Communities, like many other things in life, tend to swap and change as you go through life, get older, change circumstances and a myriad of other reasons.
As a youngster growing up in the outskirts of Sydney in the 50’s and 60’s, communities were like safety zones in areas that were just starting to develop (like Sylvania, where I was born). Everybody kept and eye on everybody else, and you often, to a large extent, lived as much in your neighbours home as you did your own. People were alwayts available for a chat, baking was shared around the neighbourhood, everyone knew your dog, and you knew everybodies name. Religion, whether you just practised to be ‘part of” the community (as my parents did) or for actual reasons of belief didn’t seem to really matter. When there was a birth or a marriage, everyone came to visit and join in. When somebody died, everybody mourned. It was close and nurturing. However, it had its drawbacks. Perhaps everybody knew a little TOO much about everybody else. When my mother deserted the family home, I remember not so much what was said as what wasn’t said – as if it had been expected.
My next community was boarding school – very Catholic, and I have to say very fulfilling. I had a large circle of close friends as I had through most of my school life, people who respected me and wanted to know my opinions. However, the wide divide between city boys and country boys (it was an agricultural college) became evident when I left school, and found that I didn’t continue contact with any of them.
I seemed to move from that to a very hectic ‘straight’ community after leaving school. Again, it was a large group of friends who I socialised with pretty well every weekend. We dined out, drank way too much, went to far too many concerts, and were heavily involved in each others lives – again, not necessarily a good thing. When I made a large move from a local suburb to another in a distant state, the friendships just seemed to drift away. I guess the glue that held the group together wasn’t all that strong after all.
Moving into the gay community was a big leap for me, and also one of the strongest of the communities I have lived in, and in some sense it still has an influence on my life, though not as strongly as in the 80’s and 90’s. Let’s face it – I lived ‘gay’. I drank in gay pubs (way too much), danced in gay nightclubs (way way too much), read gay media, shopped in gay shops, went to gay doctors and solicitors, lived for Mardi Gras and Sleaze Ball, and had lots and lots and lots of gay sex (never too much!). Life in the ghetto was just one big ‘gay’. Even the advent of HIV didn’t deminish the gayness of life, though with becoming infected with HIV I did sort iof find my loyalities divided between the gay and the HIV communities. And whether we like to admit it or not, they were separate, and if you were HIV+ it was hard not to hang out with others in the same boat as you were, as in many respects, they were out support group, our sources of information and, in far too many circumstances, people to mourn with. Yet despite the cameradie that came from within that community I never really felt that I clicked into it like many others. I loved my life being centred around ‘gay’, but didn’t quite feel the same affinity with ‘HIV’. I tried joining groups and organisations but really realised that I never wanted to be information-driven as far as HIV went. I didn’t want it to be a central component of my life, something to hide behind when I didn’t have an answer to ‘why is this happening, or why is that happening’. Even after a debilitating and life-threatening run-in with AIDS I didn’twant to get drawn too far into HIV’s mbrace. I went through all the steps involved to recover from it – then just moved on and sort of left it behind. Yes, perhaps I do involve myself in that I do write about HIV, but I always try to put it in the background to what I do, never in the forefront.
Recently, we moved again (I had a partner in tow). I have pretty well also moved away from ‘gay’ and probably have as many straight friends these days as gay, if not more. Life evolves. It is about two month’s since we moved to Ashgrove, and if we were ever to wonder just how well integrated we had become within this community, last Saturday probably dispelled any fear we may have had. It started with a chat over the back fence about the garden with our neighbours, and a co-joint decision to work from both sides of the fence to repair our overgrown and neglected yard. We then got tied into a lengthy concersation with some other dog owners at the off-leash dog park. These people live in the next suburb, and we get along very well with them so a friendship will probably develop. The girls in the local cafe know us as Saturday regulars and make us our coffee’s without us ordering, and chat to us as they go about their work. The owner iof a local store drops in for his coffee, and inquires how my recent purchases are going, to be followed by the manager and a staff member from our gym who stops in for a chat about his recent holiday. I have to say that all this chatting and laughing made me feel very cosy, and I realised just how much we were settling into our new community, and had been accepted by all those who had been members for some time. This really is what community is about. People getting along, interacting with each other and helping to make everybodies else’s lives just that little more pleasant. I’m positive that everybody knows we are gay – it is pretty obvious – but no one gives a damn. They are not as nosey as my first community, and I think I would like it left that way.