‘Hey kids!’ That’s how a child greeted my boyfriend, Jim, and I on a beach at our two-year anniversary. I’m really not sure how old the child thought we were, and we were too confused to reply.
I thought I’d start with this anecdote because it accurately illustrates the low-level comedic events that constitute my life. It follows such other instances as a housemate and I lying to an old lady volunteering at an op-shop when she asked ‘So where do you boys go to school?’ – because we were too awkward to answer honestly – i.e. we don’t. Because we’re both twenty-six.
I’m not from Sydney, so I don’t know the schools that well. I think I said Newington College because at the time it was the school closest to my house, while my housemate, a queer lady, also not from Sydney, said Knox. Needless to say we left the op-shop without buying that schoolboy boater she was looking at.
Earlier this year, another housemate and I started absolute beginners’ ballet at a studio in Annandale. We had been attending regularly for about six months when our teacher, somewhat suddenly, asked if we were doing the HSC this year, or if ‘that came later’ – as though it was very possible we were not yet seventeen.
Again, we’re both pretty awkward so we kind of fell over ourselves – both literally and figuratively – as we tried to figure out whether to run with the lie or, you know, come clean about nominally, at least, being adults.
To me, these moments, despite being perfect examples of my ability to come up with really flimsy lies – (there’s no way I can follow up any question about Newington College, being from a state school in Far North Queensland) – these are also moments of my being in a world that is, more or less well-intentioned, and trying to understand something about my embodiment.
To me, these questions and assumptions about my age are not dissimilar to the questions and assumptions I receive about my gender, my sexuality, and my ethnicity or race. ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where are you really from?’ are dual questions I field with startling regularity. My response of ‘What do you think?’ is less inviting awkward racialisation than it is giving people a shovel to dig a deeper hole of uncomfortable.
I’m not especially androgynous, but somehow my way of doing gender occasionally causes confusion. To illustrate: recently, Jim and I were in Broadway shopping centre, and I had convinced him to buy me some sweets from the food court. I mean this quite literally – I waited some metres away while he ordered and paid for my gulab jamun – because he likes doting on me and I am happy to accept such a burden.
During the transaction, the man behind the counter waved at me and made some comment to Jim about girlfriends, and Jim, confused, looked over his shoulder at me and said, ‘That’s my boyfriend.’
The man proceeded to look at me. Laugh. Happily, though. And shrugged as if to say, kids these days – who can tell?
I have no problem with my body being confusing to people, although I do have vague concerns about how this will play out in my professional life.
I’m graduating from my law degree at the end of this year, and I’m wondering how I will convince judges, clients, and cops that I am more than a child playing dress-up at court (although my suit is, admittedly, from the children’s section).
This is a very real fear, as only last year while assisting a tall, burly white male solicitor form the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS), he was asked by the police prosecutor if I was there because it was bring your child to work day. The prosecutor wasn’t joking, it emerged – despite the fact that the ALS solicitor and I could not look less alike.
I can only assume that the working theory up until that point had been that the ALS solicitor had gone into Indigenous legal work to build a better future for his adopted, brown, Indigenous child.
No doubt, such experiences will continue into the future. I will remain brown, smooth and ageless. People will remain intrigued, confused and hopeful that when the HSC does come for me, it won’t hurt too much.