Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney



The Gay and Lesbian Aboriginal Alliance (GLAA) have written that the evidence from a number of early reports and reading between the lines in the traditional anthropological literature, although creating a probably 'distorted picture, suggests that such practices [homosexuality] did occur' (GLAA 1993: 29). However, this early literature fails to provide the cultural context that these practices occurred in and their meaning to Aboriginal people, a point reiterated by Newfong: 
In Aboriginal society, being a society of continuum rather than a dichotomy, the debate of homosexuality versus heterosexuality really has no place (Newfong, cited in GLAA, 1993 : 29). 
In Australia, bisexuality is not seen as an identity in mainstream culture but as a description of practice, and it is only since the advent of HIV/AIDS that it has emerged in public discourse. In a more specific, Aboriginal, context several of the Aboriginal interviewees implied that the practice was not only historical but integral to Aboriginal sexual practice.  

The point that identity, particularly in terms of the intersections of sexuality, race and gender, should not be addressed simplistically or reductively is made by Dunne, who writes about recent theatrical productions with an Asian focus: 

There's something politically and socially fascinating about the recent emergence of a mainstream trany [transsexual] theatre - perhaps the creaky constructions of gender are finally beginning to collapse under their own cultural weight. The fact that trany becomes conflated with Asian in both shows (as well as last year's Cockroach Opera) demonstrates both a dual 'Otherness' and the continuing crisis over gender and cultural identity (Dunne cited in Hurley 1996). 
The overseas literature is full of references to 'the double bind' or 'triple marginality' that black gays and lesbians face in terms of primary identification. The division has often been made between those who identify with the black community, 'black gays', and those who are 'gay blacks' (Icard et al. 1992: 441; du Cille 1990: 125).  

Recent black American writing has focused on the tension between choosing either loyalty to black institutions and black social cohesiveness or the need to downplay this in order to find ease in the gay community. This has also been described in terms of having to make 'painful decisions to have primary identities either in the black or gay communities' (Flannigan-Saint-Aubin 1993 : 470).  

The Aboriginal interviewees are well aware of this sense of marginality. 

Philip: Within our own country we're not socially acceptable. One we've got a double black mark because we're not straight and we're black. . . . look at Aboriginal people-it's really hard to be part of that ... sometimes it can work both ways . . . but I find it very hard. 
The tension created in terms of this sense of a need to privilege one identity over another was referred to often in the research. 
Peter: We do not fit into the Aboriginal community because we're gay/lesbian, and you don't fit into the gay community because you happen to be Aboriginal. 
The idea that the black community is disturbed by mixed relations between black and white gay men is another theme raised in the overseas literature: 
If they think you're gay and they see you with a white man, they think he's your sugar daddy or you're a snow queen. If you happen to be the masculine type, then they think that the white is just using you to get that black stuff from a stud (Sears 1991: 138). 
From within this theme of interracial relations the contention was made by several of the men that Aboriginal men are only interested in white lovers and that when they have one, they jealously guard them from each other. Martin has said that one reason he can't get a social group of Aboriginal men together is that they would want to bring along their white lovers, but won't because of 'competition'. Michael was also well aware of these tensions: 
And whether you like it or not they look at someone there before they [look] at you to some degree you know. And then they are deciding, that is also something we have to look at too. ' 
This notion of 'competition' also contains within it the tension that is expressed in the labelling often given to either partner in interracial relationships. 'Chocolate queen' is one expression for white men who chase black or 'coloured men' and the expression 'coconut' is used about Aboriginal gay men who want only white lovers (GLAA 1993: 19). Gary in GLAA recalls the taunts of white men about 'black velvet' and how this was a familiar term when he was growing up in the Northern Territory (GLAA 1994: 14). Gary is well aware of how the term, originally applied to Aboriginal females, 'quickly acquired its current derogatory status . . . in the Sydney bar' (GLAA 1994: 15).  

A similar tension has also occurred in the emergent Asian gay scene in Sydney where 'Pavlova queen' refers to those who hunt for Asian men (Fong cited in Hurley 1994).  

GLAA write that there are no known literary references to homosexual relationships between Aboriginal men or Aboriginal women. Interracial homosexual relationships are 'touched on' by writers like Patrick White in Riders in the Chariot (1961) and Colin Thiele in Storm Boy (1963). The reference that immediately came to my mind was to Armistead Maupin's Babycakes (1993), which has an Aboriginal gay character. A theoretical perspective that seeks to address the tensions in this arena is again one that has come from the United States: 

Behind the white [man's] nightmare that some day, no longer tourist, inheritor, or liberator, he will be rejected, refused, he dreams of his acceptance at the breast he has most utterly offended (GLAA 1994: 43).  

Colin: Aboriginal images are so stereotyped ... it just has to change. Combining traditional with contemporary it's going to keep going, 'cause that's just who we are. I love black, Aboriginal humour and Aboriginal gay men, cause they're just so funny, they just crack me up.  

John: I find a lot of Aboriginal guys actually don't get involved in the gay community . . . they are segregated. But just to show you exist, the Mardi Gras is good for that. And it just needs to be stronger within the Aboriginal community - um that there is gay Aboriginal men and women and that it needs more support. But they've got to get off their arses to actually set something up. It's like anything, you've got to prove yourself and once you prove yourself it's like 'oh you can come in now'.  

James: I've got my family, so it is my extended family [other Koori gay people]. It's just like my Aboriginal community in the sense like we are poofter and dykes and trannies and bis, you know we have this huge networking system, a huge support system actually. Because a lot of us have been disowned by our families or our sexuality ignored . . . it is not only the gay issues we support each other though. It is all issues, just like everyone else in our community . . . we are there for each other as gays. 

James was in his mid-twenties before he started to share flats with other homosexually active Aboriginal men: 
that's when I started to accept my own gayness and also my identity, cultural identity and that's when I moved in with a group of other gay Aboriginal men . . . it was just a friendship we had in common, common goals and bonds . . . apart from the relationship aspect of going out -with white gay men ... all right we're not alone . . . that was a really big growth period for me. 
Michael spoke of his frustration about the failure to set up a support group: 
It's not a support group. It's individual and fragmentation doesn't work. I'm an Aboriginal because I'm a caring person! I'm an Aboriginal because I'm a sharing person. I'm an Aboriginal because I'm a communicative person! I'm Aboriginal because I respect my brothers and sisters. 
These accounts are valuable in its contextualising of Aboriginal gayness as practice and in its revelation of desire. It is not suggested that 'identity' here is served by essentialising 'difference' but that examples like these open up ground for a subjectivity that is outside the hegemonic boundaries of both the white gay and black heterosexual communities. There is a need for much more research to contest the construction of identity as separate from desire in general and in particular, to discover more about the idioms of Aboriginal gay men and how they speak, in representing themselves in a Eurocentric, racist and homophobic culture.  

The tensions revealed in an analysis of interracial relations and questions of prioritising identity reflect a new and developing area of academic discourse and one of the few cornrrentators in this field has been black American Flannigan-Saint-Aubin. This theorist suggests that much of the work to date is addressed to black heterosexual men in, as 'I was once like you', and he questions whether the effectiveness of compiling black gay anthologies to address the 'invisibility' of black gay men can be dealt with by the audience that it has inevitably found (Flannigan-Saint-Aubin 1993 : 470). 

© HIV, AIDS and Society Publications 1996 
This report may not be copied without the express permission of the copyright holder. 
ISBN 085837 832 9