Born This Way, Not My Fault.

I recently saw a memory on Facebook which prompted this piece.  I’d linked to a piece by rampant homophobe, Bill Muehlenberg, which linked to a really interesting article by David Benkof. These points are made about being gay because that’s my experience, but I suspect that a lot of this may translate to the fight for Trans rights as well.

A friend and I had discussed Benkof’s piece before Muehlenberg’s article. We explored the sensibility of claiming that sexuality and sexual identity have been the same throughout history, and are therefore immutable across time and space, and whether “Born This Way” was a good strategy for claiming equal rights.

Perhaps in our struggle for rights, we should not be relying on a claim we don’t actually know the truth of.  We don’t really know if or how we are “Born This Way”.

Sexual identity is a social framework built around sexual attraction. That’s how we have straight men who still have sex with men. The way you’re wired biologically combined with the social climate you’re in will affect the way you identify, all of this without making a specific choice. “Being gay” is something that only happens in societies where “being gay” is an option, though same-sex sex occurs throughout human history.

So where do our rights come from?

The right to have a child without being in a relationship is enough in itself to permit motherhood. Or the right to be in a relationship as a de facto couple without having to solemnise it as marriage. These changes were achieved without a requirement of immutability – these rights are, explicitly, the protection of a person’s right to choose what is right for themselves.

The same goes for anti-discrimination. There are lots of attributes that we protect with our anti-discrimination laws.  There are three broad categories these attributes fall into: Things that are inborn, things that you choose, and things we don’t typically choose but might not be inborn.

  • Race is inborn.  That’s the way you are the day you were born, and you can’t really make a choice to change it.
  • Political opinion is something we largely choose. even if you haven’t consciously chosen it now, you can choose to re-examine and change your political opinion.
  • Disabilities are things we don’t typically choose for ourselves, but many people acquire well after they’re born.

In our society, the immutability or innateness of an attribute is not a requirement for its protection.

With these examples in mind, the rights of gay people to carry on a consenting adult relationship is surely enough in itself without us needing to be “born this way” to achieve equality.

The disturbing subtext of “Born This Way” is “Not My Fault”.  And when we’re talking about fault, we’re typically talking about something “bad”. “I was born gay, why should I be punished for something that isn’t my fault?” Thinking like this feels right to many of us because we instinctively know we didn’t make a choice – that’s why it’s such a tempting argument to make. It also has the benefit of being compelling.  But does this throw bi or pan people in same-sex relationships under the bus?  After all, they could have chosen to be in a heterosexual relationship, right?

Why does it have to be “not my fault” in order to have my relationship treated equally under the law when my religious views are protected even if I’m a recent convert to Christianity?

Our right to safety and happiness as queer folks should not and must not require that our sexuality or gender identity is inborn. The notion that “being gay” is not strictly biological isn’t a reason to deny equal treatment to gay people.

Given that we don’t really understand how sexuality and gender identity happens, I worry about building our rights on the “Born This Way” mantra.  Because what happens if that foundation turns out to be false? I don’t want to re-fight the fight for our rights because we picked the wrong basis for our original arguments.

Plebicide

I’ve coined a new word.

Plebicide, n. Where a person is killed as a result of a “public vote” or the campaign leading up to it.

Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds for the last couple of days, you’re probably aware that there’s a plebiscite afoot.

It’s naturally a delaying tactic by a beleaguered Prime Minister to block Marriage Equality without causing the kind of outright revolt that could cost him the leadership and his party the election.  We’ve seen 4 Liberals declare they’ll cross the floor in the last 24 hours.  It’s not really working out so well.  And why would it?  After all, Tony won the case against the ACT’s Same Sex Marriage bill by arguing that it was a power of the Commonwealth Parliament and that the Marriage Act covered the field.  He argued that it was a decision the Parliament should make when Ireland had their referendum saying that “questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament”. In a time of budget emergencies, a plebiscite is also going to cost us about $100 million dollars… Which credit card is Tony planning to put this glorified opinion poll on?

More concerning than Tony doing what Tony does is that some of our leading advocates over at Australian Marriage Equality have decided to back the idea.

Despite previously slamming referendums for this issue, with National Director Rodney Croome saying “I fear a referendum would become a platform for fear and hatred”, we learn that they now support a plebiscite “on the basis it is at the next election which doesn’t delay it.” according to Deputy Campaign Directory Ivan Hinton-Teoh.

