Jonny Hawkins: Red Flags
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.
Jonny Hawkins is an actor, writer and big-time DJ. He was the recipient of the 2016 Sydney Theatre Critics Best Newcomer Award, and you may have seen him in the TV mini-series PETER ALLEN: NOT THE BOY NEXT DOOR or the ABC film RIOT. In 2017, he made a short film called Joy Boy, which won Best Film at the Melbourne Queer Film Awards. Jonny is also one-half of disco DJing duo The Dollar Bin Darlings, which is actually quite a tongue twister now that I try to say it out loud. Jonny is also one-half of disco DJing duo The Dollar Bin Darlings, who you may have caught at The Bearded Tit, at Sydney Festival, or at other excellent happenings around the traps. Enjoy his story.
Maeve called me and she said, “Jonny, can you please come and do a Queerstory?” And I said, “Maeve, I’ve been waiting by the phone for your call. I know just the story I’m going to tell.” And she said, “Oh, fantastic. What is it?” And I said, “Well, one time I was asleep on my couch and I got a text message, and it was from a guy that I’d been seeing but he’d ghosted on me two weeks prior.” The text message from him said, “Hey, Jonny, sorry that I ghosted on you, however, unfortunately, I have to send you this message. I’ve started seeing someone, and anyway, we’ve discovered that we both have crabs, and I think I’ve given you crabs.”
*Audience groans and laughs*
He said, “I’m sending everyone this message.”
At first, I thought, “How does this man have so many crabs that he could give them to all of us?” And then I realised that I was asleep on the couch because my mum was staying over.
*Audience groans and laughs louder*
And then the thought occurred to me, have I given my mother crabs? But I was comforted by the fact that I will never know the answer to this question. It will just be a mystery between her and my father.
*Audience laughs and claps*
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh, my God.
JONNY: And so I think this is the perfect story, and Maeve says, “I don’t know how you’re going to pad that out for 12 minutes.” I said, “Maeve, it may not be the story, but sure is the introduction.”
*Audience whoops and applauds*
My time starts …. Now.
When I was seven years old, mum and dad took us out for a very special dinner. It was big, fancy one. We went to City Extra at Circular Quay. My mother asked me to get the waiter’s attention. Immediately, I stood up on my chair and then onto the table. I sang, “Putting on the Ritz and tried to tap dance like Fred Astaire.” I call this a Red Flag Moment.
I grew up in a big Pentecostal church. When I was nine years old, Mum and Dad had the senior pastors of our church over for dinner. My brother, sister and I were told to be on our best behaviour. At some point in between dinner and dessert, I snuck off into Mum’s closet, and I found this big coral shirt that she had. I put my little eight-year-old tights in between one of the sleeves. It was like a tight little mini dress. Then, I put my head through the head hole and my arms out where the body would normally be, and I used the other sleeve as a little hood. I popped out of the little French doors in our living room and sang Happy Birthday, Mister President.
*Audience whoops and applauds*
I also call this a Red Flag Moment.
Blasphemy was strictly forbidden in our house. We were not allowed to say, “Oh, my God,” so instead I would say, *puts on Southern drawl* “Oh, my Lord.” When asked where I had heard this, it was the carry-all catchphrase of Blanch’s from Golden Girls.
And if you threw a party, and invited everyone you knew
You would see the biggest gift would be for me
And the card attached would read …
*Stops singing abruptly*
… Red Flag.
I was homeschooled until I was twelve, but I was finally allowed to go to school because I was caught sneaking out of the house whenever Mum left to do something. Mum got home and discovered I wasn’t there. She ran around the streets thinking I’d been kidnapped, and eventually found me at an elderly neighbour’s house, my then-best friend, Ethyl. Ethyl and I had teamed up Mum’s shopping trips with lessons for me to learn how to use her loom.
I had asked Ethyl to help me do a giant portrait of a woman called Darlene Chech, who is essentially the Christian church music’s version of Celin Dion. I think this may have been a Red Flag.
My first day of regular school, it was Year Eight. I was so tubby and tidy, and always smiling because finally I was around kids. I was neat and tidy, and my socks went all the way up my leg and met my little tiny shorts. Sometimes I still wear these. Peer pressure had not formed any part of my personality, and I didn’t really understand that I didn’t fit in. Everyone else liked Eminem. I, however, liked Bette Midler.
Not only didn’t I fit in, I didn’t realise it.
One day, a school bully… *Imitates deep, gravelly US accent* … a bad, bad guy. He’s got edge and attitude and knows how to ruin stuff…
I think perhaps he’d spotted some of the red flags on me. He decided to let me know that he had seen the red flags on me and that I didn’t fit in. He got an apple and said, “Oi! Smiley!” And then he pegged the apple at me. I haven’t used the word “pegged” since that time as well.
He pegged the apple at me and it hit my little tummy.
JONNY: It winded me.
JONNY: But I was so clueless that I picked up the apple and said, “Thank you for this apple!”
“Thank you for this … apple.” Such a strange way to give someone an apple.
For my Year Ten formal, I had I hand-sewed silk strips down the sides of my pants. I had begged the women at the Killarney Heights Laundromat to cinch in the waist of my black velvet coat. I had provided her the material to make me a black skinny tie before they were cool. I pulled apart one of my school shirts to wrap around and exaggerate the collar of my formal starched. The outfit was a mess but I was convinced that I looked just like Karl Largerfeld. Karl Larger-”Red Flag”-feld.
My second week at a new school, a teacher caught me crocheting in the quadrangle. I thought I was making little red beanies for all the friends that I’d make. Turns out I was making little red flags. My friend Stuart and I call these Red Flag Moments because they are specific moments that you would think, retrospectively, that anyone that was watching might have maybe, possibly, potentially guessed that this little human being might probably be gay. But somehow, at the age of 24, when I did come out, my family was shocked.
I chalked it up to willful ignorance on their part. A world view conjugated from a religious history and growing up in Gunnedah and Dubbo. It is possible that I am the first gay person my parents have ever met.
My father said … *Imitates deeper, thick Australian accent* “Well, how’s that going to work? Sex is between a man and a woman.” And then I think he was embarrassed that he said the word “sex” and he switched tactics and went for a job site metaphor. He said, “Jonny, if a plumber has a pipe going in the wrong hole, shit goes everywhere.” And as much as I had wanted to argue, I had recently had a sexident, which proved him right.
*Audience laughs and applauds*
My two best friends, Joe and Harry, I grew up with these guys on the Central Coast, and through Sydney, and I’m still best friends with them now. They were somewhat less shocked. I recall sitting them down thinking that the revelation of my sexuality would somehow betray them, that the bond that we had as best friends… that it would sever it, that the time we had together might become managed. I might become not just their best friend but their best gay friend, Jonny.
I was worried that they might be suspicious about what I wanted from the friendship. I was worried that they would feel embarrassed about the high volumes of time that we’d spent naked together, the times that I had instigated the nudie swims, and one time an entirely naked weekend.
*Audience laughs, then starts whooping*
To be honest, I didn’t instigate that, Joe did. We all went for a nudie swim and we got out of the water, and Joe had hidden my clothes. He was like, *Imitates child’s sing-songy voice* “I hid your clothes!” And I said, “I think this is worse for you than it is for me.” And then in an act of solidarity, Harry also got naked. And then Joe went, “This is bullshit! And he got naked.”
I told them together in our sharehouse in Redfern. I said, “Guys, I don’t really know how to bring this up, so I’m just going to say it. Last night, I kissed a boy and I really liked it, and I’m going to keep doing that, so I guess that means I’m probably gay and I’m going to probably keep doing that a bit more, okay?” There was a moment. Harry and Joe looked at each other, and then back at me. Joe squinted up his little forehead, squidged up his eyes… You could’ve blindfolded him with a shoelace.
