Thursday, April 12, 2007
Scene: The exterior of a small yellow terrace house, hiding behind an almost overgrown garden in a narrow street. Albert Park, Melbourne. Late on a Sunday afternoon. Autumn.
I had arrived at the offices of my newspaper - Brother Sister - to work on the next edition. I have no idea where I had been, but the ritual of working and sleeping at our quaint little Albert Park terrace was well and truly ingrained. There was no other way it was possible. And I loved it. We had moved from the office in the city to the terrace in Albert Park, partly, to trim our overheads. Inner-city rents were increasingly tough on our new masthead, and our income had started to fluctuate. Quite dramatically. We bought dinners out and take-away coffees in during the Dance Party Season and bought Nescafé and boiled rice in at every other time of the year. The gay communities' obsessions with cocks, sex and dance parties has tortured every one of my titles to a inexorably slow, painful and inevitable death. It's now quite impossible for me to imagine that there is something else. Because there isn't.
But I digress.
I knew, instinctively, that I was in trouble. The man sitting behind the steering wheel of his parked car was trying not to watch what I was doing. Our address was published and public knowledge - and there was something about the look on his face ... and his vain attempt at not to be seen watching me. An abstract study of my every move.
My business partner and I had discussed not publishing our physical address. Just a PO Box. Safe. But we wanted our new masthead to be accessible. Visible. The opposite of anonymous. The edict of the day was: 'Yes we are gay and we exist! Get used to it!' - and the single greatest statement we could make was to stake our claim in the heart of quirky little Albert Park, and be proud of the fact. A perfect and worthy sentiment ... but not when some fag-hating psychopath is parked outside your suddenly not quite so commercially imperative statement of vibrant community pride and visibility.
There was only one way in and out of our tiny little terrace and I considered not going inside. His intention was palpable. A grim cross-examination. I was frightened ... and cautiously glancing over my shoulder, I fussed around in my bag for the keys to the door. The sound of a car door opening would be like a gunshot. I would be off, through the shrubs and - hopefully - out of his reach. I would race to the police station ... which was where? The shops, yes, just around the corner to the shops. Even with a bullet I would make it. Unless he possessed the skills of a marksman, in which case 'it' wouldn't matter.
My keys are in my hand ... fished out of my bag and waved around in full view like a white flag. Why was I making it so easy for him? Was my subconscious engaged in an act of unconditional surrender? Fags always have been, and always will be, easy targets. I would go inside and into my office, I decided. My office was the front room with an almost uninterrupted view of the street through a large window. I would stand by my couch, next the window, with my telephone in my hand. I would establish eye contact with the murderer outside ...
I drop the phone. The man behind the steering wheel has become the man walking along our front verandah to our front door with what appears to be several copies of my newspaper in his hand. I drop to the floor and reach for the receiver with the tips of my fingers. Got it! I pull the receiver toward me and the telephone crashes from my desk onto the floor ... taking my in-trays and out-trays prisoner. Fuck! Make some noise why don't you!?
My Fate (and my impending demise) is punctuated by a tentative knock on the door. Of course serial killers knock! Tentatively. 'It all seemed so ordinary Officer ... like he wanted to be my friend ...'
My murderer presses his face to the window. Something akin to a determination not to be seen cowering on the floor like a weak, spineless poof forces me onto my feet. He holds the copies of my newspaper up to the window. I consider, for a moment, denying they're mine. If I hadn't have been so proud I could have pretended to be the cleaner!
"I want to talk to you about these."
He's uncertain ... uncomfortable. Is the desperation his now, not mine? When did that happen? But yes, the power has quite suddenly shifted ... and I instantly forget that glass is breakable.
"What about them?"
"Do you work here?"
"Yes. It's my newspaper."
"Then I need to talk to you."
A confused pause.
"About where I found these."
"Can I talk to you?"
There is something about his vulnerability that forces me to consider opening the door. Vulnerable men are uncommon in my experience. There is a need to know ... to understand something that lies beyond his comprehension. This man is unique. He hasn't made up his mind about something he knows absolutely nothing about. He has no information. No opinion.
He is grateful when I do, finally, open the door, and he comes into our office - head bowed slightly, as though in reverent observation of my power ... my influence over his dilemma. His is obviously a nagging question built on disturbing doubt.
I gesture to the couch in my office. He slumps into it and rests his copies of my newspaper on his lap. I sit at my desk. There is no time, or reason, for pleasantries.
