This Monday, I arranged to meet with two friends for the first time since June. As Melbourne’s second lockdown spiralled from six weeks to nine, news singles could travel to households outside their 5km local limit to meet with one other person was the trigger. In 2019, we’d seen each other four or five times a month without fail. Since March 2020, we’d met three times. Because there were three of us instead of two, by deciding to meet, we understood we were going to break the law.
Planning was crucial. We squared our stories via Whatsapp just in case we were stopped by Police. We organised travel routes in advance. No stops, no risk of contact or spread. We set alarms so there was no danger of staying too late and being out after curfew. The next day, we all got tested. We’re still COVID negative at time of writing.
We also agreed to lie to other people about meeting. The condemnation in Melbourne’s queer community for meeting up for so called “random sex” right now is astonishing. I’ve known these two men for years, but we’re not in a heteronormative relationship. I still knew if I told some people I’d started meeting them again, I’d be angrily called out on social media.
Truthfully, I’ve been meeting guys all through this lockdown. I also know I’m not alone and no one wants to say it out loud. The shift to a heteronormative gold standard in Melbourne was fast and frightening. You can obey almost all lockdown restrictions, be socially responsible and still meet people. Keep it to yourself mind you. You don’t just risk the fines. You risk becoming a social pariah.
There’s a giant difference between meeting a perfect stranger at 2am and meeting a close friend to spend the night. You wouldn’t know it right now given how guilty everybody doing that feels. Over the course of nine weeks, I left my 5km zone seven times to meet two friends. We communicated very carefully with each other and made sure no one’s health was ever at risk. We still broke the law and risked thousands of dollars in fine.
Deep dive through Twitter and you’ll find plenty of queer people who call that sort of behaviour reckless. But as an article in Star Observer recently pointed out, the framework for lockdown has been so exclusively heteronormative, realistically, single queer people had little other choice. What bothers me most is how quickly the queer community accepted a single, queer lifestyle was dangerous and how harshly they judged anyone living it. If you’re single and openly admit to meeting people during lockdown, there’s no vision of doing so responsibly. You’re just a monster.
I don’t consider myself above the law. I think COVID-19 is a lethal international catastrophe. I don’t question the need for lockdowns. I’m not part of the “Dictator Dan” crowd. It feels right to clarify that because I know how easily this could be dismissed as conspiracist, or thoughtless, arrogance in a time of crisis.
These circumstances are not exclusive to members of the queer community. But the way Melbourne’s stage four lockdown was constructed and the way it has been consistently explained by representatives of my state government, it’s clear they weren’t thinking of people outside a nuclear family unit. In Australia, in 2020, I had hoped we’d moved past that place.
Where I made my mistake, is in not speaking up. The pandemic has sapped a lot of people’s energy and there’s plenty happening this year to distract us. Perhaps I’m a romantic, but I would like to believe that a time existed not long ago when the queer community would have heard the rules for stage four lockdown and immediately said “not good enough!” Instead, we vilified each other and reinforced the notion that anything outside a heteronormative lifestyle was criminal behaviour. We should know better by now. Shouldn’t we?