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

Queerstories 2020 | Connection | Atul Joshi and Sarah Asumadu

Queerstories 2020 is a special series of the Queerstories podcast recorded during the lockdown months of 2020, featuring LGBTQI+ storytellers reflecting on the events of the year.

These stories are about connection to culture and community, how that was impacted by the pandemic and lockdowns, and about the very specific connection that comes through desire.

Atul Joshi has had short fiction published in The Big Issue’s 2018 Fiction Edition, Seizure Online Australia and Ricepaper Magazine Canada, as well as non-fiction in the Sydney Review of Books, The Big Issue, and Benjamin Law’s Growing up Queer in Australia. Born in Myanmar of Indian parents, Atul migrated to Australia as a child in 1971. A former classical musician, he lives in NSW’s Southern Highlands and works at Bundanon Trust in the Shoalhaven. He has just completed his Master of Arts in Creative Writing at UTS.

Sarah Asumadu (Sledge) is a writer and poet. As the mixed-race child of a Ghanaian father and white mother, much of Sarah’s writing is themed around her relationship to blackness and navigating this as a queer Black femme living in the diaspora. Sarah has written and performed with the Floating Key collective produced by China Aleisse at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and she has also contributed to the ‘Where Are You From?’ project curated by Sabina McKenna and exhibited at Blak Dot Gallery. Most recently, her work has been published by FOLK Magazine. Alongside writing, Sarah works for a social enterprise addressing the issues of bullying and prejudice within schools across the country.


Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories 2020, a mini series within the bigger LGBTQI+ storytelling project that is non-covid Queerstories.

I have to admit how much I have taken for granted the connections to community I’ve had over the last 5 years through the Queerstories events. I am a little aghast at how much I miss the energy of a room full to the brim of queers, the togetherness, the laughter, the flirting. Anyway, for your listening pleasure today, here are two stories about connection to culture and community, and the very specific connection that comes through desire.

Atul Joshi is first up. A former classical musician, Atul lives in NSW’s Southern Highlands and works at Bundanon Trust in the Shoalhaven. He has published both fiction and non-fiction widely, and has just completed his Master of Arts in Creative Writing at UTS. Atul recorded this story at home earlier in the year, then I was thrilled to be able to invite him to perform at Queerstories in Wollongong in October, one of our first shows back, in partnership with Wollongong City Libraries.


Draupadi by Atul Joshi.

It all started with a game of skill and a game of chance. A bit like hooking-up really.

Arē vaah! What a date night.

The poor Brahmin managed to string the bow AND shoot the fish in the eye – just from its reflection! Now that’s talent. And he was cute. I was totes happy he won me, Princess Draupadi, as his bride.

He’d brought his four brothers for support. I had no idea they were princes in disguise, the sons of gods. Different gods. Their mother sure liked to sleep around. Well, she had to. You see, her husband shot an arrow while hunting. It hit a guru, who, get this, was in the middle of a fuck, having transformed himself into a deer. Ouch.

In return deer-man uttered a curse, as you do.

“From now on, if you fuck anyone, or anything, you’ll die.”

Bro, that’s fully sick.

 So, you see the problem his wife faced. Lucky she picked some gods to hook up with.

Well, her taste for poly encounters must’ve been genetic. Because as soon as that sharp shooting Brahmin, soon to be my husband, went back to my soon-to-be-mother-in-law boasting “Ma, look what I won,” she said, “share with your brothers.” And they obeyed!

That’s how, on the eve of one of the most calamitous wars humanity has ever known – I hooked up with five husbands.

It’s been my goal during the pandemic to apply myself to epics of literature. So many books you feel you should’ve read, but never got around to. Days quarantined finally gave me the hours needed for reading Homer, Proust, Joyce. Time that just didn’t exist when life was all rush, working, socialising, preparing meals, fur-baby rearing, hooking up.

There’s one book I’ve been circling all my life, something I’ve given up on several times. The definitive Sanskrit text comes in nineteen volumes, plus two appendices and six indices. It’s 15 times the length of the Bible. A current translation project is expected to take up 32 volumes. A TV adaptation ran to 94 episodes. I’m of course talking about that Indian epic The Mahabharata.

