The other night, Max and I were at a birthday dinner with several heterosexual couples. As is customary with a group of people who’ve just met through the host, the conversation flitted around subject matter, never landing on one topic. We got portholes into job satisfaction, new parenting discoveries, nerding out about Star Wars, and we moved the conversation along just in case anyone embarrassed themselves by talking too much.
During dessert, someone said, “Do you mind if I ask a question about the Yes vote — I mean, the postal survey thing?”
It was like how I ask a student about a political issue in their country, or whether they’ve experienced racism in Australia. I blush, but my curiosity wins out.
“Shoot,” Max said.
“I have a colleague,” she said, “who is quite a bit older – gay – who says he thought he had prepared himself for the weeks of campaigning for the survey. He says he underestimated how emotional he would feel about it and he says he’s not an emotional guy. Is it as bad as that? How are you guys coping?”
“Ha,” we said.
I won’t quote what we said. I feel like I took the reins at one stage. The pretence of polite conversation dropped.
I posted just before the survey ‘went live’ and my tone was of bitter resilience: if this survey is what it’s come to, then let’s just get it done. I expected loopy ‘No’ arguments from the usual suspects – the Bible Thrashers of the Christian Lobby and their friends in the Liberal party. What I didn’t anticipate was the force with which they would open the doors to explicit bigotry in the daily news cycle. The hand-wringing brigade came out with voices shrill: “Won’t someone please think of the children!” We received a flyer in our letterbox signed ‘anonymous from the silent majority’. In it, no doubt a cis-gendered he/she outlined 10 Reasons To Vote No On Same-Sex Marriage. Each reason was as convoluted and false as the next. Pedophilia and bestiality reared their non-consensual heads, as did the breakdown in logic that is freedom of marriage leading to restrictions on freedom of speech. Worse, in the weeks since the battleground was set by the Prime Minister, has been the dog-whistling and gaslighting by not only the No camp but from media outlets beyond desperate for clicks publishing articles with specious relevance to the issue. The dog-whistling should really be ‘bull-horning’, because at this stage even a kindergartener can see through the newspeak. Shannon Molloy’s piece does a good job of cataloguing the hypocrisy.
It’s the gaslighting that’s been most damaging. It’s opened up old wounds. I’ve watched hundreds of queer Twitter followers who are usually numb to the wiles of politics share their vulnerability. The bubble we create online is a necessity to feel sane. We’re a minority. Family and peers usually outnumber our experiences 10-1. In The Monthly, Sean Kelly’s piece outlines the way in which queer people will be blamed for the failure to attain their own civil rights in an opinion poll stacked against us. This ordeal has planted seeds of doubt in many of my LGBT+ peers who now have to go through their daily lives wondering how those around them voted. The other day I walked into the staffroom at work and my boss told me she was glad I hadn’t arrived earlier. Four straight women had been discussing marriage equality and one of them was a staunch No supporter. She is young, Christian, and “thinks penises are dirty” hashtag TheyGetToVote.
Max and I have extremely supportive parents – both sets of life-givers went to rallies in their respective cities – and Max’s grandma called Tony Abbott’s office to register her condemning thoughts (she lives in his electorate). Still, we have been subject to mood swings whenever one or both of us read the comments or see ‘Vote No’ written over our house. We’ve been hyper-vigilant, aware that cars now terrorise big groups of people. We’ve been fearful of the future now that the can of worms has been open. Will the No voters double-down on their homophobia if they win? Will they double-down if they lose? What’s sad is that I’ve had moments of doubting the support of allies. Why haven’t they posted about their vote online? Why haven’t they checked in with me? Do they understand how this is their time to say a resounding ‘no’ to homophobia? Some don’t. Some have complained about tactics and how pervasive the campaigning has been. Some think the polling stopped once they cast their vote. I’m reminded of how sustained outrage can make those unaffected retreat back to “maybe you’re both wrong” privilege.
I can write this all out but I really want to do something loud. So loud that it feeds itself into the collective conscious. Loud enough to deafen fears. I want to teach the history of our marginalisation. I hope now all queers acutely understand #blacklivesmatter and the plight of people in Australia’s offshore detention centres – how a government with vested interests can twist your rights into something worth debating.
It’s odd to have worked so hard on self-esteem and confidence in the 15 years since I came out, to be thrown back into the headspace of fearing the world will reject you again. Now vocal opposition can be heard around every corner and there’s no trigger warning for that reality. I guess this is the price of progress, though. What was once not spoken about for many families is now no longer taboo at the dinner table.