Women of Letters – Anxiety and Shame

 

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I spoke at Women of Letters in October last year. The book is out today. Hooray! My appointed topic was ‘A letter to the thorn in my side‘.

Hey Anxiety, hey Shame,

Life is much better on the other side of you. If I didn’t call you out, you most certainly would’ve overtaken me.

So, I guess, thank you? Even though there were awful moments. And if I dig deep enough, I’d find the solution to the many ways you manifest. Then I figure out the very reason why you were around me in the first place.

And if I learn from you properly, you’re a lesson of Shadow and Gold.

Anxiety

The Shadow

Age seventeen, 2001. Melbourne suburbs. A fitting for my year twelve formal. The first time I ever had a panic attack. I was dry-retching in my dress.

Why was I not as excited as every other girl in my class? Why did I feel like a major killjoy? And why was my stale attitude towards this ‘celebration’ on par with a Maths Methods exam or the beep test in P.E.?

The Gold

My first proper gay-girl date. Age thirty, March 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She walked towards the cafe, coyly smiled, and gave a small wave. She looked like a young Alicia Keys. I almost died.

We stood in James Turrell’s centrepiece, ‘Breathing Light’. Hues of purple to pink to red shifted around us. And when I turned my head towards her, her freckles glowed. Her joy and beauty made me feel gooey inside.

No one can take that moment away from me.

That moment meant that my feelings were valid.

That moment meant there’s a place for me in the world.

And life, finally, made so much sense.

Shame

The Shadow

Kindergarten. Age five, sometime close to Christmas,1989. Art shame on a crafternoon.

It sounds so silly now, but it cut deep.

I shared my table with three other children; we were each given sheets of paper with an outline of a Christmas tree. And in the middle of the table were cotton balls, and bits and bobs, and glue.

We got to work. Minutes later, I looked up and noticed that everyone’s tree looked the same. A perfect zigzag of decorations, just like the very design the nun had held up in front of us earlier.

Then there was mine, a freestyle, joyful mess. Overloaded with cotton balls and glitter pieces and pipe cleaner. It was fabulous… to me.

I was told off in front of the other kids. The vibe: my pure idiocy. How could I have not known the instructions, especially if every other kid in the class knew? My creativity came to a sluggish stop.

It wasn’t until a routine doctor visit months later that the adults found out my ears were blocked and needed grommets. By then my creativity was dormant.

The Gold 

2 April, 2016 – a week before my thirty-second birthday. Mum’s house, Melbourne. Ella, my five-year-old niece, flies from interstate with my brother for a visit.

It was cold outside and I had few resources in the house. So I grabbed some coloured pens and sheets of paper from the printer.

Ella outlined our hands on two sheets and started to draw in one of her fingers.

I looked at the outline of my hands and asked myself, ‘How do I make this look good?’ Then I asked Ella, ‘What should I do?’ She shrugged: ‘You can do anything you want.’

I watched her. Swirls in one finger, polka dots in another, and the Tooth Fairy in her index finger.

Slowly, I became unbounded, liberated. Ella showed me there were no rules. I drew teddy bears and zigzags. She taught me how to draw snowflakes. She encouraged me and said my worked looked pretty. And I complimented her work in return.

This was a far cry from what I experienced at age five. It was fun, like how art and craft should be.

So you know, shame, I can’t stop drawing or making things now. And I’m crafting felt toys.

Life is better. Life is so much better.

I’m picking up from when I was truly me.

Love,

Faustina

On the way to equality, the baton passes on.

Hey friends, really trying to stay positive here. Felt the vibe was best when I delivered a speech at the launch of Australia’s first LGBTI Awards at the Sydney Opera House on Friday. Please take a read. Sending love.

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I’d like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land. And Respects to those who have fallen on this Remembrance Day.

When I heard about the first annual LGBTI awards a few months ago, I was elated. I instantly thought, this is a much needed cultural event, and more thrilled as the awards also champions the support and care of our straight allies. This matters, as we strive for inclusion.

I’ve spent much of the past few years in the US and been out for just two years.

And I’m sure, like a lot of you, if not all, I’ve been making sense of the events over the year, the past few months, and particularly the past few days.

My views are through the lens of being a woman of colour. Seeing what I’ve seen, traveling through the south where the confederate flag still flies high, to seeing old slave shacks on former tobacco plantations. Then in more socially progressive states in the US, like marching at LA Pride the morning after the Orlando tragedy, all while being abreast of the news back home – like the delays in marriage equality.

It can easily feel like a burden being a minority. A struggle. And at times, very lonely. We all have our moments. And when “our moments” intersect with news so defeating it makes you numb. We want to throw in the towel. I had one of those moments this morning. But I told myself to show up.

I looked for hope. And a lot of what I was reading wasn’t helping. Soon, my mind turned to a play I saw in 2011 on Broadway called The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. The Mountaintop is based in the black civil rights era, and I often compare the movement with gay rights.

There are two characters in this play, Martin Luther King (who was played by Samuel L Jackson) and the motel maid, Camae (played by Angela Bassett). This play, fictional, though taken from real events is set the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Camae delivers a cup of coffee requested by Dr. King, they end up having an hour of deep conversation and (sorry to those who haven’t yet seen the play) Camae turns out to be an angel of death. She tells Dr. King that he’s to die the next day, and that she’s been sent to take him to the other side.