It’s said there’s a curse associated with the work – a complete edition should never be kept at home. The epic deals with familial conflict and wars, so it’s considered a bad omen to keep a full set. A Dutchman died in the process of translation – he managed just five volumes, three of which I had in my library. Another completed his translation, but the publisher got all the credit. The Mahabharata is the source of countless stories that are told and retold in Indian homes and temples, myths for young and old, and the inspiration for a string of other books, plays and movies.

The closest I’ve got to it is the 9-hour theatrical adaptation by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere. It sucks that as the son of Brahmins, my first and only complete encounter with it was through Western eyes, but them’s the breaks when you’re part of a diaspora.

The Mahabharata is a touchstone of Hindu culture. A part of it has found independent life as a Hindu religious text, the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita expounds dharma, the right way to live and provides guidance for times of catastrophe. The epic’s also filled with spilled semen, kept or broken vows of celibacy, binary sexuality, gender non-conformity and transition, as well as polygamous, polyandrous and polyamorous relationships.

Of course, we had to set some ground rules. I wrote them out for the five amigos before we signed any marriage vows.

  1. Don’t forget I’m a princess. Treat me right. With respect. And I’ll do the same
  2. Everything we do is based on love
  3. If I’m spending the night with any one of you, the rest of you can bugger off
  4. We’ll do rotating shifts; spend a week together and then I’ll move on to the next
  5. Youse can shack up with anyone else you like on your weeks off
  6. On the sixth week, I get some me-time
  7. I’m allowed to have fun too – there’s more to life than just you blokes.

For more than a decade, my husband and I’ve lived in an open relationship. A close call with cancer, and the spectre of premature mortality, led us to the decision. We allowed each other the possibility of exploring intimacy and relationships with others in our lives. Fast forward a few years and there are three of us living as a family in the highlands south of Sydney; me, my husband Knut and his boyfriend John.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m allowed the same latitude my husband has – we’re open to the idea of increasing our polyamorous family. But I’d not done much to make that happen, apart from random hook ups. It was only when it became clear that John was going to be part of our lives for the longer term, that I decided to really explore other intimate relationships of my own.

It’s hard: the dating thing. Throwing the dice to see what numbers will land. Harder if you’re middle-aged, queer and brown. Once you get past profiles that say, “no Asians, sorry just a preference,” or “be age appropriate,” or “don’t make me ask if it’s in yet,” the field narrows a lot. Introduce the idea of polyamory and you’re stuffed, even within queer circles. There was no band of brothers attempting to shoot a fish in the eye to win my hand. Instead, there were members of our social group who dropped us.

Wo bohut chalu ladki hai! She’s a bit of a player isn’t she?

There were married men, too many of them, who were just after a bit of slap and tickle on the side.

There was the guy I invited home, who, instead, wanted to meet at the local waterfall because it was a turn on to get it on with a view.

Then the guy who lived at home and had to sneak out to meet up, pretending he was going to Centrelink so his mum wouldn’t ask questions.  An alternative was to meet after her bedtime and get back before she woke up. I looked at his painted fingernails and said, “dude, don’t you think she knows?”

Then the guy, the one I thought was a real contender; queer, artistic, a real hottie, who lay in bed next to me, limp and drunk, soliciting on Scruff while I tried to fondle him. He was the first I introduced to Knut and John. They weren’t impressed when he asked them for their dick pix.

I felt cursed.

It was all going so well. Until I realised, I’d married into the mother of all family feuds. My husbands’ cousin Duryodhana wanted them dead so there’d be no question of who was going to rule. Look, it probably didn’t help that I laughed when he fell into a pond as part of a prank we played. It WAS a joke, yaar. Guess he was bummed. Idiot!

Hubby number one had a bit of gambling problem, so cousin Dury invites us back to his place for some fun and a bevvy or two. Out came the dice – we all saw what was coming, and before I could say ‘pyaari, can you get me another shandy,’ he’d lost the entire kingdom.

And he keeps going – arre bakwas band karo! Stop this nonsense!

