That’s the sort of question you might find yourself asking if you’re a queer person living in Australia right now. Or you might be someone who isn’t quite sure what the word 'queer' means, so I should probably explain that it’s a handy umbrella term that has been reclaimed by the LGBT community (it was used as a slur a few decades ago) that includes every sexual orientation other than straight. Semantics aside, it isn’t the best time – or the best place – to not be straight. But, quite frankly, it never has been.
Watching films like The Children’s Hour (where a teacher, Mary, kills herself after finally recognising the feelings she has for her female co-worker and best friend) and Boys Don’t Cry (where a young trans man Brandon Teena is raped and later brutally murdered by a group of vicious boys who discover his 'true' identity), I think to myself how lucky I am that I wasn’t born decades earlier, and that I don’t have to endure the same devastation as the characters in these movies.
But when the rights of queer individuals are still being called into question, and when we are still seen as 'aberrations' or somehow less than the people around us, I can’t help but be affected by that judgement. I want to believe that I deserve more, but it’s hard to when my own government, strangers online, and even people I know are all telling me, in one way or another, that who I am is not quite right.
Being queer entails a constant questioning of your identity. Have you made the right decision? Are you doing the right thing right now? Do you act straight enough around your straight friends? Are you gay enough to hang out in the queer lounge at uni? It seems like society conditions us to fight against our own inherent being, and the only solution I can see is to fight back, as a society.
It’s not like I don’t believe we’ve come miles from a time when people like Alan Turing were chemically castrated because of their sexuality (I saw The Imitation Game a couple of months ago and the ending actually killed me) but I think it’s also naïve to suggest that we’ve solved the problem of homophobia and bigotry in our society (what Adam Goodes has had to go through over the past few months should be evidence enough of that). In any case, given the current debates that are happening right now in Australia – and that seem to have been going on for far too long – I’d like to take a moment to try to explain why legalising same-sex marriage in Australia is an important step that we need to take, and soon.
I’ll be the first to admit that there is power in being different, and owning that difference, but when someone is marginalised or made to feel lesser because of their difference, there are devastating consequences. It chips away at my confidence and my self-knowledge (and I’m sure the same is true for many other individuals) every time I hear phrases like 'traditional marriage' or 'lifestyle choice' or listen to politicians debate this topic as though their words aren’t affecting the very fabric of people’s identities.
Being queer entails a constant questioning of your identity.
To hear anyone – but especially those in power – imply that who you are is wrong, that you are worth less than the people around you, is not something that any person should have to go through. And I think that, as a society, we need to do whatever we can to ensure that no one has to.
When same-sex marriage was legalised in the United States, my Facebook feed was flooded with posts (from incredibly liberal friends) about how important it was for us to not get carried away and how we had to remember that achieving marriage equality is only one of many hurdles that the LGBT community needs to overcome. While I definitely understand this mindset (having a roof over your head is a little more important than being able to get legally married), it’s completely demoralising to feel like no step forward will be enough, that no matter what we achieve as a society in terms of eradicating intolerance there will always be injustice in the world.
Sure, we have eons to go, but I think we have to make sure that we don’t allow that to become a reason to do nothing. The fact that, time and time again, this country and its leaders have expressed their belief that it wouldn’t be right to legalise same-sex marriage deeply affects the mentalities of queer Australians. And more than that, it reinforces the notion that it’s okay for those who aren’t part of the queer community to see those who are as lesser. It makes it okay to harbour prejudice.
At this point, it isn’t even about 'keeping up' with everyone else in terms of our stance on various social issues. We shouldn’t be legalising same-sex marriage because every other country is, or because people will think less of us if we don’t adapt to shifting cultural beliefs.
We are told as children that everyone is created equal, but as we grow older, it becomes more and more clear that there are so many exceptions to this rule that it might as well not exist. This issue truly is a question of ethics, of right and wrong, and I hope that if it comes down to a popular vote after the next election, Australians will see that no person should have to sacrifice their dignity or suffer blows to their self-worth because of who they love.
Kristen is an aspiring playwright and undeniable fangirl. In her spare time, you might catch her at an Ingrid Michaelson concert or finding her zen on a yoga mat. She’s currently living in Chicago and studying playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University.