Twirling towards freedom

Let's talk about censorship, baby

Archer Magazine bills itself as Australia’s first journal of sexual diversity. Using a combination of arty photography and revelatory think pieces, the charter of the magazine is to explore the myriad kinks and preferences of sexually active Australians, in a way that’s “accessible and digestible” for anyone, as stated in its manifesto.

Last week, Archer editor Amy Middleton got a call from her distributer informing her that certain newsagents were refusing to stock her magazine, and found that some who were selling it did so as “bagged” restricted content.

This week, she published a post citing the case of a young suburban gay man who read the magazine and found solace knowing he was not alone. Middleton expressed concern that if her magazine’s reach was restricted, it would prevent it reaching exactly the kind of eyes it was designed for – sexually diverse individuals across Australia, especially those in regional centres, who need community, support and information.

While a handful of newsagents clucking their tongues and putting the magazine with a photo of a naked transgender man away with the rest of the naughty magazines hardly constitutes a Nazi-style book-burning, I have to agree that this kind of censorship isn’t a great sign of the state of play in Australia.

This country is no stranger to prudishness and censorship. The beige but canonical Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned from importation between 1929 and 1965. Indeed, Australia's list of previously banned texts reads like an Introduction to Modern Literature course list: Christina Stead, Norman Lindsay, James Joyce, Philip Roth, Aldous Huxley. For all our mockery of the Brits for being uptight prudes, we still joined right in and banned the 2002 film Ken Park.

The thing is, censorship is all but impossible these days. Any child of smartphone age has, in their pocket, a portal to the literally endless supply of information and collective insanity of the World Wide Web. Ken Park has been seen by everyone who's wanted to watch it.

Here’s the thing about offence: everyone has something they consider a bridge too far, something truly horrifying and repugnant, and you can be sure that someone, somewhere has uploaded it so a stranger can beat off to it. At its core, censorship, no matter how minor, creates a dearth of information, which creates a vacuum, which is then filled by whatever comes to hand.

Surely it’s better for kids who are curious about their sexuality to be informed by the earnest editorial of a soft-focus small press than by the Nietzschean monsters of the abyss that lurk online?

While for me – a late-20s inner-suburban, flat-white drinking liberal – it’s an uncontroversial fact that a sizeable minority of the population is queer, and that beyond that myriad gender and sexualities sparkle in rainbowed glory, it’s a very different story for young Australians in the regions.

Sex education across the country remains unregulated, and although yesterday’s High Court decision may (or may not) change matters, for now, one of the few avenues of guidance for sexually confused teens in cash-strapped schools is the resurgent chaplaincy program of the Abbott administration, that seems problematic.

It wouldn’t be fair to generalise chaplains working in schools, but it can be assumed they will be working by a book which is not best in show when it comes to minority sexuality. Outgoing senator Louise Pratt this week made a parting shot at the chaplaincy program, and cited an online survey to which some of the 2,200 respondents complained of homophobic proselytising by school chaplains.

When crowdfunding the first print edition of Archer, the team detailed their vision: to “take a snapshot of Australia’s attitude to sexual diversity in 2013 [which] will date quickly, creating a relic of our society and the sexual equality movement.”

As editorial lines go, the idea of creating an ephemeral object to be enjoyed as nostalgia is a nice one, but it’s hard to create a relic when the relics running the culture stand in your way.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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