He wagers and loses each of his brothers, himself, and, get this, ME. What the fuck?

My dear cous wasn’t satisfied, he wanted to disrespect me for laughing at him. Ordered me to strip in front of everyone. He friggin’ opened his pants and asked me to sit on his lap.

Amazing what a bunch of horny men think up! But it pays to have gods as fathers in law. Krishna turns up and magically transforms my sari into an unending piece of fabric. So, no matter how much they pulled off, there was still more left.

I still love that old thing – as Marie Kondo says, it really sparks joy!

We’re sent into 12 years of exile. In the 13th year, we’re to remain in hiding but, wouldn’t you know it, we’re discovered right at the end.

You can guess what’s coming right?

It gets serious.

When men fight over power, there is only one outcome.

The mother of all wars.


The lockdown came a week after the dick-pix collector. Cocooned in our highland bolthole, we watched the world turn on its dark side on the nightly 7pm news.  I was happy to retreat from my hook-ups. Battles, that’s how I came to see them. Like Duryodhana I stewed in the humiliation and guilt I felt from the men I met. My anger rose – at how I was regarded, how they’d treated their wives, how my husbands were treated. The lack of respect stung me, and I kicked myself for my non-existent self-esteem.

I dreamt of revenge for the hurt done – blood flowing, viruses breeding, landmines blowing. In our home, on the edge of the Illawarra Escarpment, as the thick autumn mists rolled in and we lit the first fire of the season, I withdrew into The Mahabharata.

It’s bracing to discover how driven by vengeance it is. On the eve of war Draupadi goes into hiding. She fasts, waits to act until the battle is at its height. When victory is fragile, unsure, when her own flesh and blood is threatened, she returns to extract her revenge. The enemy is killed by one of the amigos and as he drinks their blood, she washes her hair in it. And sings.

I am princess, I am royal, I know my worth

I am beauty, I am loving, my value ever rising

Son murders father, brother kills brother, nephew slays uncle, cousin crushes cousin

I am anger, I am fire, I know my worth

I am torment, I am destiny, my value ever rising

Husband, kill our enemy, drink his blood in joy, pour it in my braids, laugh with me as it foams

Here is death, here is revenge, you know their worth

Here are torments, here is fate, their value ever rising

Body humming in daylight, I sing of victory, hair clotting in sun, I crown the victors. Who’s laughing now, cousin?

At Kurukshetra, payback met its accelerant, anger. The Brahmashirsha astra is brought out. It’s a weapon capable of destroying the world, all of creation. Think mass destruction; nuclear, chemical, viral. With blood, carnage, death, it threatens to wipe out civilisation.

In Peter Brook’s version, when the Brahma weapon was deployed, there was a soul-quaking, bone-rattling explosion in the hills behind the quarry. It was a riveting climax that shook the bleachers in the early hours before dawn.

As the pandemic spreads, the body count rose. I watch wives separated from dying husbands, daughters from dying mothers, the banks of machines keeping people alive, the anguish of sons barred from sick parents. Mass graves were dug as coffins stack up in parks and alleyways. People convinced they’d never catch it lie in plastic tents, ventilators down their throats. From our bubble, I continued stewing and watch the daily news.

I read the Bhagavad Gita and come to a stop at these lines. “If you want to see the brave, look to those who can return love for hatred. If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.”

It’s then I realise that I don’t wish anyone harmed – not even those who’ve injured me and my family. That hurt, the deep kind that wounds your soul, creates anger which leads to revenge. And the cycle continues. There’s a virus in us all that needs to be controlled, killed, annihilated.

In the face of such terrible calamity I realise I’m not Duryodhana or even Draupadi. No matter the simmering resentment and anger, these emotions aren’t going to emerge in bomb-like outbursts.

I don’t wish for blood.

I don’t have enough hair to bathe in it.

The song I want to sing is different.

I want to sing a queer dharma, a song of tolerance, the way I choose to live.

After Kurukshetra my grandson is crowned King.

We’re happy to hand it all over to the new generation. Let them fix the mess we made. They have more energy than we do for the next war, and the one after.

