We are thrilled to feature a new short story by a talents from the next brilliant generation of Australian writers.
Earlier this year, Writers Bloc reached out to high schools to trial a new competition to find and publish brand new young writers. We were blown away by the results, and profoundly impressed by the talent being nurtured in the classrooms of Australia. Over the next month, we're going to showcase three three winners of our younger writers competition on this site.
First up is 'Hetero' by Raya Defteros. 'Hetero' is a YA dystopian romance that, in the tradition of all great sci-fi, flips the script on convention to offer a new perspective on the prejuduice facing LGBTIQ kids in today's world.
If there is a man who lies with a woman outside of reproduction, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltiness is upon them
My family is practically perfect.
My sister Margot is the picture of intelligence and beauty. She routinely brings her girlfriend home, to the delight of our fathers. Dad and Papa always find themselves beaming as my sister and her girlfriend grip hands, share light kisses. They are so happy for her.
Dad and Papa met at university, during the summer. They danced at parties and kissed by moonlight, eventually marrying. It was a beautiful ceremony, white flowers blooming in their breast pockets. They adopted Margot, and a few years later, me. Our fathers love us, their two daughters who will one day grow to up to have wives of their own, adopting children and raising them --ordinary, homosexual, loving families.
The only problem in our perfect family is me.
My name is Sylvia. I am plain, small, and mousy-haired. I am the kind of person that others can walk past and forget within a second. My whole life I have felt eyes glide past me, slowing to a stop upon others.
Some people can't stand going unnoticed, but I relish it.
I can make it go away. That is what I tell myself each day. I can make it go away, I think. I can. I will be a good daughter, a perfect daughter. I will get a girlfriend and marry her and adopt two children. We will be happy.
I will refuse to notice boys. I will ignore the hair they push back from their faces. I will ignore their mischievous eyes. I will ignore the way they slouch, elbows propped on tables. I will ignore their laughter and their pearly, symmetrical teeth.
From a young age, I was aware that heterosexuality outside of reproduction is wrong, disgusting, immoral - whether you are religious or atheist. Girls love girls, boys love boys. This was the mantra that haunted the schoolyard, something so repeated it became ingrained into the subconscious minds of my peers.
Being straight, as we are taught in sex education, is thought to be an old-fashioned "necessary evil". In the senior years of high school, reproduction is part of the compulsory curriculum.
In class, my teacher dabs at his sweaty brow. We are presented with strange diagrams.
"Heterosexual sex was necessary in ancient times for reproduction, but homosexuality has always been considered the highest, purest form of love," the teacher lectures us.
Around me, students contort their faces, muttering in disgust at the diagrams of straight relationships.
"Fortunately, with today's technology, sexual relations between heterosexuals are no longer needed to produce foetuses."
Our teacher continues despite the rising noise in the classroom.
"The Australian Reproduction and Safe Sexuality Program conducts the fertilisation of thousands of embryos each year, where children are born."
"Sir, what about the heteros?" A boy snickers in the back row with his friends.
The teacher smiles thinly.
"Heterosexuals are unsafe, spread sexually transmitted disease, and pose a threat to society. The Program also acts as a hospital, where these people can be subdued and kept away from normal people."
The eyes of my classmates widen. They are not afraid – on the contrary, they seem ready to attack. An army united in hatred of the unknown.
"A cure has not yet been found for heterosexuality, but one day, peace will thrive without threat from their perversions."
My eyes drift to the blackboard, where a quote is written in cursive.
With the advancements made in fertilisation, children can be happily produced without heterosexual sex. Relationships between the heterosexual are immoral... It is only with a homosexual society that Australia can be strong, loving, and united.
—The Australian Reproduction and Safe Sexuality Program
The following week, I leave school with my friend Lydia. The bell squeals as students surge past us, making their ways home to their mothers or fathers.
"I hate Monday's," Lydia groans. "They're so straight."
"Yes." She laughs at me, as if I don't understand something. "You know, hetero. Gross. Lame. Come with me, let's go have some fun."
I follow Lydia into an unfamiliar suburb. The houses are larger here, with a prosperous air. She chatters on about something else, but I can't seem to pay attention to her voice. All I can think of is her first sentence... 'Straight'.
"Over here!" A girl's voice pulls me from thought, and I watch as she throws her arms around Lydia, as they press their lips together. I gaze at them, careful to notice their body language, the words they use. Maybe, a small voice inside me says, if you copy Lydia, you'll blend in. I try to mimic her posture, try to seem at ease, try to seem as though I, without a shadow of a doubt, am gay.
