A response to Tom Ballard – LGBT isn’t inclusive enough, but GSD is no solution

I read this piece by Aussie comedian Tom Ballard on SBS Sexuality, and I was not impressed. I’ll start by saying his intent was certainly positive, but I think he got a few things quite seriously wrong.

In the piece he makes the case for abandoning the acronym LGBT and its extensions, in favor of catch-all acronyms like “GSRM” (“Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities”) or “GSD” (“Gender and Sexual Diversities”). I see his point, LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQIA etc are both cumbersome and they fail to be fully inclusive, and they always start with LGBT, leaving these four identities as ‘the main ones’, and leaving others as optional and supplementary. So he did make some good points.

However, Tom is a comedian, and the piece was intended as a comedy piece. It was fluffy and came across dismissive. And when discussing people’s identities, jokes are not the best way to do it. At least jokes that mock and ridicule the identities of people we are ignoring and excluding. And especially in a piece about inclusion. He used the too-often used tactic of fictitiously creating an absurdly long acronym to suggest that including identities we should be including is leading to the acronym becoming unwieldy, an (as he puts it) too long to fit on a T-shirt.

But (even ignoring the tired old joke) – who cares? Being inclusive sometimes is cumbersome. Sometimes it is inconvenient. They are some of the features of inclusivity – but the inconvenience is worth it. The identities we embrace by adding letters to our acronym are not to be mocked they’re to be celebrated (and as much as the L, and the G which, incidentally, there is always room for).

Tom’s point about it being impossible to be fully inclusive, though, is a good one. But I don’t think that favoring GSD or GSRM fixes this; I think it makes it worse. In our effort to be inclusive, we risk erasing identities. On paper, GSD works as a catch all – in practice it becomes the new LGB, a shorthand that really doesn’t include everyone it claims to. It becomes an easy way for people to claim allyship to the GSD community, when really they mean they gay men, and would never offer the same support to trans people, or asexual people, or polyamorous people. It’s a way of easily excluding identities while claiming to include them.

GSD and GSRM make me prickle as well because they seem to me a little sterile. A little respectable. They’re just not, well, just not queer enough. They’re acronyms that smack of gay men seeking assimilation. We know that gay men assimilate pretty well, but the rest of GSD/GSRM is left behind.

But more importantly, it extends this idea that we are one single community, when we are not. We are a collection of communities, often with a common cause, often with common enemies, often able to stand together and fight together as allies, but ultimately we are many, not just one. There is no single GSD community, and it’s harmful to pretend that there is. Rich gay men drinking champagne on a rooftop in London are not (always) the same community as, say, black trans women in the USA. Sometimes we have the same battle, often the same enemies, and we really can come together, but very often our communities are distinct and we should recognize and respect that. LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQA, LGBTQQIPPA, all give each identity and each community their own place in our common cause. They give us strength, not by saying that we are one, but that we are together.

All of this, however is worthless coming just from me, as I write from the same position as Tom Ballard. His piece, and perhaps mine, are examples of gay men wanting to lead the discourse on LGBT issues. It seems hypocritical to say this at the end of what I’ve written, but we need to let that go. It’s a privilege we have come to expect, and one we are so desperate to hold onto, but we have to let it go. We can’t be the gatekeepers of inclusivity. It’s not for us to be leaders, to decide how we brand our inclusivity. It is now simply our job to embrace diversity in our wide-ranging communities, and to celebrate each individual letter in whatever unwieldy glorious behemoth of an acronym LGBT+ becomes.

Note: all responses are welcome and encouraged. I anticipate that I may need to alter some of this based on others’ responses.

Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.

The language of love

There’s a guy in my life. We sit next to each other and watch TV. We share a house, share a bed. We share some of our money. We’re invited to parties together. Sometimes we fuck.  We report each other’s incomes on our tax returns. We reported every last detail of our relationship to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that I could come and live here.

But I don’t know what to call him.

It’s a strange thing, not having a go-to word for that person; I think it comes from a few places:

Heteronormativity means that unless I make it explicitly clear, most of society will assume that the person I’m talking about is a woman. Sometimes this will be because, well, society just assumes people are straight, but bizarrely this will often be out of some strange, misguided ‘politeness’ where, based on gay stereotypes, they’ll assume I’m gay but pretend to assume my [whatever we want to call them] is a woman so as not to offend me.

(To be clear: this offends me.)

Internalised homophobia contributes to this dilemma in a huge way too. And it is, in a way, working with heteronormativity but in the opposite direction. Not always, but sometimes, I feel the desire to hide, and to keep the gender of him as ambiguous as possible. It’s absurd, and as I’ve discussed before I’m very much “out”, and it is a very rare thing that I feel a need to actually hide my sexual orientation out of fears for personal safety etc.

