claiming frontiers

 

by Milieah Brett

They said we had it all figured out. That it was our duty to take our message out there. To expand. Look outwards and forwards. But my dispatcher hasn’t contacted me for days, and no one even knows my name out here. How can I keep track of any message, how can I keep a hold of who I even am. I’m too far forward. I’m too far out.

The crash was 6 cycles ago now. Lt. Fifteen had transported us through the Lumin Sector of orange Lepidoptera lights and purple gas collectives. The second half of that sector is still uncharted, blackspace, but we’d pushed out further than that, past the C-boundary. He had pointed us down to the first Silver Class planet, just Twelve and I, after all the rest had been assigned to earlier celestial bodies, and we took the shuttle out as instructed, direct through orbit.

The Mothership was barely a dot in the sky when the engines malfunctioned and zapped our external vis. Gravity kicked out the landing gear and crushed the hull into surface debris — a solid landing if ever there was one. When we crawled out of the shuttle, it was clear the damage was enough to impede a journey through the outer atmosphere.

All the surface of the Silver Class was grey sediment, scattered with smooth circle formations formed by water movement from centuries ago. Twelve had to date it with a torchlight on his helmet and shaky hands on his line-laser, barely illuminated. A dark sun in the sky makes us feel unbalanced, untethered, despite any training.

‘It’s been too long,’ I’d said to him through comms, ‘There’s no life.’

Twelve’s sigh caused crackly feedback as he’d looked to the black horizon, our torches glinting perfect beams off the flat surface of the rocks.

‘We’ve been assigned to here,’ he’d replied. ‘There must be life.’

Three days we spent camping in the blackness, conserving our torches. We used them only to set up the sleeping dome on the first day, then to observe our equipment every morning. There was no sun cycle to adapt to.  A dark sun means no mornings and no nights, so we followed the Mothership time-loop on our suits, and used our sensors to navigate in our small radius. There was no sense in expanding exploration, not without a functioning exit off the planet.

I’d expected to see the fire-shine of another shuttle breaking through the atmosphere on the fourth day, after Mothership had registered the loss of the comm link, but there was nothing in the sky.

There was, however, something on the ground. It being so dark, the light in the distance was not hard to miss. It lit up the horizon as if the air was solid and concaved, amplifying its colour across the surface, turning smooth rocks to glowing stars. I pushed Twelve’s shoulder where he was sitting beside me, to alert him to look up from the data log he’d lent against the dome’s frame, and he did. I heard his breath halt over comms, the static crackling gone for a beat, my ears enveloped by the silence of the air around us. Then he was moving.

‘We need to establish a baseline,’ Twelve said to me, scrambling to pull out his responder.

‘Is it intelligent?’ I asked.

‘It’s the only thing seeking us out,’ he replied.

As it got closer, it got harder to see its form, our eyes straining to adjust. I polarised my filter, and when I held my gloved hand out in front of it, I could see its texture of imperfections. Pale green turning to white, turning to pale yellow, glowing around the outline of my fingers, eating up my shadow.

We weren’t scared then. This is what we do, and displaying peace in first contact is more important than our individual safety. Twelve set the emitter on the responder to the soft-humming four-time beat – communication A – and we waited for a response.

We couldn’t discern sounds from it. It became apparent that there weren’t any. The being seemed to roll along and float at the same time, no friction against the rocks despite touching them. The air was thick enough for sound to travel, and yet, aside from us there was only silence.

The light being stopped before us, and seemed to ooze outward, sinking across the rocks.

‘It must see us somehow,’ I murmured.

We cycled through the communication protocol carefully: the sounds, movements and visuals. All the while monitoring changes in air and energy spikes. Every reaction was the same, just a silent observer sitting before us. No movement or change.

The light was beginning to make my head ache.

‘It has to be light,’ I said. ‘Something about light. We could adjust our visuals, mix light, try to mimic their colour?’

‘That’s already been covered in communication Q to S.’

‘The Lepidoptera would’ve responded by now,’ I huffed.

In the following days, more of the Silver Class planet’s inhabitants approached, surrounding our camp. It made our torches obsolete, made reading our equipment easier, and gave us further opportunity to observe. However, we still hadn’t learned much about them. Twelve couldn’t find any differences in our readings from when we first landed to now, as if the beings weren’t there at all. I couldn’t discover how they were producing such luminosity, all the data defying analysis. Days were bleeding into each other, and nights were getting harder to sleep through as their numbers were increasing incrementally every few days, every cycle. The aggregate of their light grew brighter and reached further, but they never changed and never touched us, only watched us.

