Celebrating NAIDOC Week, DNA revisits some of the inspirational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we’ve met in DNA.
DNA catches up with Sermsah Bin Saad, an Australian First Nations dancer, choreographer and storyteller…
DNA: How does your identity as an Indigenous person and an LGBTQIA+ person intersect?
Sermsah: I was pretty aware that I was a little different growing up in Port Hedland, which mines iron ore in the Pilbara and is renowned for being pretty rough. Expectations to be a man are tough, I must say.
Not showing emotion and drinking copious amounts of alcohol makes you a real man, apparently, but I was okay to play trucks with the boys and dolls with the girls. It never really fazed me, I seemed to naturally adapt to my surroundings and different types of groups. I was aware, to a degree, that being gay wasn’t always something that was accepted by society.
Since I can remember, I was always myself and pretty open about my sexuality, but I did have a few people say that I wasn’t [gay], that it was just a phase I was going through.
I was generally pre-occupied anyways with sport and school and being a kid really and being Aboriginal I was always surrounded by big families and gatherings so there was always a strong network around me if I ever needed support. I rarely got called a fag and if I did it was never really to my face.
I am told I’m quite masculine, so I was always seen as one of the boys, but I did see a few of my friends who were more feminine go through some traumatic experiences. There were those who struggled with their own sexuality because they didn’t have an upbringing free to express themselves so I definitely consider myself lucky to have had an incredible, open, loving and strong family particularly from my mother. She always supported anything I chose to do.
It’s interesting because I get asked this question quite often on how I deal with this intersect but really when you think about it this way. We are all human, right? And we all have sexual desires with needs and wants but whether we act on them is another thing. I’m sure that even our ancestral warriors of our tribes had moments of wanting to go to there, but may have felt it was wrong or they did what they wanted. I don’t know to be completely honest I’m not a historian and there’s not much of this information available on the internet.
I did come across the Two Spirit concept which is a pan-Indian term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe people in their communities who fulfil a traditional third-gender (or other gender-variant) ceremonial and social role in their culture.
I believe our people may have had something similar, but I do know that certain religions that were introduced to our people played an integral role in this confusion of what is and isn’t acceptable.
All I know is that we are lucky today to be ourselves in this country more so than others who are being condemned even killed because of their sexual preferences. It is really is hard to fathom, but it’s real so I count my blessings everyday knowing that I can help other Indigenous LGBTQIA+ to come out.
I will do what I can to make this happen as suicide rates are some of the highest in this country particularly in the Kimberley. A lot of this stems from not being accepted for your sexuality, identity and because of alcohol and drug related incidents where mob feel they can no longer deal with [life]. This is effecting communities on a daily basis.
We need to support each other and stop with the violence particularly the lateral violence and look at ways of healing so that the next generation can see that there is hope.
DNA: You are a Nyikina man from the Kimberleys region of Western Australia. Is that where you still live?
Sermsah: I’m based in Melbourne, and only worked out the other day it’s the only place I’ve ever settled into for this long having been here 12 years. I was like a gypsy for many years and kept moving.
I swear, I must’ve travelled around Australia at least three times already but Melbourne (Naarm) has something special about it where it makes you want to be here. The aboriginal community are so supportive of one another particularly in the arts and are very generous when it comes to their ways of ceremony. I love it here and I see myself staying for a few years yet but I also want to try live in Europe as my partner is Spanish and I am fascinated by their culture and their lifestyle. I think it might be nice to spread my wings a little more down the track but obviously not at the moment due to covid.