Put these two things together, and combine them with a desire for honesty as well as warmth, and I’m left with essentially zero good choices for what that guy actually is.

Partner is the one people like to use to sound inoffensive, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offend me, it does make me want to vomit. It’s so sterile and bland, makes our relationship sound like a business arrangement, transactional. It is totally unrepresentative of a relationship based on love and mutual admiration.

Lover. Fuck off.

Spouse crops up on forms and official documents. The Immigration Department uses spouse and I don’t like it at all. Partly because it’s incorrect (yes, de facto spouse is correct I suppose, Border Force), but we’re not married, we have decided not to get married, and we don’t like the idea of marriage. Our relationship looks a little bit like a marriage, at least from the outside, but that is certainly not what it is. (I also really dislike the word, aesthetically.)

Husband is a word I sometimes use to piss people off, but mostly I don’t like it. Again, it’s too marriagey for my taste, and if I’m honest it makes me feel subordinate.

I sometimes use Other Half but I don’t like it all that much. It implies that people are not complete unless they’re in a relationship (and note the “half” – it could never be “he’s one of my other thirds”, which is another reason – even though I personally am not polyamorous – I dislike it). It’s slightly better than Better Half though, which makes me see red.

Related is Significant Other, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it feels a bit glib. He’s more than just “significant”, but like other half, I feel it does downplay the significance of myself in my own life.

I used to dislike Boyfriend intensely. It seemed okay for young people, or people who hadn’t been in the relationship for a very long time, but for a co-habiting couple in a stable, long-term relationship, it always sounded a little immature. My feelings on that have changed a little now. Using boyfriend feels like a rejection of societal norms. It feels like an acknowledgement that marriage is not some ideal or a goal to aim for. And I like that it pisses some people off or confuses them (as I’ve said before, I’m over caring whether people are confused or not).

Still I don’t call him my boyfriend nearly as often as I’d like. Maybe it’s a feeling that I ought to hide something about him, maybe it’s a desire to be taken seriously. It’s all indicative of an urgent need to unlearn all this rubbish that surrounds relationships and society’s ideals when it comes to talking about them. But I’m working on it.


I’d be interested to know what words you like, dislike, use and avoid. Let me know in the comments or in a tweet!

Marriage Terminology

Since this debate on marriage and same-sex couples isn’t going away any time soon, I expect in the coming year or so I’ll be writing a fair bit about it. There isn’t a particular term I stick with when talking about it, which I understand can be confusing. But here are my thoughts on some of the more common terms used when discussing this matter.

I should mention that I don’t think any of them is ideal, which is perhaps why I chop and change, and switch about when writing. Sometimes I deliberately use one or another, but really they’re all pretty crap.

Marriage equality / equal marriage

I’ll start with the “big” one, and the one which seems to have been adopted as the “right” one. I hate it. I hate hate hate it. Not that I’m opposed to equality, of course (although I should say here that since I learned about the concept of liberation I’ve been forever giving equality activists massive side-eye), but because mostly proponents of changes to marriage legislation don’t actually advocate equality; rather just an extension of privilege.

Many view forms of marriage that include same-sex couples, but exclude trans people as unproblematic. That’s not equality. Many advocate restricting marriage to gender-binary people, and that’s not equality either. Almost all are happy restricting marriage to monogamous couples. Again, not equality. Most completely reject the notion that marriage itself is an institution based on inequality, both within a marriage, and as part of a society that affords privileges to married people that are not afforded to unmarried people. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s how we’ve decided to run our society. Maybe it’s the only administrative solution to society circa 2015. All of that may be true, but it’s not equality.

I hardly use the term marriage equality (except in tags!), and it infuriates me when people use it blindly as though equality is something that can be achieved very easily with these sort of band-aid solutions, ignoring all the inequality and injustice that is ignored or even caused by marriage and extending marriage.

Equality is not brought about just by saying the word.

Gay marriage

Gay marriage is so problematic, but it’s the one I tend to use most, and perhaps for that reason. It’s a term that doesn’t pretend to be inclusive, or equal, or fully descriptive. That said, I don’t really like the way it aligns itself so neatly with the very real idea that gay marriage activism is almost exclusively in the realm of middle-class gay white cis men.

The term is becoming ever less acceptable, and I think (hope!) that reflects a growing realization that not all (and in fact most) people who are not heterosexual are not gay. A marriage between two bisexual women, for instance, would not accurately be described as a “gay marriage”. Neither would a marriage between, say, a heterosexual trans man (whose legally registered gender was inaccurate) and a cis woman, even though current marriage legislation excludes them.

