuts; I have sex and relationships with men. That’s stereotypically white gay men stuff I suppose. But ‘queer’ is a better fit with my politics and with how I feel about sexuality. It’s a better description of the people in my life and the affinities I have with them. It’s also a more honest description of what I did sexually during my teen years and early twenties, and it doesn’t write that stuff off as ‘before I was gay.’ I think ‘queer’ provides a better and more progressive account of the politics of sexuality and intimacy than ‘gay’ does, although I don’t really mind if other people use that term to describe me. Part of being queer for me means trying not to take my own or anyone else’s sexuality for granted; trying not to fall back on assumptions about what is normal.
Like being anything, being queer can be a source of frustration because everyone has assumptions about what that means. You have to situate your own desires and sex practices and life choices – your own story – in relation to those assumptions, even if the complexity and messiness of your inner and intimate life diverges from them. These days, for example, many Australians assume that all gay people want gay marriage recognized and that they themselves probably want to get married, and that gay marriage is an issue they want to talk to about. I don’t care about gay marriage or want it for myself, and the effort it takes to account for that to people is tiring sometimes. On the other hand, I’m pretty aware of how privileged that complaint is when people in my own community and around the world are persecuted daily for their sexual difference.
One way or another, queer people are always asked to explain themselves. Straight people don’t get asked that question: ‘What does being straight mean to you?’
My academic career is a constant stream of success and unsuccess. Something gets published, something gets knocked back; some promising contract work opportunity arises, but the certainty of a permanent job remains elusive. It’s always been like that: big achievements occasionally and lots of everyday failure in between. Maybe all careers are like that? A volatile, checkered story.
I went to uni on a scholarship after scoring one of the top high school grades in my state. I’d been a bookish teenager but also a somewhat undisciplined one, so that was a success nobody was quite expecting, least of all me. I loved being a student, studying literature and talking about politics, but in the background I think that big early achievement set a kind of unbeatable standard. When I started a PhD on another scholarship in my early twenties I became very depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually I worked out how to do it, and seven years later I finished it and now I am turning it into a book. That feels like success. But, on the other hand, I haven’t been able to turn that into a job… yet.
My coming out story is an ‘out and in and out’ one, although I’ve always maintained it was more of a sexually fluid narrative, rather than a coming out and going back in.
I was in high school secretly dating an older guy who was in his final year at another school. I lived at home with my parents in a southern part of Melbourne and would sneak off on the tram to visit him in the north. I was closeted and he was very emphatically out. I think it probably frustrated him that I was keeping the relationship a secret, but he persisted patiently with me.
Eventually my parents cottoned on to my dissapearings. I was doing a fair bit of lying to them about where I was at that time, and probably a whole lot of other things. One night I was at my boyfriend’s house and my parents called me there. To this day I still don’t know how they got his number or how they figured out where I was. He took me home, where my parents were fighting bitterly. They were themselves on the threshold of their own relationship breakdown, so it was an unsettled time for everyone. That night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt like a coward for not coming out, and I was worried I would lose my boyfriend if I continued to keep him a secret, so I woke my parents up at 4am to tell them I was gay.
It was a pretty angsty, melodramatic coming out scene! Strangely though I stopped seeing the guy after that, and later that year, after the trauma of coming out died down, I fell head over heels for a new girl at my high school, and we started dating and sleeping with each other. When we finished high school, she went overseas for a year, during which time I missed her and pined for her – and also for my first boyfriend. There’s a label people use for that: ‘confused.’ But I also remember thinking about how I wanted them both, but that somehow a choice had to be made.
At the end of the year I met my high school sweetheart in Europe and we went travelling together and spent a month disagreeing and fighting and having angry sex. After that I came home and thought: I am totally into boys now. Eventually, when I found a new boyfriend and decided I wanted to take him home to my mother I felt as if I had to come out to her again, since my last relationship had been with a woman. It was pretty un-cataclysmic this one. I told my mum ‘I’m seeing someone, his name is…’ and she asked, ‘Is he Jewish?’
Melbourne’s queer community is cosmopolitan and urban and gentrified. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect many queer Melbournians increasingly aspire to a house and kids and to a comfortable life in the suburbs. I guess it’s much like any other metropolis in the developed world: New York, Manchester, Amsterdam. Gay men are more visible than lesbians; poorer queers are invisible. I don’t know. People lead quite comfortable lives here. There isn’t so much of a gay or queer ‘scene’ as there are multiple scenes. I gather that’s the trend now in a lot of cities. I’ve made it sound pretty bleak, haven’t I? It’s a very cool city to be queer in. It’s just hard to describe why without using clichés like ‘vibrant’ and ‘diverse.’ It can be a very sexy city sometimes.
My advice to my younger self would be to stick with your art classes, go back to drama school and go on a date with the guy from the pie shop.”