My Cultural Life

Published in The Guardian, 1 August 1997.


The arts have always been an important part of my life. My first job was store display and design, creating award-winning animated windows for Myer in Melbourne. Even my campaigning with OutRage! fuses activism with art. Political spectacles like the Kiss-In, Queer Wedding, Exorcism of Homophobia and Queer Remembrance Day are akin to putting on a stage play in the street. Imaginative, witty and theatrical, this style of “protest as performance” projects serious issues in a way that is fun and entertaining.

Much of my work with OutRage! is geared to transforming cultural values. While other gay campaigners focus on law reform, I prioritise raising public awareness, asking awkward questions, generating new ideas and provoking media debate in a bid to change cultural attitudes towards homosexuality. My sometimes provocative style is, like innovative art, a calculated attempt to offer a new perspective which challenges orthodoxy.

My personal cultural tastes are varied. While doing my morning work-out, I listen to Kiss, Jazzor Classic FM. In the evening, my preferred TV programmes are the South Bank Show, Timewatch, Horizon, Ominbus, Equinox and Secret History. I miss Arena.

Unfortunately, I don’t see as much ballet, opera and theatre as I would like. I can’t afford the prices. My campaigning for OutRage! is full-time, but unpaid. The last opera I saw was ENO’s Turandot, and the last play was the Drill Hall stage adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, Giovanni’s Room. I’d love to see any ballet starring Jonathan Cope. Apart from being a great dancer, I admire his bravado in telling the press that sex is his favourite relaxation.

During my recent US tour, I made a bee-line for the men’s toilet at New York’s Gay & Lesbian Centre to view one of the biggest and least known of Keith Haring’s paintings: a huge four-wall gay erotic mural. Outrageous!

I love books that question taken-for-granted assumptions. One of the most provocative I’ve read is Dares To Speak. I do not support sex with children, but this book is right on one point: what constitutes child abuse is not always straightforward. Under the Sex Offenders Act, for example, a 20 year old man who has consenting sex with a 17 year old man is classified as a dangerous sex criminal, on a par with child abusers. That is far sicker than any words in Dares To Speak. It is a sad reflection on the fragile state of freedom of speech that I have been threatened with death and attacked in the street for writing about the issues raised by this book.

An edited version of this article was published in the Guardian, 1 August 1997