Jess McGuire: Queerforce
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. If you’re new to Queerstories, welcome. Please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Head out to your local bookseller to buy the Queerstories book, and enjoy listening to this incredible archive of stories by LGBTQI+ Australians.
Jess McGuire is a DJ, writer, broadcaster, MC, and trivia host based in Melbourne. She appears regularly on ABC Local Radio and Double J as a reviewer and cultural commentator, and for many years she was the editor of pop culture website Defamer Australia. She was a former co-host on Triple R’s Breakfasters where, amongst other things, she had to read out the sports news and mangled more tennis players names than she cares to remember. Jess performed this story in Melbourne in March 2019.
Good evening, everybody. I am here to talk to you all this evening about a powerful potent energy that exists within most of us gathered here tonight. I’m talking about our Queerforce. I know, I know, Queerforce sounds like some kind of rainbow vigilante group – and P.S., Does that not sound like a lot of fun? – Hit me up if you’re interested. Imagine how fabulous the uniforms are going to be.
Our Queerforce is not a militant organisation unleashing justice, although, again, just get in touch if that’s something that you are interested in joining. It does sound amazing the more I say it.
No, our Queerforce lives inside us – a metaphysical power, an energy field created by all living queers – and no matter where, when you grew up, it was likely the thing that drew you, perhaps unknowingly at the time, to find some kind of queer influence in your life, whether it was another maybe slightly older kid in school that you just sort of strangely vibed with, only to later discover that their romantic preferences weren’t quite as straight as everyone else’s. Maybe it was discovering that the band that you were really obsessed with for some inexplicable reason… One day, you read an interview with the group in a Rolling Stone, and the lead singer admits to having same-sex dalliances, and your face kind of flushes and you’d think, “But, how did I know? Was it the eyeliner? Was it the undercut?” It was not the eyeliner, or the undercut, friend… although it may have been the eyeliner and the undercut.
Mostly it was your Queerforce, and I want to tell you about my own experience with the Queerforce within me, first discovering it as a young child, and then after years of hiding my Queerforce under a bushel, rediscovering it in my twenties.
I grew up in Straighttown, population: Everyone else. By that, I just mean the northwestern suburbs of Sydney in the ‘90s. There were no queers in my family, there were no queers in our family’s circle of friends, no queers in the neighbourhood that I knew of. So, whatever it was that I felt might’ve been brewing inside me that made me feel kind of different to everyone else, it didn’t have a name, certainly wasn’t to be talked about. But it is essential for every queer to have their penny drop moment, and to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “Queerforce finds a way.”
So I can tell you with absolute certainty the day I learned about the existence queer women because it came to me via some pop culture that can be fairly accurately carbon-dated thanks to the ARIA charts. It was Winter, 1992. A 28-year-old Sophie B Hawkins has released a worldwide hit titled Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover. And on the drive to school one morning, a young Jess McGuire – not knowing that one day as an adult she’d be the type of person to refer to herself in the third person at a queer storytelling night – is daydreaming out the window. Something compels me to turn the song up and give it my full attention. The track is definitely very sexy, but it’s not until about three minutes in that I fully understand why the Queerforce within me has demanded I give this song my full attention.
After a jangly guitar breakdown, Sophie softly sings.
I sat on the mountainside with peace of mind
And I lay by the ocean making love to her with visions clear
And I remember sitting there thinking, “She’s got the words wrong.”
She’s accidentally sung, “… making love to her,” when she obviously meant to sing, “… making love to him.” And then, thirty seconds later, the life-changing realisation: “Wait! Maybe she didn’t get the words wrong. Maybe women can do that to women!” The little light inside me, one that had always been there but had perhaps been hidden in the darkness of heteronormativity and the desperately sad desire to fit in, begins to burn a little brighter that day.
Now, I don’t want to imply that all it took was one Sophie B Hawkins banger on the radio, and I was some kind of out and proud baby queer, no. By the time I got to my all-girls Catholic high school, I can confirm that calling someone a lesbian was still the sickest burn you could deliver.
I held onto the fact I still found guys quite attractive… *mutters* until they talked…
… with a deathly tight grip, desperate to stay on the straight and narrow. But somehow, in my teen years, I found myself being drawn to older students who turned out to be queer, to music and films and art made by queers. Often I didn’t know at the time that they were, and then later, “Oh.” And, although I just chose to tell myself that it just meant I was super open-minded, in retrospect I think I was just seeking my people without ever realising that was exactly what I was doing.
One night, when I was 19 and flicking through Foxtel… Oh, that’s just carbon-dated me… I stumbled across the Movie Channel, which was broadcasting a film called Gia.
Clear age divide in the room. Over 30s queer women are like, “Mmhmm! Yes, she is. Yes, she is.”
Starring Angelina Jolie, it was a biopic about one of the world’s first supermodels, Gia Carangi, and Gia was queer. And in the film, Gia had some very pleasing sexual encounters with women, and I sat perfectly sit throughout the whole film, utterly transfixed until the closing credits. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a film with lesbians in it in the ‘90s. It’s a really depressing story. Gia is a heroin addict who eventually contracts HIV from a contaminated needle and dies of AIDS in 1986, but… there are plenty of scenes before that tragic turn of events…
… where Gia gets to be madly in love with a woman, make huge romantic overtures and win the girl she loves from the boring straight man she’s been living with. And they have some delightfully graphic good times in the boudoir. This was, in the year 2000, quite clearly the greatest movie I had ever seen in my life, until a year later when I saw If These Walls Could Talk 2.
