When my boyfriend or I have had a particularly stressful week, come Saturday we treat ourselves to breakfast at the same cafe we’ve been going to since our relationship began. Every time, we order exactly the same thing we always do and complain the quiz in the newspaper has too many sport questions.
Lost in this state of rote breakfasting last week I failed notice we had attracted some attention as we left the cafe and stepped onto the street. As I stood for a moment, my arm around my boyfriend’s shoulder, one of the cafe staff bringing coffee to an outside table said something about the ‘paparazzi’ inside.
We spun around to see, seated about a metre away from us on the other side of the cafe window, two tourists, decked out with backpacks, drink bottles and flashy-looking cameras sporting turgid telescopic lenses. Their cameras, lenses fully erect, were pointed directly at us. They were taking photos of us.
My immediate reaction was one of bewilderment — I dragged my boyfriend by the arm out of sight of the horrible, blinking apertures. As we continued on down the street my confusion turned to anger, as I realised what had just happened. In that instant, we had become a tourist attraction. Backpackers from Sydney or some other awful place had taken our photo to show their friends back home how in progressive, hipster Melbourne they let their gays wander the streets, completely unchecked! “Aren’t they progressive?” one would say. “Such diversity!” the other would reply.
In places like the inner suburbs of Melbourne, being gay is more than just accepted; many would see public displays of homosexuality as granting a person cultural status, raising them above the enviably uninteresting nature of the straight, white, and middle class. Having our photo taken by strangers without our permission reduced my boyfriend and me to a cultural commodity, ready for later consumption and exhibition.
Canvassing opinion over the days that followed, I was surprised to learn many of my friends did not share my view that, at the very least, it is disrespectful to take a stranger’s photo in a public place without asking them. Aghast, I listened to stories about my friends taking photos of sleeping passengers and celebrity lookalikes on public transport and in supermarkets. A camera in every pocket has given us the power and authority to instantly commodify other people, reducing them to objects of cultural curiosity.
I wished I had gone back inside and said something, or at least stared long and disapprovingly, but I didn’t. All I wanted was to go home with my boyfriend, safe from all those people with nothing better to do.