featuring Nam (in grey) & Ben (in black); Background calligraphy of Buddhist monk on the Gospel of Matthew “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, reflecting the couple’s rich faith and cultural backgrounds.
A Post Forum Reflection…
Appearing on the SBS Insight program for the conversation on Marriage Equality is one of the most intense experiences in my life. To speak about something so deeply personal to me in such a public forum is harder than I could ever envisage. I thought I was strong enough to bear the brunt of bigotry in a public way. To my disappointment the day after the forum I felt sick and broke down emotionally. Thanks to the shoulders of beautiful friends including a couple and their 8-month old baby and a Catholic priest, I stood up once again and carried on with the day. For the first time, I felt the full force of internalised homophobia and explicit public heterosexism.
To speak about my views on such a very personal journey in such a public way is not a simple choice, it is frightening. When Nam, my partner, and I were first approached to speak our truth in telling our experiences, it appeared a simple proposition with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. However it is not so simple when you know there are lives around you that are affected by the injustice of heterosexism and homophobia.
The question for me went beyond appearing or not appearing on such a public forum, it felt more like a personal question with biblical proportion concerning my conscience, a question about being a ‘visible’ reality to something that many would rather have ‘invisible’, for that is the reality of heterosexism for most LGBTIQ peoples. This is a personal question that has been brewing in my heart many years before this forum was suggested. It was not just about ‘showing up’, it was about: ‘Do you believe in truth?’, ‘Do you believe in love?’ It was about having the faith to say ‘Yes’, to say ‘Here I am’, to be counted amongst those sisters and brothers who came before me, who stood for my human rights without even knowing who I am. This is about justice, it is about the horrible destruction that homophobia and heterosexism brings.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex sisters and brothers were not born thinking of themselves as activists, let alone advocates or what Pope Francis candidly called ‘the Gay Lobby’. They were born like all fellow human sisters and brothers – seeking to love and to be loved. To me, my sexual orientation has a blessing with a flip side that feels like a curse, a burdening blessing that I neither seek nor flaunt, as it is a gift that I do not trivialise.
I view my sexual orientation as I do my laughter. I don’t know why I laugh or how I laugh, it is just what it is, a given. Some would despise it, some would even condemn it, but it is something that I ought to have the compassion and generosity to accord myself at the very least, it is essential to our survival and flourishing as human beings.
When Nam broke down during the program, it shocked me and I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to hug and kiss him but I was afraid. It was a moment of deep insight into our inner lives in the public sphere, his inner life, my inner life. I felt vulnerable and frightened for Nam. His vulnerability and goodness is the very thing that makes me love him for the amazing person that he is. The next morning, he looked weary in more than a physical sense, but he seemed to hold it together. I felt partly responsible.
During the conversations in the forum, I wished there was more I could have said or said better, but it is never enough is it? It is an issue of social justice. It is bigger than one conversation and one issue such as Marriage Equality. The truth to the matter is that those who are vehemently against Marriage Equality have sentiments that do not necessarily stem from homophobia per se, but rather the problem of heteronormativity which, stems from the abusive heterosexist framework. Furthermore, the naysayers ignore the reality of the prevalence of homophobia in our places of worship, of work, of home, of school and of community, making them unsafe places – spiritually, physically and psychologically; there is a high level of ignorance that fuels a low level of literacy and awareness.
Besides the kindliness of those from the television program team, the only way I managed to stay on the stage, apart from the strength drawn from Nam being there with me, was for me to envision those people sitting in the audience, not as strangers, but as my fellow family members and friends. Some love us and some don’t. With my tummy churning, it was the only way I could convince myself not to run from the stage.
There were moments of grace and kindness during the forum, but there were also many moments of wounding and diminishment. What hurt and frightened me most was not the unkind and even the genuinely ignorant responses and questions from the audience during the forum, but the fact that some simply did not want to hear us, they talked at me, talked passed me, but never with me. I, or we, were merely an ‘issue’. I felt objectified as a piece of conversation. There was even a claim that they were victimized by the naming of what homophobia and heterosexism looks like. These ‘sisters and brothers’ that I had humanised felt that I was fair game in a rather cruel game of discussion ‘about me without me’. This hurt the most. I was transported right at that moment to the frightened 16 year old boy at school, at church or at home that felt diminished, invisible and dehumanized.
Two remarks during the show I found particularly dehumanizing. These were comments suggesting that gay couples who wish to live as a family with children and those who patronisingly wanted to teach us about what truth, love and dignity means. We are family, Nam and I, biological or not, with or without children. We come from families and we are deeply a part of our family’s lives. To say that we ought to be criminalised for wanting to love, build and nourish our families diminishes what being a family means. Senator Penny Wong’s phrase ‘I know what my family is worth’ is the most ‘Christian’ response to both those remarks, I feel.
After the program, many kind souls came to us and embraced us, told us that they have heard us and they understand why this was so important to so many peoples and their families. Whilst passing by the reception on the way back to the car, there was a clique of people, the same ones who said those rather diminishing things. One of them stretched out a hand to shake mine and said ‘Nothing personal and no offence’. That shook me to my core. That felt like the kiss of betrayal. To me, those sentiments are the very seeds of discrimination. Words and thoughts that objectify people as ‘issues’ have often led to very cruel actions done to already marginalised people through the ages. That is how dehumanizing heterosexism and homophobia done in a seemingly ‘benign’ way becomes a weapon that destroys the lives and families of many here and around the world.
Some questions came to mind.
How do we see a bird with flying-wings and tell it not to fly?
Do we trim off the flower of a tree that is meant to fruit simply because the flower does not bloom as and where we see fit, what would the world look like if it were all a garden like that?
These questions go to the heart of the game of heterosexism. I think they are questions that are about how we love one another and build a just and flourishing society, safe and inclusive of all.
(The SBS Insight program ‘Gay Marriage’ airs on Tuesday 8.30pm, August 13)
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’ “
Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?
Bunch of stereotypes all in my head.
I remember doing the math like, “Yeah, I’m good at little league”
Had the characteristics
The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know
And I can’t change, Even if I tried,
Even if I wanted to, And I can’t change
Even if I tried, Even if I wanted to
My love, My love, My love
She keeps me warm, She keeps me warm, She keeps me warm, She keeps me warm
If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately?
“Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily
We become so numb to what we’re saying
Yet we don’t have acceptance for ’em
Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same, but that’s not important
No freedom till we’re equal, damn right I support it
We press play, don’t press pause
Progress, march on
With the veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
Till the day that my uncles can be united by law
When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law is gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever God you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up
Love is patient, Love is kind…
(not crying on Sundays)…
SBS’ Insight full program ‘Marriage Equality’ forum