Quinn Eades: Making home (to all the lesbians I’ve loved before)
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQIA storytelling night I host and program in Sydney and Melbourne. Quinn Eades is a researcher, writer, and award-winning poet published nationally and internationally. He’s the winner of the 2017 Arts Queensland XYZ Award for Innovation in Spoken Word. When I received Quinn’s story, I was brought to tears with the familiarity of a story situated in a community so familiar to my own. You don’t meet that many adults over 30 raised in queer families the way I was, so there’s often an inexplicable connection, a home-coming when you do. I ended up invading his performance, such was my enthusiasm for the piece. I waited ’til the end but, look, we had a little moment on stage. Listen to the podcast and you’ll hear what happened.
I want to, before I start, acknowledge that I live, work and was born on the lands of the *** people of the *** nation, and that this story came out of hanging out in Aotearoa, and having some beautiful welcomes and connections there with fa’afafine and some amazing Pacifica people, so I want to thank and acknowledge those people as well.
This story’s called Making Home. It could also be called To All The Lesbians I’ve Loved Before.
I am in Aotearoa for Same Same But Different, Auckland’s queer writers festival. I came here three days early to see my sister, who has moved here from Hong Kong to make a home with her husband and two children, one of whom I’ve never met. Born as I was leaving a 16-year lesbian relationship and coming out as trans, there is a small person now, a niblet of mine in the world, who I may never meet. I sent her messages to say I was coming, to say I’d love to see her and the kids. I could see that she’d read them – the double tick in Whatsapp – but there was no reply. On a green-hot Christmas afternoon last year, I sent a final text. “Merry Xmas. Hope you had a great day. Sounds like you don’t want to see me in Auckland, but if you ever want to talk or reconnect I’m here.” Two ticks. Read, but no reply.
How long does a person wait for a loved one, a sister, to respond? This sister of mine who curled into me after nightmares, whose hair I braided before school. She loved her long, thin, blonde hair but cried whenever it was brushed. There were threats from my mother, too tired for a morning fight. “I’ll cut it off it you can’t brush it,” so I did it, quietly, gently, in our bedroom. Learnt how to hook her hair into the crooks of my little fingers so I could turn the hanks into plaits. She didn’t cry with me. Now, I do it for one of my boy children, who is overwhelmed in the world often, and uses his hair as a screen, a sensory blocker, sunglasses, as a space between him and the bright, loud, hot day. This sister of mine who emblazons herself with quiet diamantes; you have to get close to see them, embedded in lip gloss, along the sides of her glasses, on the buckles of her shoes. Read, but no reply.
Read, but no reply. How long does a person wait? For the rest of a life, I think.
I am in Auckland days early, so instead of seeing my heart-love, second-born diamante sparkled sister, I stay with an old friend of my boyfriend’s. Anne is a ’78er. Tall, blonde, spouting stories, making me spit my tea with laughter on the back deck with cicadas and cigarette smoke and stars. We talk about our lives. We draw a chart in the dark air, of all of the ways we connect – one degree of separation. We talk about lesbians. Why? Because my mum is a lesbian and Anne is about the same age as her. Because I came out to my mum as a lesbian at twelve. Because before I began this particular becoming – transmasc person and parent, queer, bent – I was a lesbian but I preferred to call myself a dyke for the strength of this word on my tongue, the way it caused discomfort in others, because this word, lesbian, has become a gloss for transphobic, limited, judgemental and narrow amongst some queer and trans folk.
Anne lives with Verity and Lisa who run Garnet Station, the café next door. Rainbow flags flying, a community gathering place with strong coffee and a singing cowboy for the kids twice a week. When I eat their spanakopita it is a green salt burst in the mouth. Everyone knows everyone else. So many hellos. Attached to the café is a tiny theatre, and the night I arrive. there is a show on in the forty-seat space, whose walls are covered with lesbian art. I’m not a lesbian but my girlfriend is. I take a picture of this framed text, and send it to my girlfriend back in Melbourne.
I have to tell you that I was just sitting having a beer with Anne, and then suddenly Verity rushed out and was like, “We’ve got tickets! We’ve got tickets! You have to go to the show in the tiny theatre!” I was like, “What? What? Okay.” I went in, and then suddenly it was all in front of me. I usually need a trigger warning if there’s going to be a committee meeting. Especially if it’s consensus decision making.
I also go to a little camp full of rainbow families, and we all consult the children about what activities they’d like to do, and sometimes it takes an hour because everybody has to have their opinion heard. And then we all need to agree. Are we kayaking or are we rock climbing? Should we have a talent show or a trivia night? What time will the rally be?
I can have kind of a bodily response to these kinds of environments.
