Tag Archives: LGBT

Night Market, Ry Feder

Photo by Julie on Unsplash

Circle

The markets glimmer in the dark like firelight.

It’s the fairy lights draped over each booth, Jamie thinks, and the lanterns that criss-cross the paths between them. Individually, each bulb is small. They don’t produce much light. But together… massed together, they’re breathtaking.

It’s a nice metaphor. Jamie mentally notes it down to use later in a story.

‘Okay, we got a bunch to do. Where first?’ Jack asks the group, his arm slung over Callum’s shoulder. Jamie glances sidelong at them, then away.

It’s not jealousy, exactly. It’s not like they miss being with Jack specifically, and he and Callum really do make a good match (hell, Jamie had been the one to suggest that Callum ask Jack out in the first place). But of their circle of friends, Jamie is the only one who doesn’t have someone and sometimes that loss feels like lead in their stomach.

It had been their choice, they have to keep reminding themself of that. It had been Jamie who had told Jack it wasn’t working, and they have no one else to blame.

And they’re at the markets, and they’re big and bright and bursting with life and maybe, maybe they can find someone here, find a connection. Somewhere amidst the lights and the lanterns, the arts and crafts, music and sound, amidst the swell and push of humanity, maybe there is someone here who they can connect with.

Coffee in one hand, and they won’t sleep well tonight. But Jamie’s wandering feet have led them to a stall bursting with music and movement, a keyboardist spinning songs from their fingertips. Jamie stops and watches, lets the music sink into their bones, and the song comes to an end and the keyboardist looks up and meets their gaze.

There’s warmth, there. Curiosity, fascination. The potential for a connection, maybe, if they dare. They hold Jamie’s gaze for a moment, then a smile crosses their lips.

Jamie smiles back.

The Artists

Danica hands over the sketch, accepts the ten dollars, and gives a sunshine-bright saleswoman smile.

‘Pleasure doing business with you!’ she beams, tucking the note in the tin. She’s already planning out the groceries – eighty cents for a half-kilo tin of lentils, two bucks forty for peanut butter, a dollar sixty for the no-name supermarket bread…

There’s a gap in the music; she glances up from her list. ‘Hey, Lucc? White, wholegrain, or multigrain?’

The pianist runs a hand through eir hair with one hand and reaches for the water bottle with the other. ‘Uh, dunno. We already get rice?’

‘Yeah, two pictures ago.’

‘Wholegrain.’

Danica nods and jots it down. ‘Cool. We almost have enough for bananas.’

‘Bitchin’.’ Lucc grins and launches into a cover of The Banana Boat Song; a few of the market-goers pause to sing along to the old standard. Smiling back, Danica drums against her little table to provide some accompaniment, a few red curls escaping their clips to bounce around her face as she sways to the song.

The movement helps. Movement means catching people’s eye, catching people’s eye means they’re more likely to look at the paintings she has for sale or, more likely, the ten-dollar sketches she does (‘While you wait!’). It works out well, sharing a booth with Lucc. They split the vendor fee, eir music attracts people who might buy Danica’s art; those browsing her art will inevitably listen to Lucc’s music and maybe contribute a few dollars to the tip jar, maybe buy an EP.

Rent does not come cheap.

Lucc has wrapped up the cover and gone into one of eir own compositions. A few stick around to listen, including a cutie with freckles splattered over their face like paint and a jacket adorned with a riot of colourful badges. They (there’s a nonbinary flag amongst the badges) have one hand on their cocked hip, a smile on their lips. Danica is about eighty percent sure they’re flirting.

‘This next one,’ Lucc says as ey finishes up, ‘Is dedicated to all the beautiful people out here tonight.’ Ey winks at the one in the jacket, Danica laughs at the blush it produces and turns back to set up her sketchpad for the next portrait.

It’s on the ground, along with her pencils and eraser, stool overturned. The kneaded eraser is half buried, and there’s the imprint of a boot in its soft surface.

‘What the hell?’ she mutters, straightening up the stool, trying to work the mud out of the eraser. It’s well and truly ground in, unusable without leaving streaks of dirt over the paper, and she bites her lip savagely.

