Lesbo Riff & Vixen on the Nile by Susan Hampton
Susan Hampton is a Canberra-based poet. With Kate Llewellyn, Hampton edited a major anthology, The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets (1986), and followed this with two publications of her own work: a sonnet sequence, White Dog Sonnets: A Novel (1987), and a second collection of poetry and prose, Surly Girls (1989). She has published three further poetry collections, A Latin Primer (1998), The Kindly Ones (2005) – winner of the ACT Judith Wright award, and News of the Insect World: And Other Poems (2009).
I think it was a beach show, maybe Gidget. It was when next door first got TV, and all the kids in the street were invited, maybe about fifteen of us. Anyway in the show these two girls are good friends and they go the the beach and put out their towels and get set up and have a lot of fun and then some boys turn up, complete dickheads I thought, kicking sand and showing off and next thing you know Gidget is kissing one of the boys. (pause) It seemed natural to me she’d kiss the girl – they’d been kind of flirting – so I said, Oh what? and all the kids turned around and looked at me and said, What?
Andrea Lemon had the best name of any lesbo I met. Lots of lesbians are called Lesley; Mase and Lesley Lynch to mention two.
She walked by me in the parade at Mardigras and my lesbometer erupted.
Maybe I want to look cheap.
I kept looking at the word lesion, it was so close. For a year we were Lebanese. No one likes the word lesbian. I’ve never met a single person female or male who likes the word.
It was the 1990s when we – that gay ‘we’ – pored over film history for evidence that we’d been there all along. There they were. Rock Hudson and Doris Day, whose real name was Doris Kappelhoff.
I knew a girl called Monique Blackadder whose sister was also gay and then her mother turned gay. The Blackadder women, I remember seeing them together on the street in Glebe one day.
This woman I knew put in to the Visual Arts Board for a grant to make a movie and have a scene set inside the vagina.
Could it speak?
No it was this beautiful cave with red velvet linings and ottomans and rugs and secret cupboards and an excellent bar.
And what was the scene?
The idea was there’s a host sitting in the room, or who appears in the room, a woman in her underwear, who invites members of the audience to come up and strip down to their underwear and talk to her. She asked them questions like, How do you feel about your vagina? and What was the best time your vagina ever had? Where were you? Were you alone? If your vagina wanted to speak what would it say? What objects have you put in your vagina? What would be a good idea for a vagina’s day out? Where would she go? Does your vagina have a mind?
Mum read somewhere ten percent of the population is gay. I don’t know how they work that out. Do they count family men who go to male sex workers, or go to beats and then go home to the wife and kids? There are plenty of men like that. They are basically family men and don’t identify as gay, yet they fuck men more than women. Or just as often.
Ten percent you say? All right, now this is a plane of four hundred people.
She half stood in her seat, turning around and said, All right where are the others?
The stewards, I said. Are all gay.
‘They think we are present by some sort of mistake or accident, and that thanks to their guidance and advice this mistake can be put right. . .’ Cocteau
Can you explain the circle kiss to Shannon?
All right. Shannon, we’re going out under the big tree at the back, there’ll be about fifteen of us when the others arrive, and sit in a circle and someone offers to start, and they kiss the girl next to them. They make the kiss as long or short as they want, but it must involve tongues. Girl B then turns to Girl C and kisses her, and so on, till the circle is complete.
Meanwhile the rest of the circle is watching?
Right, right. It can get interesting and very funny too. You should join us.
I don’t know any of these women.
That’s good. It’s actually harder if you know them, if they’re friends, I find.
But you do it anyway.
We sure do.
It was the winter of 1990 and they blew the lights out and sat around on rugs near the fire telling scar stories. Showing their scars in the firelight. Three of the stories involved hitch-hiking, and several happened in other countries. Most though were from childhood.
I don’t like to be competitive, Lara said, but – and pulled up her trouser leg. The mark of Ducati, she said.
To be born gay is to be born under the sign of chaos. There’s a significant problem of knowing who is telling you lies. All at once, through nobody’s fault in some cases, you are being lied to – in that people who love you assume you are something you’re not. It’s hard being raised by heterosexual parents.
