Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

The hate that dare not speak its name

AUSTRALIA is fighting a very old battle. It’s been Trojan-Horsed into every household in the form of the Turnbull Government’s postal survey on federal marriage law. Like all wars, the propaganda is rife.

“It would make for a better, fairer and more entertaining match if #TeamNo owned the label ‘homophobes’.”

We’re being asked to vote on altering the Marriage Act to allow equal access to couples of the same gender. Naturally enough for Aussies, we’re dealing with it by forming teams in a numbers game over the country’s oldest political football.

In one corner we have gay-friendly #TeamYes in bright, inclusive colours, although the commentators can’t avoid the war references, labelling them everything from rainbow authoritarians to the gay gestapo. 

In the other corner #TeamNo is pitching itself as the underdog, and while it’s still working out what colours to wear, #TeamYes has been chanting Ho-mo-phobe! Ho-mo-phobe! Ho-mo-phobe!

Understandably, it’s unsettling for them, but what label would #TeamNo prefer?


This would be apt had Western right-wing governments not led their nations to major marriage equality wins long ago. It was David Cameron, Tory prime minister of Great Britain who said that he supported equal marriage rights for the same sex-attracted because he is a conservative in a now famous speech that forever ruled out conservative as a more accurate label for a homophobe. 


Many of Australia’s faithful are sticking to their ancient creeds, led by the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton; but this label fails on two counts. First, anyone upholding all the Abrahamic scriptures in the twenty-first century must broaden their definition of marriage beyond one man and one woman. The Old Testament allows a bloke more than one wife and a list of exceptions to consensual monogamy. Second, Australia is replete with people of faith who are publicly voting yes to marriage equality. 


Upholding the nuclear family is another excuse for refusing same-sex couples equal marital rights. Family First’s breakaway Senator Lucy Gichuhi is one champion in this hard-fought corner. But family values come undone as an excuse for disliking marriage equality when we have multiple generations of surrogate, adopted, biological and foster children that have no different outcomes as a result of being raised by same-sex parents. 


Resisting change for change’s sake is a hybrid of orthodoxy, conservatism, and family values, practiced enthusiastically by the likes of Senator Cory Bernardi. However, when a minority group seeks access to a traditional legal institution such as the Marriage Act, Mr Bernardi’s objection to sharing traditional marriage with gays can only be homophobic. This might be why several sub-teams pop up in the traditionalist camp to diffuse the simple yes/no question in the marriage law survey – #TeamFreedomOfSpeech, #TeamReligiousFreedoms and #TeamRadicalGenderTheories, to name a few.


Social media is replete with players enlisting themselves onto #TeamNo because they feel bullied by #TeamYes, led by the dummy spit of columnist Tom Switzer. They were going to vote for marriage equality, apparently, but their vote was dependent on same sex-attracted people playing nice in a respectful match. They usually profess “heaps of gay friends” yet preface lengthy anti-equality statements with the word “but” to discriminate against the same people. Exclusion on the basis of a rough game is not victimhood, it’s homophobic.  


Internalised homophobia is a thing. Anyone who was ever closeted will tell you how easy it is to catch a bout of it, even long after coming out.


If all the above players are to be believed, homophobia has never existed and same sex-attracted people are making up all the laws that saw us arrested, chemically castrated and executed across the centuries.

What didn’t exist for a long time were terms to describe the evolution of equality, but as same-sex attraction made space for itself in Western culture, phrases and words were added to the lexicon. It’s an evolving process and commentators need to keep up.

During Oscar Wilde’s trials in the 1890s, homosexuality was analysed around the euphemism ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, but by the middle of the twentieth century the fluid term ‘gay’ was in common use and doing little harm.

But pejorative words for homosexuality came into widespread public use as gay liberation got serious in the late 1960s. It’s hardly surprising that a blanket term ‘homophobic’ – coined by a psychologist – was swiftly owned by same sex-attracted subculture, replacing ‘wowser’ and ‘zealot’ in the gay pride push-back.


#TeamYes earned its stripes long ago and has plenty of skin in the long game to full equality.

It would make for a better, fairer and more entertaining match if #TeamNo owned the label ‘homophobes’. It sounds more easily curable than bigotry; there is no law against being inherently homophobic, and religious freedoms are already protected in the Marriage Act.

Their failure to self-identify is what proves any equivalence between #TeamYes and #TeamNo to be so false, and the whole match stacked against a clear win for anyone in Malcolm Turnbull’s survey.

We are right to suspect that is the aim of the game.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Dodging reality with E.M. Forster

A writer’s review of E.M. Forster’s The Life to Come.

IN THESE glimpses through the window into Edwardian and post-war restrictions on homosexuality, much of them still chillingly relevant to our times, E.M. Forster recreates his own inner life – and that of gay men everywhere.

8073306Where his living, breathing gay protagonists meet allegorical endings in Classical juxtapositions, Forster was simply staying the hand of damnation he witnessed in the shadow of the Oscar Wilde trials, keeping these men safe in another place and time.

