“It seems like everybody’s getting married all of a sudden. Now I have another wedding to go to next year. You know my friend Dean? He just got engaged.”
“Oh! That’s wonderful news. How lovely! So he’s found a nice girl at last?”
“Oh.” <Disappointed sigh.> “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“He and his fiancé have been living together for four years. They’re a wonderful couple. They even have a baby. She’s a pug; her name’s Lola. They’re very happy. I’m over the moon for them.”
“Oh. How can they get married?”
“Queensland now recognises same-sex unions.”
“I’m very happy for them.”
This is an actual (paraphrased) conversation I had yesterday. It’s not the only one I’ve had recently with somebody who was excited to hear that one of my dearest, oldest friends was getting married… until they realised he would be marrying another man, at which point their excitement visibly and vocally diminished.
(I should note that the person I had this particular conversation with is a very lovely, kind-hearted person, a very close friend of my family and somebody I have a lot of time for. They just happen to be homophobic.)
When I told some friends this story today, they of course agreed that it is wonderful news and they are as happy for my friend as I am. But they also thought I was trying to be provocative by having such a conversation with somebody I knew to be homophobic, and that I probably should have left well enough alone.
Of course, I wasn’t “trying to be provocative” at all. What they meant is that I wasn’t actively concealing potentially provocative information.
This is something that has come up a few times recently, the idea of “leaving it alone” when it comes to talking about marriage equality and gay prejudice. Not just in personal conversations but in the media – for example, it was suggested to me recently (by someone who ostensibly supports marriage equality) that it would be too controversial for anyone to publish gay marriage-related content in a traditionally “straight” wedding magazine, even now that civil unions are recognised in our state.*
I vehemently disagree.
Why do so many purportedly liberal, unprejudiced, broad-minded, rational people cower like beaten housewives at the idea of open conversation about contentious topics?
Why are we so afraid of upsetting the status quo, or of being impolite, or of being seen as argumentative and opinionated when it comes to the idea of marriage equality?
Exactly how deep does our social conditioning go, that we think sharing the happy news of a dear friend’s engagement or writing about legally recognised gay weddings is being “too provocative” or “stirring the pot for the sake of it”?
It’s difficult for me to talk about this without becoming really angry, and then having to justify my anger to people who perceive it as aggression. It’s an important issue to me and I therefore have a tendency to speak passionately and vociferously about it. I’ve tried not to. I’ve even tried being apologetic about how intensely I argue the point, but frankly? Fuck that and the horse it rode in on.
You don’t need to get so angry about it.
I am tired of hearing this and variations thereof. So here is my official response:
Yes, I’m angry.
Of course I’m angry.
Of course I’m speaking with passion, because I’m fucking furious.
I am enraged that people think it’s okay for them to not only disapprove of somebody else’s sexual identity, but to actually play a part in legislating their personal life.
I am incensed that people are so offended by the idea of my friend and his fiancée finding happiness and making a life together, that they would actively work to prevent them from doing so – despite the fact that they will probably never meet or interact with this man, never be personally affected by his lifestyle in any practical way, and never have an interest in his life beyond the vague, ultimately passing offense they may feel at this one aspect of the way he lives it.
I am infuriated that this offense they feel, these hurt feelings they get at the very idea of a man being in love with another man and wanting to have that love recognised as equally worthy and important as the love they feel for their own husband or wife, are actually given any kind of weight in a political or social arena.
Who cares if you’re offended?
Who cares if it shakes your world view to think that the love between two men or two women might be equally important, equally valid and equally real as the love between a man and a woman?
Who actually cares about your feelings on the matter, when it doesn’t affect you – personally, physically, practically, financially – in any real way?
This isn’t about feelings or belief systems or taking offense. This is about people’s lives. It’s about the lives of our friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers.
It’s about the lives of your friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers, unless you are living in a magical remote commune of happy homophobia which doesn’t allow queers within a hundred-mile radius.
You know these people. They are real, and they have real lives that exist outside of your hypothetical, theoretical ideas about whether or not it’s okay to be gay. The argument is over, because they are gay, they are operating as functional gay adults who work, live, pay taxes and spend money in this country just like you do, and they’re trying to get on with their goddamn lives and be happy.
So how can anyone worry more about the feelings of somebody having their outdated belief system questioned than about the actual, real-world lives of the people who are affected by this issue? I mean really affected, not just affronted or offended or challenged, but properly impacted in a practical, significant, living way. In a way that says, specifically, “You are not worthy of one of the basic civil rights that are afforded to every single other person in this country, because some of those people don’t like who you sleep with.”
Why am I so angry at the idea of “leaving well enough alone”?
Well… why aren’t we all angry? Why aren’t we – the supposedly inclusive, fair-minded, “fair go” Australian people – in a heightened and sustained state of rage about this issue?
If you say that you believe in marriage equality, that you “have loads of gay friends”, that you think they deserve to be happy, that you want to support them and that you oppose the aggressive and rampant homophobia in this country, then why should you be quiet about it? Why shouldn’t you share your hope for a truly egalitarian society every fucking chance you get?
Not just by signing e-petitions or by voicing your support only when you are amongst likeminded people, but by speaking up and standing by your beliefs even if – especially if – the conversation happens to be with somebody who could potentially disagree with you. If the topic comes up, why clamp down? Nobody deserves to have their prejudice go unchallenged forever, especially not when that prejudice has an impact on other people’s lives.
Your actions and words matter. And the actions you don’t take – the words you don’t say – matter just as much as the ones you do.
So say something, for goodness’ sake.
[*In case anyone who personally knows me is wondering, the person who suggested this is in no way affiliated with my sister’s excellent wedding website, The Bride’s Tree. In fact they’re not actually in publishing at all. But I presume they read a lot of wedding magazines.]