As a young Queensland grommet in the sixties, while other boys my age were immersed in pursuits more defined by their gender roles, I was hanging out in my bedroom. Replete with aquarium and tie-died whatever I could find, my nightly routine was fiddling with my tiny crystal radio. I tried to find any semblance of sound other than simply scratchy static, using my treasured item.
When I found a voice or music, I would lie in bed with this small plastic thing glued to my ear. I was in heaven.
With the passing of the years, I became aware that I was not like the other boys, and life became far more challenging. Once I went to the cinema to see Barbarella with a cousin. He was getting turned on by Jane Fonda’s breasts, while I was merely admiring the creativity of her costumes. Then John Philip Law’s Pygar character flew onto the screen, and something shifted. Mostly in my pants. He was my first man-crush.
At that time, there were no positive role models for young gay boys or girls. The word ‘Gay’ was but an adjective back then. It would take many years until we subverted it to a noun. Progress is slow. The only representations of Gays were suicidal or homicidal, depressive or predatory, hysterically camp or a hundred other miserable depictions. The cinema was a real challenge for a kid trying to navigate through a dense forest of heterosexuality.
Not to mention the legal minefield for a homo-boy like me growing up in Joh’s Queensland. It was pretty much a nightmare.
I am now an older and wiser Gay man. I lived through the AIDS crisis in the eighties. I earned my activist badges – not just through choice but through obligation and the need to survive this much bigger nightmare. And decades later, I began my journey into broadcasting. Across a wide range of genres, I slowly found a program style that suited my instincts. I wanted to provide a voice for others that I never heard as a child. A voice in the dark hours that would safely guide me to a place where I’d know I was not the only one.
I did several shows until I developed a more niche, and what I felt was at least a more edgy program. ‘Wig in a Box’ was inspired by John Cameron Mitchell’s head-spinning song ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. It was a Queer show but not limited to Queer themes. I was particularly proud of two shows in that series. One entitled ‘Julia’s Speech’ was a feminist work around the disturbing treatment of women in their workplaces, replete with the operatic version of her famous ‘Not now, not ever’ speech, composed by Rob Davidson and sung by ‘Australian Voices’.
The other was a broadcast that affected me very emotionally when I presented it. Called ‘Refugee’ it featured poignant stories from many refugees accompanied by music, much from their different cultures. Despite months of research putting it together, listening to it live became a whole other experience. Hearing their stories live on air was overwhelming. It was the only time I have cried while in the studio. I had to play another song while I composed myself. I will never forget the kindness and compassion of a mate in the other studio who realised I was a bit thrown. He asked me if I was ok. He understood the power of their sad life stories and helped me get it together.
Several years on and here I am with my current passion – “Not Thinking Straight”. The program I had always wanted to do but couldn’t quite work out how. A program that speaks to and celebrates difference across the ‘Rainbow Spectrum’. The first few programs, I felt, were a bit rocky and unwieldily. There was so much to cover it was difficult to structure the broadcast. But it soon fell into place. Initially, I did few interviews myself as recording from home for an Aquarian was, to put it mildly, confronting!
Now I feel confident and love zooming with guests from all sorts of places.
Few listeners would appreciate the amount of work that goes into a two hour broadcast like mine. Much of the time involves research. Researching LGBTQI+ musicians then choosing the right song to match with the spoken material in the show is integral to NTS. Arranging guests for the program, chatting with them on zoom (I don’t consider them interviews) and then the most time-consuming part…the editing. Editing a one hour chat for a half-hour segment can take hours if done right. Every ‘um’ & ‘ah’. Every deep breath, hesitation, long gap. They all need to be removed and spliced back together. This is the only part of producing my program that I find exhausting.
I work on my show every day if only for a few hours some days.
On an LGBTQI+ program – all those letters deserve a voice and I try hard on each episode to present them. The focus on so much of our history on men is obvious, even in this space. In my youth, it was the ‘Gay Revolution’ when Gay was not an exclusive term. The inclusion of Lesbians, Trans, Bi, Queer, Non-binary folk as LGBTQI+ was presumed but not qualified. It has been a necessary, logical progression of inclusion but has taken too long. The Patriarchy has deep and often dark roots. I do long for one inclusive word again, simply for ease of use, but that sounds churlish. It’s not hard to say the letters, even with them expanding. The great thing is that by repeating them, we are reminded how diverse and inspiring the rainbow community is and that the fight for equality is far from over. In many countries, it is retreating.
This is the show I would have loved to hear as a child – reaching out to kids struggling with transition, with stories from others going through it too. It would have opened my eyes to the existence and value of diversity and certainly made my coming to terms with being different and Gay so much easier.
There have been beautiful responses from listeners. Noticeably, straight parents or aged care home workers who now better understand the nature of difference and its value. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Is anyone listening to this?’ Two hours is quite a commitment. Apart from those messages I get, I will never know. But if I can help just one person in their life struggle, then this is a worthy endeavour.
I will leave you with a story that pretty much sums up the idea of ‘Not Thinking Straight’. Previously, I was a tutor at Griffith University. Before my students arrived for their first tutorial, I’d write on the whiteboard in large letters ”DIFFERENCE SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED”. The students would wander in and eventually read what was on the board. After a few minutes, I’d get up without looking at them and go to the board. Underneath with a red pen, I’d write, “It should be celebrated.” Turning to their confused faces, I’d say ‘That is your lesson for today. Indeed for the year. And all the years to come. Most kids will get through their schooling with or without your help. Your real job is to know the kids who are struggling. Maybe they don’t fit in. Or they are being bullied. Or those who are just unhappy. Your job is to address all those things. They are the ones who really need you. They are ones whose lives you can change and make better’.
Then I would pack up my things saying ‘You can go now. I hope you remember this lesson’.
I wasn’t thinking straight at the time!