He goes, “And… What did you need to tell us?”
There was an instance where I was having a difficult time at a house party and I’d started to cry. I left the room that everyone was in and went to have a shower, because that’s like, “There’s no tears! I’m just getting wet!”
Joe and Harry felt this. They came into the bathroom and found me in the shower. Joe got in the shower with me fully clothed, and he just hugged me.
Harry went upstairs and he got a three bowls of ice cream. Then he returned to the bathroom, and then the two boys, they stripped off, and we all ate ice cream in the shower. They knew the ridiculousness of this moment would bring me around, and they were right.
Now, it would be easy to misconstrue this story of three men in a shower maybe as something sexual. The picture it paints might seem a bit homoerotic. Maybe this is a Red Flag story, but the truth is, this is not a story about a sexual awakening, about a young gay man’s dream coming to fruition. This didn’t have anything to do with me being gay. This is a story about the love of friends, about awkwardness around males crying, and most importantly, this is a story about the types of food you can and cannot eat in the shower. I call them wet-dry foods because even when they’re wet, they’re the same as when they are dry. Carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon, and some types of hard cheese are all foods that you can eat in the shower. Ice cream is technically not a wet-dry food, but if you’re willing to have a cold shower and you don’t mind soupy ice cream, you can do it, baby. You do you.
*Audience laughs and applauds*
Sometimes, I think about the difference between being a gay man and becoming a gay man. I remember not knowing something about some bullshit musical theatre thing, and someone at the table said, “Hand in your gay card.” I remember being at a wedding and a bridesmaid said to me, “Oh, my God. I’ve been looking for a new best gay friend. Let’s go shopping!” And I thought, “Honey, I am not the gay you are looking for.”
I remember going to the Beresford on a Sunday and I could help but notice that all the tables look like shopping isles for body types. “Oh, nothing for me here. I’m going to go to the Bearded Tit.”
*Audience whoops and applauds*
Thinking about all of these things that I call Red Flag Moments, though, I was a kid. I was a kid that was homeschooled in a Christian family on the Central Coast. I didn’t know what gay things were. There was no exposure.
I confronted my father in my mid-twenties. I felt like he was distant from me growing up. I felt like his absence had something to do with the little red flags. I said, “Dad, I feel like you were kind of not interested in me when I was growing up. You and my sister, Amy, you had the things you’d do, and you and Matt, my brother, you had the things you do. I felt a bit left out.”
He said to me, “Mate… yeah.”
He goes, “Yeah. Look. I can understand that. But the truth is, you were a real different kid to me growing up. I didn’t know what to do with you. But you seemed really happy, so I didn’t want to interfere, I didn’t want to give you all my stuff. You seemed to have had it all pretty figured out and I didn’t want to muck that up.” This was not the confrontation I was expecting to have. I was actually really turned around. I realised in the moment that the fact that a conversation about me had never happened with me, or this thing that made me feel both known and unknown at the same time, it wasn’t brought up, that there might be some sort of something different about me.
It wasn’t willful ignorance, it was blind love for me. My family, they wanted me to be whatever I was going to be, even if it didn’t agree with their world view. They let me be myself and listened to me when I told them who I was.
I was listening to Nakhane’s album, The Brave Confusion. I love that idea so much: Being brave in confusion. Being good at being lost. Having confidence in lacking a definition; essentially what it is to be queer. Those red flags that made me feel so obvious – known and unknown at the same time – they pointed to nothing other than the fact that I was going to grow up to be exactly myself: A person who is adamantly queer, happens to have sex with men and sometimes women, can be camp and fabulous, but butch when he wants to be, and femme if there is a sense of occasion.
*Audience laughs and whoops*
He rides a motorbike, he’s a labourer, but he definitely runs a disco monopoly on the worksite. He’s a lover of Diana Ross and the best reverse parker in all of Sydney. And he can eat a goddamn degustation in the shower.
I found out, in fact, that there are no flags on my back. Thank you.