Autonomy and the Need for the Queer Space

BY STUART FERRIE, Originally published by Woroni on March 25, 2013.

So, a number of people over the years have raised concerns that the Queer* Department doesn’t involve straight people and that there isn’t a Straight Space.

These concerns all boil down to autonomy. Autonomy in the context of the Queer*, Women’s, Disabilities, Indigenous and International Student Departments refers to the fact that all of these departments of ANUSA are that minority exclusively. The membership is identifying or registering as that minority and being a member of ANUSA. There’s no prerogative to engage with the departments you are a member of nor does it mean that they run exclusively autonomous events, but that they do organise autonomously.

I, as well as many active members of each of these departments, agree that autonomous organising is important, as we are the ones affected by the day-to-day struggles associated with being in a minority. The lived experience is of real importance here. That isn’t to say that the role of allies isn’t important: they’re extremely important, however the ability to autonomously organise is also extremely important.

Not to be prescriptive, but I believe one of the best things an ally can do is listen. To be supportive, you do need to know what you’re supporting. Take for example, equal marriage, it’s great that there are so many supportive straight people, but it’s by no means the only, nor the biggest concern in queer communities. Police violence against queer people has again become a big concern after there were a number of incidents of excessive force used against people after the Mardi Gras parade and the intense policing surrounding the after party. People who don’t present themselves as unambiguously male or female feel unsafe on our campus and after some of the reports I hear, they’re justified in it. Mental illness is still disturbingly common amongst queer people, with a much higher frequency than in straight people. This is just a sample of some of the many problems queer people still face on a day-to-day basis. These necessitate a queer-only space to be free of these issues, as the entire wider world is a straight space.

One sure-fire way to get people on the defensive is to flat out condemn the Queer* Department for not letting straight people be members. The departments are not simply social clubs nor interest groups. The idea is to get people together and work together when you all know from experience what you’re facing. As I’ve explained, you’re not a member unless you’re part of that minority and unless you decide that you’re queer, you can’t become a member. Being able to intellectualise the issues surrounding it is important for understanding, however it cannot replace the lived experience. For example, I am not a woman, so I do not have the lived experience to join the Women’s Collective, but I do identify as a feminist and provide support when it’s asked for, not try to push my own beliefs about what women want onto them.

However, there are other avenues to engage with queer politics around the ANU and Canberra. Ally@ANU runs training sessions which you can register for. The Diversity Learning Community run a number of events with the collectives. These events are non-autonomous, which you are perfectly welcome to go to. The AIDS Action Council always want more volunteers to help out with safe-sex packs. These non-autonomous bodies are incredibly valuable and a way for people who are not queer to help out the queer cause.

Now, to address the issue of the Queer Space. The Queer Space has existed on campus for much of the Queer* Department’s nineteen year long history but the reasoning why the Queer Space exists still hasn’t changed.

The Queer Space is a safe space for queer-identifying students on campus to escape the homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism of the wider world. Homophobia is a concept most people are familiar with, while transphobia is active discrimination against people who identify or present as trans. Heterosexism is a much subtler form of these: the assumption that everyone is straight and the privilege that comes with that. Heterosexism is the biggest barrier for equality for queer people. The wider world is very much a heterosexist space, so this is why a Queer Space exists.

Despite the way it may seem sometimes, I can’t think of a single queer person who has no interaction with straight people. The Queer Space is only a tiny little room on a very large campus. We have to leave sometimes. There’s always bread there, but I can’t eat bread as I’m coeliac, so I have to leave to eat. Throughout its long history, queer students have never been seriously isolated from the rest of the wider community solely via the Queer Space and Queer* Department.

In all honesty, it’d be an interesting world where there was no heterosexism or straight privilege. There’d be no need for a queer space really, although I think it’d still be nice to have one, but by no means necessary. It’d probably be a retreat for queer people to only associate with other queer people rather than have to be out there in the wider community, where they’d be totally accepted. Unfortunately, queer people aren’t totally accepted. As I’ve alluded to, there are still structures in place that enforce the gender binary and heterosexism onto all of us.