We made the decision halfway through the next cycle that we would push past their makeshift barrier. Mothership wasn’t looking for us, we needed resources, and we needed to be certain this was the intelligent life we were looking for. I couldn’t tell if it was the first being we had tried to make contact with, or another one that broke from the line that started following us. They all looked the same and they didn’t register in our readings.

When I walked between the beings, a phantom heat moved over me, mirroring the glow onto my suit, making the contrast of the dark horizon seem so cold and distant. I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me, and I held my equipment more securely on my back.

The panic set in when we had walked two days and found nothing. We were forced to return empty-handed. The pale yellow light, still flittering over the rocks, guided us back.

On the third cycle, I’d had enough. Twelve could sense it in me, in the way I couldn’t answer his questions clearly and how I was fumbling the logs that day.

‘I’m going to touch them,’ I told him, and he’d baulked.

‘What?’

‘Think about it. They’re malleable, they sit by each other. How else do they communicate?’ The rationality was clear to me, the reason why they had been waiting around us so long, watching for something to happen. We had to make the move. ‘How else can we give our message?’

‘But…first contact protocol…’

He watched me as I walked out of the dome, directly to the line they still held. The light had gotten so bright I could barely see my hand as I lifted it to the being’s form, mound-like and blurry below me. I pushed, flat palmed, and met as much resistance as a sleeping pallet, its body curving about my hand.

The effect was immediate. Veins of deep green and blue spiralled out from the impression, and the being’s colour dimmed, fading from pale yellow to aqua to purple on the RGB spectrum. My heart dropped to my feet as I watched it dwindle before me, the surface of its form turning as glassy and dark as had been our reality for the first days on this planet. I pulled my hand back.

I saw Twelve run for me when I looked back, and I saw the row of light beings behind him expand in size, their width gushing out over the rock formations, their height reaching higher than the sleeping dome, higher than our shuttle. All their forms were joining, and we were flattened as they reached each other at the peak, closing out the darkness, blinding us in a whiteness as bright as a star.

That’s where I am now. Unknowing if my eyes are open or closed, unable to move. My suit AI has been tracking the days for me, and I’ve been writing my log through it, detailing as much as I can remember. I can’t hear Twelve, I believe our comms were muffled by whatever happened. I hope my suit will outlast me, and when the crew find me, they can access these logs still.

As for the message we were to pass on… I can’t remember it. Fifteen reminded us daily of the peace, of following the truth. But I don’t believe our truths apply to the beings here. So, then, what could be their truth?

 

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

pride

This piece originally appeared in the Identity issue of SWINE Magazine

 

By Alex Edwards

I get asked every so often whether pride events are still important.

Do we still need to celebrate being queer?

When I hear these types of questions, I think about all the pride events I have attended and what they meant for me….the most recent being Midsumma Pride March, held on the 23rd of May, 2021.

The march was a great event which ended up having around 8000 marchers from about 240 groups and a couple of hundred spectators. As one of the marchers at the event, it was amazing to attend – especially after the wild year that was 2020. Being part of the march, you can feel the love and support that exists, and for a moment you forget about the rest of society and just focus on the fact that there are other people like you with similar experiences. When you live in a society that is run by rich cis white men, a society that doesn’t understand you or your experiences, being in an environment that makes you feel included and a part of society is a huge thing. Pride events are a celebration, but they still act as a form of protest against a society that doesn’t accept us.

This is what pride has always been about. Queer people fighting for equal rights and acceptance in a society that doesn’t understand us. That fight isn’t over but also, sadly, we have our own problems accepting others, which continue to persist in the queer community (as in the community more broadly), including racism, gate-keeping of queer identities, and ableism. These things work to further isolate queer people who don’t fit into the more widely understood boxes of queerness or who aren’t cis or white, and who don’t have disabilities. These are issues that the community needs to work on.

I love being part of the queer community, however at times I am ashamed by the behaviours of some of its members. Instead of letting this dishearten me though, I see it as on opportunity to become better informed and then pass on that knowledge – something I work towards in my role as the SSU Queer Representative. I try to pass on knowledge about our history to those who are new to the community or want to become better allies. I also work towards finding out how we can better assist those who are marginalised within the community.

All of us deserve to feel safe and accepted for all elements of our identity. While we continue to fight for acceptance and recognition from wider society, it’s also important for those of us who understand what it’s like to be excluded, to ensure that we don’t continue to perpetuate those feelings of erasure or exclusion in our own communities.