The next week, all my female friends were coming over to my house for a movie night. I had run down to the video store to casually hire Gia… not with sex pest intentions.
And when I presented it to my friends, I pretended as though I had never seen this movie before in my life. “Perhaps we could watch this?” I innocently suggested. “It is a movie starring recent Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, whom we all enjoyed in Girl Interrupted. I believe she won a Golden Globe for this performance, an acclaimed piece of cinema whose storyline I know nothing about. Shall we give it a go?”
By the time the sex scenes began to play out on screen, I remember furtively glancing around the room to gauge the responses of my extremely straight friends. They were slack-jawed and hypnotised. At one point, I remember my pal Fi managing to mutter, “This is making me feel the way a man and a woman should make me feel.”
*Audience laughs and whoops*
I nodded, somehow comforted by this revelation that the unbridled hotness of what was going on was able to be universally appreciated. For some reason, watching a movie about a bisexual woman played by a pre-Billy Bob Angelina Jolie, with a group of the straightest people I knew, and seeing that they weren’t disgusted or outraged soothed me, even if I wasn’t ready to articulate why that might be.
While in my early twenties, I had a lovely boyfriend I ended up moving in with. Next couple of years were spent secretly feeding my Queerforce like a scoby… I don’t really know how scobies work.
… through a steady diet of sweet cultural treats like If These Walls Could Talk 2, shows like The L Word, and the music of Ani DiFranco.
*Group of audience cheer*
She turned on you, guys. I’ll get to that.
I mean, bless him, my boyfriend even took me to Ani DiFranco concerts. Yeah. “Really?” Yeah, I don’t think he was cheering by the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end. He would look on approvingly as I figured out how to play her songs on the guitar. I remember meeting my first proper Newtown Lesbians through my boyfriend, and I tried to talk the language I guess by telling them how much I love Ani DiFranco’s music, and they rolled their eyes and told me she was pretty much cancelled as she’d “gone straight.” Which, by the way, reminds me of one of the greatest internet zingers I ever read: When Ani got pregnant, I can recall a music website announcing the news with the words, “Ani DiFranco has announced she is having a baby with producer Mike Napolitano – somewhere, an Indigo Girl is crying.”
Anyway, eventually, I broke up with that delightfully understanding, Ani DiFranco-supporting boyfriend. I moved to Melbourne, and I moved away from my super straight corporate world and my super straight social circle to see what life had to offer.
The more I opened myself up to queer culture and fed the force within me, the stronger that force got. It drew gays, and lesbians, and queers, and trans people into my life in greater numbers, and it made it infinitely richer. Each baby step I took into the queer world made me stronger and happier, and more certain I was on the right path, until eventually, a decade on, I became the blissfully happy queer woman that you see standing before you today…
*Audience whoops and cheers*
Oh, thanks. It’s not the end, but maybe it is now. It’s about to get megalomaniac. Sorry.
You see, standing before you today “comma” … but thanks for the applause … who wields a queer power within her so strong, she can sense even the slightest disturbance in the force, and by that I mean even the most naturopathically diluted queer potential in anyone or anything. It has almost reached the point of being able to manifest outcomes. For instance, the other night I was watching TV and two female characters – workmates, no long history together on screen – they were just sitting at a bar having a chat. I thought to myself casually, like a total creep, “Huh, they’re cute. They should do it.”
I shit you not. Within 30 seconds, those two characters were fingerbanging in a storage cupboard. I haven’t actually read The Secret, I don’t even need to given that the sheer strength of my Queerforce these days means I can literally bend television storylines to my will. Here’s a final example of the power of the Queerforce. For years, years, I have been telling everyone who would listen that Scary Spice and Ginger Spice…
… definitely fucked when they were in the Spice Girls. I delivered this revelation with absolute authority, although for the life of me I have no idea why I was so certain. I remember eons ago reading how Geri Halliwell didn’t like it when Mel B hooked up and married one of their male backing dancers, and I thought, *cackles to self* “Well, of course, she didn’t like that one bit. That is a classic case of complicated friendship, now utterly fractious thanks to a past sexual dalliance.”
On Monday, news broke. My friend Ben Law referred to it as The Mueller Report for Gays.
Mel B from the Spice Girls had just given an exclusive interview with Piers Morgan where she sensationally revealed that she and Geri Halliwell had a sexual history together. By the way, shout out to Sporty Spice who had to cop endless questions because she liked a comfortable fucking tracksuit while on tour, knowing that those two were at it in the back and just having to keep her cool: “No, don’t know anybody that’s gay here.”
Anyway, she revealed that she and Geri Halliwell had a sexual history together. People lost their minds. Not this person. Somehow, I I knew all along but how? You’ve never admitted it before, Scary Spice. How did I always know in my bones that you had topped Geri Halliwell? Queerforce, baby.
*Audience whoops and applauds*