My friend Roozi Araghi died last week. For various reasons, I won’t be able to make it back to Sydney for his memorial service tomorrow, but at the least I thought I’d share a little about him.
The first time I met Roozi was at the home of several of our closest friends. On a particularly warm Sydney summer night, he came bustling down the stairs wearing a brightly patterned t-shirt. He paused at me walking in the door, stepped over to the refrigerator, grabbed a mint Cornetto from the freezer compartment and offered me another. I can’t recall if he was talking at the time, but at some point that evening (and over the next years), I found myself in a long, broad discussion with him and at least two of our friends around Madonna, Björk and Tori Amos, sex, gender, heteronormativity, homophobia and racism.
Despite what I’d unfairly heard before I met him, Roozi was not an ‘apolitical faggot’. He did come from a well-off background, and unlike many people I met on the left of student politics, did not shy away from the fact. He enjoyed the ‘lowbrow’ and the ‘highbrow’ in equal measure, and in many ways did not see any divide between them. If anything, he would take every opportunity to excoriate those distinctions. He would use that same wit and criticism on people who worked to disenfranchise others or those who happily benefited from existing disenfranchisements.
He was also incredibly giving, of his time, his attention and his heart. Many friends have written of the little things he would do, the support he would give freely, and how caring he and Luke would be for their partners and children. Family, in all its forms, was important to Roozi, whether it was his own ‘biological’ family who supported and loved him deeply, through to the queer family we built, the same family who have come together in response to his death in a way that we had not for years.
His life story was not easy, his family having left Iran as a baby due to the cultural revolution in the late 1970s, before growing up in England and coming to Australia at the tail end of the 1980s. We would often talk about the difficulties that came with that. Both having names that Anglo people seem to have much trouble pronouncing, that signal ‘Other’ in predominately WASPish cultures, we would discuss the bullying, the taunting, the casual whitewashing and the denial of racism at the heart of Australian life that we experienced growing up and in our daily lives. Mix that with not being straight, and it made for a complex upbringing, one where quirks were punished and conformity was demanded, and where he was often ostracised.
Roozi’s response to all this was to double-down. He became defiantly, proudly happy of his ‘weirdness’. It meant that at times he could be obstinate, demanding and combative. It also meant that he would publicly come to the defence of anyone he saw as oppressed or denied agency. This came through in his friendships and in his student activism, but also later in the work he did in Canberra for FaHCSIA (Department of Family, Health, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Thanks to a lawsuit he and Luke spearheaded, it means that LGBT couples in the Australian Capital Territory no longer pay additional stamp duty when purchasing houses together, compared to their straight couples. Most proudly for him, his work meant more disabled Australians have exercised their right to vote over the last several elections, expressing a voice that is too often ignored.
Roozi taught me to embrace my quirks, to see them as strengths. To not be afraid of who I am and what interests me, but to stand up and question the wrong. To not be scared of my emotions but rather to explore them, at the risk of seeming petulant and, more importantly, caring. Most of all, he supported me and I him, helping each other become stronger and surer in ourselves.
There’s a gap in my life and family now that will never be filled. Miss you, love.