In response to a suggestion by Kevin Rudd back in 2013 about holding a plebiscite, Croome said

“A plebiscite is non- binding, so it also comes back to the politicians’ final decision.  So that just means we go through an expensive and divisive process, only to end up where we are now.”

I can’t quite figure out what happened to change their position.  The potential for harm and vitriolic debate is still there. It will still be expensive. It will still not guarantee any law to be passed.

The thing I do know, the thing that I understand with painful clarity is that people who come in contact with the vitriolic, shaming, hate-filled messages we see appearing when it’s just politicians voting on the matter have their mental health harmed.  Many DiGS people aren’t in the best of mental health as a result of enduring years of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc. For an atrociously high number of these people, the campaign before a plebiscite will be the last straw and we will lose them to plebicide.

Their lives are worth more than, as AME themselves told us, getting us no further along the road to Marriage Equality.

To everyone who isn’t condemning this already, I say:

Every drop of queer blood spilt as a result of the plebiscite is on the hands of not only the liberal party, but those who support their abominable suggestion. When they speak, we die. It is honestly that simple.

I will not be a party to Plebicide.

“I do and I wish you could too” or “I won’t until you can” – The Straight Ally Marriage Equality Quandry

While it’s not something every couple considers, it’s becoming more commonplace to see couples refute or combat the Howard Clause in their wedding ceremony. And I have to say, at the weddings I’ve been to where a statement was read or a point was made that the legally required words hurt and that the couple did not agree with them, I’ve appreciated the inclusion.  Every time the Howard Clause is read, it hurts a bit.

The Howard Clause: “Marriage, according to the law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”

Clementine Ford posted an article suggesting that straight people can put pressure on the government to legislate marriage equality by refusing to get married until their queer friends can too.  Same sex marriage needs straight people to take a stand in Australia (The Age, Feb 3rd)

She makes an excellent point, that all the Marriage Equality affirmations during weddings make no difference to the political landscape, though I think the impact it makes on the emotional landscape of the guests should not be discounted.  This is where our agreement ends.

As a concept, I appreciate the notion that some people are refusing to get married until I can I appreciate that they’re putting their protections off until I can have the same. But I don’t agree with Clementine that straight people choosing not to get married puts any pressure anywhere. Moreover, as someone with straight friends, as someone without the right to get married to the person I love, I would feel terrible (appreciative of the gesture, but terrible) that they had chosen not to get married and enjoy the benefits of marriage for me.

To pick a far-too-recent example, imagine progressive straight people deciding not to have sex until gay men could…

So what is a straight ally to do?

If you, as an engaged straight person, want to stand up for marriage equality, then as part of your wedding preparations book in to see your MP AND your local opposite party candidate. It’ll take probably 2 hours tops to see both of them. Tell them you don’t want to hurt your queer friends with The Howard Clause, but you’ve discovered that you’re legally obliged to as part of your wedding. Tell them you’re taking time out from your wedding preparations to talk to them about it.(Also, I really do appreciate the counterclause in the ceremony – keep that in there)

Tell them you’re angry that you have to blemish your wedding day with outdated bigotry. Tell them that you consider it unacceptable not to counter it. Tell them you’re upset that every government since 2004, Labor and Liberal, have forced you to make your wedding day a political occasion. Be furious with them. Unleash Bridezilla, (and Groomzilla, for that matter). Make them understand that the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 causes straight couples pain as well.

A celebrant friend of mine told me that about 1 in 3 couples who come to her propose a countermeasure to the Howard Clause.  If you want to make a difference, then just not getting married won’t cut the mustard. Including a countermeasure won’t change the law. Your MP won’t even know you’re doing it unless you tell them so and why.  But having 1 in 3 engaged couples rock up on their doorsteps upset that the government is interfering in their wedding and forcing them to hurt people? That’s going to have some legs.

The fact that you can tell me that you’ve chosen not to get married in support of my cause is as much a reminder of what I can’t have as you choosing to get married anyway. Don’t deny yourself the protections I value – I value them for a reason. Deny yourself the simplicity of inaction during your wedding preparations. Don’t deny yourself rights you can have because I can’t have them. Instead, deny yourself the comfort of staying silent and not confronting the people who are supposed to represent you in government. 

find out where your MP stands

Why is the Thorpedo in our sights?

