A Writer’s first affidavit.
ONE of the most challenging and important pieces or writing I ever executed was the affidavit I wrote for the Supreme Court of New South Wales in application for the estate of my late partner, Jono.
Sitting across the desk from my solicitor, she tasked me with this ‘commission’ using some weighty words of her own, because an affidavit, particularly one relating to your deceased spouse, is not something to get wrong.
“You must relate the incidents of your relationship as though people are listening to it, with quote marks, and everything,” she explained, “and you can’t use his name, you must write ‘the deceased said this, and did this …’.”
It sounded like a scene from a script. In the midst of those dark days, compounded not only by my grief after losing Jono, but also by his family’s denial of the existence of our relationship, writing was something I knew how to do.
I’d been writing dialogue for years, and here was a story with a beginning, middle, and, sadly, an end which nobody saw coming.
My motivation was a simple one, primal, in a way.
I’d been duped. I’d trusted bad people. In the midst of my shock, Jono’s mother and brother had bullied the funeral director into removing my name, and any reference to our relationship, from his death certificate. They did it in secret. They did it at a time I would least suspect them, and they remained unmoved by my entreaties to undo what they had done.
I won’t go into the reasons they did what they did, that is for another piece of writing at another time. Suffice to say they did everything in their power to prevent the creation of any official document which linked their son/brother to me, and that it was, as is so often the case, for financial reasons. Laced with the pervading stench of homophobia, the treatment became a rare mix reserved for only a few of the widowed left vulnerable by lax laws and outmoded thinking.
Whatever their motivations, it was the shittiest, lowest, most devastating action anyone has taken against me. It hit me in my deepest places, and smarts to this day.
Faced with this denial, I wondered what exactly did they say Jono and I were to one another? The legal documents they’d falsified to deny my relationship with Jono carried weighty fines and/or jail time for false representation. What term could they get away with if pressed on the truth?
‘Travelling companions’ is the definition comedy writers have placed into the mouths of homophobes for decades.
Yes, in times past, two men in love would have passed for ‘special friends’, but not me and Jono.
We were everything to one another apart from legally married, and the law did not (and still does not) extend to that. Everyone who loved us knew the strength of our commitment.
So, when I learnt to refer to Jono as my deceased spouse, I took our long-term relationship and all its episodes: fun, challenging, confronting and downright hilarious, and wrote it with as much fervour as I would a piece of drama, only I didn’t need to make anything up.
Using old diaries and our joint bank account, I managed to trace our relationship to its dawn. The words were easier to recall off the cuff than the dates, because it’s rather unforgettable when someone leans their head gently on your arm, looks you in the eye, and says: “I’m besotted with you.”
That night, at the alpine-style sunken lounge of Leura’s Fairmont Resort Bar in the winter of the year 2000, was memorable not just for our first kiss, but also the inebriated woman who was sitting near us, saying: “What a lovely couple you two are, awwww, you’re so well suited”. We laughed, because our relationship was just beginning, but it was a great affirmation for what was to come. This woman made it into my affidavit as an indicator of public knowledge of our relationship: one of the more than ten inescapable benchmarks when defining its existence legally.
Over thirteen pages I recalled how we’d expressed our love and care for one another enough to move in together after two years.
I related our journey through running our own business after only a month together, and all its highs and lows, but also the way that our support for one another saw us blossom as creative individuals.
I also revealed our slightly embarrassing pet names for one another.
There was no happily ever after to the journey Jono and I took, only a surprise ending which no-one would have believed if I’d ever written it into a screenplay.
But my written work could not simply end with Jono’s sudden, unexplained collapse in the middle of a dance rehearsal, because it was an affidavit, not a screenplay.
I needed to add the disenfranchisement I was subjected to after his death. I needed to explain to the court that I had been kept from Jono’s death certificate, and it was with no small embarrassment that I had to explain why I was asking them to bend the rules and allow the presentation of a less legally binding death certificate extract: because his family were homophobic.
In time, my affidavit did everything I needed it to do legally. It was an indelible, detailed document which shone a glaring light on the omissions purposely rendered on the one piece of paper where the details really mattered when I needed them to the most.
“Why do you need a piece of paper to prove your love for one another?” same-sex attracted people who want the right to marry are pressured to explain, to justify our argument for equality.
Well, because thirteen pages (and almost 60 supporting documents) is a mammoth effort, unless you’re a writer, especially when you’re grieving, and you’re fighting insidious, invisible homophobia. One simple marriage certificate would be my choice, every time.
The Supreme Court has no choice but to uphold that, which is exactly what the homophobes are scared of, because it might be just a piece of paper, but a marriage certificate places a great obstacle in the way of prejudice.
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.
Michael’s story is published as Questionable Deeds.