Becoming an adult begins when you realise that nothing is as simple as it appears. When you realise that the Universe and the people who live in it are complex, unfathomable beings which we can only ever truly understand a small part of. That someone who appears purely good or purely bad is probably a lot more nuanced than that. They contain multitudes, just as we do.
It’s a difficult idea, particularly in a political culture as fraught as ours is currently. With a madman in the most powerful position in the world, the rhetoric against queer people and other minorities has grown even more terrifying and insidious than it ever has before. I had foolishly thought that this was just an American problem. Yes, it was devastating to witness and my heart went out to those heartbroken by the dangers Donald Trump has wrought, but I felt safe and a distance from my Australian landscape.
But then Malcolm Turnbull decided to initiate the plebiscite, asking the whole country what they thought of two people in love getting married. Let’s put aside for a moment how ridiculous this whole concept is (it’s a non-binding vote unless the majority is a no, it’s a public vote on a minority issue, it’s none of your goddamn business if I choose to get married or not), because even though it’s stupid and short-sighted, it’s also more than that. Much more. It’s a truly painful moment for any queer person nationwide, because suddenly our lives are open to judgement yet again.
One of the most insidious and depressing aspects of being gay in a homophobic society is the loss of safety. It’s all those moments you catch yourself, as Panti Bliss once put it. You try not to act too gay, just in case someone was watching. The longer you’re out, the easier it becomes to put that to bed. You’re just being paranoid, you tell yourself, as you panic a little when your boyfriend gives you a quick kiss goodbye on the train. He didn’t seem panicked, so it must be fine. But then as you walk down the platform, you worry that someone on the train is yelling at him now, or worse. You feel that guilt fester, and suddenly you realise it, you feel guilty for loving him. They have made you feel guilty and you hate yourself a little bit for it, because you’ve let them in.
And as this plebiscite debate becomes more and more prominent in the public’s mind, then the hatred and the pain will continue. And when my boyfriend, Finn, reads this, he’ll say something that inspires me to look past the pain, but not everyone has someone they can turn to. There are people out there feeling alone, feeling that secret guilt, that private pain that comes from knowing that you’re lying to everyone around you about something fundamental to you. That is the true danger of this plebiscite. Of making a touchy minority issue into a subject of public debate. Because you never know when people are listening.
I didn’t realise how much this debate was affecting me until the other day when I was watching Into The Woods. The Stephen Sondheim musical has always had a very special place in my heart after I dragged my partner to it in early 2015, and I cried my eyes out. It’s such a beautiful, complex story and I connected with its ideas of moral grey areas, the legacy parents leave for their children and the true darkness of the world that fairytales leave out. But what truly moved me was the song ‘No One Is Alone’. It takes place at one of the darkest moments in the film, just after the main characters have all lost so much, especially the young Jack and Red Riding Hood, whose mothers are both dead. In the song, The Baker and Cinderella try to comfort them, telling them that even though the world is dark and painful right now, there is light coming. Because no one is alone in the world. At the time, the song resonated with me because I had been feeling incredibly lonely. I had no-one to talk to about my film and television obsessions, especially seeing I had tried to force Finn into watching some of my favourites and he had hated them (chronicled in the painfully awkward Dial M For Movies series). And suddenly, in the middle of the cinema as ‘No One Is Alone’ began to play, I cried. I realised that I had to find a group of people who I could talk to about movies. And I did. That night, I found a film club, which I still go to every Sunday and see movies with. I talk passionately about these weird, obscure movies without judgement and it’s wonderful.
The other day, I managed to get a copy of the original Broadway version of Into The Woods with a number of other DVDs. I was doing my usual trailer trash (putting in the discs and seeing if they have trailers) when I got to Into The Woods. It was the last one in the pile and I decided to start it up to see what the quality was like. I watched the whole 2 and a half hour film in one sitting. The Broadway version of the play is very different than the Disney film, and superior in almost every way. The jokes land harder, the themes are explored more completely, the characters are given added, more devastating depth and the songs are performed by experienced singers (and the Wolf is a boy!). The difference was breath-taking. And when I got to ‘No One Is Alone’ I cried again. I cried because the vocal performance was gorgeous, tender and heartbreaking.
I cried because I’ll be leaving the University I’ve been going to for 5 years very soon, and the idea terrifies me.
I cried because there seems to be too much pain in this world.
I cried because even though I have so many friends and people who love me, I still get overwhelmingly depressed and lonely.
I cried because that depression is so unbearable that it feels like I may never get out of it.
I cried because I do get out of it, but I know that there are many others who can’t get out, whose sadness overwhelms them.
I cried because this plebiscite and homophobic rhetoric will destroy lives.
I cried because there are so many people who will never realise that they are not alone, that somewhere in the world, there are people waiting for them.
I saw the rest of the play in tears, an emotional release I’d been needing for weeks. At the darkest of times, pop culture can help us see a way out. Find your Into The Woods. But I like Into The Woods because it argues that no one is inherently terrible. That moral grey areas exist all the time.
That’s the saddest thing about this whole debate. Most people aren’t terrible. People with homophobic attitudes can be lovely people in other areas of their lives. Some gay people I’ve met are truly awful. Having a specific political standpoint (that I now need to add excluding the Nazis and other white supremacy groups is extremely depressing) doesn’t mean that our entirety is terrible. Because we contain multitudes that change over time. Someone who votes ‘no’ on that poll, might vote ‘yes’ in ten years time when their own child comes out to them. It’s very easy to be homophobic and racist to a concept, to a theory. But when you see your child come out, when you see the pain in their eyes, it’s so much harder to hate.
So, as we go into this plebiscite and the anger and pain gets worse and worse and worse, I beg of people please be kind. Try to understand one another. Think about what your words mean.
And to any young queer people reading this, please, please know that you are not alone. Know that the hate comes from broken people, who have nothing better to do with their time than to try to bring you down. You have to try and stand and push them off. You have to weather this storm, because no storm lasts forever. There is always the sun. There are always people waiting for you to find them. And once you do, you will never be alone again. Because no one, and I mean no one, is alone.
What piece of pop-culture keeps you sane in this crazy world?