I’ve been known to start rocking or find a really good reason to leave the room for a moment. You can imagine what happens for me when the show begins with an older dyke called Hills singing Rough and Sweet to strummed acoustic guitar. I know this. I know this. I have been in more rooms with dykes playing guitars and singing than I can count. I have been one of those dykes in many rooms, playing bad guitar and singing with calloused fingertips and a crack in my voice – Closer to Fine, The Queen and the Soldier so many times. And I’m not getting many laughs but that’s because you don’t know who Suzanne Vega is because lesbian music knowledge, hello. Rid of Me, PJ Harvey for millennials and lower.
Andrea makes a grand entrance through two black curtains at the back of the stage, flinging them behind her and thrusting her black-clothed body through, and everybody cheers. She is known and loved here. I’m in a panic, right? But over the next hour, she sings, mimes, and performs her story, which is a story of babies born young, addiction, studying mime in France, rape and sexual assault, mothers and grandmothers, and love. At the end, we cheer and hoot, and Andrea and Hills grin wide and thrilled with the response. I think about my lesbian heritage. Running wild at women’s dances in the eighties. Knowing all the words to the Topp Twins’ Untouchable Girls.
*Audience member whoops*
Oh, yes! “We’re stroppy, we’re aggressive, we’ll take over the world,” and my little sister and I doing Linda and Jules impersonations on an iron-laced balcony in Balmain, topless lesbians everywhere, breasts brown-globed and drooping in the Sydney sun. I was always Jules, with an elastic-waisted skirt pulled on over my jeans because she had this thing where she would pull it out, and then look down to check what was under there and put it back in again. And the Topp Twins were there amongst the topless lesbians, laughing their heads off.
Dancing my little kid heart out to The Party Girls and The Stray Dags. Thinking Mystery Carnage was the coolest name in the whole entire world. All of us in gym boots and fluorescent socks. Painting banners for peace marches, land rights marches, ANZAC Day protests. Black Deaths in Custody meetings in our lime green kitchen. Eating my mother’s homemade toasted muesli; the smell of honey and oats when it baked. Being the only kids at school with Vogel’s bread, and that bread is so bad when it’s warm. You know the warm lunchbox sandwich? The evil? It’s just the evil.
And they’d have this white bread, this white-white-white bread, and I wanted it so bad. If we were really lucky, we got a packet of sultanas, and if we were stratospherically lucky, a piece of dried pineapple.
That was the ultimate, ultimate sugar treat.
Being told girls can do anything over, and over, and over again. Learning strength, learning fight, learning love.
I can keep building this particular lesbian utopia, but know that this story on its own is an untruth. There were crushing abandonments, screaming, fights that tore at our insides, exhaustion, fear, addiction. There are always these stories weaving in amongst rallies, and the fluorescent fabric paint we used to decorate our Dunlop Volleys, and I’ve written many of them. But I remind myself that we remember too easily what is painful about a moment; that we un-remember too quickly those glittering threads of joy. That we need to tell the golden moments as well because there is always both/and. Utopias can’t exist without dystopias, and also what lies in between.
So in the tiny theatre, next door to the lesbian-run café in Auckland, surrounded by lesbians and queers, hearing guitar strum, and a life story made in a fire of sex, theatre, drugs and alcohol, activism, and lesbian love, I know I’m in my home-place. I remember with my body being loved by all those women. I remind myself that it was there on the grass in women’s dances, at protest marches, that I learnt how to be strong, how to fight, how to open, how to rally. It is because of those women’s many strong voices and arms that I got enough to survive my own becoming. To be here without my sister, amongst friends of friends, tracing my own queer map on a light-strung back deck, being open, keeping strong, making home. Thank you.
MAEVE: When I booked Quinn for this, I’d read some of your writing, but I actually didn’t know that we were both gaybies, so I received this story, and I’m just working at home and found myself bawling from the number of connections. And the community is small right down to the fact that Mystery Carnage, who is the lead singer of a punk band called The Stray Dags, owns a house with one of my mothers. They have a holiday house together. It’s so small, these women of this era. Possibly against our better judgment, we decided we should sing some of the Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls.
*Audience whoop and applaud*
Neither of us can play guitar.
QUINN: And I can’t sing, so that’s really great too.
MAEVE: I’m going to try and do it in a Kiwi accent because we would try when we were kids. We’ll just do a bit of it.
MAEVE AND QUINN SING:
Untouchable, untouchable girls.
We’re stroppy, we’re aggressive, we’ll take over the world
We’re untouchable, untouchable, untouchable girls
We’re untouchable, untouchable girls.
We live in a world that doesn’t care too much
You’ve got to stand up
You’ve got to have guts
Oh, we are untouchable, but we touch.
*Audience whoops and applauds*