What is happening in the world lately?
At a time when shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family celebrate gay life as a norm, when mainstream artists like Lady Gaga are not afraid to champion the LGBT community in their hit songs and celebrity couples like Patrick Neil Harris and David Burtka, or Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, are proudly walking the red carpet hand-in-hand, surely we as a society are finally moving on with the times and growing less judgmental on those who are different from us?
Some certainly think so. That’s why both Australian and American politicians have been addressing the idea of gay marriage as a legal union. And it’s an issue that many celebrities have gotten behind. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have publicly stated they won’t get married unless gay couples are able to do so too (or until they’re no longer able to placate their impatient brood). Bruce Springsteen endorses gay marriage. So does Carrie Underwood, Tyra Banks, George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey. Hell, even Floyd Mayweather champions gay marriage.
But apparently that’s not good enough.
First, right after the Greens in Australia began their campaign to legalise gay marriage, the naysayers came flooding out of the woodwork. And they weren’t afraid to say what they thought. (Or perhaps, more likely, they didn’t think before they spoke). At a time when the Australian Government was pushing ahead with another controversial bill, a bill to have cigarettes sold in plain packaging, Australian Christian Lobby president Jim Wallace infuriated many by claiming that the homosexual lifestyle was way unhealthier than a smoker’s lifestyle.
Australian Federal Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, you might have thought, would have learnt a lesson from the furore surrounding Wallace’s comments. But, no, he decided to go one better and connect homosexuality to bestiality.
“The time has come,” laments Bernardi in an address to the senate, “to ask when will it end? If we are prepared to redefine marriage… what is the next step? The next step… is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people.
“There are even some creepy people out there who say that it’s okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”
The real creep, most people would contend, would be Bernardi. And what was the next step? Well, Prime Minister Julia Gillard promptly cancelled her scheduled address to the Australian Christian Lobby in the wake of the fury invoked by Wallace’s thoroughly unscientifically proven comment. And Bernardi was forced to resign as senator less than 24 hours after his comments.
It’s gratifying to hear that such unthinking comments do have their consequences. If nothing, perhaps those comments were useful in provoking debate in the community – at least the topic is out there, rather than not at all, or hidden away in some shameful closet of skeletons as if this were the era of the Stepford Wives.
Meantime, in America…
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Barack Obama has officially announced his campaign’s endorsement of gay marriage. The Republicans and Mitt Romney, however, have pulled back, choosing to keep a low profile on the issue while quietly reaffirming their opposition to gay marriage and also doing their best to brush over the fact that in high school, Romney had led a gang of boys to hold down a homosexual teen and cut off his ‘non-heterosexual’ hair.
Romney is fast becoming the Gisele Bundchen of public comment gaffes in American politics (spitting out little nuggets of wisdom like “I’m not concerned about the poor… we have a safety net there” and “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”). But at least he hasn’t topped fellow Republican, Todd Akin, who believes women don’t get pregnant when they are raped.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” he said on KTVI-IV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”
At least he wasn’t suggesting, let’s reward the rapist for a) not being gay, and b) attempting to follow the Bible’s instructions to the letter and be fruitful or something.
While on the campaign trail for his movie, The Campaign, actor Will Ferrell put it best when discussing some of his country’s politicians’ ability to bleed from the mouth. “When we were filming the movie, the Republican debates were going on and you couldn’t write that stuff… all of them said the craziest stuff and we were worried our movie wasn’t outrageous enough to keep up with the real people.”
V-necks, handbags and chiselled profiles
Perhaps none more so outrageous than the real-life situation in Malaysia where the Government has begun to hold a series of seminars, teaching parents how to identify signs of latent homosexuality in their children. Basically, parents were warned to look out for such well-researched and scientific signs include the wearing of V-neck T-shirts, the carrying of large handbags, and having “a chiselled profile”. Basically, if the Malaysian Government were right, more than one-third of the AFL and the entire muscle-pumping, protein-shake-drinking, V-neck wearing crowd at Subiaco’s bars would be gay. Something tells me the Subi crowd wouldn’t be very happy to hear that one.
All this might be funny if it weren’t so frightening. Frightening because people still perpetuate these horrific stereotypes and this sort of ignorance. Frightening because hundreds of adults in Malaysia have signed up to these seminars, believing them to be the gospel truth, frightening because the Government is endorsing this kind of ridiculousness and blind fear.
