Unchained Melody: Letters to our idols

By Melody Thomas

Melody’s other column, Wahine, is a regular feature in print. Subscribe to get the real thing here.

Melody Thomas brings us her new monthly column, available exclusively on the Capital website.

To read her inaugural column, discussing the woes of post-pandemic loneliness, go here.

June is Pride Month, and while the Wellington Pride Parade is still a while away the inaugural Queer Arts Festival takes place this weekend.

For the event Queer Fan Mail: Letters to Our Idols, Melody Thomas penned a letter to one of her idols: queer Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde.

She shares it here.

Dearest Oscar,

I am writing from a future in which your life has long since been extinguished, but your words remain amongst the most known and quoted of any {because his most widely quoted stuff is mostly verbal quips]. I hope this fact will make you proud, though perhaps you had already assumed it to be the case, and that you have been vindicated .

I’m writing this letter for an event designed to celebrate, openly and with pride, the love which your own Bosie once lamented dare not speak its name.  You will be glad to know, I hope, that this love is now one which stands on rooftops in stiletto boots, arms raised to the sky, shouting its name to the wind, as a good portion of the world cheers it on.

That is not to say this love is without trouble or judgment – we aren’t there yet – but were you be here right now, and choose in a fit of passion to take to this stage and embrace your Bosie, all you would hear in reply would be screams of delight.

In other words, the world is very gay, and we are all the better for it. I wish that you could see it.

When I say that your words are famous I don’t just mean in literary circles –your quotes sing out from journal covers, t-shirts and inspirational memes (you would have slayed Twitter, Oscar), and so your wit and insight are available not just to the lucky few, but to the masses.

The first time I came across you was in my high school English class. I was a shit in school, smart enough to pass without trying, which left me to funnel all my energy into making life hell for my teachers. But my English teacher adored me and I her (which I now know basically guarantees a person to turn out queer) so in her class I paid attention.

On her classroom wall was a poster of your proud face bearing the words Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”.

I copied the quote to the front of my diary, determined to live my life by it.

Being “yourself” as a teenager is an interesting proposition. Most people will not know themselves for decades more, and so these years are spent less in introspective exploration than in assessment of those around you, followed by a careful copy-pasting of the fashions, interests and personality traits which appeal and an overconfident disregard of those which don’t.

And, whereas in primary school, the aim was to fit in and go unnoticed, the teen years – for me at least – were spent in staunch dedication to standing out.

I bleached my hair blonde, green, and blue before settling on an obnoxious red that introduced my personality perfectly, and took to pinning back my bangs with clothes pegs stolen from the washing line. I pierced myself in a dozen visible places and a couple which would only have been seen by a precious few, had I been at all picky about who I showed them to.

I consumed conflicting messages about my sexuality from pop media and sex ed. Cosmo magazine seemed to think a powerful sexual creature lay dormant inside my awkward body, just waiting for the chance to put a condom on with my teeth, for which they provided handy instructions.

But elsewhere I was told that my virginity was precious and, should I choose to misplace it, a potential source of much shame and diminishment of my worth. This message was reinforced, rather confusingly, by the figures of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, who preached purity in their underwear, lips glossed and pouting, reclined suggestively on childhood beds surrounded by literal teddy bears.

I tell you what Oscar, the 1990s were a time.

By the age of 16 I had penned another of your quotes on the front of my journal, from Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray:

Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.

 I imagine the conflict my parents must have felt seeing that: glad that I was nerdy enough to be quoting you still, terrified at the ways in which you appeared to be encouraging my rebellion.

Live the wonderful life that is in you! I yelled, flashing my boobs from the top of a motorway overpass.

Be always searching for new sensations,” I intoned, placing half a tab of acid on my tongue.

Be afraid of nothing I reassured my friend as we sped to Wellington in the boot of a car belonging to boys we had just met. 

Let nothing be lost upon you I whispered to myself, lying in the gutter, my head resting on an inflated cask wine bag, staring up at a swaying sea of stars.

