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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For...

So we have a new government. Democracy in action, messy, imperfect, but it still beats all the alternatives (except for me being Dictator of the World!).

We now have openly gay and lesbian MPs all across the Parliament, from the Greens to National. Not quite every party, but all the biggest ones. Even our Attorney-General, a National MP, is an out gay man.

What I find both bizarre and wonderful is that no-one has commented on his sexuality. Have we perverts become so mainstream now that when a right-wing Government appoints an open homo to one of the most important positions in Parliament there is no response? And what does this signal? What does it mean for us?

In some ways, it is the culmination of what “we” fought for – the right to be accepted for who we are as full and equal human beings, regardless of our sexuality. In other ways, it the opposite. Let me explain.

There have basically been two streams to the movement for our rights over the last 100 years or so. The one with the longer pedigree is the less radical, simply calling for us to be able to live our lives without the fear of legal persecution. There were some variants to this, with some asking for us to be positively protected, but in general the goal of this movement was toleerance and assimilation, not revolution.

The other stream was distinctly revolutionary and radical in its outlook and goals. This strand is rooted in the classical radical idea that we need a complete revolution in society, and that the emancipation of same-sex attracted people is part of the struggle to free the oppressed all over the globe, which will only be truly achieved through the eradication of Capitalism. Rather than assimilation, it sought a radical re-ordering of the entire social fabric. In its latest guise it has come to us as “Queer Theory”, which made a number of grossly inflated claims as to the importance of sexual identity. It is this last stance that sees all those of us who are outside the norms of mainstream sexual practice and identity as having a common ground to stand on and a common enemy to fight against: heterosexist patriarchal Capitalist society. And this common oppression is supposed to help us form our community.

What happens to that community when the oppression lifts?

What we now have as a result of our efforts for law reform etc are gay conservative politicians who are able to be out and by doing so cause no reaction. We have become normal, no longer exceptional. OK, for NZ, for us to be truly normalised we will need an out All Black whose last minute actions cause us to win the Rugby World Cup. Then we will be unassailable.

This, however, is not the revolutionary result Gay Liberation was fighting for. Instead of working for radical change, we now have an out gay Attorney General who, it could be argued, is working for those forces that the radical wing would say continue to oppress us. But it cannot be denied that the fact the lesbians, gay men, and transsexuals can all be elected to our Parliament now without causing much concern, and this surely is a positive thing. It is a distinct improvement on the days, not that far gone, when being sexually different in any way was illegal, when even the whisper of an MP perhaps being gay was enough to destroy a career. If you are a teenager wrestling with your sexual identity, the very fact that being gay has become so much less of an issue must be good.

What I suspect this assimilation, this normalisation of us as people will mean is this: the importance of sexual identity as a unifying bond that forms a community will weaken even more over time. Our gay community was at its most productive, its strongest, its most challenging, its most exciting and vibrant when we were banded together in our gay ghettos, fighting for our rights, fighting against HIV and the prejudice it engenders and living lives that placed us on the outer of the mainstream. Now many of those ghettos have lost their hearts to property developers and gentrification. Now we are legal and protected, the impetus to band together for political rights has largely gone. I know gay men who voted for every major party. I know gay men who are legally coupled and who live lives of happy obscurity in the suburbs. They did protest once - now they see no need. And many younger gay men coming into the world just don't see the need for "community" that we all once did.

The promise that sexual identity would be a major force in radicalising the world seems to have failed. Instead we have become more and more just a part of the wallpaper. What I think we will see more and more, is that gay men and lesbians will be able to come out, and to be ourselves, and excite little interest. Without a common enemy or cause to unite us, instead of forming a vaguely coherent group, we will stay far closer to our initial social positions. If you are born into a network drawn largely from urban Maori then this will be your main point of reference. Likewise if you are born into the white middle class, it will be this, rather than your sexual identity that will be the main part of your identity. The need for us to exist as a distinct social entity will lessen and fade.