 

Alex Edwards is the current SSU Queer Rep.

Photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash

father, child, brother

 

by Matt Richardson

At twenty-one, he was the father of a sixteen-year-old boy. His brother. Not for any conventional reason. His parents were very much alive and both boys still lived with them. In fact, not only was he his brother’s father, but he was his mother’s best friend and his father’s confidant. He wanted to be none of those things. He wanted to be a twenty-one-year-old man, father to no one and friend to those who weren’t twice his age.

But there were some things he was unable to change. His mother’s loneliness, his father’s emotionless demeanour, his brother’s hatred. And so, he appeased each one, because without him, the family would fall apart.

For his mother, he gossiped about people he didn’t know, watched shows he hated, laughed at jokes he didn’t find funny, and spoke in the particular tone she needed. All so she wouldn’t scream at him again.

For his father, he listened to the harsh insults about his mother, passed messages between them, and let him drink in solitude and silence even when others needed him. All so that his parents’ marriage wouldn’t fall apart.

For his brother, he did everything. He got him out of bed in the mornings, forced him to school and work, made sure he ate and showered and cleaned his room. He helped his brother with homework, soothed him when he cried, helped him find a therapist, scolded him when he did something wrong. All these things he did to stop his mother and father from doing them.

If they did them, if they suddenly decided they cared about the late arrivals and school absences, the tantrums and the insults, then his brother would no longer be alive.

There were rules to follow in the house. Speak a certain way, or his mother would guilt trip him, somehow believing that a slight tone could mean that no one wanted to speak with her. Put everything back in its particular spot, or his mother would yell that he was useless. Clean and clean and clean, or his father would scream until they were both exhausted.

So, he followed those rules, staying in the house only to look after his brother. If he left and didn’t take his brother, then he would never see him again. And that was the last thing he wanted.

There was a day, halfway through a long year, where his brother became his sibling, and ‘he’ became ‘they’. He was the only one to know, because he was the only one to understand. He too, had gone through a transition, but he had been accepted by their family. He knew from the start that his sibling would not be.

His mother came to him late most nights and demanded he tell her what he talked to his sibling about. She tried to make him believe that her knowledge of their secrets would make everything better. She was manipulative and, sometimes, he wasn’t able to stay silent.

When he came home from work one day to find his sibling in a screaming match with their parents, he knew exactly what had happened. In the face of his mother’s dismissal and his father’s disgusting rage, the boy—because that’s what he felt like at that moment—took his sibling’s hand and dragged them away.

They were poor, a man in his twenties and a child who was not quite an adult, and they would struggle, but they needed solace and safety. They needed to be free from the rules and the stress. He needed a place where he didn’t have to be anyone’s best friend or confidant unless he chose to be.

And as he walked down the hallway with his bag in hand and his sibling at his side, he ignored his mother’s probing questions about what they were doing, her tears and demands. He ignored his father’s jabs and insults, his disbelief that they would actually leave.

He ignored the urge to turn around and tell them everything, just to please them, just to make everything better, because that was so much easier than what he was about to do.

He did it anyway. Bag on his back, his sibling’s hand in his, he walked out the door. He turned his back on the screams that came from the driveway and searched for a place where his sibling—his child—could be safe. A place where he could be safe too.

 

About Matt Richardson:

Matt is a first year editing student. He writes short stories and novels about queer people being queer in every kind of universe imaginable. His work has previously appeared in anthologies for TL;DR Press. Any updates on his projects, including the novels he is working on, can be found at @MattRAuthor on twitter.

Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash

racist australia: the nation’s biggest secret

 

By Ella Paine

Picture this: you and your family made the move to sunny Australia 10 years ago with hopes of a better life. You came expecting nice weather, laid-back people and a multicultural society. Yet now, the media has stereotyped and persecuted your race over all news outlets and social media platforms. And since the eruption of the corona virus pandemic, things are only getting worse. Your family is viewed as unhygienic, contagious and the cause of the disease. Now, in the country that you have come to call home, some people think that you and your family deserve to die. Having already experienced three attacks this week, is the graffitied sentence ‘COVID-19 CHINA DIE’ on the door of your garage not the last straw to make you think, maybe Australia isn’t the home I was told it was?

As terrible as this scenario is, it is not a hypothetical situation. A Chinese-Australian family was sought out and attacked in April last year in Melbourne, in the exact way I have just described.

But racism doesn’t exist in Australia, right?

