From Bent Street 1 – ‘2017’
Like Cinderella we’re getting ready to go to the Ball – the Coming Back Out Ball at the Melbourne Town Hall, that is.
Ardy is wearing her ‘This Is What An Old Lesbian Looks Like’ teeshirt she bought at the recent Old Lesbians Organising for Change Gathering in Tampa, Florida. And I’ve opted for my Frida Kahlo print pants she made me in her sewing class, plus a green singlet showing under my orange top. It’s not till we’re outside and getting in the taxi –I’ve had an arthritic flare-up in my right knee and am on meds to be able to walk with a minimum of pain otherwise we’d be catching the tram as usual – that I notice that we’re both wearing our, not matching fortunately, brightly coloured cardies.
The next day, when our photo appears on Facebook, someone mentions we look like Kath and Kel in the episode where they spent their holidays at the Tullamarine airport. I embrace this concept without a qualm.
I have been to any number of lesbian dances and have helped organise a number of Women’s Balls, two a year at the San Remo Ballroom and the St Kilda Town Hall, during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s to keep the Women’s Liberation Building open and accessible with any number of the womyn’s bands providing the live music to keep us bopping all evening long. But I have never been able to afford to attend the gay male organised extravaganzas over the previous years. Till now. I’m here because this one is well subsidised as part of Seniors Week, and is free to members of the LGBTI community over 65.
It doesn’t take us long to find our table up the back of that large hall which slowly fills with LGBTIQ community members as we gradually get used to our very sumptuous surroundings and catch up with the lesbians we know for a chat. I’m here for a couple of reasons. Ardy has been a lesbian consultant, for want of a better word, in the lead up to the Ball and her photo has appeared in some of the publicity as well as the program; and the well-known and loved lesbian entertainers in the line-up are not to be missed.
I especially enjoy the opportunity to hear the Yorta Yorta opera singer Deborah Cheetham once again and singer-songwriter Robyn Archer does a great job as the emcee. I also like watching Kathleen McGuire conducting the orchestra on stage. I give a standing ovation to the Performing Older Women’s Circus, which I had founded in 1995 for womyn over 40, strutting their acrobatic stuff on stage. I take great delight in Ardy’s few words into the microphone for all to hear. Much to my surprised delight, the food is much better than I’d expected and someone keeps topping up my glass with sparkling all evening.
What’s not to like, I ask myself, as the entertainment keeps on coming in small sound and movement bytes for hours till there is hardly enough time for the dancing at the end. But dance everyone does on the very crowded dance floor. Except for me with my bung knee. Me, who has danced my feet off at every lesbian dance and Women’s Ball since the 1970s. I’m barely able to hobble let alone do anything like lift my feet and twirl to the music, a painful ending to what has proved to be an evening full of fun and frivolity – more than ably organised by the very-gay-in-his-six-inch-stilettos-and-smart-black-suit, Tristan Meecham, whom we meet up with as we’re sitting on a bench outside waiting for our Uber ride to take us home at close to midnight.
The following day, 8 October, is International Lesbian Day, and I wear the same clothes to the Lesbian Tea Dance that afternoon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Matrix Guild established in 1992 by and for lesbians over 40. This time Ardy and I are able to drive and give a friend who lives in North Fitzroy a lift with her walker to the Preston Shire Hall. The Matrix Guild Seniors Dance is a much more modest affair, as lesbian events have traditionally been over these past several decades, because we do not have the disposable income and access to resources of the gay males. But no less full of dancing and conviviality and fun for that.
A small grant has enabled the collective to cover costs and provide finger food, including cheese platters, plenty of fruit, a couple of pavlovas and dozens of vegan gluten-free cupcakes, plus coffee and tea. A loop of digital photos is displayed on the screen against one wall, with several photos of myself at various stages of my life over the past couple of decades. We don’t win any of the fundraising raffle prizes, but as a founding member of Matrix and active for many years, I make a speech recapping the beginning stages of how the Matrix Guild came to be set up in Victoria and describe some of the fundraisers we members organised to raise money in the early days.
Again, and for the first time in living memory at a lesbian dance, I am unable to groove along to the non-stop dance music with a variety of digitalised music to please every taste. But strangely enough this doesn’t bother me as much as I’d thought it would, because I find myself in one interesting conversation after another as these lesbian friends I’ve known and been around, workshopped and demonstrated with over many years, sit down in the chairs next to mine and catch up with me about our news.
One weekend in October and what a time to have a crook knee! But thank heavens for small mercies, because at least I was able to be there and experience two quite different but equally enjoyable events in our lesbian seniors’ calendar.
Jean Taylor is a radical lesbian feminist writer and political activist based on Wurundjeri country in Melbourne. She has been actively engaged in the Women’s Liberation Movement and lesbian feminist activism since the 1970s and has written many novels, plays, short stories and non-fiction on these and other subjects. Jean’s published work can be found on www.dykebooks.com.
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