A little while ago I reported finding a whole stack of old entries going back to 2000, and made a page of some of them: Sydney’s Olympic Year 2000. From that page I thought I would recycle one entry as a kind of tribute to what the thirtieth Sydney Mardi Gras represents:
Saturday, September 30 2000
It is quite early as I write, as after yesterday’s hot weather I rose very early this morning–5.30am in fact. It is cooler and promises to be a very nice day. There being several hours before I go down to Chinatown to do my tutoring, I decided to visit here.
I have been reading yet another Library borrowing, Denis Altman’s The Comfort of Men, Minerva 1995, but first published in 1993. Altman is well known as a pioneering Australian writer on gay politics. This was his first novel, and I recall at the time it was felt an oddity; in a sense he may as well have written an autobiography–as a novel it is competent but hardly brilliant. It has one fictional conceit at least, reinventing recent Australian history to allow the development of an Independence Party in Tasmania which led, in the world of this novel, to an independent country of Tasmania in 1971. That aside, the politics and history of the thirty years the novel deals with are represented pretty much as Altman experienced them. Altman was obviously motivated partly by the struggle for gay rights in Tasmania, and constructs his Tasmanian Independents from the various reactionaries who opposed gay rights in that state. Curiously, the Tasmanian Independence Party and its followers bear more than a passing resemblance to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (now a sick joke of backstabbing and conflicting vanities) — and that three years before One Nation emerged.
Altman and I are the same age, and while not riveted by The Comfort of Men as a novel, I am totally absorbed in the experiences it recounts; Tasmania is very like Sutherland where I grew up in the 1950s–in fact this is why my brother lives there! Then the novel moves to Melbourne and Sydney. In the background are many events I recall. Of course Altman and I are very different: I was a conservative, even right-wing, young man, very much centred on Church and my immediate and extended family–for reasons I won’t go into here. I did not come out until well into the 1980s, although I remember reading Altman’s polemical work in the late 70s and early 80s. Yet the novel is one of those “books that understand me”. There is so much in it that I relate to, and any younger person wanting to know what it was like for people of my generation (born in the 1940s) could do worse than read The Comfort of Men.
It is also a book of mature reflection. Altman’s political interests are clear in the novel; he is after all a university lecturer in Politics. However the novel goes beyond that, and it is fair to say it indicates a reassessment on Altman’s part on the place and nature of politics. It also shows a much more tentative person than one might imagine.
There is much wisdom in The Comfort of Men. For example: “I had begun to understand something of the importance of friendship for gay men, and how it might fill the void which I feared in my life as I grew older. With Gerald, I had built a relationship over ten years which was as central and as reliable as that with a blood relative; my very exasperation with him was possible only because of the depth of our commitment to each other. As I grew older I formed other relationships of this sort, constructed a kind of family of other exiles from traditional home life, in which friends and former lovers became a new sort of extended family…” (p. 242)