The term excludes so many people, but it knows it does. Perhaps I shouldn’t use it, but I do – not because I think it’s in any way adequate, but because in a group of terms that are all inadequate, this one is the most inadequate.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage is a term that feels so clinical to me and I don’t really like it. Perhaps it’s the most accurate, but similar to what I mentioned above, it relies heavily on cis, binary norms. It’s exclusionary, but selectively so. Many relationships that are excluded from marriage now, but would be included in any proposed changes to the Marriage Act are not “same sex” relationships. And more so than gay marriage this is a term that people use to sneakily exclude people – and as usual it’s the people who most need inclusivity.

Marriage. Just marriage.

One day, perhaps, we’ll have marriage that includes everyone, and a society where unmarried people are not discriminated against. One day we will be able to talk about marriage, and not have to specify that we’re not just talking about marriage between cishet two-people couples. One day there won’t be a distinction between man-woman marriages and other types of marriage. Unfortunately today is not that day. Where inequality exists, we have to be able to name it, but while inequality exists we can’t just say marriage without a qualifier and be understood.

Language is wholly inadequate when discussing inequality, and especially when trying to reconcile the way people actually live with an institution associated with tradition, bigotry and administration. I can’t think of any term that is adequate for talking about extending marriage to all relationships that doesn’t exclude people or lie about its intentions in some way.

The Thought of a Plebiscite is Truly Scary

As I say at the start of most of these posts, I’m not really a huge advocate of gay marriage, but on balance, I slightly support it. I have written previously about the reasons, and this post is not an argument for or against marriage, rather some musings on the process.

I think it should be fairly clear to everybody that same-sex marriage in Australia is an inevitability. There is no “if”; it’s all about “when”. With large parts of Europe (including most recently Ireland), most of North America, South Africa, Israel and New Zealand all recognizing same-sex marriage, it is inconceivable that Australia will not see it sometime in the near future, despite resistance.

What is now happening is fairly tedious discussion of the process of bringing this about, with the main options being a parliamentary vote and a public vote. And the prospect of a public vote is frightening and offensive.

Frightening because we will be subjected to months of a hurtful and damaging campaign against same-sex marriage. We won’t, of course, hear from queer people for whom marriage represents further oppression and control; rather we’ll hear homophobes attacking our lives, our families and our right to exist. We see this already when there isn’t a vote looming; we will see it tenfold if any plebiscite goes ahead. And these campaigns won’t just be upsetting to us; they won’t just be hugely damaging to our mental health; they’ll rile up homophobes and recruit undecideds, risking our physical safety. We can avoid this and weshould avoid this, but it seems to be government policy that we be subjected to this.

Offensive because we’re being told that we require consent from mainstream society to live our lives how we choose, and to express ourselves the way we choose. Because we’re being told that an administrative change to three words in a piece of legislation is a major upheaval of society, and that we’re to blame. Because our very dignity is deemed suitable to be decided on by the largely disinterested electorate.

Federal MPs will have an opportunity to end this, to protect us from the harm we face by this ongoing campaign – even if they disagree. Will they put our health, our safety, and our dignity before their own careers? Our fight will never end until we win – even if parliament says no; even if the public says no – so I beg them: end this swiftly. End this now.

Another reason I’m on the YES side

I’m in the process of writing something a bit longer on gay marriage/same-sex-marriage (or what you will). I’m not really an advocate of marriage at all (gay or otherwise), but I was just reminded of something which highlights a reason I support amending the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples: a quick story I’d like to share.

About a week before the last federal election in 2013 I was in the break room at work having lunch, and generally minding my own business. A colleage was also there having lunch with her manager (the manager is no longer with us). She said told him she was unsure of how to vote, and if he had any advice. Her dilemma was partly based on a conflict between her support for certain LNP policies and her support for same-sex marriage.

The manager’s (pretty blunt) response was that she should vote Liberal, saying that “if gays want to get married, they can go to New Zealand”.

Like I say, I’m not a huge advocate of gay marriage, but I don’t ever want to have to overhear anything like that again. There are lots of reasons I’m on the “yes” side, and not wanting to be told to fuck off to NZ is one of them.

Today I like marriage, but not the Bill

Followers will probably know I’m not necessarily the biggest advocate of marriage there is. I’m generally deeply suspicious of the institution, and what it aims to achieve; more often than otherwise I write about same-sex marriage as the opposite of LGB liberation. Followers, however, may also know that I often experience changes of mind, and my opinions on any particular subject can change at the drop of a hat.

As it turns out, today is one of those days. I’m feeling good about marriage, and have it down, with all its drawbacks, as a fairly positive thing. I would say this is the result of having listened to people who are married (in various configurations), as well as people who have less favorable views on marriage.

