Melbourne artist Tristan Meecham had a vision for the inaugural Coming Back Out Ball event.
The gala event – a glittering red carpet evening of live entertainment, dancing and pride – would honour and celebrate his local LGBTQIA+ elders and help address some of the social isolation and invisibility they experience.
“We want to acknowledge and champion the paths they’ve forged,” Tristan explains.
“As a younger person, you take your sexual or gender identity for granted. This is a generation who didn’t have that privilege.
“There are members that have been married, that have lived life in a very closeted context for a long time. Others have lived through times when they were imprisoned.”
In October 2017, in the middle of the divisive same-sex marriage postal survey, the inaugural ball was held at the Melbourne Town Hall and the elders’ experiences were captured in new documentary The Coming Back Out Ball Movie, out next month.
Over the course of the film, we meet a group of elders who generously share the heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories of their lives, reflecting back fifty years or more to a world far less accepting of LGBTIQ people.
We become a fly on the wall of the extensive planning behind the event. Tristan and his team establish a monthly Seniors Dance Club to help the elders connect with their peers and learn some steps for the ball.
We see Tristan navigate the big personalities of the group as he seeks their feedback on everything from the music to the entertainment to the timing – “Older people need to go to bed early,” 73 year-old Ardy Tibby declares at one meeting.
Sue Thomson, the documentary’s director, said she was first approached by Tristan about immortalising the ball on film three years ago and jumped at the chance.
“Tristan had read a paper by academic Catherine Barrett which was all about older LGBTIQ people going back into the closet in order to get decent healthcare,” she said.
“He was shocked by that. Tristan has a background as a performance artist so he wanted to put on an event to say thank you to these people who have allowed him to be out and proud.
“I think it’s the beginning of affecting change in people’s lives. Some of the attendees hadn’t ever come out publicly as an older person.
“It was an extraordinary night, I really think we captured a moment in time.”
The inaugural Coming Back Out Ball was a big success and was held for a second time in Melbourne last month.
Sue said it was Tristan’s goal to take the event national, and dependent on funding, a Coming Back Out Ball for Brisbane’s LGBTIQ elders could be held as early as 2019.
“There’s no date yet but as far as I know, it’s in the works,” she said.
The Coming Back Out Ball Movie is in select cinemas including New Farm’s Five Star Cinemas from December 6. For tickets visit the website here. Watch the trailer below:
(All photos by Bryony Jackson)