Hiu Yen Yong would disagree. Hiu Yen, a Chinese-Malaysian woman who has lived in Australia since she was four years old, believes not that racism has recently appeared out of nowhere, but rather that people in Australia are now ‘more comfortable showing it.’

While Hiu Yen says acquaintances have reached out to show their support following these attacks, such messages often feel like hollow platitudes…or double-edged swords.

‘People are going out of their way to show me how much they support me,’ she said.

‘It’s like they think they are being so virtuous by saying they don’t think the virus is my fault.’

In the past, Hiu Yen’s experience of racism was much more direct. She was forced to contend with consistent ‘classic school-ground taunts’ where other children would pull back their eyes, call her food ‘weird crap’, and tell her to ‘go back to [her] own country’, as well as ‘a surprising amount of ching chong bling blong.’

Nisa Raihan, an 18-year-old Malay from Singapore, echoes Hiu Yen’s sentiments, saying she has often felt uncomfortable in Australia as a hijab-wearing Muslim.

After the 2019 Christchurch bombings and the Sydney Café shootings, Nisa and her family ‘tried as much as possible (to) stay inside’ and avoided taking public transport due to the worry that ‘people would blame [them]’ or ‘confront [them]’.

‘I don’t understand how there are some people involved in politics, such as Pauline Hanson, who fuel their policies based on racial prejudice and hatred,’ Nisa said.

‘By projecting these views onto other people, a toxic and hateful environment is created. These people should not have power in society.’

Whilst Nisa says that she hasn’t experienced any racial attacks since moving to Australia some 13 years ago, she states that she thinks this is because ‘when [herself and her family] first migrated, [they] stayed in high Malay and Muslim communities like Broadmeadows and Dandenong.’

When it comes to her safety as a hijabi woman in broader Melbourne, Nisa explains that her parents are more concerned than she is.

‘When I was applying for jobs, my mum was worried I wouldn’t get past the first interview because of my hijab,’ Nisa said.

‘Racism most definitely still exists within Australia. Not only towards Asians but it also extends towards the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Black communities, as well as other minorities.’

‘We can do so much to reduce the racism rates, but the bottom line is there will always be a small percentage that will be racist whether they’re aware of it or not.’

As Hiu Yen and Nisa have demonstrated, ingrained stereotypes and biases of this nature are damaging to people of colour. Various studies cited in a Guardian article, in fact, have indicated that unconscious racial bias can negatively lead to poor health outcomes, and create barriers that lower the quality of students’ tertiary education.

2020 has been a year of onslaught and terror for most regions of the world following the coronavirus pandemic, but nothing has caused a bigger revolutionary uprising than the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter campaign, often shortened to BLM or #BLM, was founded in 2013 by cofounders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. According to the official Black Lives Matter website, the three women created the political cause with hopes to spread the word about ‘violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.’ The need for justice, freedom and liberation influenced many others in the United States to stand by these women and their cause.

Following the recent breakout of protests, strikes and calls for racial equality after George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, many Australians have taken to media platforms to voice their gratitude for not living in a racist society like America. However, multitudes of research and personal stories from people of colour living in Australia show that we also have our own issues with racism that we need to address.

In an Essential Poll conducted by The Guardian, almost 80 per cent of Australians surveyed believed that the United States’ authorities have been ‘unwilling to deal with institutional racism in the past’ which has ultimately led to incidents such as the death of George Floyd. Yet, when asked if the same institutional racism existed in the Australian police forces, only 30 per cent agreed that this type of authority-based racial hierarchy existed in their own country.

Australia’s racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is evident through the historical abuse and mistreatment of people and lands, demonstrated through a lack of treaty as well as the stolen generations. However, what many people are not informed about is the 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991: deaths for which nobody has been convicted. The lack of awareness and accountability for this horrifying statistic affirms how relevant BLM is in Australia too.

Australia is an incredibly multicultural country. Since 1945, almost seven million people have migrated to Australia. The 2016 Census found that Australia is home to more than 1.2 million people of Chinese ancestry. Chinese Australians have done so much of building Australia into the country it is today – from the 1850s Chinese migration for the Ballarat gold rush, to Melbourne’s Chinatown existing as one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world.

So why does Australia still hold these stereotypical, prejudiced and racist views?

In a perfect world, Nisa says that ‘racism will never exist,’ but she does not believe this is realistic in Australia’s near future.

‘But hopefully, we will get to a point where everybody, regardless of their race, ethnicity or nationality, can feel safe in Australia.’