“I’m not homophobic, but…”
There’s a lot to be said about fear. Fear is the ingredient that fuels hatred and violence. In the wake of the media furore in Australia following Bernardi’s and Wallace’s comments, callers flooded the country’s (mostly right-wing) talkback stations. Most of their calls began, “I’m not homophobic, but…”
Those words are pretty telling in themselves and bear resemblance to other comments such as, “I don’t hate refugees, but…” or “I don’t endorse beating women, but…” It’s almost as if the tacking on of a disclaimer is enough to hide the fact that, yes, you are a homophobic, you do hate refugees, and you do agree with beating women. Why even bother?
It’s almost as bad as those who insist, “I don’t believe in gay marriage because marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.” Says who? The Bible? The Bible also endorses a man entering into marriage with his half-sister, and when that marriage proved childless, to then have a child with his wife/half-sister’s maidservant.
Most people forget that the Bible is a book of words, open to many interpretations, and basically what happens is most people tend to adopt the interpretations that would best suit them. And with the divorce rate on the rise, how is marriage a sacred union between a man and a woman? Furthermore, if you were a true Christian, wouldn’t you be endorsing love to all your fellow human beings, no matter how different they were from you? Wasn’t that the point of Jesus’s lesson to humankind? Did he not support the prostitutes, the adulterers, and the tax collectors of his generation? (Cue workers of the ATO and the IRS breathing a sigh of relief here). It seems to me that if Jesus did return to walk this earth again, the first to rise up and drag him in chains to a crucifix would be none other than the right-wing, Bible-bashing, Jim Wallace-esque Christians of the world.
But in spite of this sudden backlash, the fact that politicians are quick to distance themselves from the likes of Bernardi and Wallace, maybe even the fact that people do feel a need to tack on a flimsy disclaimer such as, “I’m not homophobic but…” before they feel it safe to voice their true feelings does show that, in some way, progress is being made, if only in small steps. That modern society does not easily tolerate hatred of disenfranchised groups the way it once did and that such groups like the LGTB community can one day move on to not being a disenfranchised group, but rather, a part of real accepted society.
Breaking out of boundaries
When I was younger, I associated the word ‘gays’, more than anything, with a sense of fear and brutality – fear for them and the brutalities they were often subjected to. What I saw on TV or in movies or heard in the news about LGTB folks was that they were most likely to be stigmatised, spat on, beaten up and raped for their sexual choices. That was the message I ended up carrying away with me in my youth. And not just in my youth – just a few years ago, I was hooked on major marathon sessions of Law and Order: SVU on Foxtel. Naturally, being Law and Order: SVU, the themes discussed were pretty gritty, and often violent and graphic. There was only so much a girl could watch of it – but what made me finally reach for the remote and turn the TV off was one particular episode where a transgender refused to stop taking his hormone pills, even when locked in an all-male prison. You can pretty much guess the results – he/she was inevitably beaten and raped violently by his/her fellow prisoners.
But for me, at that moment, it was as if something inside me was saying, “Enough is enough! I’m sure these aren’t the only stories the gay and lesbian community have to tell! This is not all they must stand for – the disco dancing, extreme fashion, Mardi Gras, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-type feather boas, the HIV and rapes and straight men beating up on gay men! They’re people too – they’re more than just that!”
And they are. Even the gay population is struggling too redefine itself, not as a group of Kylie and Lady Gaga fans who love sequins, rainbows and the ‘gay ghetto’ scene, but rather as ordinary people with a broad spectrum of opinions, beliefs, likes and dislikes, who might be similar only in terms of their sexual preference (hey, you know what, just like the rest of the ‘normal’ population).
The Revolutionary Road
In the Global Mail’s Fifty Shades of Gay, playwright, performer and self-proclaimed ‘political tranny’ Rick Viede commented that he didn’t personally believe gay marriage to be “the be-all and end-all issue.” He might be right there. Legalising gay marriage won’t automatically stop boys from beating up on other boys for being gay. And a gay marriage has just as much break-up potential as does a straight marriage. But, really, who are we to say no to them? Should a gay marriage be a pretty, perfect marriage in order to be legally recognised? What does that say about the boxes we put them in, the limits we fix on them?
Perhaps in the future, a TV sitcom or a movie won’t necessarily have to focus on a transgender being beaten up à la Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, or even happy, bickering, but essentially loved-up, gay couple Mitch and Cam from Modern Family. Perhaps it could be about a gay couple breaking up the same way Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio did in Revolutionary Road. Or maybe something like Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Because, let’s face it, all this is very much a part of real life – and the sooner people face up to it, the better.
Think about it.