Sunday, April 16, 2000

Sunday Age - "From gay man to gay dad, and midnight feeds to rave reviews - WENDY TUOHY Meets ... Campion Decent" by Wendy Tuohy

Like any proud father, Campion Decent has photos of the kids at the ready, to be flashed at a moment's notice if asked. There are his three-year-old twins on pool-side lounges, wrapped in towels, beaming... "Little Lord and Lady Fauntleroy, I call them." When their mother moved home from Sydney to Melbourne two years ago, Mr Decent, a playwright and arts administrator, did not hesitate to relocate as well. So did his partner, a lawyer called Simon. Mr Decent (pronounced "descent"), a former director of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and editor of the gay community paper the Sydney Star Observer, landed a job as director of the forthcoming Next Wave youth arts festival in Melbourne. "I think ... there is a duty of care to the child or children you are going to bring into the world," says Mr Decent of his decision to move, enjoying the sunshine at the rooftop cafe of the Next Wave/Radio 3RRR building in Fitzroy. Are people fascinated by the apparent gay parent contradiction? "Yes. I had one dinner party in Melbourne last year where there was a straight man there, and I was there with my partner, and he obviously knew I was gay. And then someone else said, `How are the kids?' He was curious but confused - and really interested in the mechanics of how we'd done it and what the repercussions had been. "It is an inherently interesting story to some people, but at the same time it's so regular. It's so mundane, it's so much about the normal parenting issues of vomit on the baby's bib, and the cold, and the wake-up in the middle of the night, and `How are we going to entertain the kids?' - it's just so regular." Last year, Mr Decent was persuaded by the Sydney theatre director David Fenton that his experiences as a gay parent were interesting enough to write about. Though he had reservations about the personal nature of the material, he agreed to write, and the play, Baby X, made its debut at Sydney's Belvoir Street theatre in February. It opens in Melbourne at the Playbox on April 19. "A kind of fantasia on gay parenting," the play opens with the main character being asked by two lesbian friends to donate sperm for a baby. Mr Descent became a father after he was chosen as sperm donor by two of his lesbian friends. (Neither he nor the biological mother considered that the gene for twins in their families would result in two babies.) Reviews praised the play for its mischievous humor and humanity. It parallels the development of the baby in the womb with the emotional journey of the parents. It "challenges assumptions ... tackles notions of identity and detonates a few bombs in the minefield of political correctness," said one critic. Mr Decent, the son of a salesman and a radio actress who gave him her maiden name as his Christian name, says issues about his identity as a gay man are "heightened and theatrical" in the play. "I certainly didn't go through it to the extent that the play details, but it was a moment in time where I started to think about my identity. " I was going to be a father and, as a gay man, I never thought that was going to be a choice open to me ... I've always loved kids, but it's just something I thought I wouldn't get a chance to do. I didn't realise I would take myself out of that box." Mr Decent studied creative arts at Wollongong University, did a masters degree in theatre studies at the University of New South Wales, then attended the playwrights' studio at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. His first play won a national award in 1988. At 35, he has an impressive list of arts appointments behind him: he was director of the Sydney Mardi Gras in 1994 and 1995; program manager for theatre and dance with the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts; then senior program officer for theatre with the Australia Council. Although he considers himself a writer first, Mr Decent says the gift of being organised has helped him as a facilitator for other artists. He is knee-deep in arrangements for the Next Wave festival, in which the works of between 500 and 600 young Melbourne artists will feature at 70 events. The theme of the festival is `Wide Awake - Dreaming at Twilight', an opportunity for young people to express what they want to say to themselves, the broader community and the next generation. As for the future, Mr Decent is keeping an open mind. Does he know where he will be in five years? "I find that an astonishing question. I know some people can do it, but the events of the past two or or three years have really taught me that it's one day at a time."

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