Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras
The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.
I was invisible here in the land of my birth.
I surrendered any desire to watch Australian television quite early on in my twenties. Perhaps driven in part by the lack of stories that I identified with, I arrived at a conclusion that I was tired of seeing a parade of faces that looked so different from my own—that articulated a country, a city, a life that had no place for a face like mine.
But then I found something I understood about being Australian: a queering keyhole that I pressed up against, peering through to find, if not a familiar face, then a bard in a heart-worn posture, gesturing towards the stories I carried inside.
These were new parts of myself captured in the stories retold at the water cooler: beautiful tales of men on TV who found each other, listless in the night, clutching at moments of comfort; stories that had a sheen of borrowed dreams, pressed into the bedcovers—desperately—and left, discarded, on bedside tables as the night wore on.
Then came Will & Grace’s first final season in 2005, followed by a short-lived tv series: The New Normal. In these two TV series lay a story that played on my deepest held desires—my agonising hope and dream of wanting to be a dad.
The journey to parenthood for this Asian Australian gay man was a conversation with a beast with many faces behind screens and doors, and a dance with swirling papers that told me tales that confused and enthralled. To create this child: I found myself in a clinic agonising over sperm count, my genitals prodded at by a doctor checking for disease; peering into a plastic cup wondering if I’d timed it right; and do I stand up or sprawl over these shrink-wrapped seats? And there began the waiting and uncertain messages typed, spoken, drawn, pinged, borrowed and locked on phones, carried in pockets, in pictures and scans—till, overwhelmed with information and the ache of distance and anxieties—I found myself finally holding a pink baby, his breathing the quietest puffing that whispered a brand-new story in my head.
My partner and I were the only gay dads we knew who looked like us, but here was our boy wearing our face in the smallest tribe of an unwritten world. The Australian side of that world would look at us with curiosity, and a certain strange acceptance. As queer Asians, we were somehow less ‘Asian’, more assimilated, less suspect. But the Asian side glared and pricked us with side-eyes, jeering that the precious face of our boy held nothing to the ‘face’ that we had lost culturally.
There are few faces like mine who sing their stories into songs that rattle against the old.
Perhaps that is why I find myself in the song lines of people whose faces are so different to mine: magic activists pounding out their journeys across trade winds and chains, their baselines beating against eardrums.
There, Alicia Keys, her last intoxicating song at Times Square in 2016, her voice pressed against the swarm of the crowd clamouring for vision. How tiring it must be to be a prophet in your own hometown, and knowing, even as you implore with song for a searing vision of hope to take form, that you could never reach far enough across the neon signs to bring change.
The first time I heard that song ‘Holy War’, I felt broken by the lyrics—the chorus a haunting after image of the doors that have been closed, the brick walls that we have found ourselves behind, panting in the shame of discard and sex.
There is a hollow around us that takes our voice and paints us in yellow hysteria, a knowing glance that unsees us. Our story is not a new one, but part of a thread in a story so old, it can only be unearthed for a moment in song, like Tracy Chapman singing into the dark: I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.
Tim Wang is a queer writer, community advocate and artist. He won the People's Choice award with a portrait of his family at the 2019 Melt Portrait Prize. When he isn't doing that, he lectures in law and architecture.
This story was originally entered in the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition and forms part of a special collection curated for Mardi Gras celebrating LGBTIQA+ writers and stories.
Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.
The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV (geo-block removed for viewers internationally).