Way back when, my parents had decided that sending me to a Pentecostal Christian school was a good idea. It was all because I’d been kicked out of school in Brisbane, as a fresh-faced year eight student. It was all under the guise of building my father’s hearing aid business in a small place where there was lots of old people and retirees, who had lots of hearing problems.
“Such a waste of money on these uniforms!” my mother had cried – actually cried with real tears and everything – as we packed the dull brown skirts and white blouses into a box for the five-houses-down neighbour’s daughter to use in a years’ time when she started there.
“What am I going to tell everyone in the family about why you don’t go there anymore? This was our dream for you, Rebecca!” My mother’s green Glaswegian eyes flashed read as she slammed the box shut, unfulfilled bourgeoisie expectations breathing their last when the lid shut on those blouses and dresses. So sad.
My Mum had grown up in less than ideal circumstances, only to come back swinging through the other side to marry a very decent and equally committed man – my father. They both wanted the absolute best for me, which was often just an echo of the status quo, – private schooling, expensive belongings, whatever it took to make us look like a nice, normal family, which hers hadn’t been.
“I just want more for you than I had. When I was your age, I was the only girl at school who didn’t have JAG jeans and I’ve never forgotten how bad it felt. You have no idea how lucky are,” she would always say, across the range of a pointed finger.
After using the school’s network to unlock restricted content and create my own indexed website with pages like The Dickhead List, Ozzy Osbourne on the Toilet, and Why my Teachers Suck, the door hit my arse faster than you could say ‘amazing grace.’ The rude pages punctuated with repeated swear words just didn’t go down a treat in an $8,000 a year religiously-themed sausage factory. And I’d wasted a significant chunk of bandwidth to do it, as well. That was a lesser offence, all things considered, but also against the rules.
“This is the most discghushting breach of the Internet Policy that this school has ever seen!” the dean of students had said, each consonant sliding out through the brown plaque in her teeth in a cloud of elderly, mothballed speech.
“You know we could call the police on what you’ve just done? There will be serious consequences.”
The empty threat of police (who no doubt didn’t give a shit about the online shenanigans of a thirteen-year-old) was enough to make me cry and I remember shaking in my brown leather shoes, until I realised it was a scare tactic. I knew what I had done was naughty and there was no legitimate excuse for my behaviour, but I thought the response was heavy-handed, considering how young and stupid I was. Because it was 2003 – well before the Web 2.0 age – it was the school’s very first internet offence, and they had to come down on me hard to make an example. Perhaps slightly unjust, but just too bad.
By the time we got to Bundaberg, I was living the farm life with all the other country kids. One particular day, I was introduced to the idea of assisted reproduction.
It was middle session in the school day and the flies were clinging to beads of sweat and teenaged body odour, as well as patches of reddish-brown dirt that were adorning everybody’s loose ripped jeans. Despite the strictness of the Christian college, we were allowed to change into “old clothes” during agricultural lessons, though some girls would always try to get away with wearing Roxy jumpers for style. There we were in week 3, and working our school days in a real rhythm. The smell of cow shit hung thick in the air and by that time, I had acclimatised.
“All right, everybody into the shed!” Mr Hibbard projected his voice in every direction and nodded towards Nevie, the farm’s caretaker to join us all.
I’d wanted to continue learning drama at the Christian college. Creative activities were my natural inclination and I had even joined the local theatre, as well as dance after school. As it turned out, the Christian college had no arts program whatsoever, mostly due to its size. To team with the ‘change of city, change of attitude’ approach, I decided to take the elective of Agricultural Science. I had no business with cows and chickens, but it made my parents happy to see me getting into it. They’d really adopted this move and I could see they wanted to try and fit in, even though we all stood out like a pair of testicles on any given animal.
“Wow, Hoof and Hook! You could lead cattle instead of doing interschool sport!” my mother had exclaimed.
Leading a fat, stubborn cow around a course instead of playing soccer, which I’d done since Under 10s. I really, really didn’t want to, but my mother’s words rang out like a dull, guilty thump in my ears.
“We uprooted our whole lives to bring you here.”
An actual cow from school.