He graced the front page of the papers. I AM GAY writ large under a portrait photo taking up the entire page.

It made me so angry! He hadn’t actually officially come out yet. Information was leaked from his Parkinson interview and it became news.

For what must be the final time, Ian Thorpe was once again robbed of being allowed to come out in his own time, at his own pace, and in his own way. He had made his peace and decided to tell the world, and Newscorp couldn’t let that decision be his own!

I don’t think Ian Thorpe has been in an interview that lasted more than about 20 seconds that didn’t question his sexuality. And when he tells everyone that he’s straight, we instantly ignore his direct statement and run with the rumour that he’s just not ready yet.

I was “straight” until I started coming out at 17. Every time I was told or asked whether I was gay by my peers, who seemed anxious to tear me to shreds for it, I would reiterate that I was not gay, I would retreat a little further toward Narnia, a little deeper into the closet, a little more from everyone and everything. And so I have to wonder: if this wasn’t happening to Ian Thorpe when he was just 17 and the world was watching his every move, if the public hadn’t felt it had the right to demand his full disclosure of a life he might not even have understood himself, if the public hadn’t demanded he make a decision he must have felt they would then hold him to for the rest of his life…

… Would it have been as hard for him to get to self-acceptance and coming out as it was?

I didn’t tell my parents I was gay until I was 18 and out of home, let alone declare to the world “I AM GAY” on national television.

Why do we feel we have that right? Why do we feel that we own enough of Ian Thorpe’s soul that we can demand he come out when we want him to, rather than allowing him to figure himself out in his own time? Why do we feel we should ignore his right to identify as he chooses and is, a right which activists like me work towards constantly?

And why on earth do we feel we have the right to criticise him for coming out, or tell him that he didn’t struggle.

A friend sent me a screenshot which is so ugly that I can’t even pass it off as satirical.

His ‘coming out’ makes a mockery of those who had actual hardships in dealing with their sexuality and their attempts in being honest with their friends and family about this… Sometimes resulting in disowning, bashing, homelessness and even suicide.

This is a f****n’ circus and if you’re lining up to heap praise and adulation on him then you’re a joke of a human being

This person is gay. He therefore must understand at least part of what it’s like to come out. The fact that he refers to Ian’s public and national coming out with air quotes trivialises the very public journey that the Thorpedo has been on, battling depression while in the eyes of the media.

While I see a joke of a human being, it isn’t Ian Thorpe.

I’ve also seen criticism of him being paid to do the interview.
If someone offered me $400k to say something I wanted to say anyway, why would I not take it? Even more than that, Thorpe is a brand and product rolled into one. It’s not advisable to give your product away for free even if you want everyone to have it. Can we stop with the critique of interviews for $$$? They’re only interesting if they reveal a conflict of interest.

I hope never to see “I AM GAY” again on the front page of a paper – not because I don’t think Thorpe should have come out publicly – as a public figure, that was inevitable. Not even because “being gay” shouldn’t be news – though it shouldn’t. I never want to see it on a front page like that again because it will mean that some other poor soul has been subjected to the same media scrutiny that Thorpe has, and likely with the same justifications – that people have a right to know. They don’t. We actually don’t have a right to know about his private life.

Perhaps we, and the media in general, should stop acting like we do.

So… Where to from here?

After the last week, I feel that it is important to step back and reassess how we can further not only Marriage Equality, but LGBTIQ rights across the board.
First, we need a realistic, objective assessment of the task at hand. The Coalition have the majority of seats in the lower house, but not in the upper house. In order to achieve anything in this parliament, we must be able to sway both sides of the chambers. Divisive politics will cause bills passed in one house to fail in the other.

LGBTIQ equality is not the preserve of one party over another! It fits with the Labor belief in fairness and the Liberal belief in equal opportunity.

Moving forward, I believe the campaign needs three things: A mainstream, inclusive, family-friendly tone, a serious commitment to non-partisanship, and a commitment to work in regional areas as well as the capitals. These strategies will give us the ear of the broadest possible cross-section of the community and help us to engage them in the fight for LGBTIQ equality. We need to mobilise everyday Australians, no matter what their political persuasion, to get them talking to their politicians, writing letters, making phone calls, and letting Australian politicians know Australians value equality for all and expect our laws to reflect that. With these principles in mind, we can organise effective, inclusive, family-friendly rallies and events that demonstrate the mainstream support we have for equality in wider Australian society, that draw media attention, and that provide opportunities for members of the public to discuss the issues and further increase the support for our cause.

