Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. If you can spare a few bucks each month to help me continue to produce this podcast, because you love it, or you love me, please check out Queerstories on Patreon and consider supporting the project. Also, follow Queerstories on Facebook for upcoming events, pics and other good shit.
Eda Gunaydin is a Turkish-Australian writer and researcher interested in class, race and diaspora. You can find her essays and creative non-fiction in Meanjin, The Sydney Review of Books and The Lifted Brow. She has been shortlisted for a Queensland Literary Award and the Scribe Non-Fiction Prize. She is currently Contributing Editor at the Sydney Review of Books, and her debut essay collection Root and Branch was published in May 2022. It’s brilliant and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I speak to, you should buy it. But first listen to this story, recorded at Riverside Theatres in Paramatta in 2022.
Eda: Sometimes I think of myself as a cultural ambassador for being gay. I love to patiently sit around a dinner table after the meal is done and answer questions about, for example, the mechanics of sex, or how queer couples communicate, or how we negotiate our identities. Admittedly, it is mostly questions about the mechanics of sex. The first time this tour guiding impulse – this desire to act as an intermediary between the queer and the straight worlds – took over me, it was February of 2020. My friend Dorine, a Belgian woman who I met on exchange in Spain in 2014, and had remained in contact with ever since, was about to visit Sydney.
Dorine is my opposite: she is always at ease in social situations, and able to carry a conversation with anybody. This is aided by the fact that she speaks five languages: Dutch, English, French, Kinyarwanda, and Spanish. In 2020 she was living in Cork, Ireland, working at Apple, providing multi-lingual customer support. She hated staying at her shifts after 1pm because that’s when Quebecois customers started calling in, and she often couldn’t contain her laughter about not being able to understand their French Canadian accents. That’s Dorine: she laughs easily, she’s good at her job, she makes friends everywhere she goes. Dorine is bringing with her her colleague Christina. Christina has grown up in Cork, and lives at home in a large Catholic household. She is willowy and tall and speaks in a heavy Irish accent. For the first few days of their visit I take them to the obvious landmarks: the Opera House, a ferry ride, coastal walks. The night before they are to fly out, though, it is Mardi Gras, and I want them to really experience it, because I am a cultural ambassador. They want to see the March in person and I have plans to go to a friend’s place and watch it on TV instead, because Dorine loves crowds and I do not. So we decide to meet at the Bearded Tit in Redfern around midnight. As it turns out, the March is a memorable one, the last time in the past three years it has taken place on Oxford Street.
I show up to my friend Lou’s place, just in time to meet another friend, Sarah, and her plus one, a queer Spanish man who has just moved to Sydney who Sarah met on the train ride in. We sit on Lou’s couch, the four of us, and half-pay-attention to the march while we gulp wine. Lou has this incredible ability to shift my Overton window for drinking. In other words, I have never been drunker in my life than times when I have been around them. Still, though, I’m a pretty reserved drunk. This is going to be Christina and Dorine’s first queer Sydney Mardi Gras experience, and I want to make it good for them, so I pace myself. It’s they who turn up shit-faced, and we cluster in the queue outside the Tit, pressed up against the groups ahead of and behind us in the line, and we all chat easily back and forth. I’m not aware of just how precious this moment is at the time: this jovial proximity and the sweaty battle for space that will ensue inside. Soon, the Tit will shut for months, and turn to the queer community to raise the funds to pay its staff and rent.
Inside, we dance. Lou buys the queer group and my straight tourists tequila shots, and after we neck them things descend into chaos, even as I try to keep my eye on everyone inside our small company. At one moment in the evening I survey us, scattered as we are around the Tit, and we appear to me like a modern-day, slightly sloppier, Renoir painting: one of his depictions of some decadent garden party. Christina ducks into my eyeline – thank God she is so tall – and when we speak, she is sweaty and sparkly all over her face, and she leans down to shout to me, in shock, “I just made out with a gay man covered in glitter!” Dorine is chatting away with my acquaintance in Spanish, and he starts crying while Madonna plays, and he rests his head on her shoulder: he is homesick, she tells me later. Lou disappears into the bathroom, and when they return they are chatting animatedly with a man in white overalls, fluorescent fishnet gloves, and no shirt. I judge from his hairy chest and outfit and take him for a bear. Lou is holding out their phone, gesturing excitedly: “Put your number in here! You are an amazing human!” I see Lou write down the name Vonnie, and then Vonnie gives Lou a hug and disappears. Later, Lou is lying drowsily in a booth, their head in the lap of an older butch they’ve never met. I feed them sips of water on the dance floor.
