Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden, and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Mark Mariano is an Australian-born Filipino editor, writer, model, and social media whiz from Doonside on Darug land. Mark works at SBS in an editorial role and is also an active member of SBS Pride’s steering committee. He is also part of the Sweatshop Western Sydney Literary Movement, through which his debut poetry collection ‘Down From Doonside Station’ was published in 2019. Mark has worked closely with organisations such as Headspace and ReachOut, and currently volunteers as the editor for The Western – a community online magazine. Mark has also represented Australia twice at the Harvard University Project for Asian International Relations and was an artist at the 2020 National Young Writers’ Festival. He performed this story at Queerstories, Western Sydney.
Mark: His eyes darted as I pulled into Blacktown Station, a sliver of lettuce rested on the knuckle furthest to the left. We had been enjoying an awkward post-coitus Grindr date at the ever romantic KFC, but we lost track of time. He had to take the train home to Granville – you know, he didn’t have his license. Figures. He said a swift goodbye before rolling out of my champagne gold Toyota Camry. He adjusted his ill-fitted K-mart pants, concealing his bumcrack as he charged towards the platform, leaving nary a moment for me to check his Snapchat.
I crawled over the pedestrian crossing and the bump that straddled the Filipino bakery across the road, and eyed him from the driver’s seat. His unzipped maroon hoodie looked bored against his brown collared polo shirt. For someone still in the closet, he could’ve done with a better one hey. But no, we might’ve met in the past, rifling through the same Lowes bargain rack, reaching for the same navy blue v-neck shirt. But later that night, his profile disappeared from the app, and thus, from my life. I seethed as I sat at the end of the bed. I clasped my hands together and prayed to my higher power. Anne Hathaway, what do I do?
Anne first came to me in a movie called The Other Side Of Heaven. She was the doting and studious girlfriend of a meek Mormon missionary. She was a vision in pastel. The movie was essentially Mormon propaganda – a White missionary is sent to Tonga from Salt Lake City to preach the word of God. Very cute, very coloniser. A viewing of the movie was almost mandatory for every young Mormon, and while the young brown men watched the ripped White saviour with awe, I couldn’t take my eyes off Anne, nor her frilly vintage dresses that barely covered her gorgeous shins.
From then on, I just wanted to be her. I wanted to cry about my missionary fiance. I wanted to send Jesus friendly letters from my eight bedroom house in Wisconsin. There were barely any Mormons in media, and so she was practically my Princess Diana. She would wear silk scrunchies and corduroy skirts, while I would wear hand-me-down button ups from Salvation Army. Two very different worlds; I was in Doonside, munching on a Big Mac, and she was on The Other Side Of Heaven.
In Year 8, I chemically straightened my hair. I saved up all my minimum wage from McDonalds and paid my Tita Lori a hefty fee to rid me of my messy curls – the same curls my late grandma passed down to me. I visited school the next day, hoping to have my Princess Diaries OMG moment, where everyone would see me and fall in love and have all these conniptions. Instead, an old friend of mine said “you look just like the other Asian kid in our year”. Safe to say we are not friends anymore. We don’t talk anymore.
Two weeks had passed since my rendezvous with KFC boy. I woke up to three new Grindr notifications. It was him, messaging again from a blank profile, asking me if I was free to “cuddle”. This was his 9th profile since the first time I met him. He wanted sex, ut I wanted more, and every conversation ended the same way. I would say no, he would get angry, and then he would disappear from my life again. Like a cat, he lived nine lives, while I struggled to live my one.
Anne thankfully came to me once again, at such a pivotal time in my life, with the film of an era and the role of a lifetime – a portrayal that shot me into the career I’m in now. I’m of course talking about The Devil Wears Prada where she plays Andy Sachs, the clumsy assistant of fashion magazine hotshot Miranda Priestly, who’s played by… [Audience: Meryl Streep!] Yes! Meryl Streep! I know you gays got my back! Here’s this frumpy girl. She’s an outsider in this industry, she’s fat, she’s smart, she wants to be a writer, and she wants to be taken seriously. She has this hipster chef boyfriend who cooks her grilled cheese sandwiches when she’s mad. I wanted that life so bad. I would sit there, 11 or 12, in my cluttered adobo-stained house, sharing a room with my brother. It wasn’t even really a room, it was a dining room with two cupboards put up as makeshift walls. I would sit there and ask myself how could I emulate Anne? How could I best build this life based on her?
