Over the past several years, I’ve been working on a memoir, Ghost Wife. And now I am thrilled to report that Ghost Wife has been picked up by the wonderful Black Inc., who will publish it around March of 2013. This news provoked much excited running around (my own) in corridors (my workplace’s), and much celebration. Not just because my book will be published, but also because it means that the stories that I have longed to tell and re-tell will definitely come to light. And for a while there, I wasn’t sure that they would.
Ghost Wife is a story about hidden histories, belonging, and same-sex marriage. In November 2005, I travelled with my girlfriend, Heather, to Canada to swap vows and rings. Same-sex marriage was not legal in Australia, where we lived, or in the United States, where Heather was born and raised. So we went to Toronto and, on a freezing December day, married in Toronto City Hall. As we travelled through the US and Canada on that trip, I met Heather’s family for the first time. Knowing that our marriage would ‘disappear’ the minute we left Canada, I started to think about the other invisible histories that have haunted my family. And I also stumbled across the stories of other women who lived in same-sex relationships decades and centuries ago in Brisbane, Melbourne, Boston and Toronto: other women who also were also ‘ghost wives.’
I knew even then that I would write about our wedding trip. I needed to write about it; writing would be a way of leaving a lasting record of our marriage, even if the marriage itself would never be recognised in Australia. Queer love and lust are often made invisible or hypervisible; this is nothing new. To resist invisibility, I was trying to learn as much as I could about GLBTIQ history—especially from the first part of the 20th century and earlier.
I read a lot, more than I could possibly mention here. But some of the most important things I read were Lucy Chesser’s brilliant Parting With My Sex: Cross-Dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life (Sydney University Press 2008), and Clive Moore’s Sunshine and Rainbows: The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland (UQP 2001), and The History Project’s Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland (Beacon 1998), and the work of Canadian historian Elise Chenier. What I found was fascinating.
I learned about Brisbane couple Josephine Bedford and Lilian Cooper (above right), who spent their whole adult lives together in a succession of houses in the UK and Australia, and, during WWI, a tent in Serbia, and were among Brisbane’s foremost residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I learned about Marion Bill Edwards, who lived as a man from the age of eighteen, in the 1890s, and married a woman called Lucy in Melbourne in 1900. I learned about 19th century Bostonians and 20th century Torontonians, women who loved other women and spent their lives with them. And I needed to include them in my story.
And so I wrote Ghost Wife, a memoir that tells the story of my journey, with Heather, from Brisbane to Boston, from Toronto to Boca Raton, and home. It skips back and forth through generations and centuries, weaving our story with the stories of others who came before. These other women lived as married in the places that Heather and I visited—but 50 and 100 and 150 years before us. It is because of the work of historians that these other stories came to light, and I am grateful to have been able to read them.
“I’m going to write a book myself, y’know. It ought to be very interesting, because I’m going to tell all my experiences as a ‘man-woman’—as they call me in the posters. When my book is published I may take a hotel—I’m not decided yet; or I may just disappear. But whatever I do, I’ll continue to dress in men’s clothes. It’s more comfortable than female dress; it’s cheaper too.”
—Marion Bill Edwards, Morwell Advertiser, 1908
And now, I am grateful again because Black Inc. will publish Ghost Wife—and perhaps our story, and others like it, will not be made invisible as so many others have been. Things have changed, it’s true, but significant work remains. Here in Queensland, our battle seems to grow greater by the day following devastating changes over the past several weeks, such as the de-funding of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (formerly the Queensland AIDS Council) and the strong possibility that the civil union legislation will be repealed by the Newman government. That’s why I’ll be in King George Square tomorrow night, to rally, to protest, and to show that times have changed. Times have changed, and we’re still here.