Marriage Equality

Originally posted to MsMcranty Pants Tumblr 02/07/2015 http://msmcrantypants.tumblr.com/

EDIT: When I wrote this post, the Liberal government had yet to come up with their grand plan of a plebiscite, and I had more hope for the queer community than I do now. Since the Safe Schools debacle and the plebiscite nonsense, public debate has become increasingly ugly. Marriage equality is still purely symbolic, and the conservatives know it. They want us focused on arguing about marriage rather than really important issues, and their plebiscite is a really effective way of achieving this. They keep us arguing and we achieve nothing, while queer people are literally dying – of suicide, poverty, homelessness and violence. This is why we need a Labor (or, in an ideal world, a Greens) government, whose first order of business will be to make the simple change to the marriage laws so we can move on and work toward real equality. And so the queer community can feel, even if just for a moment, that we are valid and supported and that there is hope. I want to have hope that the “voting public” will think of us – and the many other oppressed Australians – when they vote tomorrow, but it’s getting harder and harder to maintain faith in humanity. This is one of the few times where I desperately want to be proven wrong.

 

Marriage equality is finally legal all across the United States of America, and I swear the entire world turned momentarily rainbow coloured. And it was awesome. For a whole twelve hours I felt like the queer movement was actually getting somewhere. With every profile picture of a straight, cis friend that turned rainbow coloured, I felt a little stirring of hope and joy and, I have to admit, when more than half the faces on my feed were splashed with fabulous, I did tear up a little bit.**

Then I remembered that the real world actually exists. Damn it.

Look, it is amazing and wonderful and fantastic that marriage equality has been achieved, especially in the US. Fifty years ago, such a thing would have been unthinkable, and it’s only happened because of the bravery and tireless efforts of queer activists who have fought for the recognition and rights that queer people today take for granted. But, just like the feminist movement, we still have a really, really long way to go before we’re free of the injustice so many queer people face at the moment. I definitely have some issues with the way we discuss marriage equality, both as a queer movement and as a society, and with how much focus is placed on it.

I know, I’m such a killjoy.

Before I get into explaining why I take issue with marriage equality, it’s important to note that I do support the movement, for the simple reason that deciding only some people have the right to marry is state sanctioned discrimination. No matter how many issues I have with the institution of marriage and nuclear family, I recognise that it is a major social institution and it’s not going away. Therefore, we cannot accept a legal position that excludes part of society because of their gender identity or sexual preference. As far as I know, if I legally change my gender to reflect my identity (a third gender is now recognised in Australia), I cannot actually get married to anyone, since marriage is still defined as between a man and a woman. Many trans people are forced to choose between legally changing their identity or divorcing their spouse. The list of inequities goes on. We’ll leave the discussion about how hard it is to legally change one’s gender – and the reasons why I never, ever want to get married again – for another rant and move on to the problems associated with this intense focus we have on marriage equality as a great stepping point for the queer movement.

The first problem with so many resources being poured into a largely symbolic issue, is that there are major issues going unnoticed behind the rainbow banners. Because, while symbols are very important, marriage equality is as much about what it symbolises to the queer movement as it is about real, concrete change. In much the same way that straight people can adorn their Facebook profiles with rainbow filters while doing absolutely nothing else and still call themselves “allies”, marriage equality, in reality, doesn’t ask much of the non-queer community. Yes, many non-hetero couples will now be awarded the same legal rights as married hetero couples. Yes, people are forced to acknowledge that queer people exist. The problem is, the queer people who are visible through this campaign are the most socially acceptable ones. The nice, bourgeois couples who look (almost) “just like us”. They’re the poster children for queer identity. They’re not threatening, they’re the next door neighbours who hold really adorable dinner parties and always have the best Christmas lights. They’re not challenging the traditional lifestyle, they really just want to take part in it. They want to be normal.

If you can’t hear the sarcasm in that paragraph, you’re missing the point.

