Just See Us

I cried as my partner and I sat in front of the television in 2013, watching the New Zealand parliament vote for marriage equality. I thought of all the young queer Kiwis who would grow up with a level of acceptance and self-esteem that I could only dream of as a boy.

“Why do gay people want to get married anyway?” she unleashed. “It’s so bloody overrated.” I considered, just for second, that I might venture a serious response, but thought better of it.

I’m coming to the realisation that social media is reducing our tolerance for meaningful dialogue to the Twitter-prescribed 40-characters or less, before we retreat to cute videos of cats mistaking the neighbour’s miniature Zen garden for kitty litter.

In any case, Barbara was several flutes into a magnum and, in the five minutes since we’d stumbled into one another’s company at the Story Bridge Hotel, she’d unloaded a torrent of offensive material without even trying. “I just love gay men” she gushed. “They dress impeccably, they are so witty and you can tell them just about anything because they will never judge you.” All at once I felt underdressed, dulled-witted and savagely judgmental.

Maybe in the sober light of day – minus the vat of Bollinger – Barbara would see with blinding clarity the foolishness of her statement. “I just love heterosexuals”, I might say. “They dress so sensibly, they’re so good at sports and if you ever need advice about home-loans or four-wheel-drives, they are always so willing to oblige.

So, why do gay people want to get married? Well Barbara, I’m going to give this a go, but it won’t be forty characters and there will be no cute cat videos.

Actually, I never wanted it. I’ve spent a good forty years accepting my place on the peripheries of society, a half-citizen with only part-access to the privileges of the dominant culture. Marriage was always something that belonged to others.

Like every queer person I know, I internalised the rejection and I never imagined that the love I shared with my partner would one day be afforded the respect of heterosexual society. And through a distorted lens of internalised derision, I never believed that it should.

Queer thought on same-sex marriage is as diverse as the community itself. It includes the view that taking a place at the table of heteronormative privilege is a betrayal of the egalitarian relationship structures we have built and defended, against relentless forces of societal ostracism and condemnation. It’s a view that I probably once held.

But the construct of marriage lies at the heart of every civilization, in some form. It is a rite of passage, through which people have been granted full membership of their community. It has survived successive generations of feminist and libertarian critique, to remain a potent symbol of belonging. And we all want some of that.

I cried as my partner and I sat in front of the television in 2013, watching the New Zealand parliament vote for marriage equality. I thought of all the young queer Kiwis who would grow up with a level of acceptance and self-esteem that I could only dream of as a boy. Studies in America have shown that this simple legislative amendment increases levels of understanding and acceptance in the extended families of gay and lesbian people

image: www. hyperallergic.com
image: www. hyperallergic.com

So, legislation does have a role to play in opening the door to conversations that could not be entertained when the door was closed and our communities – straight/gay, black/white, male/female – stood on opposite sides

When black people and women won the vote, white men were forced to contemplate living alongside them as equals for the first time – not tolerating, not condescending, but genuinely collaborating in the co-authorship of a new and more egalitarian society.

One day this door will be opened for Barbara and she will see that this rich and diverse queer community cannot be reduced to witty retorts and a talent for accessorising. If I had just forty characters or less for Barbara, they would be these:

Do not see us as greater or lesser. Just see us.

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