Today I stood in light drizzle in the middle of a park with my dog, Pepper, on our usual morning wander.
The trees are bare, but some bulbs the council has planted in anticipation of spring are popping up, promising a colorful reprieve in coming weeks. Usually Pepper will take me back home when it’s cold and damp. But today was different. She’s been sticking to me like glue, trying to get me to slow down.
Pepper was doing her dancing with leaves routine to entertain me this morning. Then she just looked up at me and refused to go further, and just kept nudging me to stop. So we just stood for about ten minutes. Breathing. Listening.
The birds were pretty active and there wasn’t much traffic. And the slow weeping of the sky was soothing.
This week I give my story in a hearing at the Veteran Suicide and Mental Health Royal Commission. About what it’s like to be under threat for being a LGBTIQA+ Avionics technician in the 1990’s Royal Australian Air Force.
The biggest threat was not from any foreign enemy, but from within – threats, assaults, surveillance, raids, incarceration and being discharged from service (I remember the day they changed discharge rules came into affect – 23 November 1992) . I suffered three of these, and I’ve actually had one person say to me that “At least your weren’t chemically castrated like Alan Turing”. Wow. Before you read on, know that I am not a fan of the war machine and am pleased to say the working class family tradition of offering our children up to it, I sincerely hope has ended with me.
So, you see from this experience though, I am used to be judged by people who don’t listen. So this private session with the Commissioner could be a liberating or terrifying experience.
I joined the military because it was what people from my family and our working class background did, to get jobs, and in my Dad’s case to protect freedoms he believed in 1940. Trust me when I say my 1923 born Father was the biggest left wing trade unionist I’ve ever known (and likely will ever know). Dad objected to the glorification of the ANZAC on ethical grounds and was very vocal about the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans from various institutions and the lack of recognition of their service. I was raised to believe that if we don’t have people with good intentions, smarts and passion for peaceful means inside any system, then there isn’t much hope left for any peace.
He didn’t join up for some misplaced sense of glory and nor did I. For me it was because it was the only place an assigned female at birth human could work on aircraft.
This was something I wanted to do and had prepared for with other training. I had endured bullying (often from teenage girls) for doing tech drawing, metal work and wood work through high school.
When you are 16 and wanting to leave the chaos of home and one abusive parent, even if it means leaving behind the supportive parent, it isn’t much of a choice. And then, once there, you are presented with a whole new range of non chosen abuse on the basis of your sex and your sexuality.
I’ll tell you this though – I didn’t need to be castrated to have my life pitched off into the closet until I was in my 40’s by the war machine. I didn’t need to be Alan Turing to deserve a hearing.
I didn’t need to be a historical hero to have an experience that gave me the rest of my life living with suicidality, from denying who I was from inside the closet (I have some people who’ve known me a long time who know how I denied who I was). Institutionalized violence is effective, and we need to stop blaming it’s victims.
So this morning, I just stood for a while and followed my breathe with Pepper. And listened to the birds. And joyfully watched Pepper’s leaf dance. Then I went and hugged my adult offspring and had a coffee with them.
Taking a breathe, the birds, the trees, warm hugs from a loved one and the leaf dancing dog don’t judge.