New words

Some moments over the past few weeks:

I watch George Clooney and Matt Damon being interviewed on ABC News. Talk turns to Harvey Weinstein’s recently-exposed abuse of women. ‘There should be zero tolerance for that kind of thing’, George said, and Matt agreed, nodding furiously.

I wonder what their new movie with the crap title, Suburbicon, is about, and I find that it begins with a man’s plot to kill his disabled wife and replace her with her twin sister. I try to write and I stop.

Then:

I decide not to go to the gym. Without thinking, I ask my boyfriend if he thinks that’s ok.

Then:

I go to a writing workshop and ask a question about when, in the course of writing a story, is it best to pursue an interview with a subject. The tutor looks at me blankly. ‘You don’t need to wait for permission to speak to anyone’, he says.

Then:

I stand outside the State Library with my workmates to watch the results of the Marriage Equality postal survey. All I can see is the backs of people, and some of their fronts, faces tight and hopeful. Eventually, the results start to come through thick, broken static. ‘Spit it out’, one man yells from the bough of a tree, wearing a rainbow feather boa, ‘it’s one word’. And eventually the chief statistician does spit out the word, and it is a ‘yes’. Everyone's faces melt, and our arms find the nearest bodies to wrap around. My nerves turn to water and I am shaking.

I feel so light for the next two days, as though my cells have merged with the rainbow confetti released into the sky that morning. This brightness is the feeling of a new future unfurling, like a path gradually revealed by torchlight: let’s go this way.

Grimly, inevitably, as if read from an instruction manual, this survey, a referendum on the empathic capacity of our nation, becomes a biopsy. Commentators trawl through the statistics, testing for greater cruelties. In the face of logic and fact, someone claims that it was all the fault of Muslims, and everyone agrees. I remember my rage against this question that should never have had to be asked, the 61% answer that we maybe traded for other insults and more violence. On Manus Island, refugees report that guards have tipped over emergency water supplies. I try to call the Prime Minister’s office again and I lose my voice.

On the cover of a newspaper, there are two men wearing pink Hawaiian shirts, smiling. Behind them, another man wearing a t-shirt that says: Silence = Death.

What is it that stops us from speaking?

Acts of self-censure are like anti-biotics. We swallow a little bit of the disease intending to inoculate ourselves, for protection.

But the trade-off is a quiet, unmistakable death of the imagination. When we wipe away the new words we might say, the new ideas we might think, in favour of the familiar words (or silence) that we believe will protect us, what are we really doing if not upholding a version of reality in which we are prey?

Often, defiance is associated with the word ‘no’. But this one word, ‘yes’, is still everywhere. Plastered up on billboards and shop windows, in the window of my own house, on a badge I lost on the tram home, caught somewhere in the rattling gap between the doors and the stairwell.