In response to“Positive Discrimination Going Undetected in ANU Societies” [an old Woroni article from 2013], I’d disagree that it’s “morally repellent and ultimately a huge step in the wrong direction, away from equality.” Going back all the way to the Stonewall Riots, which were one of the founding moments of the queer movements and closer to home, the first Mardi Gras in Sydney thirty-five years ago this year, the organising was autonomous against a rather homophobic world. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then, but there’s still a very long way to go.

I will concede however that there probably haven’t been as many non-autonomous events as we could run, but it’s the kind of thing that isn’t my decision as we operate under a collective model of organising. It will definitely be seriously discussed though. Our event for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on the 17th of May will definitely be open to all, but there will be further details to come.

Ultimately what I hope comes out of all of this is that people gain a bit more of an appreciation of why there are Queer and Women’s spaces on campus and why the Departments organise autonomously. We don’t hate straight people, most of them are great in fact. We don’t want them to not exist. We just want a bit of space sometimes.

Queer* Department meetings are held at 5pm on Thursdays on even numbered weeks in the Queer* Space. For more details, contact


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Why Queer*?

You might be asking, why the asterix?

Queer is a word that has grown to popularity in recent years, servicing to umbrella the myriad spectrum of variant sexualities and genders. Often, there is the use of acronyms that have become increasingly longer to demonstrate the diversity within our community. For example-

  • GLBT
And with each addition of a letter to the acronym we make a greater attempt at inclusiveness, whilst inadvertently excluding those that haven’t been added yet. The question often arises, why isn’t the letter representing my identity listed? Am I not welcome?
You might ask yourself- if there is such a convenient umbrella term like “Queer”, why not just use that? 
Many persons within the community, however, take umbrage at the term ‘queer’ as it sometimes implies strangeness, deviance and abnormality. Or, simply, the individual does not identify with Queer Theory and feels excluded from the group because of this. Grouping terminologies can be both harmonising and a cause for dissent. 
By calling the Department Queer*, we have attempted to acknowledge the need for a single word to encompass all the identities within our jurisdiction, but acknowledge that in no way are we attempting to ascribe a particular set of ideals or teachings onto another’s identity. The * encompasses all the groups that fall within our banner.
These groups may include, but are not limited to:
  • Homosexual persons
  • Bisexual persons
  • Transgendered persons
  • Transexual persons
  • Transvestite persons
  • Other Trans* identities
  • Intersex persons
  • Sex-Gender Variant persons
  • Gender Queer persons
  • Asexual persons
  • Polysexual persons
  • Pansexual persons
  • Queer identified persons
We acknowledge that not all identities are listed here. Please do not be offended if an identity you are is not listed. We are all on a learning curve towards equality, and by simply informing the Queer Officers you can make a step in the right direction towards inclusiveness, awareness and, eventually, equality. 
Hopefully the Queer* terminology can eradicate exclusion from our university.
Thank you for your understanding.
 —The ANU Queer* Department


Musings About The ANU & UC Queer* Ball

BY LILY DUBOIS, Originally published by Woroni on October 21, 2014.


The first thing I would like to say about the Queer* Ball this year was that there SO MANY cute men there! But I probably possessed one too many X chromosomes for anything to go  any further than a nice cha. Now I’m not even straight but damn were there some good looking men!

But picking up beautiful people was not the reason why I went to Queer* Ball! Although, it would have been the icing on top of a very colourful cake. Maybe if I did my burlesque routine, I would have had more luck? But unlike last year, this year’s ball committee were having none of that!


I must say it was a wonderful night to be a postgrad at this year’s ANU and UC Queer* Ball. I made sure to take full advantage of PARSA’s offer for free tickets. The Hellenic Club was a good location to hold this year’s ball and one that should be reconsidered for next year. The club is one of my favourite locations in Canberra. You could walk right out onto veranda and pretend you’re actually in a real city! 