Kneaded eraser, four dollars ten. Broken 4B pencil, eighty cents for one or two bucks for the three-pack for the cheap ones…

The thing is, she’s starting to realise, is that the stool had been tucked away in the middle of their little stall. It’s not somewhere where people might randomly bump into it, where they might accidentally knock her supplies to the ground. To get the imprint of a boot like that (and Danica’s boots have a different print, and Lucc has not left the keyboard since she last saw her sketchbook), it would have to be deliberate.

The cash box hasn’t been touched yet. Danica hesitates, then slips the money out and into her jacket pocket, buttoning it shut.

She hates not trusting people. Hates it. Danica likes to think herself an extrovert, that the people she surrounds herself with are good at heart. She likes to think that the people at the night market are people who care, who are seeking homemade food and handcrafted art, to hear live music and to exist within humanity’s heartbeat.

Vandalism doesn’t come under that category.

There’s a break in the music and, just on the edge of her hearing, a few whispers. Some muffled laughter. The sound of something tearing. She turns just in time to see one of her earlier sketches drift to the ground like a feather.

Her jaw sets. ‘I need to check something out,’ she murmurs to Lucc, and then she darts around the side of the stall just in time to see someone disappearing into the darkness.
The fairy lights and lanterns might be atmospheric, but the light they give is dim. Danica wavers, bites her lip.

Trying to catch them would be futile at best. She’s not dressed for running through the dark, over uneven ground. She would be better off brushing her things off and getting back to drawing, let market security deal with the issue.

But it’s left a stain on the evening. A sharp reminder (in the form of a trodden-on eraser) that she has to fight for every scrap of independence. That it’s not enough to be able to survive in the city with her art, with Lucc’s music, with friendship and the markets at the hub of it all. That there are forces actively working against her.

She doesn’t even know who they are. Wouldn’t even be able to pick them out in a line-up. She doesn’t know if they’re vandals on a mission, or just reckless kids acting up.

Slowly, she picks up the sketch from where it had fallen, brushing off some of the dirt. Slowly, she pins it back up, rightens the stool, sets her things up again.

She has work to do.

Torn Paper

Miri’s fingers are stained grey.

She has her hand shoved in her jeans pocket, tight around the cash and feeling hideously conspicuous. Matt’s advice (‘Don’t look guilty, don’t run, just walk around like you own the place’) feels utterly inadequate; she’s sure that everyone can see the handful of fives and tens she took from the noodle stall through the fabric as she weaves through the stalls.

Apparently that damn artist had been using some kind of super-pencil. When she had ripped the drawing off the wall, it had covered her skin in glossy charcoal grey.

Stupid Matt. Stupid, charismatic, charming Matt and his stupid, charismatic, charming friends.

None of them are in sight, of course. They all scattered the instant the artist had nearly caught them in the act, leaving Miri with stained fingers and the sensation of being dangled over a cliff in her stomach.

She needs to wash her hands. Then she needs to find the others. Then she needs to… she needs to…

One clenched finger at a time, she lets go of the money in her pocket and wipes the tips of her fingers against her thigh. No one will notice the dark streaks on dark denim, and it gets most of the surface stuff off, at least; she doesn’t look too immediately guilty.

Doesn’t look it, anyway.

What the hell is she doing? Stealing and breaking things, causing trouble, hurting people, just to win approval? Matt might rule the school, he might be funny and clever and have really nice blue eyes, he might throw the best parties and have the best car, but…

But…

Her older sister Sarah is a genius. Her older brother Jack, he’s an actor and everyone loves him. Her parents are wildly successful and always telling them what they need to do to be great in life, and here is Miri, resorting to vandalism to earn the friendship of the coolest people in school.

No, not even friendship, because Matt had made it very clear that she was still only part of the group on a trial basis. She still isn’t being invited to the parties; she still hasn’t been given a lift in Matt’s car. She’s doing this to become their lackey, with friendship a distant hope.

They’ve ditched her, probably. Knows that if they’re caught, it’ll be her with the pencil marks on her fingers and a pocket full of stolen money who’ll be the liability.

Is it worth it, after all?

Miri slips her hand back in her pocket, wraps her hand around the notes, and decides, no.

New

Between customers, Rupert rests her leaden arms against the counter and sighs.

She likes cooking, truly. Wouldn’t be a cook if she didn’t. But working the markets is wearying, and towards the end of the evening she feels weighed down, the ache deep in her shoulders and biceps from flipping, folding, and filling gozleme.