Honestly, Oscar, given the woeful underdevelopment of my frontal lobe at this stage of life I did not need your encouragement.

The funny thing about this time is that where most of my motivation for action came from locating the grain and going purposely against it, I never applied this thinking to my sexuality. I was so disappointingly, unimaginatively attracted to boys.

I think about this a lot now, from the point of view of a 37-year-old woman who is absolutely not straight… Was my bisexuality a seed inside me, waiting patiently for a time where I wasn’t so blinded by the love of boys? Or is it a brand new thing, some new bit of DNA code embedded in the cells which apparently replace our old ones every seven years?

At this point I feel I must apologise to those reading this letter, written by the most insufferable type of queer: the married, white, bisexual woman. I hope they will forgive me.

Oscar, there is something I have not yet addressed here, which is that you are not where you should be – out in the world, a dazzling star amid other dazzling stars – but in a prison cell, deprived of company, light, nature and the ability to share the gifts of your talents.

That you have been jailed for loving the person you love is a travesty.

That the world has robbed not just you and those who love you but all the future generations who might have inherited more of your words to live by is a horrific display of the worst traits of men.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. You said that, and the world still struggles with such a simple proposition. Yes, we have made incredible strides, but in place of those who once had you sent away, there are now  TERFs and pro-lifers and religious fundamentalists and all manner of insufferable bores, completely lacking the imagination to envisage lives lived differently to theirs, and furthermore demanding that the rest of us live in the suffocating, binary, greyscale world they insist is good and right and proper!

Well f**k them! F**k them, Oscar, we shall not do it. Another thing you said, one of your best, was: To live is the rarest thing in the world; most people just exist.

Well, we shall live! We shall live the wonderful life that is in us! We shall let nothing be lost upon us! We shall always search for new sensations and we shall be afraid of nothing! And we shall do all of this from inside our joyous, indestructible community!

I wish you were here. You would have loved this room, this event, these people.

Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic,you said.

Behind this exquisite room sit many tragedies, and I am grateful to every one of those who have borne them. I am grateful to you, for choosing to live in a time which barely allowed you to exist, and for sending your words forward like beacons to guide me and others to exquisite rooms just like this all over our beautiful world.

Thank you Oscar,

I remain,

Forever yours,

Melody

What I’m reading

I pondered specifically choosing queer writers for this column… then I realised everything I consume is gay, anyway! And most of the queer literary excellence piled up on my bedside table right now also happens to hail from Aotearoa.

In poetry there’s Tōkū Pāpā by Ruby Solly, Meat Lovers by Rebecca Hawkes (award for best cover), Everyone is Everyone Except You by Jordan Hamel (award for best name) and Super Model Minority by Chris Tse.

I also have Greta and Valdin by Rebecca Reilly awaiting a second read, after I demolished it the first time (please! A sequel!), and have just pre-ordered Emily Writes’ new book Needs Adult Supervision. Next on the to-buy list is These Two Hands, the memoir by the legendary Renée.

And if you’re keen for a bit of everything, try Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA Writers From Aotearoa or scour the list of contributors on their webpage for ideas. You can’t go wrong.

What I’m listening to

Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I had one credit left before my free Audible trial ended and on a whim downloaded this – which is described as being about “lesbian necromancers in space” (has there ever been a more perfect book description?).  I’m only a few chapters in but it’s so good: weird and snarky and very funny, and is excellently narrated by Moira Quirk, which is important if you’re a podcast/book nerd like me.

PS I have just this moment googled the author and realised she, too, is from New Zealand. I die.

What I’m watching

Heartstopper, on Netflix.

This show is so cute: kind of like if David and Patrick from Schitt’s Creek met at high school, but in England. It’s a coming out story, of which there are many, but the wholesome and sweet outweigh the trauma, and it’s the kind of show that will be life-changing for so many young people. Plus one of the characters is a bi boy, and we don’t get to see enough of them. The series is based on the graphic novel Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.

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