If there is a voice of the new generation of Australian women, Rachel Perks is it. I have been in awe of this young, but very wise, woman, for a few years now, watching a string of shows that attack head-on some of the most toxic and problematic assumptions about what it means to be a woman today. Having her on Audio Stage, talking with Beth and myself, was a rare and precious opportunity to get under the pink, so to say, of womanhood in Australia today: how to deal with our hatred of our bodies, of our emotions, of our needs and desires.
“Feminism is still, in most circles, seen as radical… What you’re really saying is, misogyny is equatable with normativity.”
– Rachel Perks
What is interesting about the contemporary queer performance in Australia is that it diverges significantly from the queer historical canon. Our episode with Zvonimir Dobrović opened that conversation already: queer art used to be about the body. Queer identity, somewhat in parallel, used to be about the body. Butch or femme? Twink or bear? Trans or cis? How do you have sex? What got lost, and what this new wave of Australian queer performance is unearthing – and I am watching it with immense interest, because nothing else exists anywhere else in the world – is emotion.
Emotions are feminised and invalidated, says Rachel in the conversation, and this is what makes her show Ground Control so heart-breakingly important. What makes it queer sci-fi is not simply that the main character is queer: it is the emotional landscape she brings out, a landscape of care and invalidation, of self-hatred and success, that is so fundamental to being a woman because, as Nora Samaran says in her incredible essay, in a culture that does not expect men to show up for their own emotions, women get blamed for unaddressed male shame.
We discuss rape, in this episode, I should say. We discuss sexual assault with a candidness that is still too often lacking. We discuss it carefully, but you should still listen with care, because sexual assault is a topic that hurts, and sometimes it seems there is not enough warmth in the world, not enough hugs, to make that hurt go away. And we discuss sexual assault close to home.
No one is going to prosecute this person. How do we deal with this situation? My only answer was, let’s just get all these women in a room. Because that’s something that doesn’t happen: women are not allowed to speak to each other about their experience and feel that their experience is valid.”
– Rachel Perks
This is the part of the conversation that re-emerged in editing as a stand-out statement. I have thought about it a lot, this month, as I publish two pieces about rape, one here, one in print, soon.
I have long found the concept of radical honesty very interesting, because it has the potential to cut through that shame that cloaks the lives of so many of us, as we’re stumbling to play perfectly our roles of man, woman, girl, boy. I teach a class at the VCA, in which we delve deep into gender and race performance, and it is a class that has over the years become a sacred space of intimacy and confession, and in which I try, as best as I can, to hold space as sadness and grief emerge. To validate, and frame, experiences, as not unique, not shameful, and not too horrible to be heard, accepted, embraced. The change in public discourse helps: this essay, by Alison Croggon, helped; this video, by Van Badham, helped. No one has the obligation to talk about their personal experiences, far from it. But the space it opens up,
In that amazing apology to the LGBT folk on behalf of the state, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews quoted Peter McEwen say: “We learnt to say ‘black is beautiful, women are strong – and gay is good.’ Once I learnt I was good, it led me to question everyone who said I was evil and sick.”
In a certain sense, I am thinking as I am releasing this precious, precious conversation into the world, the queerest thing one can do as a woman is to talk with other women, as women. To bypass that discourse of shame and invalidation. To tell each other that we are good. As we are.
Thank you, Rachel.
I started Audio Stage because so often our conversations, in the arts, remain short and snappy and commercial: we put on our best faces to sell our shows, and we sell it as entertainment and as inoffensive and as fun, fun above everything. And yet, we are not doing justice to Australian art when we do so. We are not doing justice to the personal, political, moral, and imaginative quests that our artists are actually undertaking. To give an artist a large space, to let them speak about what they do and how with a greater grounding in our society – that is why these long conversations happen.
We hope you enjoy them.
Discussed in this episode:
that Cyborg Manifesto, I Love Dick, femme invisibility a.k.a. what a lesbian should look like, The L Word, being angry while a woman, sexual assault in our circles and what can be done about it, the validity of emotions, queer emotions, emotions in Australia, and ‘Why do people think that women are debasing themselves when we reveal the conditions of our own debasement?’
Listen to the episode: