Close to home

Let’s be clear: The current hot air around marriage equality in Australia is not a debate. The term “debate” implies rational discussion on both sides. There is no debate here. Just as the video going around about the Safe Schools anti-bullying programme peddles outright lies about the content of the programme, the “debate” around marriage equality consists of conservatives screaming “but think of the children” and other unrelated, emotive cries, and progressives saying “it’s a human rights issue”.

There is no place for debate here. There is nothing to debate. It’s like saying racial segregation needs to be debated. Nope. It really doesn’t. According people basic human rights should never be up for debate. You don’t get to declare me more, or less, worthy of human rights than you are. And I don’t get to do that to you. Because we are, or are trying to be, a civilized society that believes in justice.

There is no way to “debate” this, without saying that gay people aren’t full members of society.

The chances are that this ludicrous postal vote will come down to marketing. Who has the best campaign? Who mobilises more people to vote?  It will come down to who has the most persuasive arguments.

But there’s one argument used on the left that makes me a little sad. It’s probably effective, but that makes me even sadder. It’s this line: “I have a loved one who is gay, that’s why marriage equality is important to me.”

It makes sense that we care about things that hit close to home. But this is why the Australian government is still getting away with torturing refugees, and why marriage equality is not a done deal. Because human rights are only important to us when they are being denied to someone we care about.

As it happens, I do have loved ones who are gay. Given the numbers, we almost certainly all do, whether we know it or not. But that’s not why marriage equality matters.

Marriage equality matters because without it we are telling gay kids that they are less than straight ones.

Marriage equality matters because without it we are telling gay couples that their love is less than straight couples’.

Let’s turn that around: Marriage equality matters because gay people are people just like straight ones. Marriage equality matters because a gay relationship is just as committed, just as valuable, and sometimes just as broken, as any straight relationship. Marriage equality matters because we need to prove to gay kids that they are fully paid up members of this club we call “civilized society”. Marriage equality matters because gay kids, gay adults, and gay relationships matter, just the same as straight ones.

Not because it’s close to me, or close to you. Because love should be celebrated, and people should be valued. Your sexuality is not relevant to anyone you’re not trying to go to bed with. It should not be the deciding factor in any other decision anyone else makes.

Marriage equality matters because people are people, and love is love.

 

 

 

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A question of identity

When my girls were really little, the youngest, JB, had a bit of a problem. She quite liked pretty dresses and flowers, but she was also dead keen on things she thought of as “boy stuff”.  She felt as though she had to choose a side. She was quite relieved when we talked it through and worked out that she didn’t have to be either a girly girl or a tomboy. She could just be herself. Now that she’s 8, she has clearly picked a side, and it’s her own.

She has very short hair, and today is wearing a grey and black striped hoodie, old blue trackies with a pink stripe (and paint splotches from when we helped some friends paint their new house), and black sneakers. Tomorrow she could just as easily be wearing a frilly dress. We’re both at home with a virus, and when we went to a new GP to get a medical certificate for me, the GP asked who this “handsome young man” was by my side.  JB was unfazed, but the doctor was hugely embarrassed when I introduced them. She felt terrible that she had made the wrong assumption about JB’s gender, but it happens all the time, and JB isn’t bothered by it at all.

What does bother her, though, is when she corrects kids her own age and they refuse to accept it. One boy came up to me on Sunday and said “Your son keeps saying he’s a girl.” It bothered him hugely (and it probably didn’t help when I laughed and said “My son is a girl!”), and he and a couple of other kids pushed the issue to the point where JB became quite upset. They kept insisting that she had to be a boy, largely because she has very short hair. She was wearing a red t-shirt with cherries, and trousers with pink on them, so I assume it was just the hair. Kids like to put people in categories. It’s a normal, human way of processing the world. It’s a learning experience for them when someone doesn’t quite fit in the usual box. Adults, though, should know better.

I’ve known people with acute gender dysphoria who have eventually transitioned, and with people who don’t readily identify with a single gender. I’ve known people who are homosexual, or kinky, or polyamorous. I’ve even known a few people who society considers normal (although they are rarer than you might think). The one thing that becomes clearer to me with every new experience is that we, as a society, urgently need to learn to accept people for who they are on the inside.

There is nothing more comforting, enabling, and joyful than being accepted for who you are. And there are few things more destructive and corrosive than being told that who you are is somehow wrong.

That’s why it’s not “political correctness gone mad” to want to stop labeling toys as just for boys, or just for girls. Because in doing that we are telling girls who like “boys’ toys” that who they are is not normal, and not ok. And we are telling boys who like “girls’ toys” that who they are is not normal and not ok. And we are pushing the boys into nice, safe, boy occupations like building and engineering, and we are pushing the girls into nice, safe, girl occupations like teaching and nursing. Whether they belong there or not.