I also feel that I may sometimes be a downer on people’s individual marriages, and for that I am deeply sorry. For all my mind changes I am consistent in my belief that we shouldn’t judge other people’s relationships or tell them how to live their lives, and to my friends who are married, I do agree with you that you made a genuine choice to enter into your marriages freely; you have not been duped or coerced into a harmful situation. And I also say congratulations.

My friends Adrian and Charlie got married at the weekend (in the UK), and I think it is wonderful. (I also admit that in 2008 I spent many months pursuing Charlie romantically – to no avail, of course – so I did have an “it should have been me” moment.) There’s is a marriage that they have planned for many years, it is based simply on love and commitment, and they wanted to have the nation to which they belong recognize, celebrate and share in that commitment.

Jason and Adam are another couple of friends of mine who are married in the UK. They had a civil partnership, and they chose to convert it into a marriage. No additional rights, no additional duties, but they just wanted to use the word ‘married’, and be correct in every sense. I still cannot get over how completely in love these two guys are. And I know Adam in particular loves being married, and gains a great deal of value in being married.

I have friends who are married primarily for immigration reasons. They are in relationships for love, but although they don’t necessarily believe in marriage, they married for (for want of a better word) convenience. Could they divorce following the grant of a permanent visa? Of course! Will they? I doubt it.

I speak about how marriage excludes polyamorous people, but I have friends who are poly and married. And for no other reason than that they wanted to marry. (And as an aside one particular wedding I was invited to was without a doubt one of the best and most fun days of my life, and it was wonderful to share in the celebration of love, commitment and the formal formation of a family.)

I also recognize that we do live in the society that we actually live in, and marriage is a crucial part of that. One of the major components of our society is the family – and in particular the nuclear family – and that, traditionally is based on marriage. Much though I stand for liberation, and smashing the oppressive nature of society, I’m not so foolish as to think that in a generation, or in my lifetime even, we can tear away one of the traditional building blocks of our society. And marriage is indeed one of those. It is how we form families, join families and recognize families. Of course there are other types of family, but many, many of our families really are based on marriage. And destroying marriage would mean destroying some of the most wonderful families we see in our society.

I should also mention the many protections marriage offers. (And of course, I believe these protections should be offered to all families and relationships without the need for marriage but, again, we live in the world that we live in, so let’s celebrate the protection. For now at least.) Marriage protects us when relationships break down, it protects us from being shut out of our own lives, and it protects us from being completely removed from our own families. Marriage protects us from any oversights we may otherwise make in the total formation of a family – boxes we may otherwise have forgotten to tick giving our spouses permission to make decisions on our behalf when we are incapacitated, or giving our spouses the opportunity to receive the support we wish them to receive when we are gone. Marriage makes that automatic.

So today I am feeling good about marriage, and feeling good about the prospect of people in same-sex (or anything other than man/woman) relationships being able to enter into a marriage which is recognized and celebrated by the state.

What I am not impressed by, however, is what I have seen today and what I will see on June 18th. Political parties, and individual politicians using our relationships for their own political gain. Today Labor introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in the hope of bringing about same-sex marriage in Australia. It sounds like a good thing, but this bill was penned by two or three people maybe, acting alone following Ireland’s referendum on the same subject. It’s a snap response, and the type of response that Labor is using to show that They Are Doing Something. Sadly what they have not done is entered into any detailed consultation with the LGB community, asked us what we want, and responded according to that. Their response has been political gameplay, to try to push the government into a corner. Many of us feel that Labor is doing thisfor us rather than with us, and we are rightly offended.

Same-sex marriage is inevitable, but it needs to come from us, from the LGB community. There needs to be a process of consultation, of discussion and of listening to all ideas before we proceed – to make sure that we get it right. Not just nearly right, but completely right. For instance, are we happy that ministers or religion can exempt themselves from marrying us? Is that a concession that we are willing to make? Labor seems to think it is, but has anyone asked us?

As Tanya Plibersek likes to say, it is time, and really it’s long overdue. But that doesn’t mean we should rush this. It doesn’t mean we should get this done as soon a possible. We should be aiming to get this right. Tony Abbott was close when he said Parliament should own this. But I’d go further than that – we, the LGB community, should own this. We should start it, finish it, and be completely involved along the way, with politicians acting on our advice and instruction, not acting on their beliefs of what our best interests are.

Today I support marriage, but not any form of marriage that is offered. Only the form of marriage that is right.

Names of friends changed, but they probably know who they are. LGB not LGBT or any other acronym because I’m not in a position to speak about how this may affect trans or other LGBTQIA+ people, not because I want to exclude anyone. Labor because they have introduced this bill today, but later this month these thoughts will also apply to the Greens and later this year the Liberal Democrats.)