I have to be, I have to be... Can't think about that, no, not here.
Ahead of us, a few dozen teenagers are yelling. Their crows of laughter pierce the air.
A boy with dark hair waves us over and offers me a drink. I take it, but don't put it to my lips. A jolt dances up my hand as our fingers graze. He smiles at me. Dimples appear in his cheeks. There are boys surrounding me, boys laughing, drinking, kissing. My brain sloshes inside my skull. I'm going to stay here for a while. Dad and Papa won't notice I'm gone. I deserve to have some fun for once. Everything is dizzying, causing my heart to pirouette in my sternum. There are boys everywhere. I want to grab the hands of one of them, want to dance. Other impulsive thoughts run through me. Is this what it's like to be on drugs?
"Let's play spin the bottle!" Lydia announces. Everyone nods and whoops. We crowd into a circle, fighting to get inside. A girl brings out an empty bottle and places it on the concrete.
"I'll go first," she giggles. The bottle rotates in nonsensical circles, a head flailing without a torso. I almost feel pity for it.
The bottle stops at a girl at the other end of the circle. Everyone whoops, suddenly cheering. The two share a kiss. The audience roars, calling for an encore. I'm having fun with these people. They're carefree, happy, hilarious – I don't join in on the game, but I roar with laughter at the same time those around me do. The sun is beginning to set, slowly bleeding across the sky. With each couple that kisses, the crowd around me seems to double in size, their laughter rising to fill my eardrums entirely.
"You have a turn, Sylvia!"
I laugh anxiously, refusing. The crowd cheers, begging me to have a go. Lydia mocks me. I never have fun, they say. Live a little. She won't, she's a prude. Go on, do it!
I grasp the beheaded skull of a bottle. It spins in a loop, threading together a patchwork of anxiety. Stomach dipping. I don't want to do this.
The bottle slows, and tentatively stops at the boy who gave me a drink. A boy. What should I do? Should I laugh it off? Stop playing? I quiver in fear. Should I kiss him?
"That's okay, you can have another go–"
I'm suddenly clutching at the face of the boy. Our teeth slam together. Our lips are touching. His cheeks are rough, his jawline curving. So different from a girl, I think, until I find nothing but air against me. He pushed me away. I am melting, gripping the ground, my knee bleeding, suddenly painfully aware of what I have done. What have I done?
"Oh my god."
"She's a hetero."
"She's a repro. She's a goddamn repro!"
No, no I'm not. It was a mistake, it was just a mistake. I didn't mean to. The air is hazy with cigarette smoke, forcing tears further from my eyes.
I start sobbing, and someone hits me. Colours slash my vision, spots blooming into clouds. I am sent reeling. A tree chopped again and again by an axe. Collapsing, falling.
They shove me. Hetero. My stomach dips as rough hands push my back and chest. Filthy repro. I try to break out of the circle, but they loom above me. Disgusting breeder. Wriggling from their grasp, I run. Away from their insults, away from them all.
I cry and cry. I'm a repro. A filthy hetero. I like boys. Margot and Papa and Dad couldn't bear it. My sister would hate me. My fathers would be so ashamed. No one wants a hetero for a daughter. I run until the streets become familiar, until I find my home. The house's windows morph into scrutinising eyes. Even my own home stares accusingly.
I fumble with my keys, closing the door quietly enough that no one will hear. My bed is welcoming, and I crawl into it, wiping tears away with my palms. They flow from the corners of my eyes. I wonder how someone can weep so much.
Margot wakes me in the morning. I roll over, pulling the covers over my head to form a cocoon.
"Don't want to go to school. Can't."
"Sylvia, Papa says you have to... What happened to your face?"
Yes, my face. It aches. I think back to the taloned hands, the cackled calls of 'repro' and 'hetero', the voices scraping together. I mumble something to my sister about tripping. She coaxes me out of bed, putting a hand on my shoulder.
"Did someone hurt you?"
No. Nothing happened. Leave me alone, is what I want to say, but I don't trust myself to speak. Fortunately, silence seems sufficient enough for Margot. She brings out my school uniform, lightly brushing my head as she walks out.
I look through my fathers' makeup drawers, searching for something to cover up the bruise on my cheek. Margot helps me to dab something onto my face. I murmur a thanks, biting on some toast she brought me.