We reinforce these rigid gender boxes in so many unthinking ways. Schools have boys’ uniforms and girls’ uniforms. Why can’t they just have uniforms, and let people choose the bits that suit them? There are high schools around here where girls can wear shorts (although it’s not well advertised) but the girls’ shorts are dark blue, while the boys’ are grey. What is the point of that? Why do we feel this intense need to draw this deep dark line under gender, and underscore it so hard we cut through the paper?

Being very tall, I used to worry that someone would “catch” me buying men’s jeans, or that I would inadvertently buy something off the wrong rack, and find out later that I was accidentally wearing men’s clothes. It took me a surprisingly long time to decide that there was no inherent shame, or indeed gender, in clothing. Clothes, for the most part, don’t actually have genitalia.

Here we are in 2015, and we still have poker nights for the men and tupperware parties for the girls, but I take some heart from the fact that my younger friends don’t seem to acknowledge the divide the way my contemporaries do. When I hang out with younger crowds there’s no clear gender split, yet when I hang out with my uni friends my cherished status as “one of the boys” has been revoked. Among people my age it remains strange to try to breach that divide, and once I had kids I was put firmly back into my gender role, whether I liked it or not. (I did not!)

I hope we don’t wind up imposing our rigid and, let’s face it, very broken ideas about gender on the next generation. I hope that those kids who continue to tease JB for being a girl but looking like a boy might stop and reflect on why it bothers them so much. Above all I hope that we are capable, sooner rather than later, of ditching the boxes and accepting people for who they are.

Live and let bonk

The Age reported today that a British MP was “outed” as bisexual, which may have “scuppered his prospects of leading the Liberal Democrat party”.  The article dealt with the matter as a straightforward result of the whole hacking scandal which has had the press in paroxysms for what seems like years now.  It never addressed the question of why the sexuality of that MP was in any way relevant to his leadership chances.

While in these days of quiet desperation
As I wander through the world in which I live
I search everywhere for some new inspiration
But it’s more than cold reality can give

It saddens me that we are still here – in a world where being gay can scupper your chances of anything (except, possibly, a heterosexual relationship), and where being bisexual is a political liability of unassailable proportions.

How can that be? How is a politician’s sex life in any way relevant to his or her performance in office? How is anyone else’s sex life in any way relevant to me unless I am trying to pursue a sexual relationship with them?

If I need a cause for celebration
Or a comfort I can use to ease my mind
I rely on my imagination
And I dream of an imaginary time

Who I take to bed is no-one’s business except mine and my partner’s. Or partners’, should I so choose (ah, the subtle impact of apostrophe placement!). Who you take to bed is none of my business, unless it’s me.

I want to write more on this, but I am really stumped. It seems so blindingly self-evident. Sexuality is for the bedroom. It is (or should be) irrelevant to politics. Once we legalise gay marriage (and we will – it’s inevitable, get over it, move on), sexuality should not appear on the political stage. We all need to grow up.

Oh oh, and I know that everybody has a dream
Everybody has a dream, everybody has a dream
And this is my dream, my own
Just to be at home and to be all alone with you

Everybody Has a Dream, Billy Joel

I dream of a time when sexuality is irrelevant to politics – when who and how you love is up to you. Johnny Galecki, star of the Big Bang Theory said it best when questioned about the persistent rumours that he is gay, and why he has not bothered to scotch them. “Why defend yourself against something that’s not offensive?”

Why indeed?

Straight talking

Some things are difficult to explain, simply because they seem so profoundly obvious. My post on climate change felt rather like that. I found it hard to express myself, because it all seemed so fundamental, so clear, that it was difficult to grasp why or how anyone would need it explained. Nonetheless it sparked a fairly vigorous debate.

Legalising gay marriage seems, to me, to be a very similar topic. It feels obvious to me that anyone who who believes in equality, fairness, justice and compassion would argue that there is nothing to debate. If we disallow gay marriage, we tarnish ourselves and our society.

The tired old argument that “marriage is between a man and a woman” isn’t actually an argument at all. It is a statement of history. Sure, we used to discriminate. We used to discriminate on the basis of race, of gender, and of postcode. Once the statement was a little different. Once people would have said “marriage is between a man and a woman of the same race,” with just as much emphasis and strength of feeling. Possibly more. Yet now we recognise the fundamental insanity of that statement. Love does not recognise skin colour or genetic makeup.

Denying gay couples the right to marry does not protect marriage. This unattributed quote, seen on twitter, sums it up beautifully: “So, let me get this straight…Charlie Sheen can make a “porn family”, Kelsey Grammer can end a 15 year marriage over the phone, Larry King can be on divorce #9, Britney Spears had a 55 hour marriage, Jesse James and Tiger Woods, while married, were having sex with EVERYONE. Yet the idea of same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really?”

