A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

252 Belinda Quinn – A Song, A Body

Belinda explores the impact of trauma on the body, and considers what is possible for them if they change the way they connect to others, change the way they experience pleasure.

Belinda Quinn writes, listens, plays and rests on the lands of the Yuin and Dharawal language groups. They have worked in street press, commercial magazines, in sound and in venues, and have volunteered for community radio. You can read more of their work at belindaquinn.com.



Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. Today’s story is by a brilliant young storyteller, Belinda Quinn, who writes, listens, plays and rests on the lands of the Yuin and Dharawal language groups. They’ve worked in street press, commercial magazines, in sound and in venues, and have volunteered for community radio. You can read more of their work at BelindaQuinn.com. And after listening to this beautiful and vulnerable piece, I’m sure you will. Bel shared this story at Wollongong Town Hall in October 2020.



Over the past few years, I’ve gotten stuck on a song. One of its lyrics, in particular, has wedged itself into my mind, refusing to fade. In Head Alone, Julia Jacklin sings, “I raised my body up to be mine.” I like the way her voice lingers on the word “mine,” drawing it out, like she’s digging in her heels, staying firm in what the sentiment means to her.

I catch myself singing this lyric in the car on my regular drive up from Nowra to Wollongong. I hum it when I go for a walk in Bangalee Reserve. The melody’s familiar curves return while I sit on a weathered jetty by the Shoalhaven River, watching fish jump. I sing it when I’m mourning my body’s memories. I sing it when I’m celebrating them.

In my early twenties, I fell into a routine of giving in to expectation when I dated cis men. I anticipated that my body was required to follow through on certain sexual scripts. Seeking out casual sex felt like engaging in a lucky dip. I’d find myself holding my breath, my fingers crossed hoping that the next experience would be a good one.

In 2018, I shared my body with three men. With the first, I found myself in the extraordinary discomfort that comes with pain disorder vaginismus. When I tell him I’m in pain, he replies matter-of-fact with the words, “You just needed to push through.” With the next person, I found myself in a chokehold that I didn’t ask for. And then on the day before New Year’s Eve, I found myself sobbing unexpectedly midway through sleeping with an old friend.

So, six days before I turned 26, I make a choice. I tell some friends that I am taking an indefinite sabbatical from having sex. I laugh at the idea, act like it’s a joke. And at some point, during this sabbatical, I started going on dates with Frankie. She slides into my DMs after a night of long, warm chats and cold beer at Dicey’s Riley’s pub.

I still remember our first date. She shows up on my doorstep with a box full of vegetables from the food-waste non-profit that she volunteers for. From the get-go, she’s generous, considerate, and thoughtful. We sit in the bar, nervous, compulsively discussing car makes and models, which is a topic I know nothing about…


.. but can’t seem to stop talking about. After a few glasses of wine, my nerves dissolve and we relax into each other’s company.

We met up every few weeks or so for a year, giving each other a few hours of respite from one another’s lives. We go for a bushwalk on the sacred Mount Keira. Frankie strips down to her undies because a bug snuck up her pants. And I very helpfully chant support from a distance. We go out for indulgent dinners. We lie on the couch watching Chris Hemsworth dance a very spunky dance in Bad Times at the El Royale. We-


Oh. We dance our own spunky dance at the pub after watching Melbourne musician Spike Fuck play a show – an artist who happens to write songs about sexual disorientation. But mostly, when Frankie and I spend time together, we just talk and talk and talk. It’s wasn’t quite a platonic friendship, there was something flirty, and subtle, and comforting about it. Frankie and I don’t rely on immediacy. Instead, we reply to each other’s messages when we can. She’s a loving single mumma who is raising a three-year-old.

I felt a sense of trust with Frankie that I struggle to feel when my body is involved in a sexual romantic relationship. There are still times when I felt insecure, when I felt unsure of the reality of the situation. I find myself questioning if we’re not getting all up in each other’s bods, is, like, the romantic aspect of this even real? I look to others for affirmation of my feelings when, in hindsight, I’d like to go back and tell myself, “Just feel it for what it is.”

After a year of going on dates together, we go for a walk up the Wodi Wodi trail where Frankie tells me she has some news. She’s going to give a past relationship another shot. We dangle our legs over a hanging rock that overlooks the water that flows from Coalcliff Dam into Stanwell Park Beach, and we agree to be friends. As we stumble back down the trail, I feel a strange mix of sadness and joy for the memories we’ve shared together so far.

Flash forward to January this year where one of my best friends, on our shared birthday, they give me a well-read copy of abuse survivor and disabled queer activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book, Dirty River. While flicking through its worn pages, I learnt that Leah had taken a sabbatical of her own. I read over the lines where she writes, “I took three years off sex. Three years that were supposed to be my prime time, by somebody’s rulebook.”

This was in 1997. Leah would have been in her early twenties at the time. She writes, “I needed some time off from having a body in order to figure out what kind of relationship I would have with one when I got back to it.” Right now, I feel like I’m in the early days of figuring out what relationship I want to have with my own body.

The world that I grew up in, on rural, colonised Yuin land, was a world that didn’t always raise bodies up to be autonomous. I started to learn the lie that my body wasn’t my own (VOICE BREAKS WITH EMOTION) from an unfortunately young age.

For those of us who endured and survived bodily trauma and violence in our childhoods, the process of re-raising our bodies – as Jacklin says, to be our own – often doesn’t take place until adulthood. We could begin this journey at 19, 35, 50, 89. We might never have the solace of feeling a strong sense of agency over our bodies. But it’s never too late to start re-raising.

For me, my friendships have been at the centre of this journey, and during my sabbatical, my time away from sharing my body, my friends have pointed me towards books by Judith Herman, Pat Ogden, Cindy Crabb. My friends have invested huge amounts of energy in just listening to me.

When it came to romantic relationships, I’d internalised the idea that my body was more desirable than who I was. But with Frankie, I could feel that she was just content to hangout by salt water, to go on cute dates, and feign interest in car models with me. And the fact that my body wasn’t involved didn’t make that romance any less real.

For me, learning that our time together was enough for her, that time spent just talking, talking, talking, that shifted something for me.

In my early twenties, I rarely felt true pleasure, and I didn’t realise it at the time. It was like the dial was turned down on all my senses, but now I feel pleasure interspersed within the day-to-day. I feel it in a greasy, gravy-soaked pub feed while talking with a friend. I feel it while riding my bike with friends on Dharawal land, gliding under peach-coloured moonlight. I feel it by a glassy river, and I feel it in the smell that soaks the air before a rain comes. And I believe my time away from sex, and this very queer, very rare friendship with Frankie, alongside other friends who have helped me to slow down, to feel more fully. They’ve pushed me forward on this path.

I notice, now, that I feel pleasure with Frankie when we sit on damp sand, winter sun warming our skin, looking out to the saltwater, saying nothing. I feel pleasure when she’s doing well, (VOICE BREAKS WITH EMOTION) when they’re fulfilled. I feel pleasure when she laughs, and I am incredibly lucky to have felt something, that before, I wouldn’t have thought was ever available to me.

It was completely unexpected. At times, I felt confused but, more than anything, it was healing.

And, as it shifts and changes, it continues to be. Thank you.


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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.