Australian Identity and Queerness

Culture (ˈkʌltʃə)

— n

1. the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action

2. the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group: the Mayan culture

3. a particular civilization at a particular period

4. the artistic and social pursuits, expression, and tastes valued by a society or class, as in the arts, manners, dress, etc

5. the enlightenment or refinement resulting from these pursuits

6. the attitudes, feelings, values, and behaviour that characterize and inform society as a whole or any social group within it: yob culture

Excerpt from “Multiculturalism and Integration”:

Some argue that Australians should dispense with the idea of a national identity altogether. For example, in their well-known book Mistaken Identity: Multiculturalism and the Demise of Nationalism in Australia, Stephen Castles and his associates concluded: ‘We do not need a new ideology of nationhood… Our aim must be a community without a nation.’ On this view, Australian identity should be grounded only in political or civic values, such as toleration, individual liberty, equality, reciprocity, and a commitment to democratic institutions. Others in this camp suggest that Australian identity should be centred rather on the idea or practice of multiculturalism itself.

“I do not think of myself as an Australian citizen. I think of myself as a citizen of the world.” The Squat

In my workplace I have the very rare privilege to get paid a lot to sit and read books. The books I read, far from being my preferred choice of literature, are the published compilations of expert academics, writing in their field. Currently I’m slogging through this text, Multiculturalism and Integration, which (surprisingly) doesn’t completely suck. The text is, essentially, a look at the way in which Australia has been built by migration, and how the national identity Australia has cobbled together is the mash up of a dominant anglo-Australian culture with the myriad melting pot of ethnicity from our immigrant population. It’s pretty fascinating stuff- looking at multiculturalism from several different facets, be it language, settlement, or notably, political theory.

Now, my family is pretty much what a person might call “dinky-die Aussie”. With roots back to the convicts, and origins from England, Ireland and Italy (at least), I’m not very different in my supposed identity from the anglo-Australian culture that the book speaks of. That is, we are apparently white, swear a lot, are lazy, common, like our food and our wine or beer as a place for community (meat and three veg, of course), rich and fat, urban dwellers, with a mythological belief that the we are really noble little Aussie battlers, on the farm or in the outback, or even- by God- diggers in the trenches. We’re suntanned (not skin cancered), blonde haired (what, all of us?) and tall people of the earth. Right.

(Note: These. Images. Do. Not. Make. Up. An. Identity.)

At the same time, however, we have the concept of Australia as a multicultural nation. This, too, forms a part of my identity. I live side by side with persons who are ethnically different, with traditions I’ve never heard of, food I’m afraid to eat, religions that fascinate me, parents that are direct opposites of my own, hair styles, facial features, and money management systems that I think are smart and bizarre and wonderful. Despite much of our experiences being saturated by the dominant western prerogatives, our home communities were different. You can’t deny it- they just were. In a country like Australia, the book suggests, where most of our population are either immigrants or descended from, it is a national reality that every person’s childhood will be defined by this line of cultural difference- the degree of integration their community has chosen- even within themselves.

We see this going both ways, of course. Take our restaurants, for example. Some of the best restaurants in Australia have what is now hesitantly (and often with a vague confusion) called new-Australian, or Australian-fusion, or… (you see what I mean). It’s a blend, of mostly English or European cuts, influenced by the flavours and culinary arts of Asia, the Middle East and South America (to name a few). It, rather like Squat, says: I am not Australian. I am of the world. Similarly, we see the perforation of english language, education systems and social structures into cultural community groups.

Now that I’m a bit older, I get to choose a bit more which communities I will saturate myself with. And, looking around me, (it always comes back to this, I know) I see more and more a thriving culture that has nothing to do with birthplace or race.

The GLBTIQ community is a culture. We have shared experiences, we do. Our coming out stories, though not always the same, have the same emotional tensions, over and over. Our discovery of ourselves, the reflection of the community into our own ideals, the shared consumption of our community presence across the media, the way we obsess over theories and inclusiveness and our political agendas-all this speaks to me of a culture.

Our culture.

Now, you don’t identify with everything. No one can! Just as I’m supposed to be an Aussie but I hate sports, meat pies, tomato sauce and potato. (Yet I’m still an Aussie because I’m supposed to identify as multiculturally influenced, right?) So, similarly, I might know all the words to I Will Survive, but don’t identify with drag queens or gay men all that much- but I do have an invested interest towards their experiences, because whether or not I acknowledge it, we’re in this world together. The rainbow flag unites us, and the Mardi Gras parade, pride marches, and GLBTIQ events allow us a chance to have a cultural celebration. We have a language lexicon built on decades of shared knowledge, and a history to peruse for inspiration and instruction.

But, remember, even this tiny minority is still thriving with multicultural influences! If anywhere there is a blend of cultural identities under an umbrella of wholeness, it’s in the GLBTIQ community. We are one, but we are many. We might be small, but we exist, and we are part of Australia! Part of the multicultural mash-up that was so often the rhetoric while I was growing up, part of a whole.

Take it. Take that chance to say- I am multi-cultural, and proud of it, and you better god-damn believe that I won’t go down without a fight. Don’t let anyone deny us that right. We have a right to a different culture, a shared experience not of the norm, because that is what being “Australian” is supposed to bloody be about. But we also have a right, a fucking right- to be included, completely, totally as Australian citizens, as people who deserve the institutions that build the bed-rock of our society.

By Danielle K. Day

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