On the G.O.D gang of Sydney’s 1990s, queer objects and archives
By: Lisa Salmon
You might assume that seeing objects from your lived experience in a museum is a blunt reminder of one’s advancing years. But when Nick lifts the archival box lid with the flourish of a designer unboxing a glittering party dress, my only response is to laugh in delight.
“This is acid free paper,” he informs me, beaming. “To preserve the fabric.”
He invites me to part the tissue, revealing Jasper’s jacket in all its glory.
Image: Lisa and Jasper with Jade and Snezana in their G.O.D. jackets, Sydney, c.1990, unknown photographer. Records of Wicked Women, courtesy Australian Queer Archives
A good thirty years have passed since we xeroxed the Wicked Women zine that would start a revolution in lesbian circles of inner city Sydney. Since then, my life has moved on, and then on again. So, when I heard that Jasper had cleaned out his garage and donated stuff to the Australian Queer Archives for safekeeping, I was keen for a look.
The last time I saw this woollen army jacket, it had been flung to one side in amorous haste to lay crumpled on the floor. Now, looking at it in the archival box, memories come in vivid flashes and tactile sensations. I recall the slow burn intensity contained within Jasper’s slight frame.
The jacket is emblazoned with shoulder patches of the infamous G.O.D. gang, a club of sorts started by Jasper, Jade and I in 1990 when we lived together in a ramshackle terrace in Ultimo.
Creativity was our religion, so we decided to form our own subversive sect. We chose the name G.O.D because we needed to call on the highest authority to protect us. Punks like us rarely had money left over for a cab. We made our way home on foot from nightly dyke club, party, film screening, performance or cook up.
In the late 1980s, Sydney streets were treacherous; gay bashing was a street sport legitimised by a homophobic police force. We needed protection. Luckily, we had G.O.D. on our side.
The letters could mean a number of things: Girls of Dishonour, Guys of Disgrace, Girls on Drugs. We didn’t dictate the acronym, but we did vet who joined.
One drunken night was spent devising elaborate and suitably debauched initiation ceremonies for new members. In reality, the only prerequisite was friendship.
The lack of social support for queers meant we employed a DIY attitude for everything from clothing to entertainment venues and even our own safety. Before long, we gained a reputation as a vigilante gang of queer renegades.
People projected all sorts of wild and kinky fantasies on us. I admit I enjoyed the swivelling eyes as we swaggered into Girl Bar decked out in our G.O.D jackets. I am sure we cut a fine swathe.
But to be honest, that day Jasper and I toddled through Chippendale to a haberdashery store to get the patches embroidered, we were more like sweet crafting lesbians than butch bikers. (Don’t tell him I told you that).
“Here are the magazines!” Nick says as he places another archival box on the table.
“Thanks,” my voice has lowered. Tender memories of Jasper have calmed my nerves.
I flick through the early editions of Wicked Women.
What strikes me is the pre-selfie generation style of photography. There are no ‘duck lips’ or wide eyed expressions in these images. We had a different awareness of the camera back then.
Taken mostly at home by Jasper and myself, the grainy photos have an intimate, private quality. I shuffle the magazines across the table top. A young woman catches my eye, glaring back at me through the decades.
Her direct gaze challenges me to remember my spunky tenacity. I stare back at myself at twenty, ensnared in a time travel staring contest. She wins.
The distinctly queer desire pulses off the pages in front of me. It is very apparent that these pictures were made for the lesbian gaze. You can see it in the poses we struck and the clothes we wore. You can feel it in the relationship between the photographer and subject.
Lesbian erotica made for and by dykes has a specific tension. It is unapologetic. Amongst other things, it says “I am not for sale”.
I lean back in my seat and let out a deep sigh. I’ve been here for hours. I share a grin with Nick. Gosh, accurate representation is nice. Retrospective recognition is even better.
My mood is bolstered. My body literally feels stronger. Together Jasper and I started a ruckus! Damn it, I need that wild riot grrl energy in my life now! Gosh, I had balls back then.
Before leaving, I take a final look at the G.O.D. jacket. I am pleased to see that it’s still a bit grimy around the cuffs. I am grateful Jasper saved this material, and that here in the archives our artefacts have been preserved with deep queer reverence.
Seeing objects from my life in a museum does not make me feel old. It makes me feel valued. Queer feminist history matters. My story matters.
I farewell Nick, and strut up the lane with a new sense of purpose.
Alongside me strides my G.O.D. crew, all decked out in our jackets. Once again owning the streets.
Lisa Salmon is a queer writer and artist. She debuted as a writer and publisher in 1989 when she and her then partner Jasper Laybutt launched Australia’s first lesbian erotic zine Wicked Women. Her memoir tracks her role as provocateur in the early days of queer women’s sexual liberation when the pursuit of pleasure was a powerful political protest. Current discussions about gender, feminism, identity and queer representation inform her work.
The Australian Queer Archives (AQuA) collects, preserves and celebrates material from the lives and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer, Brotherboy and Sistergirl (LGBTIQ+) Australians.
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