IT was in the heady 80s, as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, when I first stumbled across the famous Sydney drag queen Larnie at her haunt, the Observer Hotel, in The Rocks. There, on a small raised stage at the back of the pub, was a plump, middle-aged drag dressed like Shirley Temple and singing with a truck driver’s voice, Animal Crackers.  But her version was an X-rated one with the lyrics changed to: “terminal herpes in my soup.”

Years later, Larnie, suddenly dropped dead in the middle of her act, but her ghost would appear in my imagination when I attended a queer media talk titled Something Queer Happened on the way to the Newsroom. Speakers included the editor of the Star Observer, Elias Jahshan; Monique Schafter, a reporter for the 7.30 Report, Patrick Abboud, a reporter and presenter on SBS2, who was also, shortly, co-hosting Mardi Gras 2014; Senthorun Raj, an academic; and Morgan Carpenter, who happened to mention being an intersex person.

With such a stellar line up of queer talent I was expecting an exciting discussion filled with lots of interesting anecdotes about what it was like to work as a professional in the alternative media. But shortly after introductions the speakers got bogged down on how we define our media. And it all had to do with one seemingly harmless little acronym: LGBTI.

Now lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) has been adopted by what was traditionally called the gay media to describe all people who are part of our community.  30 years ago the correct title was the gay. Then it became queer. And now it’s a long acronym. But since when did LGBTI become the new black? The last time I checked, queer was the catch-all. Since the 90s, activists decided that even though gay men make up most of the queer population (if we can believe Kinsey and all the other official statistical studies of the last 100 years), it would be more politically correct to put lesbians first, even though they should be second in percentage value, gays second, and then the other tiny percentages should be added incrementally to form an acronym that even the panel members admitted was a mouthful and that their straight colleagues in the mainstream media struggled with.

Panel members also mentioned that the awkward acronym was not a stable entity but in constant threat of changing. Facebook was mentioned as having introduced a mind boggling 58 genders and one journalist suggested that A for asexual could be added to the mix and that Q was also a possible extra. At this point in the discussion I turned to my friend, Greg, and he gave me the same frustrated and bewildered look of “what the?” Like him, I hadn’t turned up on a weekday evening to listen to experts have an academic discussion about the alphabet.

I had to wait until seven minutes prior to the end of the discussion for things to get really interesting when the floor was finally thrown open to the, by now frustrated, audience. A tall, tranny(**) leapt up to introduce herself as a writer and performer. With frizzy red hair, glasses, a very short dark pink skirt with matching dark pink jacket and high heels with roses she stood out. She described how she had been called a poofter at school but was now a lesbian. She also posed the rhetorical question: “why do straight men sit next to me on the bus and ask me to suck their dicks?”

Finally, there was one audience member who had a criticism of the political correctness of acronyms. It was posed by a handsome older man with white hair and dressed in black leather pants, called Paul Paech, a writer and activist in the 70s who mentioned he had written about the murder of Dr Duncan. His comment was: “The alphabet soup of LQBTI is misguided. Social media is the great fragmenter of the hegemony of patriarchy.  Instead of fighting the politics of identity why not fight sexuality?”

But his statement was also a bit vague and prompted Patrick Abboud to ask: “what’s the question?” Which leads back to my reminiscence of Larnie, The Rocks drag queen. I’m sure that she would have stood up in the middle of this event and said something like, “don’t be bloody stupid. I’m not an LGBTI entertainer or whatever else you want to call me.  And I’m not playing for the LGBTI crowd.  I’m a gay man in a dress putting on a show for whoever wants to watch. Stop wasting your time on this crap.”  Good imaginary advice surely for any future talk that seeks to engage its audience without frustrating them with an alphabet soup – ‘terminal’ or not.

(**) – The Star Observer does not endorse the use of this word. It is strictly the view of the author of this piece.

Paul Purcell is a Sydney-based freelance writer who has previously written for the Star Observer. 

A rebuttal piece by Miles Heffernan will be published tomorrow at 6pm.

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