Any writer doing that, and in private – most of these works were not published in his lifetime – was likely to be calming his own rising sense of panic and anger at tired British fears about sexual diversity.

Other stories (such as ‘The Obelisk’ and ‘Arthur Snatchfold’) are gloriously lust-filled in and around taboo themes of male sex, yet always replete with Forster’s tempering wit.

My favourite is the collection’s first, ‘Ansell’, the story of an academic forced to eschew the life laid out for him in books and letters, which has undertones of Forster’s most complex novel The Longest Journey.

“Essential reading, particularly for conservatives who believe it’s ‘all good now’ for the LGBTIQ community.”

‘Ambergo Empedocle’, the story of a strapping young Britisher, honest to his bootstraps and set for a life of convention, is an Italian-set tragedy akin to Forster’s debut novel ‘Where Angels Fear To Tread’. It explores the state of closeting so accurately, and the desire for anything but inhabiting a life where the core restriction cuts to the soul.

Forster often sends his protagonists to other states instead of this world in the denouement of his stories. More often than not, author or protagonist label this a ‘dodge’, a kind of schoolboy’s mind game.

It’s a literary technique that comes straight out of classical mythology, but Forster’s use of it inspired generations of writers decades after he’d hung up his literary tools, including Joan Lindsay, the Australian author of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

While they blend myths and legends with a Sci-Fi edge, these moments reveal Forster capturing the genuine suicidal motivations experienced by a significant proportion of same sex-attracted people.

I have read and reread these stories all my adult life, and will continue to do so. They are essential reading, particularly for conservatives who believe it’s “all good now” for the LGBTIQ community.

In them, Forster is celebrating what he got away with sexually and emotionally, yet imagining what the risk could have cost him. Thank Jove he didn’t burn them, like he did some of his other gay-themed work.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Oh England, my lying heart

ENGLISH ROSE Kate Bush, siren of English Romanticism.

A Writer’s pebble-dashed vision.

I first encountered England through her literature. Walking the moors with the Brontës and their wayward brother Branwell; inhaling the sea-spray of Whitby and digging the loamy earth of Bram Stoker’s London; and sporting on lawns, catching snippets of clandestine love in E.M. Forster’s Home Counties. I fooled myself into believing that world would be there waiting for me in England, and that it would be enough to fill my nascent heart.

Mine was the romantic, mythological ‘Olde Englande’ of Kate Bush lyrics, of Tolkien, and of gentle landscapes which gave up their mysteries for the order of rustic villages where Miss Marple had everything worked out, despite the cold edge of murder and the harsh years of The Blitz.

So, brimming with this promise of green pastures, after my flight out of Sydney collected travellers in Melbourne, we ascended above amazing views of the country of my birth. Literally the first thing I saw far below was Hanging Rock, site of Joan Lindsay’s infamous picnic at which three schoolgirls and their maths mistress disappeared into the ancient heart of the continent.

The volcanic spires sent up a bright late afternoon farewell to me as we swept towards the setting sun. How apt, for a literary fool.

The endless night of my flight ended with a grey dawn over London, a city waking to just another day of commuting.

An old school friend, born in England and now living there, had arranged for me to stay with his Aunt in Warwickshire for a few days. All I had to do was get myself to Leamington Spa, after taking a connecting bus from the airport to Reading railway station.

Thoughts filled with Oscar Wilde and his famous ballad of incarceration in that town, I caught only glimpses of heritage in Reading (a pub, I think) and felt absolutely no romance.

The train swept a few silent passengers northwards, and quite soon an unmistakable vision emerged out of the dissipating fog …

I recall making an audible comment, almost a question … did I have it right? Within this mirage, were those the Spires of Oxford?

The few grey commuters about me raised their copies of the Daily Mail a little bit higher, in unison. Welcome to England, Mike.

Nevertheless, my first few nights I slept in a home down the road from Shakespeare’s Mother’s farmhouse in Wilmcote. Within days I’d wandered through Stratford-upon-Avon and soaked up the atmosphere of England’s prettiest face. The daffodils were starting to bloom, and the country held a sense of promise.

CRUMBLING FACADE Pebble-dash, the surface of England for the last century.

I ignored all bad-weather warnings and cynicism, and, on foot, continued my search for the beating heart of English Romanticism.

Across six years I maintained my romantic denial, even when a ‘castle’, looming out of the Scottish mist proved to be nothing but an enormous power station; even when exploring the endless layers of pebble-dashed suburbs that showed the visible canker that wars had brought to the face of England, seeking the home where my maternal Grandfather was born in East Ham.

But one day, after a day pounding the steely pavements of Sheffield, I accepted that I would need to keep lying to myself to live in this ‘green and pleasant land’.

To be fair on England, I presented myself upon its green hills complete with my own facade. You’d think that flying to the other side of the world would have broken the closet door right open … but I remained an underwritten character in a play that was going nowhere. I was a cipher. Devonshire teas and English Heritage sites were not going to jolt me out of my asexual romance with myself.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.