To further our cause, to further LGBTIQ rights in this country, we need to ensure that all Australians are touched by our campaigns.
We must always remember that LGBTIQ issues are not the province of any one party or group, but are the responsibility of all to address.

Open Letter to the Socialist Alternative

Dear Socialist Alternative members

I can’t tell you how my heart sank as I watched this banner being erected at the Brisbane Marriage Equality Rally.

Socialist Alternative Banner
I don’t have a great shot. On the right it says “Dear Tone, Stahp ur homophobia or else, sincerely de gayz”
On the left, a depiction of Abbott being hung by the neck using a rainbow noose.

Put simply, Socialist Alternative, if that’s your idea of supporting our cause, then we don’t want or need it, leave us alone.

More disturbing to me is that it really reveals how you see us. You seem to see us as a weapon, a tool to get what you want. The only piece of gay imagery on the whole banner is the rainbow used in the noose.

We are not your weapons, and not your tools. We aren’t the rope you’re going to hang Abbott with, and if you think I’m going to do anything *remotely* like fucking Abbott, you’re totally delirious.

These are *our* rights that you’re toying with. I get that you see them as part of your political theory, for some of you, I know, they are more personal… but they are my, our, everyday life. Our reality you’re playing with and using as a platform. You see it as a left-of-centre thing. I see it as a spectrum of life thing. There are plenty of Liberal-supporting queer and queer-supporting people out there. There are a multitude of people who, like me, actually don’t hate Abbott, they just think he’s wrong, and some of them only think he’s wrong about one or two issues.

Equal Love rallies are peaceful. I will never condone violence against anybody. I will not remain silent while people threaten our prime minister regardless of how I feel about him. I cannot condone actions which will cost LGBTIQ rights the support from the right that we actually need.

So, Socialist Alternative, Take your red wedge and stick it wherever you find it most uncomfortable. I don’t want it, and I reject it.
Sincerely,
Dylan Carmichael.

(This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisation I am involved with. I am a member of Equal Love Brisbane, but this statement is not endorsed by or a reflection of their opinion.)

Everyday life as a second class citizen.

It’s a day much like any other. I woke up far too early and got myself to work on time.
About half an hour into the work day, I overheard a conversation in the open plan outside my office door between the team leader and some of his minions, talking about how long to live with his girlfriend before he proposes. Each of my apparently straight colleagues has some level of response from “not until I’m good and ready” to “I waited x years before I married my wife.”
And I got angry. Angry that this perfectly normal conversation is a conversation that I have no right to enter into, no position I can justify, no position that I can hold for my life.
It brought home to me (again) just how heterocentric our society is, that it doesn’t factor into the conversation that there’s a question about being able to get married.
These people have been nothing but supportive of me and my push for Marriage Equality. They’d be horrified to find out they’d made me uncomfortable in any way. They just didn’t see that talking about something as normal as proposing to their significant other might have any impact on the people around them.

And really, should they? It shouldn’t have any impact on the people around them. It is only through the failings of the Howard Government, Rudd Government, Gillard Government, Rudd Government #2, and now the Abbott Government that it does cause concern, angst, and frustration…

So yet again I have to ask… Why? What do/did these governments gain from prolonging the discrimination against me and my community, when it’s already seen as inevitable? Is there a rational reason politically for the delay in reform? Do the polls suggest that they’ll lose significant votes by legalising it? I don’t think so. Is there significant financial backing within the parties from anti-marriage-equality sources? Maybe, but both of them? If they can’t provide some understandable rational reasons for their refusals to legislate Marriage Equality, we get back to homophobia as the real reason for the delay.

So to the government today, and the opposition too, I say: Your abstract fear and concern actually makes my life concretely more difficult every day. How can you as my representatives continue to do me harm by voting down this legislation every time it comes up? How do you sleep knowing that the prejudice of about 50 of you actively harms around 800,000 Australians directly, as well as their families?

That’s right. Only 50 people in Australia need to grow a conscience in order for Marriage Equality to succeed.

I can only hope that insomnia is rampant in Canberra.