My blokes are broken, they age. I miss those days when we’d run in and out of each other’s bedrooms.

Soon my hair turns grey. I wash my hair with henna now.

We head for the Himalayas on our final journey to heaven.

As the lockdown starts to ease, I realise it’s futile to read the whole of the Mahabharata. It’s not something to be read cover to cover. Rather, a little like life itself, it contains multitudes; stories, characters, events, teachings, to be dipped into, that act as anything from entertainment to philosophy about how to live.

I decide to stop collecting a whole edition and donate the volumes I have to a fundraiser. I’m relieved I won’t have bad luck in owning a whole set of the books. A little more manageably, there’s a single volume thousand-page Penguin edition – a practical task for this lifetime.

I start considering how I might meet men again and hope I’ve managed to avoid the curse.


I love this next story by Sarah Asumadu, exploring the political and personal potential of a pre-covid connection.

Sarah Asumadu is a writer and poet. Sarah has written and performed with the Floating Key collective at Melbourne Fringe Festival, she has also contributed to the ‘Where Are You From?’ project exhibited at Blak Dot Gallery. Most recently, her work has been published by FOLK Magazine. Alongside writing, Sarah works for a social enterprise addressing the issues of bullying and prejudice in schools.


“We all know Christy loves a turbo wristy….”

This sub par but rosacea inducing line was one of many that caught me off guard at during my introduction to porno bingo, which happened to be the setting of the last date I went on pre-isolation. At the time, my date actually tried to claim that this was more of a platonic hang, and, um, for the record, it has since been clarified that it was, in fact, a date. But as someone who hasn’t yet slept with a single person since my ex of way too long ago, it could be that any interaction that isn’t inherently toxic feels like a date or a welcoming invitation to U-Haul and sew the fabrics of the quilt of intense, all consuming queer love.

The night was equal parts hilarious, unexpected, embarrassing, out of my comfort zone, long, and butterfly inducing. It was kind of like a perfectly balanced batch of cookie dough that’s so smooth and sweet you could eat the batter without an oven ever been consulted or invited into the mix.

I met this outrageously, unfairly Handsome Soul at the Archer launch. Actually, that’s a complete and utter lie. I spotted an outrageously cool, Handsome Soul at the Archer launch, I then proceeded to avoid eye contact for the entire duration of the event, I quite literally assured that wherever they were, I was not, and I then complained to my friends when I saw this person make their exit as I had finally contemplated growing the spine to say, “Hey there.” I promise there will only be one L Word reference in this over-explained, non-linear and likely nonsensical story, but honestly, The Chart, famously birthed by Alice Pieszecki is fucking real, and somehow my best friend’s friends from another state knew Handsome Soul well enough to reach out and say that there was a shy, kind of awkward person who was intrigued by them and wanted to connect. Someone spoke to someone who messaged them, and we started having some cute small talk over Instagram – the pinnacle of social connection and intimacy in the age of apathy and fear of real conversations.

Fast forward a couple of weeks or months – I actually don’t know anymore seeing as one of the first things to be snatched by the grips of social isolation was a sense of time, we decided to meet up.

I picked a bar that I love because the staff are queer and they’re kind, and there is a courtyard with enough space to mask any residual anxiety you may have around interacting with new people.

This, my friends, is something I  pretty much require anywhere and everywhere. As someone with more social anxiety than pairs of matching socks, the idea of sitting in a confined space even if the lighting is romantic and the drinks are flowing, quite literally makes me feel like I am going to pass away.

So, Handsome Soul arrived – actually they arrived before me because I made myself late by trying to find a way to cancel (shout out anxiety and self deprecation for that). We sat outside with a beer. Unfortunately, we had really great banter and a whole lot of things in common including interests, upbringings, the experiences of Bla(c)k Queerness in the diaspora. It absolutely sucked, it was exactly the opposite of what I wanted. Now I had to deal with actually maybe connecting with this person. Luckily, I had unknowingly chosen the night to come to this frequent haunt of mine in which the staff would all be clad in lycra, sweatbands and porn-staches for Porno Bingo.

