A celebration of queer rights in Australia

In Australia we’re in the middle of a campaign for a government survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The going is really tough, and a lot of us are feeling really shitty: the attacks are coming strong from the No campaign.

But: some positivity. Despite marriage equality not yet having arrived in Australia, we do have a lot of rights, and rights that are worth celebrating. And importantly rights that prove that our equality does not have terrible consequences for society.

Let’s celebrate these rights, and use their existence to argue for further extension of our civil and human rights.

The right to exist

Fundamentally, in Australia, we have the right to exist. The law doesn’t prohibit our existence. For all the hatred we face, the abuse, the violence, our right to exist is protected. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to fuck

Sexuality and sex is a core part of [most of] our existence. In Australia we have the right to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Some people engage in sexual violence against people asserting that right. Some put acid in lube dispensers in gay saunas. But none of that removes the right we have to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to form domestic partnerships

Australia is pretty good when it comes to recognizing de facto partnerships — including those between same-sex couples. We’ve established over the pervious weeks that they are not identical to marriages but even so, de facto couples are afforded most of the rights and benefits that married couples are. It’s not perfect, but we do have some of the most progressive de facto rights and protections in the world.

The right to migrate

Spousal migration to Australia is easy. I know: I’ve done it. Admittedly as a white man, but the right to migrate to Australia as the spouse (de jure or de facto) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is protected, and dependent on (almost) nothing except the status of the relationship. Migration law recognizes the status of de facto relationships where cohabitation hasn’t occurred because of the illegality of the relationship where the couple previously lived.

In practice it can be hard, expensive, and complicated, but the right to migrate with our spouses exists. Few other countries offer this.

The right to employment

Discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or marital relationship status is against the law in Australia. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against us.

They do, of course. But they don’t have the right to do so. And our right is to be protected by law against such discrimination.

The right to transition

Unlike in many places in the world, trans people in Australia have the right to transition. Socially, medically, and administratively. This is not to suggest it is straightforward or that the process of transition isn’t riddled with gatekeeping bullshit, but trans people have the right to live in whatever gender role(s) suit, according to each person’s own determination.

Trans people have the right to receive support to transition, the right to a name change on official documentation, the right to change gender markers on official documentation (including to X if neither male nor female is appropriate). Around the world not all trans people have these rights.

The right to celebrate

These — and other — rights come along with the right to exist openly and freely. The right to celebrate. We have bars and clubs that are not hideaways, but open and public venues that SCREAM queer. We have Mardi Gras in Sydney every year, and politicians incessantly turn up for photo opportunities. There are plenty of problems in the queer party scene, including racism, sexism, and transphobia, and we need to work on that. But we have the right to work on it because we have the right to celebrate.

The right to marry

Coming soon.

The right to marry is an addition to our existing rights, wide-ranging rights that in Australia are surprisingly progressive. It’s right and good that we demand access to marriage, but let’s do so in the context of celebration of our existing rights, and how much these rights add to society.

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Why straight people should say Yes to gay marriage

For most queer people, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, call it what you will is about equal access to a legal institution, and for us equality is important.

For a large part of mainstream society, equality honestly just isn’t that important, and inequality doesn’t affect your day -to-day lives. I know you don’t really care about queer people’s mental health or about queer teens’ suicide rates. Yes, it’s sad, but it doesn’t really affect you, and you’d rather it all just went away.

I know that to a large number of you, the gays are an irritation, an inconvenience. Of course it gives me the shits that you see my existence as an inconvenience, but I won’t pretend it isn’t so, and try to sell you same-sex marriage on a platform of equality, benefit to queers, and #loveveislove.

I know that since we are an inconvenience, you’d rather we just went away, but unfortunately (or otherwise) we are here to stay. Society has tried for centuries to reduce the inconvenience we cause by making us go away, but I think we all realize that we are not going anywhere.

So aside from the equality that we care about, I’d like to share with you how same-sex marriage can help solve some of the inconvenience that you care about.

Admin is a mess

In most states and territories in Australia, there is some kind or relationship register or civil partnership register that unmarried couples can use to register their relationships. Same-sex couples are required to use these registers if they wish to register their relationships. It’s a mess: each state or territory that uses such a scheme has to administer this scheme, as well as administering the recognition of similar interstate schemes and administering the recognition of marriage, which itself is looked after by the Commonwealth. All this jumble, all these intertwined systems could be streamlined and simplified simply by opening up marriage to all couples who want to register their relationships.

Think of all the taxpayers’ money that could be saved. Think of all the red tape that could be done away with. Think of all the extra time, money, and resources that could be put into roads, schools, and hospitals instead of managing half a dozen mostly-equivalent systems that could all be consolidated into the one institution that already exists and is universal: marriage.

Determining next of kin is a mess

When people in same-sex relationships die or fall ill, how much time, money, and effort is spent trying to ascertain who their next of kin is? Lots. Doctors and medical staff spend time and taxpayers’ money trying to find out who should make decisions on a person’s care, when they could be taking care of patients. Taxpayers’ money and administration time is spent in courts trying to determine who a dead person’s next of kin is, who has rights over their affairs. And all of this could be solved by opening up marriage to couples who want to use marriage to manage this.

Barring same-sex couples from marrying costs us all money, and reduces the quality of our healthcare. It’s such a simple fix.

Children are important

Same-sex couples have children. The debate on whether they should or not is a different one, but the fact is: they do. And children of same-sex couples are important. Their lives are important, their childhoods are important, and their education is important.

Children’s lives are easier when the administration of their lives and their education is simple. And that involves recognizing their parents. Marriage makes this super, super simple. It instantly recognizes co-parents, and reduces time and money spent by education systems and other systems administering children’s lives and arrangements. This doesn’t just improve life and education for the children of same-sex couples; it improves life and education for all children. Streamlined education systems with simple admin benefit everyone. Opposition to same-sex marriage is very literally holding your child back.

And aside, if you really do believe that children need a mother and a father, that children of same-sex couples are necessarily at a disadvantage, surely you wouldn’t support putting these kids at more of a disadvantage. Surely you would want to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of that inherent disadvantage. Same-sex marriage does that.

So #VoteYes for you

So straight people, even if you don’t really care all that much about equality, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you actually oppose rights for queer people, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you think queers are a scourge on society, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits society as a whole.

Even if you won’t do it for us, do it for you.

No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

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@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

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I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

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Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?