Some days I look around myself – out of the train window, across the street, off the 9th floor of my building – and I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me. The dissonance between my sense of place here in Helsinki and the distance from home begins to skew what feels real.
One night over a few beers (and some salmiakki chips no one is willing to help me eat) a friend brings up furthestcity.com and we type Helsinki into the search bar. She’s from Ireland, but the list of cities we scroll through are distinctly antipodean. At the time I’m thinking, ‘huh, I guess that’s why everyone here is so surprised to see me.’ It’s only in the coming weeks, under the muted Finnish sun, that my thoughts start to turn towards the emotional kilometres in that distance.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the sudden appearance of the marriage equality postal survey on our national horizon. At first I thought it was a joke. When the vote was announced I had been travelling for a little while and happily disconnected from the news cycle, so I treated all headlines as speculation like any other. It was only when the posts started urging people to update their enrolments and prepare themselves for a very uncomfortable 4 months, did reality start to sink in.
Like a lot of queer people, I talked about the risks of exposing vulnerable young kids to the debate but I dismissed its potential effects on myself. This is not my first marriage-equality rodeo. I joked to people I met while travelling that it was good timing to get out of the country and away from the campaigning.
Of course, that wasn’t enough to stop marriage equality news from flooding every corner of the internet I could look. Each day held everything from articles on the latest No campaign ads to posts from friends laying bare their lives and experiences in the hopes of changing someone’s vote. In my day-to-day life the (understandably) curious people I met in hostels and at university were asking about the survey: what was it? How did I think it would go? Just, why? It was (and still is) an emotional tsunami flooding my waking hours with fear and frustration. I felt like if I wasn’t at home to lend a hand I owed it to people, somehow, to stay abreast of all the latest, to slavishly follow every update. Even though the constant hate hurled at me and my friends started to hurt like hell, I couldn’t turn away.
This is something a lot of people around Australia have been feeling. The biggest difference watching from afar, however, is that my little community has stared into the face of those who would try to hurt them or pull them apart and come together like nothing before. For every exhausting week of phone banking or endless debate there is a rally or charity concert to celebrate queer love and community. But while my friends sing and hold each other close – I sleep, 13,393km away.
Walking down the cobblestone from uni to the train station I want nothing more than to be able to call back home, just for a minute. I’m not homesick but I’m looking for a way to ground myself, to cross the distance into the tight embrace of the people who are feeling what I feel, right now. The distance means it is never quite the right time.
I’m still trying not to be overwhelmed by how far away it all seems to be, and truthfully it’s a slow process with a lot of tearful Facebook messages. We’re working towards a lot of things at the moment, I guess.