Now I am not for one minute denying the difficulties, emotional and personal, and the prejudice that many of us still have to face, as well as the violence that seems to permeate so much of New Zealand society, but there has been a qualitative change in how we live, how we are perceived, and how we get to interact with our society that I think this appointment to the Attorney-General’s office highlights.And of course, little old New Zealand is not the world - what has happened here is perhaps only comparable to the more liberal parts of Europe - I'm not saying this is the situaiton everywhere.

But the question remains: Is this really what we all wanted?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Puppy Love

We call them, only half-jokingly, our "fur children" . Dogs, cats, whatever pet we have, they enrich our lives.

When I was recuperating from being at death's door in the mid 90s, one of my brothers bought a puppy, much to his wife's horror, with 2 kids under 5 at the time, so I ended up looking after her for 3 or 4 days a week. I took her to obedience class. She made me get up every day and take her for walks, morning and night, summer and winter. In short, even though she adored my brother, she also bonded with me.

I seriously believe that having her in my life helped me in my recovery immensely. It stopped me focussing on myself and my troubles so much, something that's so easy to do. She made me laugh, doing silly dog things. She made me exercise. Having to keep up with a happy, energetic young Doberman cross is bound to make you fitter.

She had "4-paw drive" fast as lightning, up and down hills, running like crazy then stopping to see where I was. Rushing back, as if to say "Come on! It's FUN!" And she did make me happy and give me such a sense of fun. Constantly throwing a stick or a ball is goodfor building up your upper body strength after you've wasted away to nearly nothing.

I was very poor then, living on the Invalids' Benefit. So in winter I'd go to parks and collect pine cones and branches for the fire place. She'd come along too, happy as could be, whatever I was foing was fine, she just wanted to do it too.

And the thing with dogs is they give you unconditional love. Whatever you do is right in their eyes. They trust completely. They love us. And having that unconditional love when I was feeling so sick, so ugly, so diseased, and thought I would be dead before 2000 came in was hugely valuable.

We had our routines.When it was bed time I'd turn off th lights and she'd be on her blanket. As soon as I was in my room I'd hear her jump onto the couch. It was one of those things - we both knew but just decided not to talk about it. In the morning she'd come and wake me up, and after I'd let her out she'd come back into my room and jump up on the bed for a cuddle.

I needed a regular afternoon nap in those days, I was just so weak and tired all the time. She'd come and lie on the floor by the couch I was on, then she'd quietly climb up and curl up at my feet, after giving a little lift of her top lip to apologise "I know I'm not supposed to be on the furniture but..." Of course I always let her stay. I loved having her so close.

Once when I had been readmitted to Herne Bay House my brother brought her to visit me. It was her first time there, and as soon as she came into my room, where I was lying in bed, she started to whimper with excitement and jumped straight up on the bed to see me. I felt loved. And I looked after her as well as I could.

She loved the beach, she loved swimming, she loved learning new tricks, and she was fast and clever, and at times cunning, as Dobermans tend to be.

And yesterday she had to be put to sleep. Too many old age problems, enlarged spleen, cancers, cataracts, hip dysplacia, and worst of all - she'd stopped eating. Just suddenly in the last week, it had all come to a head.

My brother was distraught, as was my niece. And after the news sank in, so was I. I know it's sentimental, but I put Henry Gross's song "Shannon" on repeat. It's a song about his family's Golden Retriever dying.Guaranteed tear-jerker. And I cried.

She was so much a part of my life, and really, a part of my healing. She didn't know or care that I had HIV, that I had to take 40 something pills a day, that I was sick. She was calm, steady, and loving, when I was too tired she'd sleep. She was there. I owe her a huge debt. It's so painful to have that responsibility, of having to kill something you love and one that loves you back so much. It's the Devil's bargain we enter whenever we have a pet with us. The joy, happiness, comfort and love they give us means that one day we will most likely have to decide when to kill them. But that's our duty too.

Bye my darling Keo, thank you for all you gave me. I don't know if I'd be here without you.