Worlds AIDS Day Competition Winners
by Martin Veres
2017 marked the fifth anniversary of the SCWC's collaboration with HARP (HIV/AIDS and Related Programs) in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS through our writing competitions. Last year's theme was 'Free from Stigma', and we received submissions from all over this great southern land. Now, we're happy to not only announce the winners of both the poetry and prose sections of the competition, but also share their winning entries here, with you! Peter Collins, a maths teacher from Victoria, took the top prize for the poetry competition with his poem NO, and the prose section was taken out by the Illawarra's own Dr Rie Natalenko's Wednesday November 15th 2017. If you want to know more about Peter, keep an eye on this site, as we'll be posting a short interview with him soon!
All photos by Amanda Craig.
The winners were announced by HARP's Jennifer Farinella at the SCWC's annual Christmas picnic at the Arts Precinct in Wollongong (many thanks to Wollongong City Council Cultural Services!). We'd like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who submitted their works, and we hope to see more from all of you this year.
So then, without further ado, here are the winning entries for 2017.
by Peter Collins
I saw a NO.
One perfect day
I gazed up high
Into perfect spring time sky,
High as my line of sight would go
NO. A big sky smearing NO.
Made of mist? Chemtrail? Fake snow?
A big “N” followed by an “O”
Can’t figure out and still don’t know
Why some airplane left the ground,
To fly about a path absurd,
Spray some angry fog around,
And spell out a two letter word.
I saw a NO?
On second thoughts,
It must be said,
I may have read
The whole thing wrong,
That thing I seen,
May well have been,
An upside down but strident “ON”
No matter now,
Because it’s gone.
“NO” (or “ON”) grew quickly jaded
With its lot in life
And left behind a clear blue sky;
With promise of a rainbow.
Wednesday November 15th 2017
by Dr Rie Natalenko
I’ve been feeling wretched. It’s been almost as bad as those days nearly ten years ago at school…
My life was worthless. I didn’t have any friends and I was this close to ending it. I’d taken careful, considered note of where mum and nan kept their tablets, and I was ready for the day when I would rather take them than face another moment.
Each day at school was overwhelming—the juice spilt in my bag, the faeces wiped down my shirt, the time the boys followed me into the toilets, tripped me to the ground and peed on me. I never knew what further agony and pain they had planned. I dreaded every minute of my life. But I cried in secret, pretended it was nothing. I didn’t tell my parents, because how could I?
“Why are they doing these things to you?” they’d say, and I could never have given them the answer:
“Because I’m gay.”
Ten years ago that changed. One day a girl suggested that I change sports, that I go to self defence. She came with me to the PE staffroom, and the sportsmaster took one look at me and said, derisively, unkindly,
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t have very high hopes. What I didn’t expect was a loving, welcoming environment. It took me a few lessons to believe the acceptance, but that class was the turning point. That teacher saved my life. It wasn’t what she was teaching, in fact I don’t really remember much of the actual self-defence. What she taught us, what I learned and internalised, was that everyone was valuable, everyone was lovable, and that if you happened to be gay, then that was okay. She often spoke about her gay son with love and acceptance, and she broke the rules and hugged me when I finally broke down and cried my life out to her.
That self defence class was the closest thing to a gay/straight alliance that existed at our school. I met my first boyfriend there. The group stuck together, became close, walked taller. We faced off the bullies. We learned about pride. After I finished school—which I never thought I would do, and I wouldn’t have done without her—that teacher became my friend, as she is to this day.
From the day I walked into that self-defence class until now, I have taken the steps I needed to take to make my life better. I’m an out and proud gay man. I came out to my parents, and nothing bad happened. I’ve had boyfriends and been in love a few times. I know that one day I’ll find someone to spend the rest of my life with. I have a job where everyone knows I am gay, and nobody cares.
Or so I thought.
Then the government gave everyone permission to comment on my life, to judge me based on my sexuality, when they asked everyone in the country to say whether my relationships are equal to everyone else’s. Over the last weeks and months, I’ve felt scared once again. Someone left gay porn pictures tacked to my pinboard. Someone put a dead mouse in my lunchbox in the work fridge. Two guys stepped out of the lift when I stepped in, making it obvious they were avoiding me, saying they’d rather take the stairs.
And yesterday I was called a ‘filthy fag’ on the train.
The self-deprecation and feelings of humiliation crept back once again. The darkness encroached and the bottle of Jack that had sat almost untouched since last Christmas is now almost empty.
Today I couldn’t bring myself to go into work. I sat alone watching the TV at 10 am, scared that the judgement of the nation would mean that I could never hold my head up again.
But they voted YES!
Australians voted YES!
I looked at my glass of oblivion, and at the bottle sitting beside me. Then I poured the whisky back into the bottle and put it back on the shelf.
I opened facebook and saw all the joy and celebration. My teacher’s post said “crying tears of happiness” so I hearted it and added my own exultation.
You know what, World… I’m as good as anyone else!
Tonight I’ll party. Tonight I’ll dance and celebrate. Maybe, just maybe, the stigma is over. And even if it’s not, maybe I’ll have the strength and determination and courage to face it. That is what true self defence is all about.
Written by SCWC
Posted on February 06, 2018