 

Photo by Gisele Diaz on Unsplash

the k-pop idols dismantling gender stereotypes

Art and writing by Belle Murphy

Accentuated through their songwriting, group dynamic and authentic approach to style, there’s something refreshing about BTS’ approach to masculinity and self-identity. This article explores a number of ways these much-loved Korean idols are dismantling gender stereotypes and redefining hegemonic beauty standards, and ushering in a liberating new wave of masculinity and gender neutrality. The concept of masculinity in the entertainment industry, is further examined in greater detail in my earlier article.

Perhaps most poignantly, a number of BTS’ songs throughout their discography are written using gender-neutral terminology, including ‘Singularity’, ‘Serendipity’ and ‘Spring Day’. BTS’ Kim Namjoon explains that this decision was made because he believes the feelings illuminated in the chart-topping single ‘Serendipity’, “transcend genders, cultures and barriers between people”. Fans also noticed the subtle, yet meaningful change of pronouns in BTS’ official remix of Jason Derulo and Jawish 685’s ‘Savage Love’ earlier this year, further conveying BTS’ message of inclusivity and acceptance of gender fluidity. In addition, BTS’ leader Kim Namjoon (also known as RM) made an impassioned speech at the United Nations Youth Strategy Conference in 2018, encouraging fans and the broader community to embrace their own individuality, “no matter where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself”.

The group’s strong emotional bond with one another is undoubtedly one of their most endearing attributes. It is illustrated through their closeness, both emotionally and physically – whether they’re holding hands, hugging, earnestly complimenting each other for their achievements or consoling each other when they’re emotional during awards ceremonies and concerts. To add to this charming dynamic, two of the members, Jimin and Taehyung (V), fondly call each other “soul mates”, and co-wrote a song called ‘Friends’ celebrating their special bond. The band’s modelling of open displays of affection and expression of emotions, is incredibly important for society to see, and contributes to breaking down potential stigma.  In a recent interview with Esquire Magazine, Yoongi (known as Suga) expressed his perspective on the culture of defining masculinity by particular emotions and traits, confessing he is, “not fond of these expressions”. Continuing on, Yoongi explains, “many pretend to be okay, saying that they’re not ‘weak’, as if that [being emotional] would make you a weak person” and urges “society [to] be more understanding”. Beautifully expressed through the raw and nuanced lyrics on the self-produced eight-track record, BTS’ most recent album “BE” encapsulates the member’s inner dialogue, experiences with burnout and their mental health journey throughout the global pandemic. They have never shied away from conversations about mental health – further elaborated on in their films, which follow the Korean idols’ emotional journeys throughout each of their world tours.

BTS’ Jimin is widely admired for his progressive fashion ensembles, including his appreciation for silk scarves, striking eyeshadow looks, as well as his statement “unisex uniform” denim-boilersuit from Nohant. The Korean idol also regularly incorporates clothing items categorised as from “women’s collections” into his personal style. Jimin’s liberating character has also been recognised by Korean florist, Kim Isaac, who made a guest appearance in a BTS ‘Run’ episode. Hosting a floral-arranging workshop, he acknowledges that, “it’s rare for a man to be so delicate [like Jimin]”.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, after being featured on their 2019 Best Dressed List, Jungkook famously said that he considers great style to be “wearing anything you like, regardless of gender”. This sentiment is reflected in his consciously curated wardrobe, incorporating a range of lesser-known gender-neutral and unisex clothing labels. For instance, earlier this year Jungkook wore a casual outfit from a brand called A NOTHING, on his birthday Vlive (a popular communication channel for Korean idols and their fans) and has since made multiple public appearances sporting the clothing line. Prior to this, the genderless designer brand took two years to establish 1,000 followers on social media. They’ve since reached 17,800 followers on Instagram, which is a testament to the economic influence and power of the K-pop phenomenon.

BTS are renowned for raising a brand’s public profile, leading to brands instantly selling out of stock and, in some cases, sites crashing due to the overwhelming demand created through their endorsement. This sentiment was exemplified when photos of BTS’ Suga went viral on Twitter, after he was spotted wearing pro-LGBTQ sneakers – part of the limited-edition Vans collection celebrating New York’s diversity and different forms of love.

It is clear that the Korean idols are mindful of their incredible influence in shaping public opinions and global gender-norms. It is an influence BTS endeavour to use as a positive vehicle for change, reflected in their touching lyrics, inspirational speeches and expressive personal styles.