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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

We Hunger to be Seen

Why are we so invisible?

I don't know if you saw, but there was a news report out this week saying a pair of bodies that had been trapped in the lava at Pompeii, and identified for many years as "The Maidens" is in fact two male bodies.

This has led to all sorts of speculation that in fact they were two lovers, two men taking comfort in each other's arms at this terrible time. The UK magazine Attitude got so carried away that it claimed that they were.

And it's a beautiful and poignant way of thinking about them.Two men, in love, as this terrible catastrophe destroys their world and comes to take their lives, finding some comfort, some refuge in each other, in death as in life.

But it's highly unlikely to be true. There is in fact no way of knowing anything about them except they are two bodies whose forms were preserved in lava.

Yet so many of us really, really wanted to believe they were lovers.

And that's because we so rarely see any evidence of our love, our relationships, or our lives, represented in the world around us.

We rarely see images of two women or men being simply and easily affectionate in public in say a TV show or a movie. We rarely see any representation of gender-diverse or trans people in a positive and everyday setting in the world around us.

I remember how as a teenager I would desperately try and decode every film and song for any possible reference to same sex love, trying to find any hint that there were others out there like me. At 14 I was sure that Lou Reed's "I'm waiting for my man" was about a man waiting for his boyfriend - until my oldest brother explained he waiting for his dealer.

I looked for anything, any possible sign, any possible image or set of words that could be interpreted to show I was not the only freak out in the world. I looked for images that talked of men with men showing love, happiness, and acceptance. And I barely found any.

And when we look around the world now, even though our legal situation is light-years better than when I was growing up, we are still largely invisible.

And we also know that we risk very real danger by making ourselves known, by being seen.

Earlier this month in the Netherlands a couple was viciously assaulted for holding hands in public. It was terrible - but it provoked a wonderful response of all sorts of other men deciding to publicly walk round holding hands - police, MPs, ordinary people on the way to work. A great response. But still utterly terrible it happened to them.

And it could happen to us here.

And that's where we're in a bit of a bind - if we are too unsure of our safety to go around showing who we are, by holding hands, by kissing, or whatever, then we won't become visible and normalised to the rest of the population.  I'd be very wary of holding my partner's hand outside a few areas of town, and even then only in daylight.

But we don't deserve to live this way. We should absolutely feel safe and comfortable exercising our rights to be ourselves in public. But unless someone goes first and starts  taking that risk, it's not really going to change.

That's why I really love the ANZ "Hold Tight" campaign . They made two parts to it, one is the nice glossy TV ad, and that's cool,  and the other one, here above, is where they interview actual ANZ staff, queer and straight, about the subject. Because it's real personal stories I find this to be more moving.

Advertising is one of the most obvious and pervasive ways of talking about the world around us. Ads are everywhere - but'we're not in very many of them. I think  the more we're represented in advertising, the better.

There has been a growing, but small number of efforts like ANZ's above. The more of them that are out there, the more we will be included, the more we will truly be part of the world, and the safer we will be.

Even in my 50s I still hunger to see images of my world around me, and I so rarely get to. To create a world where we are safe to show our love in public, I really think ads like this play a vital part.

Let's hope that one day our stories and images will be included as automatically as the rest of society. Let's hope that our youth will grow up seeing themselves reflected in the world around them. Because it matters.


David Beard said...
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David Beard said...
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David Beard said...

You are so right! We need to hold hands when we go shopping, etc and be visible and establish normality so people see that the gays don't bite and in fact we are an asset to society. We feel like our own little pride parade 2 men wandering through the aisles at New World pushing a pram as big as a mini with 3 beautiful screaming children. 2 men who are dealing with all the same issues as heterosexual families - except our family has wiped us and our children are missing out on having a grandma. So that kinda makes it harder (no grandma popping in with meals or baking, no grandma watching the kids if we want to catch a movie) instead we have beautiful diverse gay friends who have stretched out their hearts to us and the kids.