The focus on marriage equality seems, to many queer people, like assimilation politics. If we can look enough like cis, hetero people, maybe they’ll accept us. If we can just fit in, then we’ll all find a nice new balance of “normal” and it will be all rainbows and unicorn farts. We’re trying to create a “normal” space where there are ways to be acceptably queer. Want to be like Ellen Degeneres? Well, I guess that’s okay. I mean, she’s pretty funny, and she loves to dance. Or maybe you’re more of a Neil Patrick Harris person. He’s just so adorable with his little kids and matching Halloween costumes! And don’t even get me started on Laverne Cox, who is just so gooooorgeous, oh I love her so much! (Actually, I do love all of these people, but that’s beside the point.) The point is that these three public figures are examples of “acceptable” ways of performing queerness. These are identities that aren’t threatening to the mainstream (unless you’re a religious fundamentalist).Which is a bit of a problem for queer people who don’t want to get married, or have children, or “fit in”. It’s particularly problematic for trans people, since a whole lot of us either will not or cannot “fit in” to the currently acceptable social norms. And there’s nothing more normal than growing up, getting married, buying a house, having two and a half children and a dog and more cars than adults… You get the picture.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean we’re not absolutely losing our shit when another country recognises that, yes, we’re human beings, thank you very much, so we do actually have human rights. (Check your Universal Declaration of Human Rights, marriage is actually in there.) It still feels like a victory, and it is progress, even for those of us who don’t think it’s the pinnacle of queer achievement – the recognition of a third gender in several countries, for example, went almost unnoticed, but it has a huge impact on members of the trans and intersex community. Marriage equality is important, but it’s also important to look at it honestly. Instead of standing up and demanding to be treated like human beings on all levels, we’re demanding to be treated like human beings in the least threatening way possible. Being gay is all about looooove, how bad could it really be, darling?

Except that being lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex, asexual or any other queer identity isn’t just about love. It’s not just about who we love but about who we are. And that is kind of getting forgotten in all our celebrating. Queer people suffer exponentially higher rates of mental illness and suicide, ridiculously high rates of homelessness, are at far higher risk of assault, abuse or murder – the legitimacy of the “gay panic” defence is still being debated in some Australian states. A few years ago, a man was charged with manslaughter instead of murder when he beat a gay man to death, because he felt threatened when that man came onto him. The victim had not threatened him with violence, he’d made a pass. And a raging homophobe had his view upheld in court because we still live in a society that values cisgender, heterosexual comfort over queer lives. This shit isn’t going to go away just because a few more people can get married. The culture that others queer identities, that forces queer people to feel like we’re wrong, broken, sinful or subhuman still exists, very strongly. The social institutions that promote a particular kind of normalcy are still at odds with our realities and while this is the case, we will not be free.

All the money and attention that is spent discussing marriage equality should really be spent discussing ways to address high rates of suicide, high poverty rates among queer people or anti-queer violence, but those topics are far harder to stomach, and far harder to solve. Marriage equality on its own might raise awareness of our existence as a community, but that’s not enough. For starters, the mainstream is only seeing part of our community, any of us remain invisible. And people still aren’t having the difficult conversations. In fact, while marriage equality is still up for debate, they don’t have to have the difficult conversations. And once we have equality? Because we will, there’s no going back now, no matter how hard Abbott&Co stall. But what will happen to the queer community once we’re there? After we’ve swept up the glitter and eaten the five hundred wedding cakes and stopped seeing in rainbows, are we really going to be able to convince people to listen to our really, seriously, life threatening problems any more than they’re listening now?

Unfortunately, the answer is “no”, not without a lot of really, seriously hard work. Marriage equality is making the most immediate and vital queer issues, especially those of transgender people, invisible. It’s one of those issues that people can kid themselves into believing is for all queer people, but in reality it advantages middle-class, white, cisgender, mono-sexual queer people more than those dealing with the intersections of race or poverty or non-cisgender identities. For many of these people, marriage is a luxury they literally cannot afford. Their issues are far more immediate and far more deadly.

So what’s the solution? Do we stop celebrating these victories? Do we stamp our feet and refuse to be happy? Do we sneer at those straight people attempting to show their support for our cause? No, no, and no. But we do need to look past the window dressing at the reality behind this movement and realise that the queer community still has a very long way to go before we will be freed from the everyday injustice of a world that significantly privileges non-queer identities. We need to start speaking about more than marriage. We need to make room for all of our lifestyles and identities, not just the ones that allow hetero people to feel comfortable. We need to acknowledge ourselves in our full and glorious variety, and recognise that marriage equality, while symbolically significant, has no real-life impact for so many of us. We need to keep fighting.

We can do it, we can move forward, and I still feel much of that hope that I felt when I first saw the rainbow filters go up. Sure, it was an easy thing to do, just to show those colours. It required very little of them. But awareness is important. Recognition is important. If those people were willing to support this cause, then many of them will support our next, and our next, until we can finally say that we are free and that we don’t just have equality before the law, but before our fellow human beings. And that’s what this is really all about.

Rant over. xo
**It’s probably worth noting at this point that I came out as trans (genderqueer) and pansexual a few months ago. So if you’re confused as to why I talked about myself as a cisgender, straight woman in previous posts, but am now identifying as queer, this is why.

Image from https://dillonpete.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/marriage-equality.jpg – also another important post about marriage equality, please head over and take a look.

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