I have been thinking about what Marriage Equality will mean when it happens in Australia – maybe this year, maybe next. I know people understand that its a great step forward for human rights, but to those of you who are not lesbian, gay bi or trans, I would love you to know what it means – on a deep, visceral level – to us. What it will mean to us, not just in our lives but also in our minds, our hearts and our souls.
Lets start with what it means on a psychological level. You need to understand what it was like growing up knowing you were different, and the trauma that was endured in school, in the playground, in the street and at home. If, like me, you suffered considerable bullying, taunts and teasing from a young age, where people would point a finger, laugh at your voice, beat you up, make fun of the way you walked or ran or throw food at you on a bus to footy training when you were trying so desperately to fit in and be normal, then you know the pain. That pain was vile, it was deep and it went right to the very heart of who you were.
Where little remarks made in the house that were barely heard by anyone else, cut deeply and critically in to your heart. They stayed there too, and those in your family that made them, had absolutely no idea. They didn’t understand that what they said was hurtful, how it stung you. This was from people who suspected who you were before you knew or understood who you were.
There was one hateful thing after another as you grew up; terrified of puberty, terrified of being around others for fear that you might be found out, terrified of making a close bond with a member of the same gender for fear that you would develop a crush or fall in love. It was so much easier to hang around with the others where that danger was far less likely, and where you felt like less of a freak.
While you were holding hands with a girl or boy of the opposite sex, sneaking a pash near the bike racks, the shelter sheds or anywhere you might have found some space, going on dates and hanging out after school at the shops, we were alone, at home, crying, hurting and feeling alone, left out and shunned. We were not sure why, but we were. We tried to play the game, lied to you and ourselves, but always wary that the feelings we had were going to accidentally get out. We were terrified and we closed down, adopting a mask that we could wear when we were among friends. In doing this we were inadvertently hurting other people by pretending to be like you, pretending to want to go out with someone, just to be like you. You made us feel that very acutely.
And there was the constant and probably the most awful hurt when we did develop a crush, fall in love and yearn to be able to tell someone, anyone, that we understood what love was, that we had felt it and we had to bury it. The deep and powerful longing to touch that person, in any way, the desire to be always near them, but never too close! That was one of the most awful things we went through. We were in pain from being in love when it was supposed to be the most joyful and exciting thing that we would ever know. It was nothing but pure, unending torture.
On a spiritual level, especially for those of you who believe or have a faith – you never had to think about whether your faith and your god accepted you. You didn’t have to think about lying all of the time in the church and what that meant to you inside to always be dishonest. You didn’t have to panic that somehow, your god knew and was punishing you in other ways – with pimples, with weight, with always coming second in the swimming race, with always having to live up to a brother or sister who did things better than you. Thats how we felt – we were being punished by our god, if we had one. We didn’t understand that the verses and readings we heard in the church, the synagogue or the temple were meant for us – they were meant for the other members of the congregation who didn’t have this filthy secret. How could our god love us when it seemed nobody else did.
Physically, you are lucky if you were never made to constantly doubt yourself or feel incredibly ugly to the point you still live in fear of being seen as ugly – because you felt that those feelings inside that you couldn’t speak of, that manifested themselves in other ways. That you were afraid to exercise or play sport because of the way you walked, ran, threw, hit or kicked. This meant that other things became your solace, and for so many, it was food. There, in the corner with some food, we could hide and feel good for a little while and nobody would taunt us. That way you could taunt us about our weight and not who we were inside.
Then there were our minds – and how your stinging verbal barbs played with our minds. The many times we thought about how disappointed our parents, our siblings, our friends and our peer groups would be if we admitted to our difference. It was sometimes very dark and we thought about making the darkness permanent. There are many who still do because of that fear. There was the lack of intimacy in our lives because we closed ourselves off. We were your best friends, no doubt about that, but we were the loneliest people you knew. We were always the person you wanted at a party, because we would come in our mask – as the joker, the entertainer, the fun one who isn’t interested in hooking up with anyone there, so we become the clown. Behind those masks were rivers of tears that we had to shed alone and quietly.
AIDS terrified us and the nasty things that it made you say. You couldn’t share a cup or hold the hand of someone you assumed was gay because you would catch it and die. It was the gay disease and if there was as much as a whiff of something different about anyone, they were a poofter, a lezzo, a faggot, a dyke, a pansy. You weren’t going to put yourself at risk of death by being nice.
We deserved to be loved because we knew your secrets, we held your trust, you respected the fact that when you told us something, it would stay with us. We knew what it would be like if your secrets came out, because ours were bigger, darker and so much scarier. We became the person you came to because you needed to offload emotionally, knowing we could never do the same. Not only were we carrying our own baggage, but we were stowing yours as well.
So what does marriage equality mean, when it happens? It means that we are the same, equal, on par with you. It means we don’t have to feel different any more. It means that you can’t tease and taunt us because of our secret, because we are like you, it doesn’t have to be a secret any more. It means that kids everywhere will feel a part of something – something so enormous and something so terribly normal that everyone is doing it. It means that we no longer have to hide how we feel and kids no longer have to fear being different. Watch the suicide rates fall – in young men, in youth and especially in regional areas.
It means that we don’t have to put up with your bullshit anymore. You aren’t superior to us because your normal is no longer different to ours. We all deserve to be loved and to love in return. We all need intimacy and physical comfort. We all need sex. And we all need to feel we are not shunned because of those needs. Having full equality means we are the same as you and we can aspire to fall in love and get married, just like you.
Marriage Equality is a lot more than a rainbow patch on your profile picture. We know now that you love and accept us, we know now that you didn’t mean to be cruel, hateful and hurt us. Some of you will never get past that teenage stuff because you haven’t matured. We wont judge you for that and we will still be your friends, but it is you now who needs us to support you.
Reach out to those you know and tell them you understand what marriage equality means. That you get how horrible it must have been as a child, as a teenager, to endure that emotional loneliness. It’s more than a pride sticker on your profile. Go and march in a rally to show your support rather than talking about it how good it will be when it happens. Track down someone you went to school with and say sorry, that now you understand a little better what being equal means. Reach out to your child, your sibling, your relative or someone else you knew and say sorry. It could be the most powerful two words you ever utter – ‘I’m sorry!’ That’s what marriage equality means. It’s not about a big, fabulous wedding event and a boost to the economy.
Its not about politics or religion – its about humanity and finally being loved as an equal, without having to hide, to think of other ways to introduce your partner or to scurry from the room when aging aunts talk of marriage and children. Those around you who are gay or lesbian or bi or queer or trans or different are still here because of their strength, their tenacity and their faith in themselves. They have made a life for themselves, etched out a space and found their niche not in spite of you but because of you. You are more than lucky to have them in your life.
For some of you, marriage equality wont change the deep seated homophobia and hatred you feel – and that’s more about you now. That’s your arrogance, narcissism, ignorance or perhaps your fear that you are not as straight as you might like others to think. That’s your baggage now and we are no longer going to carry it for you. Its time you did the heavy lifting.
Marriage Equality means all of these things and so much more. When you say you stand for what is right and good and loving, then this is what you stand for. We know, we feel it in our heart when your honesty is evident. This is what Marriage Equality means to us.