Nope, not joking, I unwittingly invited Handsome Soul to Porno Bingo for a first date. Don’t get me wrong, I think some folks would be super into this as a concept and a creative first hang, but the part of me that literally cannot cope with anything awkward was short circuiting and completely mortified. I couldn’t give away my discomfort, though, and I could sense that Handsome Soul was one of those folks who loves to give anything a try and experience a multitude of adventures and situations. So I pressed mute on the rigid, self analytical, anxious awkward teenager who chooses to live rent free in my frontal lobe, and we went in to play.

It was cute, I was just tipsy enough to cope with the obnoxiously rampant level of cringe we were surrounded by, and I was also really enjoying the light heartedness of doing an activity so that I didn’t accidentally just vomit my life story onto this person who really didn’t ask. The staff went around asking for everyone’s names so that they could rhyme them with lewd, innuendo soaked jokes strewn throughout the night. Handsome Soul was confident and self assured, giving their real name because there needn’t have been any fucks to be given. I had a momentary identity crisis and gave a fake name – Anna. I have no idea why Anna, potentially because of the level of “Ahhh…naaah” I was feeling about participating, and they definitely clocked my white lie.

We played a couple of “regular” rounds, the jist of Porno Bingo is not so different to your good old fashioned not-Porno Bingo – the only differences being that the prizes are sex toys, all the commentary is sex soaked, and everyone is either a bit awkward or trying not to be outed as completely parched and thirsty by the aura of sexual tension rising in the space.

Then… everything went up a notch. There was a call out for volunteers. From a young age, I remember having literal breakdowns about being picked as a volunteer for anything. It’s strange because my overzealous white mother moulded and manicured me into a theatre kid for way too many years, but I still had a disproportionate amount of anxiety about being on a stage for anything ever. Still do. Handsome Soul, who by this point I had identified a healthy dose of a competitive streak in, shot their hand up and volunteered us. I felt my face turn into passata and went with it anyway. At this point, we were handed a blown up balloon along with 3 other poor souls, and the point of the challenge was that you had to pop the balloon in your pairs without using your hands or touching. So, you had to pop the balloon by simulating sex with enough ferocity and thrusting that it just explodes. Awesome, this was exactly the non-humiliating kind of activity I felt compelled to participate in on this first hang with Handsome Soul. After laughing way too loudly for way too long about what was being asked of us, we went for it. I cannot fully explain just how ridiculous this whole situation was, but we were pretty fucking good at it. The top in me apprehensively and begrudgingly made peace with the fact that the only way we would win would be if I stuck to my strengths. So, in an attempt to take gold and also to no longer have to look into Handsome Soul’s far too intensely enticing stare, I turned around, power bottomed like a champ, and the pop happened. We had won, and I could not have run faster to the bar to claim our prize – fittingly, a free round of drinks with which to soothe my shame and discomfort around what the fuck we had just been tasked to do.

The night went on and Handsome Soul won a round of bingo, winning a suspicious looking gag that I very much hope got to experience some exciting moments before isolation decided to gatekeep all our sex lives. Porno Bingo concluded with an egg and spoon race down a main street, with all participants having to balance tiny little silicone sex toys on spoons whilst furiously gunning for first place. Handsome Soul and I looked on from inside, a little hazy, very humoured, and I realised much further down the track – warmingly comfortable with each other.

I think at this point we both called it and headed our separate ways. Interestingly, even though we had ssentially had sex only hours earlier, we did hold back on the goodbye kiss and skipped on a little bit zig zaggedly to our respective homes. We touched base with each other upon safely making it home, and we both expressed a mutual surprise at, and appreciation for how easy it was to spend time with each other that night.

The reason that Porno Bingo has plagued my mind in isolation is because I actually really regret letting my fear of interacting with people hold me back pre-isolation. Something I’ve learned over the last two and a bit years is that I am someone who is read as an extrovert, confident and social, when in actuality, I spend a large amount of time and unhealthy amount of energy hoping desperately to not be interacted with or noticed because of the intense discomfort I feel in relation to closeness and intimacy.