It’s good money, though. Makes Jess happy, and making her wife happy is one of Rupert’s favourite things to do (along with cooking, lounging, and naps). And that, there, is the source of her current discontent.

A customer. Minced lamb for this one, with a scoop of mint yoghurt; she accepts the payment and serves it with a smile.

‘Thanks, man.’

Beneath the beard, Rupert’s smile turns a little pained.

What is she going to do? She’s not sure how much longer she can stand being like this, a woman stuck in a man’s skin. She wants to be herself. Wants to hear ‘ma’am’, not ‘man’. Ditch the beard. Grow her hair out. Try heels. (Fall over in heels. Twist ankle in heels. Go back to sneakers. Rupert is nothing if not a realist.)

But Jess married a husband, not a wife. If Rupert spills her heart to her, she could lose her forever.

There’s another customer waiting, a girl glancing between Rupert’s gozleme and the Hokkein noodle stall one over before settling on her. ‘Spinach and feta, please’ she says, a soft little thing, gaze fixed at the stall counter.

Poor kiddo. Must be tired.

Rupert musters a smile for her and starts heating one up. ‘Long evening?’ she asks sympathetically, and the girl glances up in sharp surprise before looking away again.

‘Uh, yeah. I guess so.’ She scratches at her temple, leaving a dirty smudge there; silently, Rupert offers her a wet wipe. ‘Oh. Uh, thanks.’

‘Well,’ Rupert says conspiratorially, ‘You know the coffee stall a few down? They do a really good Turkish coffee, if you need to stay up. Tell ’em Rupert sent you and you’ll get a discount.’

The girl doesn’t reply, just stares at her hands, at the counter. ‘Okay.’ She worries at her lip, scratches the back of her hand; Rupert keeps cooking and watches her with a concerned eye. When she finally speaks again, her voice cracks. ‘I don’t think coffee will solve my problem.’

There’s something small and vulnerable and afraid about her; Rupert’s heart twinges. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ she offers gently, far too aware of the incongruity of her appearance; not a maternal, gentle older woman, but the very appearance of a middle-aged man with a beard, paying attention to a teenage girl. She can’t get too involved, can’t help too much just by how she looks. Hates it.

Silently, the girl shakes her head. ‘Just –‘ she starts, stops again. ‘Just… I’m trying to be someone I’m not. I’m doing stupid, shitty things to try and be, like, acceptable, and it’s… stupid.’ She repeats the word, softly this time. ‘It’s stupid, not being myself.’

Something in Rupert’s chest twists. ‘Do you want to be yourself?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then you should. You should be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else just to please others, that only breaks you up inside.’

She has to take the chance. Has to risk telling Jess, even if it breaks her heart. Has to be herself, because the only life she has is her own.

‘Yeah. Yeah.’ The girl gives Rupert a watery smile, then pays for her gozleme and picks up the paper plate. For a moment, she hesitates, then pulls out another small wad of cash, fives and tens, half-crumpled. ‘I took this from the noodle people next to you,’ she says, and her voice is steady now. ‘Can you give it back to them and tell them I say sorry?’

And she turns, runs before Rupert can speak a word, runs and leaves a grubby handful of stolen notes behind.

Rupert gives the noodle people their money and the girl’s apologies. Cooks food for people, good food to nourish them. Packs up as the markets slow down like it’s falling asleep.

The artist from the stall across from her wanders by with her sketches and gear, an expression of grim determination on her face. Behind is her musician friend struggling by with their keyboard, a freckly-faced young person in a badge-covered jacket helping wrangle it down the path before stealing a kiss. Rupert thinks of bravery and authenticity and a fistful of money left with an apology.

She’s going to go home. Talk to Jess, no matter what may come of it.

Around her, the market goes to sleep, and the lights flicker out like embers.

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True Colours, Bohdi Byles

Disclaimer this personal essay contains potentially triggering content relating to hate crimes, self-harm, and suicide.

 

March 3rd, 2012. I’ve never seen anything so vibrant, so spectacular, or so expressive before. It is the night after I’ve come out, and Mardi Gras felt like a symbolic way to embrace my new, authentic life. There’s every colour of the rainbow in all different shades, from azure to cerulean, indigo to violet, lemon to lime; colours in the hair, on the naked bodies, on the clothing, the floats of the parade. There was something about the rainbow that was transcending the physical — it was like there was a rainbow flowing through each person and connecting them, bringing together a community to celebrate who we are. How is it, though, that a rainbow had come to hold such symbolism for people?

Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is a blend of colours typically in the order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. They occur when light is refracted through the water droplets floating around in the air and are commonly associated with storms and the sun emerging from behind the clouds. Personally, I find that explanation boring. For me, whenever I see a rainbow in the clouds, it is like the universe is nudging me a little more forward on my path, or reminding me that I’m not stuck, I’m just pausing to take a breath.

A rainbow flag was an image adopted by the LGBTQ+ community in 1978, originally designed by the late Gilbert Baker. Prior to the rainbow flag, a pink triangle defined the gay community during the Gay Liberation Movement. However, the triangle was a symbolic reminder of how Nazis identified homosexuals in World War II, and so with the triangle came the emotions connected to what it had been. For Baker, the rainbow flag was a way to deconstruct the solemnity attached to the gay community. When openly gay politician, Harvey Milk, was assassinated in November 1978, the flag became a symbol of the gay community. Since its genesis, the rainbow flag has become a constant image of resilience and strength.

I want to take you back to May 2010, when I didn’t know about strength or resilience or pride. I am sixteen-years-old, sitting in a theatre, waiting for the lights to dim and the movie to start. My friend and I are chatting as my phone buzzes. I open it up to Facebook. One unread message. I see the name of the person sending it to me and inhale before opening it.

‘Use all should be shot in the head and burned you queer kunt.’

My fingers tap wildly on the screen as I respond.

‘When the fuck are you going to understand. . . I. AM. NOT. GAY.’

I silence my phone before shoving it back in my pocket. My heart is thumping in my chest and my stomach churns. It’s hard to draw in air. The lights dim, and the movie begins as I start getting tunnel vision. I smile at my friend, but all I can think is how I have school tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year. I want nothing more than to curl up under the seat in the darkness and stop existing. I’m not going to make it.

It’s effortless for me to recall this experience and many others, like the Facebook page made about me saying I had sex with another male student in one of the high school blocks, only for people to shout it at me for weeks during quiet classes. Or being harassed in the change rooms for looking at the boys when I was standing as far away as possible, staring at a corner and changing as fast as humanly possible. I was still in the closet, still hiding who I knew I was. For me, to be out in high school would’ve meant more than just being vulnerable and authentic. It’d be like bleeding in a lake full of piranhas. They would’ve smelt me out, and they would’ve come in full force to tear me apart even more than the chunks they’d already stolen.

Bullying is bullshit. It’s deeper than just a mean remark or a nasty comment. It’s a way to police people’s behaviours and try to force them to conform to an ideal person. In my case, that ideal was to be straight. It’s not an uncommon story either, and it often has tragic endings.

Seared into my mind is the story of 9-year-old Jamel Myles who came out as gay, full of pride and joy, only to endure four days of constant bullying, to which resulted in him committing suicide. Four days is all it took for people to take this boy’s pride and irreparably shatter it along with his life. The other names tattooed on my soul went the same way – Tyler Clementi (18), Jamey Rodemeyer (14), Phillip Parker (15), Jadin Bell (15). All young, all beautifully queer, all gone. These names never fail to bring tears to my eyes because they are like a mirror to me of what could’ve been.

While I was walking on a tightrope for 4 years, I nearly fell off. Along with that list of names could’ve been Bohdi Byles (18). My name has had a total of four opportunities to join that list, three of them in 2012, each attempt etched into my brain along with their unforgettable sensations. The pills washing down my throat and being forced back up. The sharp sting of a razor blade slicing over flesh. The belt-tightening around my neck. My lungs burning with my head underwater. The shame. The prickly shame of failing yet again.

The day I came out, I was terrified. I was scared that those closest to me would abandon me. I was suffocating. It’s like my body was ready to emerge from the cocoon but the cocoon wouldn’t break, so it was just getting more and more claustrophobic. However, fear and anxiety were not good enough reasons to carry around a 50-ton burden anymore. I was going to come out and the chips could fall wherever they damn well pleased.

Gratefully, I had an easy coming out experience, albeit a little anti-climactic. While I thought everyone would be shocked and have their perceptions of me absolutely blown apart, for the most part, the opposite happened.

‘It’s about time, now go clean your room,’ Mum said to me. The fear I had wasn’t real anymore, and frankly, no one cared.

Except for Grandma.

