Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden, and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Roj Amedi is a writer, strategist and community organiser. She’s the chair of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival and a director of Overland Journal. Roj is a Kurdish woman who sought refuge in Australia from Iraq in the 1990s, an experience that has influenced her life’s work towards economic and racial justice. She performed this story at Brisbane Powerhouse in 2021.
Roj:Tonight I’m not going to tell you a story about coming out, instead I’m going to tell you a story about going out. To the club. To one particular club in particular. Hugs and kisses. Oh!
Let me paint a picture for you just in case you’ve never had the pleasure of losing yourself in one of these exquisite places. This wasn’t your regular shiny club, with the aggressive bouncer at front, $40 entry, $30 martinis, people either awkwardly hanging off the sidelines or doing a weird two step staring at anyone who will catch their eye. Okay maybe that last bit, there was some of that. This was a dank and dilapidated club.
There was nothing particularly queer about the bricks and mortar, the owners (who were kind of problematic), the location tucked away in a city alleyway across a building site that quickly turned into one of those homogenous high rise apartment buildings. It was us. All of us delicious, weird, freaky, queers. Dressed up or down, stinky and dishevelled, hot and primed. We were what made that place. And I miss it with every tiny little fibrous thing.
In a city like Melbourne (thoughts and prayers). I always say once a refugee, always a refugee, so thank you for letting me into your city. In a city restricted by rigid expectations, policed spaces, increasing surveillance, intense COVID-19 laws, culture wars and buildings designed by autocratic developers, us queers found a space that breaks that open, plays with it, bends it, mocks it. And yes, we tend to replicate whatever the outside world looked like but the intention was there. We wanted something for ourselves and for our lives, and sometimes we just needed to lean into the nihilism and hope for a glimmer of hope on the dance floor.
And what a dance floor. Within those dank, dusty, dishevelled walls was a space that so many of us shed skin or tried new skin on. Sometimes I find that queerness is kinda quickly likened to vulnerability and fragility, which is important but it’s not all of who we are. Because what I’ve found is that we’re very resilient, and strong and a little bit cunning. And we sometimes need gritty spaces to express that. We need sweaty walls and corners, we need to try new language, we need to aggressively dance and sweat for hours on end.
It might be part of our primal instinct to try and always rip open the limitations of everything we experience, not just gender, sexuality and ability. But the limitations that are set by a society that kids itself into thinking that there is a separation between art and politics. We ran parties that experimented with sound and performance, envisioned utopias of safety that we knew we could never truly achieve, and glared at the cashed up skinhead hipsters who were trying to appropriate everything we built from the ground up.
Sometimes we just needed to spend all night in a stinking alley with one flickering light above us, the smell of piss wafting through the air, 20 or so sports goths sitting on the cobblestones, swapping the same lighter back and forth. Others catching their breath drenched in sweat. Standing up to hug a mate that’s just around the corner dressed up in leather and mesh (classic), another friend dressed in one looped metal chord, everything else nipped and tucked to perfection.
After a week of trying to move past the walls of this world that squeezed tighter and tighter as each day would pass, and somehow pushing people further apart from each other, I would love to go to hugs and kisses on Friday or Saturday night, or both, or all the way through. I would go there just to catch my breath and then dance till I was breathless. It was on that dance floor that I felt like I regained a sense of myself, and embody whatever I wanted to be, be tongue in cheek or sexy or reserved, playful. That fluidity I craved but often couldn’t release. So much of what was shed on that dance floor was shame and insecurity that was projected onto us. And we all grappled with that outwardly and honestly.
It’s spaces like this that appear once in a while that are created by you and me being at the right place at the right time. With the right kinetic energy and feverish devotion. When even a dud night is a good night cause we’re all there. When we can properly feel joy or be an absolute hot mess.
They don’t happen by accident in an increasingly commercialised world, but also they’re not always intentional. Sometimes the world gives you a gap or an oversight in the way things are “supposed to work” and that’s when you have to build something. Even if it’s ephemeral, it is integral and precious. It feels like joy, but actually, it feels like queerness. And you know what queerness feels like? Freedom.
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