At the end of the evening, Lou and the others depart, and Dorine, Christina and I step out into the air and join the crowd waiting for Ubers. I am craving a cigarette, and Dorine bums me one off a group of three men. One of them I recognise. It’s Vonnie, and he is with another gentleman who I also take for a bear, because he is wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt and is wrapped in a boa. He’s joined by a guy who introduces himself as Jack. Jack is from the States, and while we smoke he explains to us that he has been phone-banking of late for the Bernie Sanders campaign, even though his family’s loaded, mainly to meet girls. It dawns on me then that these men may be queer-fishing us, or that I am the fool for having read their sexuality into their clothes. My suspicion only grows further when Jack invites us to an after-party at his place. I’ve got a hot tub, he tells us, and I am a socialist.
I am, of course, far too unimpressed with these guys to take this offer up for real, but before I decline on Dorine and Christina’s behalf, I think to check where Jack lives. When he responds Stanmore, and names the street, I realise he’s only about a 5-minute walk away from my house in Petersham. So I hatch a plan. The idea is that we’ll share the Uber, and when we arrive, rather than going inside, we’ll just walk straight home to mine, having scored a free lift. But Vonnie and Jack are more adept at entrapping women than I realised, and they separate us: Christina is shuttled into one Uber with Vonnie and his friend, and Dorine and I ride with Jack, who remarks, almost to himself, at one point, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I got three women to come home with me.’ My hackles are now fully raised. I have a new mission, which is to extract Christina from whatever horrible after-party she arrives at first. Poor, innocent Christina, I think to myself, and with that resolve step into Jack’s house. It’s just us. Christina is hunched on the floor in the courtyard, steadfastly playing with Jack’s dog, and she exclaims, Thank God when she sees us arrive. When Dorine and I step in, the guys instantly swarm, offering us coke, ketamine, acid, MDMA, booze, pills, whatever, whatever it’ll take for us to get into their hot tub with them, naked. I’m furious by this point, and I turn to Vonnie, who is already naked and lounging in the tub, and I ask him, ‘Can I take a photo of you?’ and he says yes. I send it to Lou the next morning, and caption it simply, ‘Ya boi’. Lou doesn’t stand by their endorsement of this man.
I can see Dorine and Christina, far more polite than me, being pulled into separate conversations with these men, almost like we have each been marked by one of them. So I accept a large glass of champagne – which they continuously replenish before I’ve even finished drinking – and I start chain-smoking furiously and plotting our escape. Every time I say we have to go, they repeat the hollow adage that we are welcome to leave any time we want. I can see how uncomfortable Dorine and Christina are, and the way their guy’s faces keep hovering closer to theirs, drifting forwards, while my friends are clearly pulling back. I feel responsible for how the night has gone, and angry I’ve let it happen, so I finally put my foot down and walk us bodily outside even if it makes me seem like a fucking bitch humourless feminist lesbian. Dorine and Christina don’t quite believe my home is as close as I say, and they wonder if we should just stay put where we are, but I insist we’re safe here in Petersham, and we meander to mine, arm in arm, sucking in the crisp night air. When we finally step into my house, as promised, we all cackle with relief and collapse on my couch. Dorine and Christina fly back out the next morning, only days before Australia’s international border shuts for over a year. I haven’t given them a good time really, so much as a memorable one. I remember it too, specifically for how precious these moments seem to me now, looking back, with an entire pandemic almost under our belts. I’m not going to be so casual and I’m going to take the time to be grateful for this, even these horrible, weird, chaotic evenings, when next they occur. And if I see Vonnie or Jack again this Mardi Gras, I will fuck them up.
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates, it’s been a weird couple of years what with the pandemic and me becoming a parent but I’m planning some big things in 2023 and I’d love you to be part of it.