"I found these ... "
He can't continue. And I can't guess.
"In my son's room."
How do you confirm a father's worst nightmare?
There is something that connects us - this stranger and I ... a singular indescribable energy I have never experienced since. It remains unique to this moment in my life, and probably his. I don't know if he is going to cry. I don't know if I am going to. He wants to look at me, but can't. I don't want to look at him, but can. I wait while he glances around my office.
Where is your son now?
He's out ... with his friends.
And his mother?
She didn't want to come. She didn't want me to come. She's very upset.
He mistakes my youthfully naive attempt at empathy for blatant condescenion.
He brandishes his copies of my newspaper ...
You publish this ... stuff! Don't you have any responsibility for where it ends up?
He is looking for a reason to explode. An admission of guilt in the safety of which he can admit his own. He doesn't know why, but someone must be made accountable. (Certain) men and their fear of curiousity. Their wholesale rejection of 'other'. But something about this man is different. I don't recognise it ... and I am suddenly certain that neither does he. Something else is at stake here - and, for me anyway, it is the safety of his son.
We publish this newspaper to let people know that there are others who are the same ...
The same? The same as what?
... as them. We publish news and information about ...
I've read what you publish. My son is 16.
And you're worried that your son is gay.
Shouldn't I be?
It's not only gay people who read our newspaper.
A flicker of hope I am wrong to encourage. But I am out of my depth. I've heard stories about the hatred and condemnation that can result in one of 'our' young 'coming out' to their parents. It comes with the territory. I am overwhelmed by statistics and hyperbole about youth suicide. Agit-prop. No-one really knows because dead baby poofs tell no tales. It's supposition, mostly. Riddled with cliché but powered by truth and suspicion. And fact. Michael was ... different ... a loner ... a sensitive boy ... he loved his drama classes ... he was popular with all the girls in his class ... he didn't have many close male friends ... an absent father.
I see this boy. I was this boy. I spat the truth of my own homosexuality into the back of my Father's head on the tip of a poisoned dart. He was in the front seat of our car, driving. My Mother was in the front passenger's seat, grieving. I knew I had to be out of reach. And out of sight. My Father was certainly not a violent man, but like most people, he knew enough to rely almost innately on an act of unquestionable strength and aggression when confronted with something he had no other means of addressing. The last great bastion of defence against an assault on everything he understood. When action hurts harder than words.
And I know how this is going to end.
Why did you come here?
He cannot answer. His lips are tight. He puffs his cheeks. And exhales.
I wait. With knowledge.
Because I want to understand what this means.
What do you think it means?
He looks at me for the first time.
I really have no idea.
Do you think I understand what it means?
He suddenly grips his evidence and stands up.
This was a mistake.
He is suddenly as incapable of hurting me as I am capable of hurting him. A few well-chosen words in a tightly knit phrase could disassemble him. I know. I specialise in it. But it is a finely-honed skill that is of absolutely no use to me here.
Your son may or may not be gay.
He looks at me with an un-actable look of evenly matched resentment and gratitude.
But I think he probably is. And what he's found in our newspaper is something that he connects to ... something that tells him that he is not alone. I think it is fantastic that you have taken the trouble to come here, and I wish I could tell you something easier to hear ... but I'm not sure what that might be. But if you look at those newspapers closely, you will see that there is another world ...
I think I've seen all I need to ...
... that for whatever reason, your son has connected with.
Do you have a father?
Does he know what you do?
Does he know about this newspaper of yours?
Because that whole aspect of who I am doesn't exist for him. He's a Christian. It disgusts him.
And how do you feel about that? That your own father ...
It's not important to me what he thinks. I wouldn't be running this newspaper and having this conversation with you if it did.
Disconnection. He starts to walk toward the front door and I move quickly to open it for him. I'd like him to know that even gay people have manners. I know he wants to stay longer and I know I wish I had the vocabulary to encourage him to.
He walks slowly away, along the verandah.
Don't hurt your son for this.
He stops ... and turns, barely capable of bringing himself to face me again.
"Hurt" him? Do you think I would have gone to all this trouble if I was going to "hurt" my son anymore than you've already hurt him?
How have I managed to do that?
By showing him that all that (he tosses his copies of my newspaper at my feet) is possible.
Image: Sando Botticelli's The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (First Episode).