Grandma didn’t want one bar of it. Even now, six years later, she still is optimistic that I will one day realise I am straight and want a girlfriend, regardless of how insistent I am and how much I externalise my queerness. She’s grown though, from the woman who cried and told me I was going to get AIDS and die.

AIDS has always carried a stigma with it. In the late 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, it was linked entirely to gay men. That stigma, while it has shifted over time, has never fully been left behind, as proven by my grandmother’s fears. It was her fear that drove her reaction, not her disapproval. Her love has never been in question, only her acceptance.

When my uncle was 13, he was placed in a boy’s home for stealing a car. While there, a gay security guard sexually assaulted him, and from that, my uncle contracted HIV, which later developed into AIDS. He passed away when I was two, so I have no recollection or memory of him. I only have photos, but to me, they might as well be photos of a stranger. I never had the opportunity to know him.

I spoke with my grandmother recently to try and scope how that experience was, particularly because it was happening during the AIDS crisis and just afterward. I wanted to know, partially out of my own curiosity as a Gender Studies major, what it was like, what the beliefs were, and how they were enacted. Through her tears, she told me about how all her friends abandoned her when they found out because they were terrified they would catch AIDS. She wept and spoke about the deep shame she carried.

‘How could I tell anyone?’ she asked, her voice croaky as she wiped a tissue over her eyes. ‘How could I possibly tell anyone?’

I understand why she feels the way she does. Through that understanding and empathy I have is a driving force for me to own my authenticity and my identity with pride. I am proud of who I am, and I want to make it known to people that there is pride to be had as an LGBTQ+ individual. With that pride comes a community, a chosen family who accepts one another.

In June 2016, a shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, went down in history as one of the worst shootings to ever happen in modern U.S. history. 49 people in a gay club were killed, another 53 injured. I was in a house alone, watching the constant stream of news through Twitter unfold.

I was shell-shocked for weeks. I was numb and felt so completely powerless. I lit candles, I cried, I even gave an impromptu speech at a vigil (even more powerful given how I detest public speaking). I cried some more, and I was just a cloud of confusion and fear. What helped me walk down that cloudy, scary path though was the rainbow I was walking with, the people I looked to for inspiration.

For the months that followed, the rainbow flag was not just a symbol of pride, but one of remembrance and grieving, connection and compassion, not just in Florida, or in the United States, but worldwide. People mourned as a community where their brothers and sisters, their chosen family, had been attacked. These were my people. My community. My family.

The words from my high school bully rang through my head after the shooting, and still do. ‘use should all be shot in the head.’ Bad grammar and spelling aside, if this person had their way, I would’ve been one of those injured or killed. Yet, reflecting back on those experiences of the many others who came before, like Harvey Milk or the victims of Pulse nightclub, I think that there is solidarity in our struggles, and there is power in our stories.

In 1939, in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland (a much beloved gay icon) sang the lyrics, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow / Skies are blue / And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.’ Beloved popstar of the 70s and 80s, Cyndi Lauper, sang in her powerful anthem, True Colours, for her friend lost to AIDS, Gregory, ‘I see your true colours / And that’s why I love you […] True colours are beautiful / Like a rainbow.’ During her life, the late Maya Angelou would often sing a 19th-century African-American song: ‘When it looks like the sun will not shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.’

I wonder if perhaps there isn’t something waiting over the rainbow, but maybe the rainbow itself is the dream that really does come true. Maybe it isn’t so much about the rainbow, but about who is within that rainbow that you find.

What I know for sure is that coming out as gay was so much more than liberating. It was a golden ticket to life, permission to not just survive but thrive. Pride wasn’t a sudden response, but a gradual and internalised feeling that reached the deepest, most unloved parts of me and brought them to the surface to shine.