That particular day on the farm had been anticipated by all of us. Even though no permission notes had been sent home about it, the whole class knew it would be happening when the timing was right. My teacher, Mr Hibbard, told us he was going to be extracting semen from a bull in order to impregnate a cow that was failing to fall pregnant through the natural course. It was like the in-vitro fertilisation my friend’s Mum had used to create her, back in the 1990s, though I had never heard of it being used on cattle.
“What we’re going to do,” he said, rubbing the silver, phallic implement with a sense of sickly anticipation – “Is we’re going to move the bull into this squeeze chute so he can’t move.”
He ushered the bull into the squeeze chute, and the bull complied, moving forward one step.
“C’mon, stud,” he persisted, as the bull had stopped momentarily, stamping its foot on the concrete, dusty ground beneath him.
As the gate shut behind him, his hoof scraped the concrete below, exhaling with a stubborn grunt. He started to shift his weight around, his hips and thighs brushing the metal gates on either side. With careful precision, Mr Hibbard slid the implement inside, penetrating at a slight angle. The bull heaved and shuffled, but he was constrained, unable to move.
“Whoo! Whoo!” he pushed harder and the bull continued writhing against his false, manly comfort.
As the device sent its invisible rays of artificial pleasure pulsing through the animal, he moaned with a rising intonation, the mechanical orgasm tightening his underside. The specimen dropped through the funnel held between his legs by Nevie the farmhand, his crow’s feet grimacing as he aimed the funnel and cup in just the right place. For all the effort, a few drops of potential life fell into the clear cup, quickly sealed to prevent leakage. Solitary globs of rich, thick fluid; it didn’t seem like much at all, but that very cup contained millions of opportunities for the beginning of life. It also contained the potential for profit, depending on how much meat was made from each resulting calf.
“And this is how you extract sperm,” he said, with a cavalier, unusually satisfied half smile.
How unromantic. I was sure that this teacher, who had just raped an animal with an electrical, metal dildo so he could artificially inseminate another cow, was completely unaware of his cognitive dissonance, as I’m sure it was interpreted in the conservative scripture somewhere to not artificially create life inside of an animal, probably weaved through all the same verses in Leviticus that forbade gay relationships. I wondered if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking. Probably not. When I’d looked around, I was surrounded by completely uniform blank stares, the same as when we were praying, only with eyes wide open, except for Seini, the girl with the earthly eyes. She was looking across through the gate at me, though she looked away quickly when our eyes connected.
“Now… who wants to look under the microscope?” Mr Hibbard had the sealed cup of sperm sitting inside his shirt pocket.
I raised my hand, slowly, unsure if it was a loaded question or not. I didn’t want to be the first to raise my hand, just in case.
“Could I have a look?”
Chelsea exchanged facial expressions with me. A-ha! I could tell by the look on her face that she was also thinking, “What the actual fuck?”
“I’ll look, too.” She said, following me to the microscope.
Looking through the microscope, I saw the miniscule particles of life, swimming back and forth under the glass. I wasn’t the least bit disgusted, but suddenly, a thought hit me, a real game-changer. One fear I had started to have at fourteen was that my homosexuality may keep me from having children of my own one day and (without any knowledge or people to ask), I had always naively accepted that I would effectively need to choose between being my authentic, gay self and faking it with a guy, having occasional painful sex so I could have a couple of kids.
If this heifer could be made a mother without sexual intercourse by donor sperm, couldn’t a gay woman do the exact same thing? This thought offered me hope in the moment and a half-smile crept up my cheek as I reflected on it, but I kept it to myself. It would be like shooting myself in the foot to ask more questions or find out more information, I just shelved the thought that science could make this ideal possible – for later.
Like the sperm under the microscope, I was wrestling with things myself. It was tangled up in all sorts of ideological, religious and social doctrines, none of which I was entirely sure I belonged to anymore, or if I ever had. Like, was I still a Christian? My parents weren’t really. What does it mean if you’ve been baptised and you kind of believe, but you don’t go to church anymore? In between everything else, I still thought that there must be a God – why else would we suffer, if for no glory or salvation?