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.
Vin was big, loving and very, very odd, weathered by years of chain smoking indoors. His grey beard was always unkept and he could have used a trip to the hairdressers, but I didn’t mind.
Like my own version of Hagrid, Vin welcomed me into his home every time I appeared at his backdoor. I crept down the cobwebbed gap behind my parent’s shed, scaled the high fence and climbed down the apricot tree in Vin’s yard to deposit myself on his doorstep. Vin’s house was my Narnia.
Vin welcomed me into his home and his heart with an easy, caring acceptance. Inside his small, dimly-lit house I would sit at his dining table, regaling him with my adventures at school and asking him every prying question under the sun. Vin kept a full lolly jar on the table just for me and would sit with me, smoking and answering my questions while I ate every last lolly in the jar.
Eventually Vin adopted a lamb - curiously an indoor pet unlike the dogs - that would sit in the living room bleating and making a mess on the carpet. Vin’s house was tiny and dark, but cosy and homey to me, with just enough room for me to sit in Vin’s armchair with the lamb at my feet while Vin smoked at the kitchen table.
One day I crept behind the shed, brushed the cobwebs off, scaled the fence and climbed down the apricot tree only to find a stranger smoking in Vin’s yard chair. Tiny me froze, wondering how I could’ve possibly ended up in the wrong yard. Me and the stranger eyed each other with similar taken aback looks, him looking as shocked as I felt at the sight of me. Vin emerged from the backdoor with a cigarette and VB in one hand and his lamb in the other, greeting me with a surprised smile and introducing me to his friend Roger, who I decided to call Tigger instead.
Tigger was like Vin, but smaller and skinnier. He was warm and kind and would listen to me ramble about the stories I was writing or my teachers at school with a patient bemusement while I climbed Vin’s apricot tree. After our confused first meeting, he became a frequenter of Vin’s backyard, almost as frequent as me. Together, Vin and Tigger were warm and gentle, with an easy acceptance of each other that lit a curious spark in my brain. In reality they were probably just mates, but in my 10-year-old brain, their steady companionship must have been love. While my parents’ love often felt alien and odd to me, Vin and Tigger’s love felt like home.
Maybe to my parents, my afternoons spent in Vin’s backyard were charity - to my parents, Vin was a poor, lonely old man that could benefit from the mental stimulation of a child with a big mouth like mine.
Vin was my friend and my confidant, indulging all my weirdness and my imagination, bringing a subversive magic to my life. Vin and Tigger introduced me to a companionship that didn’t look like princes and princesses, or boy meets girl, and maybe it was fabricated in my mind, but Vin and Tigger’s imaginary queer love gently drew me one step closer to opening those closet doors.
So when I slipped up and kissed my primary school best friend on a whim in the back of her parents’ car as they drove me home from an afternoon of playing the Sims, I quickly swallowed the gravity of what the excited bubbles in my stomach meant. I didn’t tell my parents and her parents didn’t say a word, leaving me alone to force the feelings down, banishing the big L word from my brain.
But the next day, after I crept behind the shed, brushed off the cobwebs, scaled the fence and climbed down the apricot tree as I always did, I couldn’t help the words from escaping my lips as I sat on Vin’s carpet with the lamb curled up beside me.
“I kissed my friend Sara last night on accident.”
Vin quietly smiled, told me that was wonderful and gently set the lolly jar down beside me.
A few years later, Vin passed away. My gentle giant, my confidant, the only person to whom I’d let my queerness slip was gone in a blink.
Vin showed me acceptance, where I learnt that if my gentle giant could love me so easily, in all my weirdness and all my queerness, then maybe I could love me too.
Bridget (she/her) is a queer unionist and activist living in Naarm. She's a Gemini, a middle child and a self proclaimed bad bleep, who loves powerlifting and progressive government. You can follow her on Instagram @bridget.deane.
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).