 

Endnotes

“9-Year-Old Boy Killed Himself After Being Bullied, His Mom Says.” The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/jamel-myles-suicide-denver.html

“Cyndi Lauper Lyrics: True Colors.” AZ Lyrics. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cyndilauper/truecolors.html

“Dr. Maya Angelou: “Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” | Oprah’s Master Class | OWN.” YouTube. 27 Aug. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nYXFletWH4

“Jamey Rodemeyer Bullied Even After He Died.” Total Life Counselling. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.totallifecounseling.com/jamey-rodemeyer-gay-teen-bullying-tips-suicide/

“Judy Garland Lyrics: Over The Rainbow.” AZ Lyrics. 28 Aug. 2018.  https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/judygarland/overtherainbow.html

“Oregon teen hangs himself in schoolyard ‘because he was bullied for being gay’.” Daily Mail. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270457/Jadin-Bell-Oregon-teen-bullied-gay-hangs-schoolyard.html

“Orlando Shooting.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/2016-orlando-shooting

“Phillip Parker, Gay Tennessee Teen, Commits Suicide After Enduring Bullying.” Huffington Post. 3. Oct. 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/phillip-parker-gay-tennessee-teen-suicide_n_1223688.html

“Rainbow Flag: Origin Story.” Gilbert Baker. 27 Aug. 2018. https://gilbertbaker.com/rainbow-flag-origin-story/

“Sixty Minutes: Cyndi Lauper/Kinky Boots Special.” YouTube. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtVR7jX6P7I

“Tyler Clementi’s Story.” Tyler Clementi. 3 Oct. 2018 https://tylerclementi.org/tylers-story/

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Dignity Estranged, Christopher Norris

A Molotov cocktail cut through the summer air. Glass smashed, petrol burned. A swarm of people danced around the flames, desperate to escape the inferno.

‘Fucking hell!’ screamed Leighton, as he pushed a stocky man named Jason away from the flames. He stumbled as his shoe got tangled in the human wall, his ankle twisted as he staggered backwards.

The petrol, no longer contained, swam towards the protestors. It licked at their heels. A circle of about twenty metres opened up as the bodies attempted to evade the searing heat, the fire consumed all of the oxygen in the dense pit, with dozens raising t-shirts to their faces as the vapour dried their throats.

The Pride Parade was an annual event held in Sydney’s CBD. An extremist group who called themselves The Reclaimers had crashed their event. The narrow footpaths were fenced off on both sides, forming a steel funnel. Police were ready to push fence jumpers back into the mix. Fifty metres separated the two groups. The supporters of the Pride Parade were dressed in a variety of colours. In the confined space they looked like a giant hundreds-and-thousands cookie; a sea of pink mixed with flecks of red, white, and blue. Some had brought guitars and the crowd had sung tunes like The Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love.’

Onlookers flanked each side of the barricade. Anticipating trouble, a boy got out his phone and began filming. His mother pulled at his shirt, dragging him away. A dog barked as a firework was thrown in between the groups. A policeman touched his radio and mopped his brow.

Leighton dodged a rock, the projectile flashed past his right eye. A drummer from the other side started banging, The Reclaimers marched, waving banners that cut through the smog. They bore slogans such as ‘men are men, women are women!’ and ‘X does not equal Y!’

Jason, the leader of the Pride Parade, had seen this before. He had been bashed in the 2005 Gay Pride Parade, his nose broken by a hateful fist. He had organised the rally to protest the fascist regime of The Reclaimers. Jason’s Twitter hashtag #Sydneypride had taken off, and thousands had bombarded their activist account with messages of support.

Jason turned away from Leighton and shot silly string into the air. He laughed as the synthetic goo covered a few onlookers. He draped a rainbow coloured flag around his shoulders, and mocked the protestors by clapping to their drum-beat. He raised his hands and shook them. Leighton laughed at his eclectic dancing. Plastic bottles bounced around them; The Reclaimers used anything they could grab as make-shift projectiles.

Police had underestimated the event and, with an annual bike ride through the city taking place on the day, they were outnumbered by the swarm of people. Those at the back of the Pride Parade had decided to flee; banners were ditched and slogan-covered tops were removed. Some went without their shirts to protect themselves.

Sirens blared in the distance as The Reclaimers marched closer. The gap was reduced to twenty-five metres.  Jason grabbed his megaphone, ready to plead with both parties. He pushed his fringe back from his forehead, the dried petrol making his skin prickle. His left hand gripped the megaphone, his right stayed clamped by his side, the fingers played with the cotton of his shirt.

Leighton noticed a protestor, a blonde haired girl in her early 20s, hiding behind a group of older, sign-brandishing men. She hid like a child does when they are meeting new people for the first time. Her eyes darted, refusing to make eye contact with the Pride Parade supporters. She wore black Converse shoes, a knee length dress and her face was plain, unmade. A silver chain hung around her neck. A cross no bigger than a postage stamp weighed it down. Her hands played with the chain, the cross turned around her neck as she spun the metal around. She flicked the cross behind her as if to protect it from the proceedings.

