Queer identity in the age of a same-sex marriage postal survey… life was hard enough, but right now it feels a whole lot harder for Gene Smith.
For many people of my generation, the same-sex marriage postal survey is our first taste of active state-sanctioned discrimination. We’re dealing with this whilst still coming to terms with our identities, and what it means to be queer.
“If any of you boys came home and told me you were gay, I’d probably disown you,” says Mum casually as we are watching the Sydney Mardi Gras on TV, her brow furrowed in mild disgust.
I am 13 and think I might be gay; her words are like a bomb going off, the ringing in my ears drowning out the TV.
“We love you, no matter what. And who knows? Maybe it’s just a phase.” My grandfather embraced me after I told him I was gay.
“What?” Mum’s eyes widened and her hands jerked the steering wheel of the car, sending us swerving. “I’m never going to have grandchildren…” she later cried.
“Faggot!” someone screamed from a passing car. I pretended I didn’t hear, but thought about it for weeks after. Sometimes I still think about it.
“Since when did you start sounding so gay?” my best friend laughed, having not seen me for a few months.
“I don’t like him – he’s a poof,” quipped my brother about a boy he doesn’t like at school. “What’s wrong with being a poof?” I quipped back.
“Marriage should be between a man and woman! Being gay is unnatural!” reads a comment on an online article. I clicked on the woman’s name, and discover she lives in my hometown.
She’s Facebook friends with members of my family.
I had probably been with Mum down the main street as they smiled at each other in passing.
“You can never be too careful,” said a boy I dated once, after he snatched his hand from mine as we were walking down the street.
“I probably feel a bit threatened,” chuckled Tony Abbott, on screen and in front of the nation, in answer to a question about how homosexuality makes him feel.
“I’m not as okay with being gay as I thought I was,” admitted the boy I like, my shoulder wet with his tears.
He’s been out for less than a year. His mother, for religious reasons, is voting “no” in the marriage survey.
He loves her, and I have no doubt that she loves him. It’s complicated.
Above are a just a few of the words said to me over the course of my life. They hold a prominent place in my history in that ambiguous way certain words said at certain times do.
They have made me who I am today, and for the better.
At least, that’s what I thought.
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The wounds left by those words scarred me, though eventually they healed and I became a little more durable so the next time didn’t hurt as much.
I became proud of those scars.
Proud of the pain I had suffered, the degradation I had endured, and the thoughts I had considered; proud that I had made it. It was pride in survival.
It was pride despite the words.
Now the words are cutting deeper and more often.
Healing is harder because the attacks are relentless and terrible.
They’re coming from millions of people whom I have not met, whose lives I’m only aware of because of the things they say on social media, in newspapers, on television, where anyone can see and hear them – me, my friends, my family, the little boy or little girl who feel the same way I did.
People whose only interaction with me will be a vote against my freedom to be with the person I love in a celebratory and just way. An equal way.
In response, many of us are using those same platforms to share our sometimes unexpected emotional response to all this rhetoric.
Like the revelation I had only a few nights ago, sitting on a gutter in a back street of Erskineville, the boy I liked inconsolable because he was gay, and me sitting there coming to terms (seven years after I came out) with the fact that I too was gay, and that this is what it means to be gay.
The most devastating part of that experience was afterwards, when exhaustion replaced tears, and we walked back to the train station, I hesitated in holding his hand – to quote a boy I once dated, “You can never be too careful”.
We try really hard to not be affected. We try really hard to show fortitude. We try really hard to be proud. Not only now, when surveys are being sent out and marked and sent back.
We tried in 1978, when the first Sydney Mardi Gras marchers were jailed.
And in the decades following, when we were thrown from cliffs in Bondi and the police did nothing.
In 1997, when Tasmania refused to repeal sodomy laws until the eleventh hour.
In 2004, when both the Howard government and the opposition voted in parliament to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.
In recent years, when expungement and civil partnership legislation were passed around like political footballs (and in some states, still are).
And now when Safe Schools is unfairly characterised and attacked.
We try when we enter a room of unknown people and calculate what risk is posed mentioning our same-sex partner.
We try when pretending not to see the looks we receive as we hold the hands of the person we love.
We try when we wrestle with the guilt of not seeing our families as often as we would like because our hometowns bring back memories and feelings we’d rather forget.
We try when “Vote No” is written across the sky.
We try when we sit opposite our parents, eating dinner, knowing they are voting “no”.
We try everyday.
Every single day.
I’m not as okay with being gay as I thought I was.