Legalising gay marriage is no threat to my conventional, heterosexual marriage. But maintaining discrimination is a threat to my children. Whether they grow up gay, straight, or endearingly twisted, I want my daughters to grow up in a world where people are treated fairly and equally. Where people are valued for their minds and their hearts. Where their sexuality is their own concern, and of no interest to anyone outside their private lives.

We are not teaching our children that right now. We are teaching our children that gay relationships are somehow less deserving, less valid than straight. In doing so, we damage and divide our own community, just as much as we did when we discriminated on the basis of race. (I am rather naively assuming we don’t do that anymore – but we have at least achieved something when no-one, not even Andrew Bolt, wants to admit to doing it.)

Similarly, the argument that we could recognise gay relationships in a legal sense, without actually using the word marriage, is a decoy away from the real issue: equality. We could do that. It might even be an easier fight. But what would it achieve? We don’t gain anything by locking gay relationships out of marriage, but we lose a lot. Don’t give me dictionary or religious definitions of the word marriage. Give me, instead, the dictionary definition of equality.

It is time to state firmly, loudly, and unequivocally, that all people are equal and valued, whether gay, straight or kinky. The true measure of a couple’s relationship is in their love and commitment, not in their sexuality. One day we will look back and be appalled that this topic was ever debated, just as we look back on racial segregation with horror. Let’s bring that day forward.

*Australian MPs are consulting their constituents about gay marriage right now. Email your MP today.

Equality

I have been hesitant to call myself a feminist, because I don’t fight for women’s rights – I fight for everyone’s rights. I want equality. Most of all, what I want is to end segregation. To consider people for who they are, not what gender, race, or class they happen to be.

In a startling display of equality, the Federal government recently announced a paid parental leave scheme. NOT a maternity leave scheme. Either parent can take the leave, or they can share it between them. Well hallelujah! Official recognition of mothers and fathers as equal parents. Now we just have to hope that society catches up sometime in the next century or so.
This is just one battle in the war against gender myths. There are so many of them, like the myth that there are “male jobs” and “female jobs”. My eldest daughter goes to a primary school without a single male teacher. But it’s ok – the contractors who come in to teach sport are guys. My youngest daughter goes to a child care centre with no male carers. But it’s ok, the contractor who comes in to run the sports program is a guy. Apparently men are allowed to interact with little kids when sport is involved.

Engineers are men. Computer scientists are men. Teachers are women. So who teaches engineering and computer science? Ooh, don’t go there. Next question please!
I have a PhD in computer science, and the men in my department always asked me why we didn’t have more female students. I didn’t know, because whatever it was that was keeping the girls away clearly hadn’t worked on me. But I think I’ve worked it out now. It’s our gender myths that are constraining us, tying us down, and robbing us all (not just the girls) of choices. And the biggest myth of all is the worst: Men and women can’t be friends.
This has always struck me as bizarre, but I put it down to my own weirdness. After all, at those parties with the girls in one room and the guys in the other, I was always in the wrong room. But now I think it is worse than that. It’s not just a problem for those of us in the wrong room. It’s a problem for our whole society. How can we understand the opposite sex if we never communicate with them outside the high stakes of sexual relationships?

Why would you close yourself off to the perspective and potential of half the human race? If we are fundamentally different then we complement each other, fill in the gaps and provide a different set of skills, thoughts and feelings. If we are fundamentally the same then there is nothing to keep us apart! Either way, we can all benefit from getting the communication going. The myth that we are separate species, that we are so different we need separate activities, separate parties, separate sports, is absolutely corrosive. If men and women can’t be friends, can’t be equals who respect each other and interact in every facet of our lives, then we can never progress beyond the sort of behaviour shown by Matthew Johns, that is apparently standard among rugby league players. We will never achieve true equality in the workplace, where men can work with small children without arousing suspicion. Where a woman can be CEO of a big company without causing comment. Where a woman can front the nightly news on a commercial television channel (hah! as if!).

If you buy into the dominant myth, heterosexual couples can wind up barely seeing their partners socially. Those rare parties to which you are both invited will have separate rooms for men and women. Too often, the simpler route of poker nights for men, tupperware parties for women is the road most taken. Yet we have the most to offer each other when we consider our similarities. When we participate in a world where we both belong, where we can freely follow our talents and preferences, regardless of whether they are typically male or typically female.

A friend of mine never used to play with dolls, until other little girls came over. Then she would show interest in the dolls as a way to fit in. As soon as the girls left, she would be out the door and climbing the nearest tree, leaving the dolls far behind. In a way, we’re all trapped trying to play with dolls to belong. The guys who are good with little kids, the girls who are good with machines. The guys who wear pink, the girls who never wear makeup or high heels. The mums who go back to work full time. The dads who stay home to look after the kids. We all feel like misfits.
We have a photo of our daughter, when she was 3, wearing a fairy dress and playing with a bulldozer. I think that sums it up perfectly. Wear the fairy dress. Play with the bulldozer. If you don’t like dolls, don’t play with them! Smash the gender myths!