I set up a ‘blackcat recommends’ category when I started blogging here, but the frustrating thing about producing cabaret is how little time one has to go to other events. I took a night off last night from the blackcat lounge (Phoebe and I only suffered mild separation anxiety) so I could go to Women Say Something, an event celebrating its birthday this Mardi Gras.
It was great to step outside of cabaret (albeit to go to an event in a cabaret lounge), to go and engage with a fun, feminist, sold-out, well organised event.
The night’s premise is simple: women from different arenas (professionally, culturally etc) discussing a particular theme, using their experiences and opinions.
The first panel, titled ‘We are family’ offered much of what our community has been saying for years: that family is more than biology, it can be chosen and it’s what you make it. Without a doubt the most inspiring member of the panel was Emma Jane (a fabulous, feminist sing mum), who focused on one of the less romantic challenges facing alternative families, namely access to human tissue – sperm and eggs – for women who are ‘socially infertile’, a term a doctor had used to describer her, a single woman. I wanted to hear much more from her about this, about how she viewed a person’s right to reproduce and why the laws in Australia are prohibitive. I have often wondered about this right, a right to produce a child inone’s own uterusorusing one’s own egg. I haven’t managed to come to a concrete conclusion.
Coming from a family where biology does not create our wholeness as a family unit, I am sometimes dismissive of people’s desperate need to create a tiny version of themselves. Why not adopt? Or foster? But I am quickly met with the realisation that adopting is pretty hard in this country, and I have loads of reservations about international adoption. Furthermore, who am I to say what a woman should or shouldn’t be allowed to do with her body? And, as Emma pointed out, access to fertility treatments is often only for rich people, making this a class issue as well.
While all 6 panellists were interesting, engaging and clearly had stories to tell, I felt I didn’t hear enough from each of them, especially Emma. I think a whole panel on reproduction and biology and how they intersect with our notions of family would be great!
I also sometimes tire of the whole “same-sex families are just like other families” rhetoric, an idea I articulated very badly in question time. I know that much of the GLBTQI community wants to be viewed as normal, but I don’t. I stand by “different, but equal”. We don’t have to be like you to deserve all the same rights as you. My family wasn’t like yours. Love is all you need from parents, but their gender and sexuality do effect your upbringing and to deny that is simplistic.
All that said, the panel was lovely, and Shelley Argent is adorable and I was pretty moved hearing about the volume of families accessing Rainbow Babies. Back when my mothers started Lesbians Mothers with Children (a far less fun title, really), we got the odd community hall event. They get camping trips and discos. Things have changed so much in my life time thanks to people (and women like those on the panel) striving for a better world.
The second panel, however, on Women’s Health, was something you could really sink your teeth into. With the SWASH (Sydney Women and Sexual Health Survey) study a major part of the panel, the focus was largely on lesbian health, and Dr Julie Mooney-Somers and Siri May spoke so well about these issues. It was great to see a flip of the norm in action: normally lesbian health is a blip on the radar of mainstream women’s health.
It was raised on the panel and I’ll reiterate it here: WHY is same-sex marriage at the forefront of our agenda (or seemingly our only agenda) when our community has these kinds of health problems – far greater alcohol, drug and nicotine abuse, far higher incidences of mental health problems, lack of awareness in the medial professions and the community about lesbian sexual health…? Julie made an excellent point at the end when she questioned why we weren’t rallying around lesbian health as a key issue, the way gay men do around safe sex and HIV prevention. Lesbian health, not only sexual health, but mental health and drug / alcohol use, doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should. It was great to hear smart, capable, professional women digging into this issues and not pulling punches in front of a room of women most of whom make up the statistics they were talking about.
Gretel Killeen and Anne Looby added star power and spoke well, but their issues were too great to be covered off in a room full of lesbians curious about the lesbian health study. Again, with those amazing women involved, we could have a panel on women’s health in third world countries, breast cancer and women’s relationships to their breasts, and creatives / artists / media and the role they can play as agents for change. Gretel and Anne’s contributions felt rushed which was a real shame as they clearly had much to offer.
For me, however, one of the most searingly powerful moments of the night was when Rocco D’Amore spoke about their immense and brutal challenges with mental health. It happened mere moments after I’d turned to my partner and said “Is Rocco bored or something? She keeps fidgeting about. It’s kind of rude.” I keep pretty informed about feminist and queer issues, so often when I go to these panels, it can feel like a bit of ‘preaching to the converted’. But there are few things more powerful than that moment where you have to check yourself, analyse your own prejudices and assumptions and admit fault. I work in disability services; I know that different people cope with social settings differently, especially high pressure social situations like sitting on a panel. And yet, in that moment, I made a simple assumption about a person based on how they were carrying themselves physically. I should have known better. I am not now going to sit about berating myself for not being a capital-A Aware enough individual. But I will hold that moment with me, remember how dangerous assumptions can be, and try to change my behaviour.
I want to thank Rocco for her bravery in stepping away from the mask of performer and revealing something so deeply personal to that room. It changed my views, and what else are these sort of events for?
There were loads of other moments worth mentioning, but I’ll leave it here and invite anyone who came last night to offer their thoughts too…
I’m glad I took a night off from the cabaret and I look forward to more of these events.
But it wouldn’t be a blackcat blog without a little plug or two, so…
If you like seeing lots of women on a stage, come see me and the Ladies tonight in Lady Sings it Better at the blackcat lounge, 142 Addison Rd Marrickville, 7.30pm, tix $30 (ONO). We’re on Feb 23, 24, Mar 2, 4, 7, 8.
AND if you want to hear more about families, come see me and 4 other ‘gaybies’ speak at Growing Up Other: Adult Children of Same Sex Parents Speak, as part of Queer Thinking for Mardi Gras, this Saturday Feb 25, at The Seymour Centre at midday.