Dr. King pleads with Camae – saying how much work he still needs to get done. For his vision to be complete. Then, accepting his fate, Dr. King wants to see what the future looks like after he dies. He asks Camae, “Is the future is as beautiful as you?” Camae very wisely replies, “Yes… and it’s as ugly as me, too.” 

It’s then that Camae rips into a stunning monologue paired with images of the decades that follow – the good, the bad, the ugly of America and the world, of legislation, events (Katrina, Sept 11) African Americans (Spike Lee, Run DMC Tupac, Oprah, Biggie), slogans, “I’m black and I’m PROUD”, to a Black President! She exclaims;

“The baton passes on!
The baton passes on!

The baton passes on! 
The baton passes on!”

And so here we are.

We’re not at The Mountaintop. But when we look behind to see how far we’ve come in gay rights, a lot of baton passing has happened. Its passed from the people who were once silent and lives were taken, to those who risked their safety and their livelihoods in the first Mardi Gras gathering. To openly gay and thriving Australian politicians like Senator Penny Wong, the heart-felt apology from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, to gay formals for high school kids, to a rainbow Qantas logo, a gayer presence on mainstream media than we’ve ever seen, to cracker journalists like LGBTI reporter, Lane Sainty at Buzzfeed, to Benjamin Law’s literary genius, to seeing equal marriage in every English speaking country – to championing for our own. To our first LGBTI Awards. Every bit matters. Every person matters. The baton passes on.

So thank you to Awards Director, Silke Bader for accepting the baton once more, to adding to the celebrations, in the way the gay people know how. And thanks to you all for being here. There will always be ugliness but here’s to more positive change; where we can feel a lot less lonely, where we can live in the world as true equals. Any step forward by our LGBTI community is a shared victory. The baton passes on.

The first Inaugural LGBTI Awards is now open for public voting. You can vote here.

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My interview with The Pin

The Pin:

On The Pin today: Faustina Agolley – DJ FUZZY  who made a comment particularly relevant to the recent tragedy that occurred in Orlando.

“Being a visible member of the LGBTQIA+ community is important in a time where there is systemic, obvious and covert homophobia, where Australia is the last English speaking country to not have marriage equality, where LGBTQIA+ people are six times more likely to suffer depression and take their own life, where people purposefully inflict violence on LGBTQIA+ people.”

This has been my most gratifying interview to date. An open discussion about Race, Identity, Culture. Read it all here.

FaustinaThePin

Decisiveness

Decisiveness is an admirable quality in a person.

You give clarity to a situation after thinking it through.

You’re honest with the way you feel.

Decisiveness is respected in others because you don’t string them along or leave them wondering.

Though on tender decisions, those that involve matters of the heart, requires a way to articulate yourself in the kindest and empathic way possible.

Marriage Equality: 7 In 10 Australians Want Me To Be Happy

I see an Australia even better than it is now. An Australia that allows its people to love who they love and live a life they want for themselves.

A government which backs marriage equality will finally give value to all people, and lift a weight off the shoulders of those who have had it too hard for too long.

I write from personal experience, as an Australian living abroad where marriage is legal, and from the shared experience of my friends.

Tomorrow marks a year since I met the group of women who I felt safe enough to come out to. These are the women who gave me my voice and allowed me to step into a confidence that I had never known. I was in England when I met them, a country that passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013.

For the first time, life made sense to me. Two of my British friends, both professionals and over 40, have been in a relationship for 10 years, they share a home together and have a law that supports them. As soon as I was introduced to their world, my own life was realised, I kept saying to myself, “this is me.”

The same feeling swept over me when the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. I currently live in Los Angeles. While same-sex marriage has been enacted in some parts of the US since 2008, to have nation-wide support on this human right made me feel visible, protected, and cared for in the eyes of the law and in every one of the 50 U.S. states. I felt connected to my gay friends more than ever and it gave us all a sense of belonging.

And in April of this year, when I had enough courage to come out, words had new meaning to me. I felt immense joy for knowing who I am. And the word pride had true gravitas, as for so long I felt different, confused and at times, ashamed.

I had a pretty happy upbringing, but I can’t help but think that it was our society’s derision and rejection of openly gay people that drove my sexuality so deep within me that it made it challenging for me to come out.

I’m old enough to know that I am not the only one that had a hard time with this. The stats around anxiety, depression and suicide rank higher than our hetero-sexual counterparts. A study by Concordia University, California says that those that are lesbian, gay or bisexual and exposed to homophobia are 14 times more likely to take their own life.

The rejection continues with the exclusion of same sex couples from legal marriage.

Polls show that more than 70 percent of Australians want the ability for people to live and love whoever they want, regardless of gender.

This is our opportunity to move from the sidelines, from supporting from a distance the forward thinking of nations like Ireland, New Zealand, England and the US, to joining them as leader in an important and necessary change.

Australia is so close to marriage equality. So much closer to equal respect. And so much closer to acknowledging its citizens as equals.

I’m hopeful that soon we’ll be able to increase the pride in our own country, and celebrate a government that supports the view of the majority of Australians, and continues to build a reputation for celebrating diversity.

This blog post also features in the launch issue of Huffington Post Australia