The atmosphere of the ball was relaxed and everyone preferred to catch up and dance. It’s quite refreshing for someone who attends many heavy drinking events across uni. There were plenty of quality canapes to go around. The decorations were colourful and displayed a very simple elegance. Nothing more needed to be added, lest it look garish and overdone. You can see that the ball committee this year put in a lot of effort and their hard work definitely did pay off because most, if not everybody, were having a fabulous time. Although I would like to mention that the extra $6 cocktail (another reason why I love the Hellenic) did add more excitement to the night. That’s just the heavy drinker in me talking though. 

It was a shame that most of the Queer* Ball entertainment cancelled at the last minute. Fun Machine would have had a lot of pull from both the student community and the public. But at the end of the day, it really did not matter. Especially when you consider that attendees were more interested in dancing rather than standing around watching a bunch of bands. On that note, 104.7’s Felixxx was the only entertainer who did not back out and everyone on the dance floor were grateful for it. The highlight was definitely when he played “Take On Me”. I wonder who the genius who requested that was! 

Seriously the only thing missing that night was burlesque! 

Keep it in mind for next year’s ball! Lily and her friends always deliver!


Photography by Ben McColl


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(Ex) Lesbian Boyfriend

BY ISABEL MUDFORD, Originally published by Woroni on October 13, 2014.


Relationships are complicated and mine is no exception. My partner once considered himself a lesbian, and not in that creepy misogynistic way. When I first met Joel, that wasn’t the only name he was known by. All of his colleagues, and many of his friends and family didn’t yet know that Joel was transgender. Joel has a female body but considers himself, and is known and read by others now, as a man. We are seen by many of our friends, neighbours and strangers as a ‘straight’ couple, but according to the Government, we’re lesbians. How Joel and I consider our identities as a couple is sometimes crystal clear and sometimes it’s like mud.

Isaiah Berlin argues that identity only matters when it is in conflict. Indeed, everyone’s discovery of their sexuality or gender identity is born within a maze of relationships, families, workplaces, and friendships. Some people are offered a map out, and some just have to figure it out themselves. Identity means a lot to Queer* people because they usually have to fight for it. Being L, G, B, T, I or Q is often a huge part of the way Queer* people recognise and identify themselves (hello undercuts, birkenstocks, and lentils). This stranglehold on sexuality or gender ‘identity’ is something we don’t share so much with our heterosexual or cis-gender counterparts.

Not long before Joel and I met, I had just been through a break-up with my boyfriend and somehow fallen for the Queen of all Queers. I knew immediately that I did not want to ‘come out’ because I felt I had never been in the closet. I come from a very supportive family and have loads of awesome allies as mates. Nothing was ever going to be hidden from them. Anyone who knows me knows I just can’t keep a juicy secret like that to myself! More importantly though, for me, my non-heteronormative sexuality is something that is constantly developing, not something I was born with. I don’t believe this makes my sexuality a ‘choice’ as such. But I also don’t think that choosing to be gay or lesbian or whatever else should be seen as a negative thing to choose. If I had realised earlier that I could be living this lifestyle it would be have been rainbows and glitter from day one! Being Queer* is the most liberating feeling I’ve ever felt and I have developed so much as a person over the last eighteen months. But, that’s not to say it’s been very easy.

It has been a challenge for me to start imagining myself as a Queer* person and then to find myself in a serious relationship with a dude. It’s especially complicated because parts of our relationship have been just like a lesbian couple. It was like the bowl of marshmallows had been given to me and then, although I knew it was to happen, taken away – like a subject in the Mischel experiment. In Cube we get dirty looks, but outside, we can kiss with no fear of homophobic slurs. My dad thinks we are a ‘de facto’ couple having lived together for just a month, but my brother has been simply ‘living with his girlfriend’ for over a year. My ex says he is concerned, not because he thinks I am a lesbian in disguise, but that his friends do. We kind of live in some loved up limbo. It is clear to me that this idea of ‘identity’ is not just about how you see yourself, but how those around you understand you.

