“A Kind of Hush” permeated the airwaves in 1967 as I left my Tasmanian life behind and came to live in Victoria. Made popular by Herman’s Hermits and a decade later by The Carpenters, it reminds me of my age; —- I’m now seventy-six as I sit here writing this little story. In 1967, I was twenty-four years old, and for me a new life lay ahead.
Fifty years ago, a gay person was a happy, somewhat carefree person; with no reference to an individual’s sexuality —- but “a kind of hush” certainly existed; no one spoke of being same sex attracted; it simply wasn’t a socially acceptable lifestyle and was regarded as an illness. There was an overpowering “Britishness” over everything we said and did. We had no place to go in those days, we didn’t fit in anywhere, there were no role models. Churches ranted and raved from the pulpit reinforcing traditional ‘Christian’ attitudes —– making people feel guilty about their sexuality. Sadly, that attitude from many churches continues today, contributing to inestimable harm to young people, which is unfortunate because the one element that binds humanity together is the fact that we’re all different. Jesus Christ would be horrified if he came back today and listened to what people are teaching in his name. Over time gay men and women became the world’s best actors and actresses, trying to fit in as best we could. Many young gay blokes married women and had families; the remainder bravely partnered with other men. The same with gay women. Others found it too hard to continue and ended their own lives where at least they had some peace in a world where criticism was king, a world which didn’t recognize them for the lovely human beings they were.
I survived because I understood there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me; I had a connection to nature because we were farmers and commonsense told me there had to be other people like me in the world and there were. I eventually settled down with a guy in Melbourne, but we split after twelve years or so. In those days we had to entertain ourselves in our own homes and I was part of the dinner queen circuit. It was pleasant but vacuous, and after a lonely sixteen months I met Russell. We clicked immediately, found we had common interests away from the city, including farming and just growing things. We bought five acres at Marcus Hill and grew flowers. I was appointed a civil celebrant in that period. Some years later we moved to Connewarre on fifty acres, growing flowers for wholesale, breeding stud sheep and Kelpies. It was at that time I became a funeral celebrant in addition to my marriage celebrant duties. Almost immediately I became aware of how badly families were being served by a mixture of religious and civil celebrants.
I remember waiting our turn to use the chapel at the crematorium; the previous funeral was for a very senior aged lady who had passed away after a full and productive life. Only a small number of people emerged from the chapel, but they were absolutely wracked with grief, sobbing and wailing, clearly not a celebration of a life at all.
My ceremony was for a man in his forties, who had an accident, his aged parents eventually turning off his life support. His fourteen-year-old son was attending along with many of his school mates. Afterwards it struck me that our funeral had a totally different reaction to the farewell of their much-loved son, father and friend. I knew my duty was to get everyone to move on with their lives while honoring the deceased, but it wasn’t until, intrigued, I researched the reasons why. Fundamentally, it was the power of words, using healing words and phrases in the right order to take family and friends along a pathway to recovery, openly encouraging them to move on with their own lives, ignoring traditional attitudes and dogma. I wrote a handbook called appropriately “Happy Funerals” which is still in use today by some celebrants.
Quite suddenly I realized old prejudices and anti-gay hatred were alive and well in Geelong and particularly in rural communities. A part of my old life in Tasmania had caught up with me again. I had a series of funerals for under thirties males who had suicided; in several cases it was obvious to me they were gay men who felt they didn’t fit in anywhere, always a hint of homophobia and deep depression in the background. I discovered the world hadn’t moved on as much as I’d hoped, in fact I was horrified that homophobic ignorance and behavior was rampant in our region. The sadness was, with the exception of two of the victims, that none of their families had a clue about their orientation. To me it was obvious because in researching their lives in order to write a fitting ceremony, so much of the information reminded me of my own young life all those years ago.
Russell saw how affected I’d become by these events and as a couple we felt powerless to do anything constructive. It was 2008 so we decided to have a bash for our 25th. anniversary at Café Go in Geelong. We had about a hundred friends and family attending, but the Geelong Advertiser came along at our request and we made the news. Photographs of the Australian flag and the rainbow flag hung side by side as we had a full-on commitment ceremony. We hoped we’d demonstrate to young people it was okay to publicly declare your love for your partner regardless of your gender, and therefore feel better about themselves. We like to think it helped, certainly the initial feedback was positive, but after a while everyone went back to sleep in Sleepy Hollow once again, it was a subject no one wanted to talk about; too many people feel uncomfortable because it involved having an honest conversation about what goes on in bedrooms —- or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, many missed the point — it’s never been about sex but about people! We’ve always preached the politics of inclusion; of integration, not separation. We’re part of the community —- we have to own the community and the community has to own us.
In my early seventies I retired as a celebrant, freeing up my time to indulge my real passion —– writing. In 2014 my first novel “Black Dog” was published by Dreamspinner Press in the United States and we launched it in Geelong. The international readership of gay romance is about 40% female; even the publisher has an almost completely female staff. In addition, many authors are also female, a very complicated and highly competitive market. As a budding author, I had to get their attention and for that reason the first chapter of “Black Dog” leaves nothing to the imagination. It was shunned by mainstream media locally with the exception of LGBTIQ book sellers around Australia who loved it. I used the readership to push the boundaries once again, talking openly about gay romance and the effect negative attitudes have on young same sex attracted people who just want to live their lives in peace and harmony. How suicide appears the only way out for some people, lost in their own world of depression, brought on by homophobic attitudes and/or abuse. But importantly the book has a message of hope, that in fact love does cure all ill, that by 2014 we were headed in the right direction, that many young people were asking for help with depression brought on by entrenched homophobia. Turning the tide in this way was Daniel Witthaus from Geelong, who has spent almost two decades challenging homophobia one cuppa at a time in schools, rural communities and, occasionally, in developing countries like Sri Lanka, Poland and Indonesia. He is the author of “Beyond Priscilla,” one gay man, one gay truck, one big idea. Daniel is a hero, he has put his own life on hold to help others.
In 2016 my second book “A Nice Normal Family” was published by Dreamspinner Press. Again the genre was gay romance, but it touches on dyslexia as a central theme, a condition which affected many famous and successful people through history – Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Richard Branson, Walt Disney, Jay Leno, Woopi Goldberg, Nelson Rockefeller, Agatha Christie, Steven Spielberg, Harry Belafonte, Winston Churchill, Richard Strauss, etc. pointing out that these people are often quite brilliant in their own right, often all they need is a loving environment to bloom and grow their abilities. In almost all these cases a loving partnership is apparent in their success; the storyline paints a vivid picture of a “normal” family. What we tried to do with both books was to help ‘normalize’ same sex partnerships by holding a mirror up to society, stressing everything we wrote was based on real life and real people. Geelong was and is, like many towns, a “Peyton Place” where everything is calm and socially acceptable on the surface but a hedonistic playground when no one is looking.
In 2017 the infamous plebiscite was held; many people were fearful that the campaign of hate led by the far right and the churches would push vulnerable LGBTIQ people into a spiral of depression causing a human catastrophe. Thankfully our fears weren’t realized; 62% of Australians responded in support of marriage equality; the legislation passed on December 7th 2017 was almost an anti-climax.
The instigators of the plebiscite had tried to negate / slow down the process of marriage equality and failed. Australians are an egalitarian lot; we fundamentally believe in a fair go for everyone —- we responded in a very positive manner and left no doubt in anyone’s mind about the mood of the nation. It was clear the plebiscite had endorsed more than our right to marry but formally recognized same sex attracted people as part of Australian society, indeed apologetic that it hadn’t happened sooner.
The response from the far right and the religious – driven minorities was prompt; and the federal government commissioned an enquiry into religious freedoms by the former attorney general of the Howard government, Philip Ruddock. The proposed legislation is now being circulated for comment to the dismay of many. It includes the right for churches to condone or even promote “conversion therapy” where they attempt to turn same sex attracted people to heterosexual because they claim God hates gay people. This is dreadful; and means the war is on a different level again. Churches already have the right to unlimited vilification of people and organizations from the pulpit and are exempt from the various anti-discrimination acts, both state and federal, so to give them more ammunition to attack vulnerable people seems totally unjust and unnecessary.
Russell and I were married on February 21st 2018 at the Geelong Boathouse.
Story: John Terry Moore. Photo: Supplied