When I first jumped onto Grindr, I was 16, (which is illegal but everyone was doing it), I had this massive expectation that in my first few months, I was gonna find the love of my life. We would escape Doonside and haul ass to Newtown. He would cook me grilled cheese sandwiches while I cried about my horrible boss. I was expecting a special immediate connection, but I was wrong. I was no Princess of Genovia, and my Prince was nowhere to be found. Y’know I would message a guy and tell him he was cute and ask to hang out and get to know him better, andhe would just go back and be like ‘No, I’m not into Kim Jong Un’. And I’m like what? How dare you, I’m Jackie Chan at best. I am Lucy Liu on weekends! How dare you.
I wracked my brain for weeks and months, trying to figure out what went wrong. I would get yet another ping from KFC boy, or get sent a pig emoji from a stranger with ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians’ in his bio, or another unwanted dick pic from anonymous married man.
It wasn’t until a good friend of mine, and by good friend I mean a stranger I met on Gumtree, a psychic, recommended this reading to me after crying to them about love and relationships for hours on Zoom. It’s called ‘For Lovers And Fighters’ by Dean Spade, and it reiterates that you can’t put heterosexual standards onto queer romance. They’re two colossally different things. We navigate this world in different lenses and access romance differently. We aren’t afforded the same privileges – I can’t go up to someone at Coles and tell them I think they’re cute and ask for their number – especially not in Doonside, I could get punched in the face. Or worse I could like it.
After getting blocked the tenth time by KFC boy, it clicked. It was obvious, but so hard for me to accept. I’m not Anne Hathaway. We’re two separate people. We experience life differently. and I was so angry about that. Y’know I know it’s not her fault, I know Anne doesn’t have this personal vendetta against cute and sexy gorgeous writer Mark Mariano. But I’m angry. Where’s my Princess Diaries? Where’s my Devil Wears Prada? It was a hard pill to swallow accepting that it wasn’t about wanting to be Anne Hathaway, it was about wanting to be anything but me. I was so ashamed of my queerness and my brownness and my Doonside-ness that I latched onto this intangible idea. I believed it was all my fault, that I couldn’t make this happen. I didn’t work hard enough, I didn’t starve myself hard enough, I didn’t pray hard enough. I wasn’t pretty enough.
Where are the books and movies and TV shows that idolise people like me? Where are they? There’s no blueprint for those who sit outside this ridiculous rom-com binary. And I’m angry. Nothing prepared me for the emojis or the dick pics. Nothing prepared me for the douching or for KFC boy, who said he liked me at 4 in the morning but then disappear by 9. Nothing prepared me for the fatphobia, nor the racism or the fetishisation. Yes, there’s movies like Call Me By Your Name, and Brokeback Mountain, but as gorgeous as they were, there wasn’t a douche kit in sight. No Grindr, no Hinge, no Tinder. No ‘send me pics of your fat belly’. They don’t show that part.
So, new mission. New higher power. I’m going to pop Anne on a shelf and love myself. In a world where the standard is skinny and white and straight, I must be immensely in love with myself. I’m going to keep writing about me, and keep telling my story. I’m going to produce content about my intimate relationship with Lowes and their bargain rack. I’m going to cry about my amazing media job, and this incredible blessed life I live, just as it is. And if my perfect grilled cheese making man happens to come along, then I’ll be ready. But I won’t be waiting. However there will be a pan, sliced sourdough, and gruyere cheese ready to go.
As complicated as our relationship is, Anne inadvertently taught a very important lesson. Nothing is impossible with a heeled boot, a beret, and a cinched waist.
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast, and if you enjoy Queerstories, please consider supporting the project for as little as $1 per month on Patreon. The link is in the episode description.
Follow Queerstories on Facebook for updates, and for insomnia rants and photos of my glorious dog, follow me Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram.