Beyond the Culture Wars: LGBTIQ history now – my thoughts 


Last year, in Adelaide, was the first time I attended Australia’s Homosexual Histories Conference (AHHC) and unknown to me it was in its fifteenth year. 

This year the sixteenth conference was held in Melbourne, where its founders, the Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives, are located. I was lucky enough, thanks to the AHHC committee that organised the Adelaide conference, to receive a bursary to attend the event in Melbourne.

This year’s presentations were just as stimulating as lasts, and Melbourne is a lovely city.

We all know when you attend conferences with many parallel sessions that you could essentially attend a completely different conference to someone else… so keep that in mind when I offer my thoughts. 

In regards to my thoughts I wanted to share two of many themes that featured in the sessions I attended. The themes, or threads, I selected were of particular interest to me.

Oral histories and queer lives

It is understandable that because we have not answered and cannot answer the question ‘what is a queer object?’ that queer history is documented primarily though oral histories. 

We heard of many oral history projects and attempts to capture the voices of both prominent and everyday queer people.

Gareth Watkins of PrideNZ.com spoke about his work documenting the voices of queer people in NZ. 

PrideNZ.com is a story sharing site that features the voices of consenting queer adults and in concept is as simple as sharing the stories that queer people want to share in a public forum. What stuck with me from this presentation was a statement of how amazing it would be to hear queer voices from 100 years ago, but we can’t. Gareth is not only providing a platform for queer voices to be heard and documented, but also thinking about the future. The future generations that could have access to these recordings and understand the language we use, the political climate of our time and the nuances of individuals. He envisions the recordings be absorbed into an archive for long term preservation, because we all know websites and digital technology don’t last forever. 

Professor Melissa Wilcox, keynote, discussed her project about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the worldwide network of politically active queer nuns. An entertaining and enlightening talk, but what stood out to me was her ideas about myth and sacred stories as part of the identities of living communities. 

What is the role of an historian when exploring and documenting truths of living communities when stories that can’t be proved nor disproved act as important parts of community identity?

I will just leave this question with you…

Capitalism, government and queerness

Discussing capitalism always provokes exciting debate.

Simon Copland began day two with a great provocation – what role does sex play in capitalism and what roe does capitalism play in sex?

Copland’s theory suggests that capitalism makes room for what we understand as progress and then puts in place ideas to criticise and hold it back. He demonstrated this by explaining, in simple terms, how women at points in history were not allowed to work, and then as capitalism allowed for progress women continuously gained those rights. However, with this progress came criticism of the working woman putting a career first and a family second. This can be said for the gay liberation movement and sexual freedoms too. As progress is achieved there are also many and varied criticisms to accompany. It is an interesting and thought provoking theory and I am very much looking forward to his book. 

Curtis Redd discussed State apologies pertaining to queer issues. He focussed on some specific case studies, but what I will share will be a few points made broadly about official apologies.

The first is that official apologies position queer issues as in the past. If someone apologies for the criminalisation of homosexuality, although powerful and important, it positions the issue as resolved. It places homophobia as a phenomenon that has been overcome. We know this is not true and queer people face all sorts of disenfranchisement everyday. This is not to say the apologies should not happen or that they are meaningless, but that they also activate certain issues pertaining to queer representation in the public.

The second is about audience – who are these apologies for? Decriminalisation of homosexuality could be pitched as an apology to all LGBTIQ community groups, however predominantly pertains to gay men of a certain age who lived, and loved, during a certain time. Again, not to say that this apology isn’t important, but that it is positioning a public official apology for all LGBTIQ people which could be misleading to an unknowing mainstream, for lack of words.

And finally, the idea that heteronormative, predominantly heterosexual, official bodies bestow apologies or acknowledgements upon communities of drivers sexuality and gender that positions heterosexuality in a space where it can’t be criticised… is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know! But the idea is definitely an interesting one to consider. 

Looking forward

This year’s Conference had many more themes including spaces, families, film and cinema, liberation and more. What is the most valuable thing about these conferences is the public opportunity to discuss, debate and deliberate these histories and contemporary issues with peers an colleagues. Without events like this queer histories could inevitably be lost in time, and we don’t want that!

Events like this really gets the creative juices flowing and I am looking forward to a fruitful, innovative and creative 12 months ahead, before the next one. 

Let’s see what strides we can make forward. 

 

 

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