She shoves the money in her boot, got money everywhere but in a wallet, it’s in her hat, her sunglasses case, under the car seat, falling from her pockets. It’s a permanent floating economy. The reason she likes men’s coats is because of the inside breast pocket. She folds notes into neat squares and puts them in there. She is also the kind of person who writes on money. Shopping lists and tips for the TAB. Arctic Angel in the fourth at Doncaster.
What did she study?
She went to TAFE and learnt how to handle a chainsaw. Clean it, sharpen it, use it safely. When not to use it. Steelcap workboots. Kept the chainsaw under the bed. She had an allotment in the state forest and went in for firewood. Fifty bucks a ton. Mandy worked with her for a while, throwing the cut wood into the ute.
When I was at college I found this ten dollar note with a mobile number on it. I was walking along the street with two of my girlfriends and they said, Ring the number! Ring it! So I rang the number and a guy answered and we asked him his name and what he was doing – we took turns talking to him, he was OK for a while but then started wanting to know where we were and wanting us to send photos, so we hung up. What can you do. It killed off a beautiful anonymous friendship.
Who cares about whether they have their legs waxed?
She getting power-steering fitted to the Falcon.
I mean if she can’t even get it together as a friend, just because she fancies me, well too bad. She loses on the friendship.
So why did you become a lesbo, Chris?
On my birthday my father hit me over the head with a pair of ballet shoes.
We got to Burning Palms and at the café Sal raised her eyebrows at me twice quickly then turned to a table where two goodlooking local girls were sitting and said to them, May I sit with you?
Cath came in and gorged on a shank of lamb for lunch and when Janice said, ‘Nice hat’, Cath said, ‘Afghani national costume.’ She (Cath) is in love with four women. One lives with an orangutan, two live in Bendigo and are actually on together, so what hope has she got there, and one is a Fast Forward TV star, Magda. And, ditto.
Then years later Magda came out as gay. Cath was onto it!
What does she drive?
Well she used to drive a Corona when she was with Cindy, but now it’s a 1978 HZ Statesman DeVille with mags and pump shocks. Airbrakes for towing.
She’s become a bogan?
She loves it.
I thought she was studying Italian.
She loves university too. She’s doing a thesis on body markings. She’d be interested if you have any tatts or scars.
I don’t have tattoes. Or scars.
Vixen on the Nile
The first image of Vixen. She is a small girl, in a white dress, wearing sunglasses. She’s walking along between her mother and a younger sister. They are holding her hands. There is another sister on the other side of the mother, pushing the stroller. The baby makes no noise. None of them make noise. They all walk along quietly. It’s hot, a hot day in the country town. The girl wearing the sunglasses seems to float between the others, her tread is not as purposeful as theirs. She seems slightly removed, it’s not just the sunglasses, it’s the way she walks.
The second image of Vixen. Now she’s twenty, already married, walks along beside her husband Tony. At this point in the story her name is still Vicky. She walks along in the same quiet way beside Tony. He doesn’t mean to harm her, but he doesn’t like women who fret about stuff and remain busy. This is why, all through his childhood, he had watched the girl in sunglasses holding her mother’s hand, even when she was quite big, watched her walking, and why he later married her. Close up though, she fretted – and he found it hard not to hit her.
Third image. Here’s a photo of Vixen now. She’s been vixen for ten years. Her hair’s bleached and short. The six ear rings in her right ear are the narrative of her life. She found her name in a footnote in Robert Graves’ ‘The White Goddess’, Vixen the Dog Goddess, Vixen Queen of Sparta. She’s a lesbian. She eats breakfast at the Angel before work every day, lives in Melbourne now. She’s working in a council gang – they’re building a playground. She’s the forewoman. They decide where to put the trees. At night she goes home to her caravan in Anna’s backyard. She’s not unhappy. In this photo you can see she still wears sunglasses.
There was a fourth photo in the packet with these but it’s lost. Vixen on the Nile, before she went to do her trade course. Hitch hiked around Egypt and Morocco. It helped that she looked like a boy, and sometimes she travelled with other boys, young men, westerners like herself. Then in the town wrapped herself up, became anonymous, went to the souk. She learnt some Arabic but never said any to us. Someone had taken a picture of her on the boat.