The Dangerous After-Effects Of The Postal Vote & The Incredible Strength Of 'Being Loved'

14 February 2018 | 11:01 am | Christopher H James

"I really think Turnbull was a bit of a cunt about that, frankly."

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"I think this is the most dangerous record I've ever made," Abbe May states without a moment's hesitation.

It might seem like a counterintuitive opinion to some, since May has abandoned rock in favour of a pop and R&B on her new album Fruit. But in this slinky, sometimes seductive format, May has found deadly new ways to convey her message. "It's easy to hide behind distortion and swear words," she says evenly. "But when you're actually sitting there calmly, openly saying, 'Go fuck yourself,' I think it's a lot more powerful. I'm calmer than I've ever been, but I'm certainly not less dangerous, I'd say. I'm pretty prepared to bloody go into battle. I'm just a lot more calm when I do it."

Before May takes the new LP around Oz, her latest females-to-the-front Clam Jam event will be at Perth Festival. Happily enough, the event falls on Valentine's Day and she'll no doubt be stirring up something especially amorous on the night.  

"We tend to play music that inspires a degree of bump and grind, and especially seeing as it's Valentine's Day, you're going to hear a fair bit of friction and gyration in the audience," she promises. "I once heard a woman in the front row say, 'Abbe's shows are the best place to meet girls.' I reckon that was the best review I've ever had. I like that it's bringing people together. I like that there's a space where people feel safe enough to interact in that way. It's cool, y'know?"

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Providing a safe space in which people find acceptance is clearly vital to May, as she recollects how the support of her family gave her the strength to be the woman she is. "What I was fortunate with was that I was loved," she shares. "I had two parents and siblings, and grandparents and aunties and uncles who loved me, and I was fortunate enough to have a family that accepted me. And I was a very unusual child. I was not particularly girly, easily mistaken for a boy. And I was always loved within the family unit. So I have that whenever I needed to draw on any strength, I had that understanding, that feeling that I was being loved. That combated that external force, that external pressure that I'm talking about, which is the hetero-norm that is presented in media, in films, in television, in literature. I couldn't see myself represented anywhere. Even as a young child, I knew that I wasn't fitting into this mould of, you know; you grow up, you get a husband, buy a house and have children. I knew that I wasn't quite fitting into the mould. You would see the conditioning through all of those mediums, and at the time that was quite strong. But luckily for me, I was loved - that's all I can put it down to. I had incredible parents and incredible family. We loved each other and accepted each other. I think that really set me up to go through life with a strength. It is an incredible strength to be loved."

During recent political events, the postal survey and the homophobic sludge it dredged up, May was very aware others weren't so fortunate, and this experience has inspired her to become more public as a gay woman. "I never denied my sexuality, but I wasn't particularly explicit," she says. "And then seeing the effects of the postal survey last year on the rights of gay people to marry, that affected my friends who have less family support than I do and feeling the effects myself, as a supporter, actually - I'd say surprisingly, but actually unsurprisingly - it was an unrelenting attack on our value as humans. And it did hurt me, it hurt my mental health, it hurt me emotionally and I'm a really supported member of the community. And it made me worry about people who aren't so supported. We already have a really high level of self-harm and suicide in LGBTQIA community, and I started to feel like, 'Well, what's the point of having a platform unless I use it for a purpose?'. And so I recorded three spoken-word parts for the end of the record during the postal survey while watching my friends tear themselves apart over this. It really was a brutal situation and so I thought the best I can do is identify myself, be visible and really turn this collection of songs into a personal exploration of my identity and trip through life as a gay woman."

But did she feel the result of the vote vindicated the process? "No, I don't think it justified what they unleashed on my community. I think that it was absolutely horrific. I think it actually justified our objections to the whole thing. I don't know why they decided it was a great idea to allow the public to vote on our rights as humans. This is not generally what happens in a democracy, in a democracy that is supposedly interested in the basic rights of humans. They, the Turnbull government, allowed an untethered attack on the gay community through the 'No' campaign that was spreading really horrific untruths. They were splitting families apart. I know people who aren't speaking to their family anymore, because they were explicitly promoting the 'No' campaign when their daughter is a gay woman. It was just horrific to watch. It was pure, divisional politics. When the 'Yes' came through, it was bittersweet. Of course it was a fucking yes, y'know? But that's how most of us felt, I think. Of course it was a yes. I was a bit like, 'Why did you spend millions on that?' It just seemed like a load of bullshit to me. It didn't make any sense. It was like, 'What am I missing here?' I really think Turnbull was a bit of a cunt about that, frankly.

"People forget that outside of the mainstream, an audience wants you to stand for something," she continues, expressing something like a raison d'etre. "They want to know who you are and what you're about. You will lose people, but I think that there's not a lot of point having a platform unless you actually fucking do something positive with it."