Twenty metres apart, they locked eyes. Someone handed her a flag to fly. She dropped it, pretended to swipe for it, and then, when she was sure she had not been noticed, stepped over the fallen symbol. Leighton smiled. He wondered why she had dropped the flag, why she wasn’t protesting with fist raised like many of the others. Her face wasn’t twisted in unnatural hate and flecks of spit did not stick to the corners of her mouth.

‘Watch it, mate,’ said Jason as Leighton stood on his shoe. His ill-timed steps made the row behind him stop momentarily. Two arms stretched out to guide him back into position.

The two groups descended into chaos. A guitar bearing man used his instrument as an impromptu bat, the varnished wood cut into the side of a Reclaimer. The guitar splintered, showering the crowd with polished chunks. Only the neck of the instrument remained. Leighton kept his eyes on the girl. A gray-haired man locked eyes with Leighton as placed his hand on the small of her back, pushing her forward. The man shook his head in Leighton’s direction and spat at his feet. The sheer volume of the crowd meant she was unable to sidestep his hand, shoulders boxed her in. The Reclaimers were out in force after the showing of a film in schools promoting gay parenthood; they had stormed Sydney’s local schools, cafes, and train stations, plastering walls and handing out leaflets. Leighton remembered seeing one at Redfern station, stuck to a wall of the staircase. He yanked it off the wall, scrunched it up and dropped it to the ground.

A placard struck Leighton in the head, it left a jutted incision. Leighton, who did not see his assailant, yelped and fell to the ground. Jason’s flying shoulder battered through two Reclaimers. A third grabbed him by the waist, and slammed him down to the ground. A crevice had opened up in the human wall. Leighton touched the back of his head and brought his index and middle fingers back to his face; blood trickled down his fingers and smacked the sweaty pavement. He drew his hands towards his hips and rose up like a surfer catching a morning wave. He teetered as he attempted to regain his composure, pushing both friend and foe in an attempt to make it into the relative safety of the middle of the crowd.

A NSW Public Order and Riot Squad van had arrived. The jet black van was covered in cameras, its sirens blared; Leighton felt the tiny bones inside his ear pulsate. Twelve well-armed men began marching, riot shields out, towards the ruckus. They used their batons to drum on their shields, plastic sounds echoed off the surrounding houses.

Unabated, the front two rows of the Pride Parade and The Reclaimers pushed, shoved, and spat on each other. A man in a suit and tie attempted to swat at one of the girls in the Pride Parade from outside the metal confines of the barriers. His arm reached over a bunch of protestors, he clawed at air like he was trying to swat a dog on the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

A tear gas canister hit the ground in the middle of the riot; it belched white smoke. Leighton pushed to the left, forcing his way through, pushing some of his own people with reckless abandon. Gagging on the chemicals, he doubled-over onto the fence. After retching, he grabbed the barrier and hauled himself up. A body bumped into his feet, sending him sprawling on the concrete, head first. Leighton felt a searing pain in his right shoulder.

A hand reached out, urging him to take it. It was the girl. Sweat rained down her face, a trickle of sick stuck to her chin, trailed down to the top of her dress. She put her hand over her face in vain, hoping to dispel some of the toxic fumes that permeated through the chaos.

‘C’mon, let’s go. They’re going to fuck you up.’ The girl barked into his ear and she yanked him, by his right shoulder.

‘Fuck, my shoulder; I think it’s dislocated,’ Leighton yelled out, and cradled his arm; the limb dangled like that of a ragdoll.

‘Leighton!’ Leighton turned at the sound of Jason’s voice, but he could not see him. The police continued in a line. Their shields made an impregnable wall as the make-shift drums got louder. Anyone caught in the line, injured or not, was bundled over, hauled to the ground and arrested. Leighton saw a flailing pair of legs, a torso pinned under black boots, knees in backs and discarded placards.

He staggered to his feet. The pair dashed away, ducking down a side-street. They found a crevice between two old semis that were marked for demolition, they ignored the construction sign and entered the passage. They leaned against a peeling wall, unable to sit in the slit-like passage.

‘What’s your name?’ Leighton squared up to the wall and rammed his shoulder against it. He let out a wail. His left arm spun outwards and he shook his hand. It looked like he was trying to start a lawn mower.