"There," she smiles weakly. "Beautiful." Makeup is only really supposed to be worn by boys. I'm frightened it will make me stand out further, but I feel a little better at Margot's encouragement.
We walk to school as usual, my sister with a strong hand on my shoulder. I shrink under her arm as we approach the familiar building. Lydia will be in there. She would have told everyone.
"Margot, I can't go to school," I blurt out suddenly. "Please just take me home."
She looks at me with concern in her wide eyes. "Are you sick? I can call Dad."
"No. No no." I barely move my lips. "I just don't want to go."
My sister rolls her eyes. She thinks I'm being lazy, but she hasn't forgotten the bruise on my face, even if it is concealed by a layer of makeup. She grips my wrist gently, marching me inside.
"See how you go," she begins. "If you still don't feel well, call Dad or Papa."
I step inside the school with my head down, shuffling awkwardly through the halls. Conversations stop midway as people turn to look at me, a concoction of curiosity and disgust on their faces. Like they're gazing at a dead animal. You poke it, because it's interesting, but it's still dead and rotting, so you step back.
Chin down, eyes on the grimy floor. I want to sink into it. I only raise my head when I get to my locker, preparing to put away my things, when I see it.
A bulky accusation stares me dead in the eye, scrawled in black capitals.
I shift, attempting to inhale, while teenagers giggle around me.
I flee to the bathroom and pull toilet paper into my arms. Have to get the writing off. Have to get it off.
I spend fifteen minutes scrubbing at my locker, attempting to shift the graffiti that refuses to budge. My arms ache. I can feel the eyes of passers by boring into my back. I feel so exposed, like I'm standing there naked. The writing howls, belting insults at me.
"You can't get rid of the truth, no matter how hard you try," the bold text snarls.
I ignore people coughing "hetero" as they pass me. I pretend not to notice when Lydia and her friends mime gagging at me, and I stay in a bathroom cubicle at lunch, away from the hungry eyes of the school.
The bell for the end of school rings; I'm free. But now is a golden opportunity for Lydia to find me. They will torment me, laughing as I struggle to get away. I have to hide, have to go somewhere they won't find me. Have to run.
I swerve around students, barrelling into someone.
"Margot!" I grasp my sister. My arms wrap around her middle. I don't care if I mortify her, hugging her like a maniac in front of everyone. I just want to be free of the school, away from the hateful eyes and the harsh phrases. "Pleasemargotiwannago."
She squeezes me tightly for a second. I blink in shock. My sister never hugs me. I reach for her hand, and even more surprisingly, she allows it. As we walk, I cling to Margot's side like a small child, feeling the protective weight of her arm slung over my back. One two one two. Each step carries me further away from the school and closer to home.
But I keep my eyes on the pavement. I keep my gaze on my shoes as we reach our house, even as Margot unlocks the door, even as we climb the stairs to my room. I never once shift my eyes from the floor, because I am terrified of what will happen if I look up into my sister's eyes. She will see it on my face, she will see. I can't let her know the truth.
"Sylvia, do you want to tell me what's going on?
I tremble beside Margot on my bed. Hetero. Repro. I can't tell her. The Program. Will Papa and Dad send me there? Will they lock me up, have me hospitalised?
"Sylvia, it's okay."
Tears overflow, once again. Marigot swims distortedly, like I'm peering at her through a kaleidoscope. I just want to tell her. I want to force it out. My lips shake, attempting to form sentences that die before they can leap past my teeth. I try not to let sobs wrack my body. Why is it so hard?
I clutch her neck like a child. Goodbye, Margot. I'll love you even if you hate me.
I exhale sharply into her ear, breathing the words so quietly I can barely make them out myself.
"I'm... I'm... Straight."
My sister gasps. I pull from her embrace. She loathes me. Soon Papa and Dad will know.
They will hate me, disown me, send me away. I will never see my family again.
We stay in our positions for what seems an eternity: Margot staring at the wall in confusion, me curled on my bed. I expect her to strike me, to run from my room, to shout. But instead, my sister does the unthinkable. After she has recovered, she takes me firmly by the wrist, pulls me upright, and embraces me.
Margot, my guardian angel. She grips me tightly. My beautiful sister. We sit on the edge of the bed, as rain begins to fall outside, enclasped in the suffocating nature of my secret. We stay like that, holding each other. Grasping a frail moment of hope, a quiet attempt to hold ourselves together.
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