I’ve had difficulty sleeping recently. It’s spring messing with my sinuses, as per usual, and my brain thinking about things, also as per usual. Anyway, the week the Australian Prime Minister spoke about “abiding the law” when asked about banning conversion therapy for LGBTIQA+ people, I couldn’t sleep at all. During one restless night I found Holding the Man. This is 2015 film is based on Tim Conigrave’s memoir of his life with John Caleo from their school days in the 1970s, through the 80s and into the 90s in Melbourne and Sydney.
I don’t talk much about government policies here. Or if I do, I discuss how current affairs are reflected by and can be understood through film and TV. However, I was struck by the timing of the PM’s statement and seeing this film. They aligned. Our newly minted evangelical Christian PM opposes marriage equality and wants to defend “religious freedoms.” And there I was, bawling over a love story where the lovers can’t now talk about sport, or get a mortgage together, and can’t defend their right to wed because they are dead. Conigrave died in 1994, two years after he nursed his partner until his death. In the film, the church funeral for Caleo refused to recognise Conigrave as anything more than a “friend.”
Some of the relationship between Conigrave and Caleo occurred when it was illegal. The film used archival footage to depict violent expressions of anger towards the gay community during law changes and the AIDS crisis. I well remember, and in fact was haunted by, the AIDS TV advertisement. What escaped tiny kid me in 1987 was that some took the grim reapers of the ad to represent gay men instead of HIV/AIDS. The net result was an increase in fear and violence.
All this brings me back to the Prime Minister’s statement about the law. The PM believes in the law. He was and is willing to see unjust laws continue. Under his logic, he was likely supportive of the laws that saw people such as Conigrave and Caleo jailed for existing and loving.
Some parts of the media are trying to cast the PM as some kind of warm, fuzzy Everyman; a bloke who can talk sport and support his family while paying off his mortgage. Whatever. When you resort to defending the law when asked about addressing things that endanger human beings, you aren’t warm and fuzzy, but cold. It’s not a surprise, given his “border protection” laws.
Law is just a word for the lines communities draw and redraw in shifting sand. Trauma inflicted by unjust laws can’t be undone. Time has passed and records have been lost but for the likes of Tim Conigrave who gave all to record his story. Conigrave completed his book 10 days before he died. His legacy is a lasting act of love.
Politicians are sensitive to notions of legacy. They know laws are lasting testaments to those who make them. They know, or should do, that laws can hurt or heal, help or censor. I’m not hopeful of healing or help from the government under this PM.
He never will, but I think the Prime Minister should see this film. But come to think of it, the PM would probably prefer actor Ryan Corr’s latest film, Ladies in Black, since it’s set in 1950s Sydney.