Amongst Queer* theorists, there is the concept of Queer* time which explains how Queer cultures have developed new ways of tracking the passing of time in their lives with wedding anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and often the other celebrations of traditional family not available to them. Joel and I may be a ‘straight’ couple, but we can’t get married. In some states, we can’t adopt, or get IVF treatment. In many ways we are subjected to the same oppression that other Queer* couples encounter, but don’t fit into the same boxes. Like a lesbian couple, for years we may have to rethink how we celebrate our milestones and develop as a family all while seeming, to most, like your average ‘straight’ couple.

Although we may be just as frustrated at these circumstances as our lesbian and gay friends, Joel and I like being Queer*. Each day is an opportunity for us to explore what that means for us as a couple and as individuals. How others and how we may one day see ourselves is unpredictable and complicated but will never be dull.


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Not So Straight: Some Queer Tips For Straight Relationships

BY JOHN CASEY, Originally published by Woroni on October 13, 2014.


Relationships come in all sorts of complex styles and configurations from the long, romantic partnership to the short, passionate one-night stand.  Now if there is one group that knows a thing or two about complexities, it’s the Queer* (LGBTIQAP*) community.  The Queers have been at the forefront of exploring not just sexuality, but the very nature of relationships.  Trust, dialogue and spice in the bedroom are some of the best queer tips I’ve picked up (for more, I’d highly recommend Hardy and Easton’s The Ethical Slut).

If we are going to start anywhere with relationships, then we have to be honest, both with others and ourselves. Almost every queer person at some point in their life has had to grapple with themselves, with their identity and their attractions.  The first step to coming out is acceptance, loving yourself before you can begin to truly love others. And there is no reason why this does not extend to everyone.  We all have different wants and needs and it is important to acknowledge these.  As most of us are still curious, young adults we may be more interested in casual fun than intense, romantic relationships.  Some people who do want relationships want somebody to look after them, whereas others see a relationship as more of an equal partnership.  Ultimately it is up to you what you want, but it is crucial that you maintain honesty to have a healthy relationship.

On a practical level being honest in a relationship means engaging in the most excruciatingly difficult act of all: communicating.  If the stereotype exists of lesbians talking about their feelings too much or of the gays congregating to gossip, it’s because active communication works.  Too often we bottle up our feelings and won’t actually voice to our partners our problems.  Of course confronting these problems requires tact and it is best to focus on particular behaviours of your partner that you don’t like, and actively talk about how it makes you feel.  There is a big difference between “I feel you spend more time on your friends than with me, and it makes me feel unwanted” compared to “YOU spend more time with your friends than me”. The latter is an attack and makes a judgement about your partner that is actually just your subjective opinion.

A deep relationship requires honest, open communication if it is going to overcome inevitable obstacles.  These two general principles, honesty and communication, can be practiced in all our relationships, from friends, to family, to loved ones.  Too often we forget that our relationships with friends and family require just as much tender loving care as our romantic and sexual relationships.

One final piece of advice from a queer to you on relationships is to keep things interesting is in the bedroom.  Too often we get caught up in the idea that sex and intimacy are the same thing, yet there are a whole host of ways in which you can deepen your connections with a partner that don’t involve sex.  After all not all gay guys have anal, lesbians are still wondering where the hell this ‘scissoring’ nonsense came from, and our queer* community includes an A for asexuality, or those who do not have strong desire for sex.  Exploring each other’s bodies through touch, finding what pleasure and sensations one can elicit without having sex outright; these can go a long way in improving connections and intimacy with a partner.  Of course this kind of exploration can run the other way towards ‘kinkier’ explorations too.  It may not be for everyone, but mixing things up in the bedroom can both make relationships more exciting and more intimate.  These ideas will by no means fix relationships or guarantee their success, but hopefully they will make for a gay old time whilst you try.


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