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Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last week, you'll know that Labour MP Louisa Wall's Bill for re-defining marriage (let's face it, that's what it is) has been drawn from the ballot, and has a reasonable chance of succeeding. Both she and Green MP Kevin Hague had similar Bills sitting there, and it's great that one of these is going to see the light of day. None of the gay National MPs seemed to bother trying. 

Let me be clear about my own position.
It's not an issue that deeply excites me, but as a matter of principle, based in my committment to the concept of human rights, I think that there is no logical, moral or social reason to stop adults from legally committing themselves to each other. I believe as a principle that any adult should be able to have her or his relationship recognised. Personally I think it should go further - if you want to have your committed loving three-way relationship recognised then you should be able to as well. I don't see why under this logic we don't support polygamy as a legal relationship status, just to be consistent in applying human rights. Of course such talk upsets those aiming to be "normal" and  "just like the straights."But that's another story.

But oh dear - all the fighting in the playpen already. 

You see, even though it has become the issue for many homos, there are a number who really don't care, and a smaller group who are in fact actively opposed due to strongly held political and philosophical convictions. I read one gay man saying something like "This is the last hurdle for gay rights !" No, it isn't. 

It will, doubtless, be a big political struggle, requiring long hours of unpaid labour and personal dedication. There will be letter-writing campaigns, people monitoring talkback and ready to ring in and disagree with the redneck fuckwits who hate us. Worthy, happily-coupled, non-threatening same-sex couples will be trotted out to talk movingly about their desire to have their love recognised. Fine.

But we are being instructed by some that we must all be seen to be supporting this move.  Dissenting voices are being derided and told to shut up and go away, told they don't represent "us".

The thing is in New Zealand, nobody, absolutely no-one, can claim with the slightest shred of authority that they represent the voice of gay New Zealand. But no-one, not the out gay MPs (and certainly not the closeted ones), not the earnest Rainbow policy-mafia in Wellington or their corporate counterparts in Auckland actually speak for us. Neither do venue owners, media owners, or bloggers like me. 

We have our opinions, we get a sense of what people are thinking, especially if we are more connected to the local homo-world - but we don't have the right to tell others to "shut up because they're ruining it for the rest of us" if they don't agree with us.

We do have the right to argue, to persuade, to cajole, or to throw a tanty and stop talking to them, tell everyone else how terrible they are and you wish they would just shut the fuck up,that's  fine. 

But freedom of speech, and freedom to disagree is the fundamental human right. Without it the others fall over. So don't expect anyone who doesn't feel as passionately about this topic as you do, or maybe even has a critical perspective on it, to shut up. You have no right to demand that.

And this takes us back to that basic problem - there is no one united gay community. Being attracted to and loving people of the same biological gender is simply too thin a basis to build a real, deep, lasting community on. We are a multitude of different people with differing views, philosophies and backgrounds. But to the straight world we are all the same, (they're lazy, and just not that interested) and we do share a common oppression based in how they see us.

That oppression, fed by what is known as "heteronormativity" (google it) is what leads to the sad and terrible over-representation we have in things like drug addiction, depression, self-harm and suicide. Gay marriage is not going to fix that. Political change, challenges to the existing order instead of trying to fit into it will, I believe, do much more to stop the terrible damage that the straight world inflicts on so many queer people than this. 

But there is such a lack of any political engagement or analysis in contemporary gay culture that people don't see how all this works. Understanding that the things that make individual queer lives shitty are not simply a matter of personal choice but are rooted in a society that systematically fucks us over is not as widespread as it once was, but this ties back to the general de-politicisation of our world.  

Yes it's a good step, there is no reason why our love, our relationships, shouldn't have the same legal recognition as straight ones. It will make some people deliriously happy. They will feel as good as straights, because that's what they measure themselves against. Others will just treasure being able to celebrate their love with all the people who matter to them under the same name as their hetero brothers and sisters. Great. 

But don't assume it's what every single queer is desperate for, because it's not.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Come Out Lately?

So have you heard the news? The American journalist, celebrity (and hottie) has finally come out and said "Yeah, I'm gay - so what?"

It's not really a big surprise; as they used to say, he was dropping hairpins all over the place. He wasn't really all that "in".

But he'd never stood up before and said "Yeah, I love men, and... ? "

So now he's out. And that's good.

I admit, I had a little snarky moment, thinking "Oh gee, you took your time! Wait till it's easy! " but that's not all that productive and coming out is something that people do at their own pace. I am always a bit conflicted on big names when they come out - couldn't they have done more, earlier? But it's up to them. So long as they haven't been active hypocrites working against us.

There are  prominent gay men who work desperately to hide any suggestion that they are queer, they hate themselves so much that they will do anything to cover it up - even if they're sucking cock every chance they get to be away from their wives and families. Cooper wasn't like that, and for me that makes a difference - he hasn't been hiding, he just didn't stand up and say it till now.

It's when you know people are lying that it makes it all so bad.

Some gay friends have been "So? Why bother" but coming out does still matter - I believe that passionately.

Why should we live half a life? Why should we have to hide who we are? Because a life in the closet is a life that is a lie. It's a lie to yourself and those you love.

Coming out gives us visibility, it shows that , as the old slogan said "We Are Everywhere". And that is important.

I can remember as a young scared homo in the 70s being almost desperate to hear any news of any openly gay men in the world. I knew, but didn't really care about all the "Michaelangelo, Socrates, Oscar Wilde" famous men of old. I wanted to see men of my time who were out and successful and happy.

Rumours flew wildly about all sorts of celebrities, and even though now it seems comical at the time just trying to find any positive and openly gay men was impossible, so often it was singers, actors and other celebrities who got the label, whether they deserved it or not. And for some reason playing at male bisexuality was trendy for a bit in the 70s - think of early Bowie.

He didn't exactly look or act so straight back then, did he? So I bought every one of his albums I could find. I was trying, in some way, to learn how to be gay.

I guess the point is that for me, I felt so alone, so isolated. I knew there were other poofters around, I'd met my mum's hairdresser after all,  but nobody ever talked of them in a positive way.

They were shown as sad perverts, or jokes, doomed to loneliness, alcoholism and suicide.

And think of all the reactions to those rumours ! Scandal! Horror! Why the fuck should it matter? But it did and it still does.

The sense I had was that being gay was a terrible, evil secret  - something that must be hidden at all costs.

We were effectively de-humanised. We were seen as dirty, broken, unworthy and criminal.

So the obsession with "Did you hear the rumour about X?"  is understandable, and it continues.

It was so hard to find any positive, ordinary picture of a happy gay man - shit what am I saying? It wasn't just hard - it was impossible!

I can still remember being amazed at 17 and meeting two guys in their mid 20s who were living together, out, happy, with balanced lives. This was literally the first time I'd realised that this might be an option for my life.

Things are so much better than they were, but the wider-world is still not a welcoming friendly place for us. It's not uncommon to hear "Yes that's fine you're gay, but let's not talk about it at work/at school/in the rugby team." That message actually pushes us back into the closet, and tells us that in fact it's not ok to be gay.

As a community, old, middle-aged, young, we need to see ourselves mirrored in the wider world we live in. We need to be seen as part of the ordinary fabric of society, because that is what we are.

Coming out never really stops - it's a constant process. But the more it happens the better for us all.