I can’t pinpoint exactly where this was birthed or who helped conceive it, but I have an inkling. I have my ex to thank for earth shattering orgasms, love letters drenched in lies and dreams that felt within reach, and I deeply have them to thank for how impenetrable my walls are. For as long as I’ve been cognizant of the innate capacity humans have to cause harm, I have been building and maintaining sturdy cement walls around the compound my heart is locked in. I have my ex to thank for their wizardry – for somehow, they were able to transform the cement into titanium. My heart is like a Bla(c)k Rapunzel, except I’m the fucked up, possessive sorceress keeping her locked away under the guise of protection. I think some other folks know this too.

Isolation has been like living in a parallel universe, and it took yet another Bla(c)k murder in the states for folks to wake up and realise we are not living through just one pandemic. Racism and racial violence is the pandemic that has plagued this country for eons – silently and insidiously, against the backdrop of a system who refuses to look at their complicity in the theft of country from those to whom it belongs and will always belong to. It’s weird and frustrating how white folks get up in arms when an African American (man) dies at the hands of the pigs.

It’s inexcusable and disgusting, their lack of outrage when this exact same display of violence and disregard for life is perpetuated here on stolen land, frequently and incessantly. Maybe it’s the years of appropriating Black Culture that made them feel somehow connected to what’s happening. I don’t know, but what I do know is that as the traction was growing in the lead up to the Bla(c)k Lives Matter protest here, I felt deeply and impenetrably connected to the Bla(c)k folks in my orbit and across universes. We’ve always been able to foresee things before they happen, to travel through time when we need to. I swear, we were all doing that at the same time and you could feel it.

Handsome Soul and I had kept in contact since our first (contested) date, but in the weeks where the world was setting fire to the ongoing trauma inflicted upon Bla(c)k bodies and spirit, I felt their presence amplified. I was awake most nights in between the hours of 2am and 6am – these hours are revered as being the hours in which spiritual portals are open and energy is at its most fertile, its strongest. It was more than a groggy waking up in the middle of the night only to lull back to sleep. I was waking up completely alert and ready to fight if that was what was needed. It was strange, and I knew it was something only another Bla(c)k person who was connected in a similar way would understand. Handsome Soul was also awake.

One night, we had a 5.55am interaction that could only be explained by being spiritually linked. White folks normally try to give you anti-psychotics or benzos if you mention experiencing any of this spiritual potency. I would do that too, if I could see someone had a gift that I would never have the privilege of understanding, or that made me afraid because of its sheer power.

Handsome Soul and I caught up for a walk and to check in on the condition of each other’s hearts and minds in the week before the protest. They were calm, steady and mentally exhausted. I was angry, volatile and felt like I was a battery just charging with newborn, potentially unpredictable energy that needed to be unleashed onto whoever threatened my Bla(c)k queer family. I told Handsome Soul to send anyone who was giving them trouble my way for a serious and relentless grilling. What I realised in this exchange caught me off guard. I realised I was completely disarmed, that at some point I had flicked off the switch on the electric fence guarding the compound my heart had become comfortable existing in. It was exactly the opposite of what I thought I needed at that time, but I felt free and safe. I felt like if anything were to happen to my heart, I would be okay.

We’re still talking and I really love every interaction we have, but I do wish I had realized pre-isolation just how much it is worth taking the leap into murky water and not just looking over the edge of the cliff, just leaping. I could have felt lighter way longer ago, and I have been spending a lot of time apologising to my heart for how much I kept her locked away in days where she deserved to feel the warmth of sunlight and experience joy, care, nurturing and patience.

I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who dives head first into intimacy, because the fear of picking up the pieces will always ring too loudly. But I will never again hesitate about being out of my comfort zone when it comes to new folks, especially those who mirror your identity and experience. They were literally born to sit in this with you and grow together, we’ve done it before and will continue to do so, just as our Ancestors did, just as they continue to breathe into all that we do when we need their guidance.


Thanks for listening.

This project is supported by the City of Sydney through a Creative Fellowship Fund. You can support Queerstories for as little as $1 per month by signing up to my Patreon – look up Maeve Marsden on Patreon or follow the links in the podcast description.

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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.