‘Bessie,’ she mumbled as she wiped the back of her hand across her face, yellow sick smeared across her cheek, touching her left ear. Bessie tucked the silver chain underneath her dress; she grimaced as a few stray strands of hair were yanked out.

‘What were you doing with those bigoted assholes?’ Leighton pushed the rage out; he spat on the pavement, looked her up and down, and shook his head.

‘Calm down. Those idiots are my family; I’m forced to be here.’

Leighton raised his left hand and clicked his fingers upwards like he was tossing a coin, dismissing her excuse. He noted the early stages of bruising and swelling as he explored the pink prickled flesh with his left hand. The bruises had small spots of blue that were beginning to join the larger areas of pink. Those bastards, he thought. He felt the anger rise up inside him. He imagined his father, at home watching the cricket or having a beer. He imagined families enjoying the spoils of brunch; full bellies and smiles. He wondered why, out of the thousands who pledged to be there, only a few hundred had shown up.

‘Look at what they have done to me!’ Leighton pointed to the back of his head. He felt crusted blood as he rotated his shoulder upwards.

A shout echoed down the crevice, shaking off the grogginess of the afternoon. The sound preceded the owner; it travelled down the passage way, eating up the air in the stuffy alleyway. Leighton could only guess that it belonged to one of the extremists. He imagined they had seen the pair leaving the riot, desperate to retrieve her, and injure him.

‘Shit! We have to go, Leighton.’ Bessie tried to grab Leighton by the arm, but he brushed her off. The adrenaline from the riot started to leave him, a wave of sickness crashed through him, the nausea coursed up from his stomach. Thick yellow sick dribbled out of his mouth, the taste of tear gas and petrol collided against his tongue.

Bessie side-stepped the puddle and forced Leighton upright, she yanked his hand and they began to run. As they left the shelter of the crevice, a bottle hit the entrance way, dregs of beer dripped down the wall.

The city streets were narrow and event parking meant there were next to no cars to hide behind. Leighton realised that they had to make it into the heart of the city, or on to a train, anywhere. He wondered if Jason had gotten out. The riot squad were not known to be gentle; many of their supporters had been roughed up when being taken in for questioning, sometimes their stories even made the papers.

He began to tire as they hurtled down the city street, ducking as the occasional projectile flew passed them. He thought back to the countless hours he had put into campaigning, fund-raising. He had helped many people be themselves, feel less vulnerable. He remembered helping a transgender girl, who called herself Kate. He had stayed up all night, talking to her on Facebook. She was a studious young woman, bright, bubbly, friendly, confused.

Leighton felt angry as he realised how easily his own supporters gave in to violence. His shoulder ached with every step, as the pounding of his feet forced the vibrations into his arms, reminding him of the earlier fall.

The NSW Police had shut down the streets, issuing a lockdown in Sydney’s CBD. Bessie and Leighton made their way to Darling Harbour. Leighton sat down against a pole on one of the wharfs. Dirty water lapped up against the side of the pier, seagulls swarmed on rubbish and people ignored each other in dignity estranged. The teenagers looked like party-goers. Leighton smelled the stale air, cigarette-butts lined the wharf; rubbish hid in between wooden slats.

‘What’s going to happen to you?’ Leighton turned to Bessie, his lips pulled tight and his eyes squinted.

‘They’ll kill me.’ Bessie turned away from Leighton. She remembered Catholic school; the firm stance, the iron-clad scripture and Sunday school with Sister Callaghan.  The way the sisters spouted the same passages and ignored her questions frustrated her to no end.

‘God has an answer for everything,’ chirped Sister Callaghan in lyric baritone; the sugar syrup seeped from her mouth, Bessie felt sick.

Leighton and Bessie talked late into the afternoon. The faint sounds of sirens drifted through them as the sun started to dip. Leighton’s heart raced, his mind flashed to those in the riot. Signs, flags, symbols and colours had been turned into weapons. He wondered if Jason had survived, if he’d been arrested or even killed. Leighton sighed and forced himself up.

Leighton exchanged numbers with Bessie, thanked her for saving his life and headed towards Town Hall station.

Bessie watched him stagger until he disappeared into the distance. Bessie felt the wind pick up. The chain brushed up against her breast. She took the chain from her neck and threw it into the ocean.

 

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